Tag: Texas

From Coffee to Computers, Trade Ties Between Texas and Panama are Strong

The Texas and Panama story continues to evolve, said Juan B. Sosa, U.S. president of the Panama Council.

“It’s a new era of trade, investment, and cooperation,” Sosa said during the Panama-Texas Business Summit on Monday at the Hotel Marriott Downtown. It’s one of the first in-person international summits to be held since the COVID-19 Pandemic. Some people wore masks. A slide flashed on the screen for places to get COVID tests. Some people shook hands but many people simply bowed.

More than 200 people gathered for the summit which brings together Panama and Texas government, business, and nonprofit organization officials. The two-day summit focused on specialty coffee, agriculture and food, banking and investments, tourism, trade, real estate, construction, technology, and clean energy.

U.S. diplomatic relations developed with Panama in 1903 after its independence from Colombia and those relations further solidified with the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914. The U.S. and Panama signed a treaty that gave control of the Canal back to Panama in 1999.

Today, the U.S. and Panama work closely together to ensure global trade and security in the region, Sosa said.

Texas exports $2 billion or 36 percent of the nearly $5.8 billion worth of U.S. merchandise exports to Panama in 2020, according to the Texas Economic Development Council.

Texas’ seaports in Port Arthur, Beaumont, Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Freeport, and Houston, receive ships traveling through the Panama Canal.

Earlier this month, Panama President Laurentino Cortiz visited Austin, Houston, and Irving, Texas. His visit shows how important Texas is to Panama, Sosa said.

Panama also hosts the regional headquarters for more than 30 multi-national companies from the United States including seven from Texas, Sosa said.  Texas companies with a big presence there include Dell Technologies with 3,000 employees, Halliburton, and Caterpillar.

The U.S. is the number one user of the canal, with 68 percent of transits heading to or from U.S. ports, according to the State Department. Imports from Panama include fish, seafood, gold, cane sugar, bananas, and pineapples. Panama is also recognized worldwide for its high-end coffee.

Ricardo Koyner, CEO Kotowa farms with a package of Geisha Coffee

Panama’s coffee industry is small, but it’s very specialized, said Ricardo Koyner, CEO Kotowa farms.

“And it’s gone from conventional coffee to high-end coffee,” Koyner said.

It’s kind of like the wine industry, he said.

Panama is cultivating a variety of coffee called Geisha, which has been very popular with the Asian markets, he said. A pound of Geisha coffee from Panama has fetched as much as $1,300 at auction, he said. Roasted it is worth more than $3,000 a pound, he said.

Panama Geisha is rare, costs a lot to produce, and has great flavor, Koyner said. Panama’s soil, climate, geographic position all make it a favorable place to grow Geisha beans, he said.

The demand for the coffee is largely coming from Japan, Taiwan, China, and select markets in the U.S., he said.

“It’s definitely changing the industry,” Koyner said.

Geisha coffee is also being added to chocolate and liquor in Panama to make specialty products.

Overall, Panama’s economic growth rate is among the highest in the hemisphere. But it also faces challenges of inclusivity, more fiscal transparency, and enforcement of anti-money laundering legislation, according to the U.S. State Department.

Jonathan Diaz, business director of City of Knowledge Foundation in Panama, runs a technology park that was the former Clayton military base. It’s an innovation hub for technology, research, and science, and the United Nations has its regional hub there, he said. The park with 200 buildings sits across from the Panama Canal. It is home to a U.S. stem cell research lab among other ventures.

“We have a startup ecosystem that is very strong,” Diaz said.

The City of Knowledge recently signed an agreement with the University of Texas at Austin to create a global innovation lab in Panama. The hub is hoping to attract more companies from Texas and Austin to operate there.

Since the expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016, Texas has become an even stronger trading partner.  The Port of Houston is one of the world’s largest exporters of oil through the Panama Canal.

 The partnership between Texas and Panama is strong, Sosa said.

“And the best is yet to come,” he said.

Sputnik ATX Selects Four Startups For its Winter 2020 Accelerator Program

Sputnik ATX has announced the latest group of four startup companies accepted into its Winter 2020 Cohort.

The startups include Austin-based Mod Tech Labs, which is a spinoff of Underminer Studios. The startup works with production studios to create 3D images and videos.

Austin-based Trashbots is also in the cohort. It makes programmable robotics kits for K-12 educators that include lesson plans in coding.

RxThat, based in Boston, makes a mobile app that allows patients to compare prices for prescription drugs to get the lowest price available. It was created at MIT by doctors to bring price transparency to the pharmaceutical industry.

