Softeq, LiveOak Launch New Programs, As Houston Ups Startup Support

Houston—In the past year, political and technology leaders in Houston have sought to catalyze innovation in the city by ramping up its anemic startup ecosystem.

Most notably, that action has come in the form of Houston Exponential, a new civic organization that sprang from analysis of Houston’s early stage business climate and why its startup scene was relatively small, considering Houston is the nation’s fourth largest city. HX also launched a $50 million fund of funds to fuel those efforts with capital.

Those efforts are beginning to be noticed. “We’re definitely seeing a lot more of the ecosystem activity building up” in Houston, says Krishna Srinivasan, co-founder and partner at LiveOak Venture Partners in Austin. “We’re making more of a concerted effort to spend a lot more time in the Houston market.”

Srinivasan told me his firm is starting a partnership with co-working space Station Houston, which through a variety of corporate partnerships and startup-focused programming has become a tech hub of sorts in Houston. The tie-up will allow LiveOak to make more frequent and regular visits to the co-working space to provide feedback to young startups, he says. LiveOak does have Houston-based companies in its portfolio, including legal tech firm CS Disco, which has raised $50 million since its founding six years ago.

“Station Houston is creating more critical mass and we want to work with them,” he says. “They are doing the heavy lifting on finding the people; we can provide mentoring and capital.”

Christopher Howard, founder and CEO of Softeq, a Houston-based firm that develops mobile applications, has also been paying attention to the increasing development of the city’s startup scene. That’s prompted him to create a new accelerator program called Start@Softeq, which will host four companies innovating in robotics, IoT, and cybersecurity—areas that Houston Exponential has specifically targeted.

Startups in the four-month program, which will be located at Station Houston, will receive $25,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of development assistance in exchange for a 10 percent equity stake, he says. So far, Howard says the program only has a smart home technologies startup—so new that it doesn’t yet have a name.

Howard founded Softeq in 1997, and counts as customers big companies such as Intel and The Walt Disney Company. He has become more active as an angel investor in recent years, but most of those investments are in out-of-state companies.

“There’s a lot of tech in Houston, and a lot of opportunity, but for whatever reason, there hasn’t been much of a startup ecosystem or support for that,” he says. “For the longest time, we had more customers in many other places than in our own backyard in Houston. We want to get more plugged in to our community.”

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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