And Kanthaka, based in Houston, which brings personal trainers and yoga instructors to any location on demand through its app. It is currently available in eight cities.

In addition, Sputnik ATX has selected Sandbox Systems founded by a University of Texas Austin student to participate in its Entrepreneur in Residence program. Sandbox Systems is a cloud-based app development program.

This is the fifth cohort selected for Sputnik ATX, an Austin-based startup accelerator focused on growth companies since its founding in 2017.

“There were over 700 companies that started this application process,” Oksana Malysheva, CEO and managing partner of Sputnik ATX. “The five that we have selected to invest in are those who are tackling big problems in their markets and making a difference in the world.”

The four companies participating in the winter cohort receive three months of mentoring, office space, and $100,000 in seed funding.

“Like Sputnik itself, our new batch of founders are all creating something that will have a positive impact on the world,” Joe Merrill, co-founder of Sputnik ATX said in a news release.

Michael and Susan Dell Pledge $36 Million to Help Rebuild Texas Following Hurricane Harvey

Michael and Susan Dell, courtesy photo.

Michael Dell, chairman, and CEO of Dell Technologies announced in a post on Facebook Friday plans to donate $36 million to a fund to Rebuild Texas.

“We must rebuild the Texas communities devastated by Hurricane Harvey together,” Dell wrote.

On Friday, Michael and Susan Dell launched the Rebuild Texas Fund with Gov. Greg Abbott and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. He has pledged to match $1 for every $2 in donations until midnight on Sept. 4th.

“We are in it for the long-haul: our goal is to raise over $100 million for the recovery and rebuilding of our communities in the years to come,” Dell wrote. “Please join us by donating at www.rebuildtx.org or by texting “RebuildTX” to 91999. And please spread the word – every dollar matters!”

Dell grew up on Grape Street in the Meyerland neighborhood in Houston, which suffered extensive damage from more than 50 inches of rain hitting the city during Hurricane Harvey. On Facebook, Dell posted a picture of the flood waters that have submerged houses in his old neighborhood.

In addition to the Facebook post, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Michael and Susan Dell announced the RebuildTX fund on Good Morning America on Friday.

“This is our home. And we know that it will take all of us working together, over the long term, to rebuild our Texas communities,” Dell said in a statement. “The Rebuild Texas Fund will be a partnership among rally companies, community leaders and individuals to work alongside state and federal officials to provide an additional source of funding and ideas for recovery and rebuilding.”

The New York Times in an article reports the Dell Foundation donation is the largest single donation to the recovery efforts following Hurricane Harvey in Texas.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is working with the OneStar Foundation, was created to support the State of Texas by strengthening the nonprofit sector, on the Rebuild Texas Fund.

Since its founding in 1999, the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation has committed more than $1.32 billion to global children’s issues and community initiatives to date. The Dell family also donated $50 million to the University of Texas at Austin to create the Dell Medical School. (Read more about the Foundation and its work in this story from Silicon Hills News from the 2014 Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network conference in Austin.)

Aceable Expands its Mobile Drivers Ed App into California

imgres-3Aceable launched its mobile app to teach teens to drive in California this week.

The Austin-based startup reported as of Tuesday teens between the ages of 15 and 17 and a half years old can now fulfill their 25 hour classroom requirement on Aceable’s mobile app. The Aceable app is available for iOS and Android smartphones.

Aceable first launched its mobile phone app to teach teens to drive in Texas in 2014. The company created all of the curriculum for the lessons from scratch. They wanted to provide fresh, funny content like videos and memes to appeal to a teen audience. The app also allows parents to track their child’s progress.

“The rapid adoption of our mobile drivers ed apps and web courses illustrate teens are hungry for innovation, in an outdated industry,” Blake Garrett, CEO of Aceable, said in a news release. “With California being the birthplace of tech innovation it was a no-brainer to make it our next target market.”

Earlier this month, Aceable closed on $4.7 million in venture capital to help fuel its expansion nationwide. Its goal is to be in all U.S. states that allow online drivers ed by the end of 2016. The company has more than 100,000 users in Texas and Florida.

Austin-based Favor Lands $2 Million in Seed Stage Funding

Photo courtesy of Favor

Photo courtesy of Favor

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Favor, a food delivery service for central Austin, has received $2 million in seed funding.

Favor launched in Austin in June of 2013. It’s also available in Boston and San Luis Obispo.

Zac Maurais and Ben Doherty, graduates from California Polytechnic State University or Cal Poly, founded the company in the Boost.VC accelerator and launched a Favor pilot program in San Luis Obispo. They raised an initial investment round from Tim Draper of Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

The service works through a free mobile App that lets customers order online and then one of Favor’s couriers picks up the goods and delivers it. The deliveries cost a $5 flat fee plus tip.

The drivers wear bright blue tuxedo shirts and drive cars outfitted with oversized blue bowties.

“The company has logged about $2.7 million in transactions since starting about three years ago and its number of deliveries in August were double that of March, executives said, though they didn’t provide revenue figures,” according to the Wall Street Journal. “More than 53,000 customers have signed up for the service, they said.”

“Silverton Partners led the seed investment, joined by Tim Draper and unnamed angel investors,” according to the journal. Read the rest of the story here.

SpaceX to Build a $85 Million Rocket Launch Pad in Brownsville

Photo courtesy of Gov. Rick Perry's office.

Photo courtesy of Gov. Rick Perry’s office.

Texas is set to play a major role in the new space race.

This week, Gov. Rick Perry announced Texas would offer $15.3 million in incentives to bring SpaceX’s commercial rocket launch facility to Brownsville, on the southern tip of Texas. The facility will launch commercial satellites.

SpaceX, led by Elon Musk, plans to create 300 jobs at the site.

“Texas has been on the forefront of our nation’s space exploration efforts for decades, so it is fitting that SpaceX has chosen our state as they expand the frontiers of commercial space flight,” Gov. Perry said in a news release. “In addition to growing the aerospace industry in Texas, SpaceX’s facility will provide myriad opportunities for STEM education in South Texas, and inspire a new generation of Texas engineers and innovators.”

Texas is providing the incentives from a $2.3 million Texas Enterprise Fund grant and $13 million from the Spaceport Trust Fund, earmarked for developing the infrastructure for the spaceport.

SpaceX is a private maker of rockets and spacecraft founded by Musk. The company has already launched a spacecraft and delivered cargo to the International Space Station. Since 2003, the company has operated a Rocket Development Facility in McGregor, Texas with more than 250 employees.

“SpaceX is excited to expand our work in Texas with the world’s first commercial launch complex designed specifically for orbital missions. We appreciate the support of Gov. Perry and numerous other federal, state and local officials who have partnered with us to make this vision a reality,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said in a news release. “In addition to creating hundreds of high tech jobs for the Texas workforce, this site will inspire students, expand the supplier base and attract tourists to the south Texas area.”

Facebook Reaches Out to Small Businesses in Austin

By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News

Dan Levy, Facebook's  director of small business at the Facebook Austin Fit event.

Dan Levy, Facebook’s director of small business at the Facebook Austin Fit event.

Facebook, with more than 1 billion active users, has become the digital main street for small business owners from plumbers to jewelry stores.

They can hang their shingle, a Facebook business page, and reach their small town customers or a global audience.

And just a fraction of Facebook’s 30 million small to medium-sized businesses are active advertisers. In the last month, 1.5 million businesses spent anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, said Dan Levy, the company’s director of small business. But it’s growing. And the growth is coming from mobile customers.

Of the small businesses using Facebook, 19 million actively manage their page from a mobile device, Levy said.

“If you’ve got a mobile phone and a Facebook page, you’ve got a mobile strategy,” he said.

IMG_3514Levy spoke at the first Facebook Fit Austin, a boot-camp style event to educate small business owners about how to use Facebook effectively to grow their companies. The sold out event drew more than 1,000 people to the morning and afternoon sessions at the Austin Music Hall. It featured a keynote speech from Levy, a small business panel discussion with local businesses and training sessions led by Facebook and its partner companies, QuickBooks, Square and LegalZoom.

It’s the first time Facebook has held these kinds of events in communities across the country, Levy said. The Austin event was the largest of five events, he said. Facebook also has an office in Austin with a few hundred employees. It handles North American small business sales from here, he said.

Small businesses have contributed to significantly to Facebook’s revenue growth. The 10-year-old company Wednesday reported revenue of $2.91 billion for the second quarter, up 61 percent from the same time a year ago. And mobile advertising revenue represented 62 percent of all its ad revenue, up from 41 percent for the same quarter a year ago.

Facebook’s advertising has gotten more sophisticated in recent years with more targeted ads. The company offers small businesses the chance to upload email lists and target their current customers using Facebook’s platform. They can also get really specific in targeting customers by location, gender, interests and other factors. Facebook also lets business owners “boost” their daily posts to reach more people for a few dollars or $50 or more.

“We want to be the solution that helps them reach their customers,” Levy said. “It’s really important for us to make ads that are relevant. Our goal is for the ads to be as good, if not better, than the content you see on Facebook.”

During his morning keynote, Levy said even plumbers have grown their sales using Facebook. He gave the example of Morgan Miller Plumbing in Kansas City. Jeff Morgan, owner, has landed new customers and hired employees on Facebook. He has seen a 39 times the return on the $2,000 he’s spent on Facebook ads.

The key is being authentic, Levy said. Morgan has built his brand and expanded his business by telling who he is. Trust is a major issue when it comes to hiring a plumber and Morgan provides information about his employees along with pictures of them on the Facebook site.

The Austin small business panel at Facebook Fit

The Austin small business panel at Facebook Fit

To illustrate how local small businesses are using Facebook, Rhonda Abrams, author and USA Today columnist, moderated a panel featuring Chi’Lantro, Korean infused Tex-Mex food, Allens Boots, Yeti Coolers and Kendra Scott Jewelry.

Chi’Lantro, with more than 10,000 likes on Facebook, spends about $400 to $500 a month on Facebook ads to promote its food trucks, said Jae Kim, its owner. He started Chi’Lantro with $28,000 in savings and financed it with his credit cards. He now has five trucks in Austin and Houston, 25 employees and he plans to open a brick and mortar restaurant this year.

Yeti Coolers, founded in 2006 in Austin, makes high-end durable coolers for hunters, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. The company has 150 employees and more than 212,000 likes on its Facebook page. Yeti uses Facebook to communicate with its customers and to build brand loyalty and awareness, said Harrison Lindsey, its digital content coordinator. Authenticity is key to building the brand on Facebook, he said.

“We have to be very authentic and understand what our customer needs are,” he said.

IMG_3513Allens Boots, which has a location on Congress Avenue and a store in Round Rock, doesn’t do traditional radio ads anymore, said Kirsten King, marketing manager. It has also created two Facebook pages updated for the different customers in the separate stores, she said.

“The good thing about it is it’s cheap,” King said.

She estimates Allens Boots gets seven times return on its ad spend on Facebook.

Kendra Scott Jewelry, with more than 51,000 likes on Facebook, uses online analytics and tailors its posts to its targeted customer base, women between the ages of 18 to 34, said Lara Schmieding, spokeswoman. Its market research on Facebook has also helped the company decide where to open its next store in 2015, she said.

Texas Had 150 VC backed Deals Worth $1.3 Billion in 2013

imgres-15Texas reported 150 venture capital backed deals worth $1.3 billion in 2013, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, based on data from Thomson Reuters.
The number of deals in Texas fell nearly 9 percent from 163 but increased 37 percent in the dollars invested from $948.8 million in 2013.
The report found venture capitalists in the U.S. did 3,995 deals worth $29.4 billion, up four percent in number of deals and seven percent in dollar volume from a year earlier.
In the fourth quarter, Texas had 47 deals worth $315.9 million; up nearly 24 percent in number of deals and a 54 percent increase in dollar volume. Overall, $8.4 billion went to 1,077 deals nationwide in the fourth quarter.
The bulk of the money went to software and Internet companies.
The money invested in software companies reached the highest level since 2000 with $11 billion invested in 1,523 deals last year.
“Dollars going into software companies accounted for 37 percent of total venture capital invested in 2013, the highest percentage since the inception of the MoneyTree Report in 1995.”

Are You the Kind of Business the Texas Emerging Tech Fund is Looking For?

By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News

Larry Peterson, executive director for Texas Foundations for Innovative Communities

Larry Peterson, executive director for Texas Foundations for Innovative Communities

If your company meets the criteria for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, you may have a good shot at a $2 million investment. But don’t rush to fill out the application, says Larry Peterson, executive director for Texas Foundations for Innovative Communities.
Instead, go directly to a Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization.
“Once you’ve figured out how you meet those requirements, come meet with us and discuss it conceptually,” Peterson said. “We will give you a punch list: Fix these things, improve these things. If you meet the state’s criteria you can go before the board without that, but you will look less ready and it’s harder to come back from that. We’ll tell you ‘Here’s what you need to improve.’” The RCIC never tells anyone to quit trying for state funds, Peterson said. But with companies at various stages of readiness they give them homework to increase their likelihood of success before the state board. Once an organization has cleared an RCIC, he said, there’s an 85 percent chance they’ll get state funding.
Peterson spoke at a meeting about the fund Wednesday at Capital Factory. About 30 people signed up to attend the meeting, which was followed by a happy hour.
Ron Lehman, executive director of TMAC, which supports manufacturing companies in Texas

Ron Lehman, executive director of TMAC, which supports manufacturing companies in Texas

The Texas Emerging Technology Fund, created in 2005, tackles the problem of Texas companies moving to the coasts because they couldn’t find local funding, said Ron Lehman, executive director of TMAC, which supports manufacturing companies in Texas.
The fund has had some successes as well as some failures. The Austin Business Journal reported Thursday in an exclusive story that since the fund’s inception 14 startups backed by $17 million from the fund have failed or gone bankrupt.
To date, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund has invested $204 million into 143 companies with the largest number of investments, 72, given to biotechnology and life sciences companies.
Last May, the Texas Legislature approved $50 million for the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. The fund is targeted at providing seed stage and early funding for startups in Texas.
“We needed to create an environment that was more welcoming to new investments,” Lehman said. A company has 30 months to use the money and can apply for another round if necessary. Most investments are $2 million, since the state considers anything less than half a million too cumbersome to administer. For its participation, Lehman said, the state takes a percentage of money at exit and returns it to the fund. Usually that’s in the form of convertible preferred stock.
Companies that meet the state’s criteria for commercialization funding of an idea include those that are seeking to commercialize an emerging technology; are connected with a state institution, such as the University of Texas or the Johnson Space Center; offer significant economic benefit to the state and have a high likelihood of receiving other funding.
Or does it?
“It seems like relatively accessible money for the right companies,” said Jason Seats, managing director of Techstars Austin. “The most complicated requirement for most companies is that it has to tie back to a direct benefit for Texas and they have very specific ways they think about that… For some companies it’s going to be very easy to connect the dots.”
Keith Casey of Casey Software, formerly of Twilio, said that, compared to other states’ emerging tech funds he’s familiar with, Texas’ is much more practical and accessible.
Peterson said the process takes between 4-and-9 months, which can be much shorter than seeking funding with private investors. The state’s due diligence, he said, also tends to be less rigorous than a private investor’s would be.
“We do collect more data so in some cases our expectations are higher,” Peterson said. For example, the state is more interested in the projections for job creation than a private investor would be. And while many investors no longer require a business plan, the state still does.
Eighteen months ago, the Austin Chamber was doing the job the Texas Foundations for Innovative Communities—started by Pike Powers and the late George Kozmetsky—now does.
“We are trying to make sure they have a really good chance of success…and I think Austin was more willing to let them sort all that out,” Peterson said. “So we’re spending more time with each company and trying to beat them into shape in a kind of tough-love way.”
The Emerging Technology Fund plans to have more meetings at Capital Factory to ensure that local entrepreneurs know about the program and the state gets the best crop of companies.

Burpy Expands to San Antonio and Houston

By LAURA LOREK
Founder of Silicon Hills News

Last Longhorn Startup class, Aseem Ali and a team of undergraduate students pitched Burpy, a grocery delivery service.
Now he’s running a quickly growing startup and finishing up his degree as a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Texas.
Burpy, which expanded into the San Antonio market on Nov. 25th, plans to launch in Houston on Monday.
That means Burpy will provide grocery service to all major markets in Texas with plans to expand to Dallas-Fort Worth and Bryan-College Station early next year.
Burpy, which used to charge a delivery fee ranging from $15 to $20, no longer charges for delivery. Since it made that move, Burpy has taken off, Ali said.
“We’ve seen amazing adoption,” he said during a recent interview.
In San Antonio, in the last few weeks, Burpy has fulfilled more than 300 orders, Ali said.
“Burpy delivers everything that you can find in a pantry or a refrigerator,” Ali said. “A lot of organic food and a lot of produce.”
The company, based in Austin, has 45 daily shoppers in San Antonio, 50 in Austin, 30 in Houston and 20 in Dallas.
In the next year, Burpy expects to do about $1 million in revenue, Ali said. He graduates in May and plans to work on the business full time.
Burpy gets its grocery items from Wal-Mart, HEB, Costco, Whole Foods. And it recently added office supplies and Office Depot.
Beyond Texas, Burpy plans to expand to Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Kansas City.
Although grocery delivery has been tried before on a large scale and flopped, Ali thinks his business will succeed where others have failed largely because the company crowdsources delivery and uses the latest technology tools to manage its workforce and orders.
Burpy doesn’t have any inventory, warehouses or expensive delivery vans. It taps into existing resources to maximize its efficiency, Ali said. The company does have a few competitors such as Greenling, but it focuses primarily on locally produced organic food.
“We can deliver Oreos and hot Cheetos,” Ali said.
Other Austin competitors include Couch Potato, Munchy Mart and Austin Grocer, but they don’t deliver an extensive inventory of items, Ali said.
Other national competitors include Peapod, Instacart, Amazon Fresh and Walmart to go, but they are not available yet in the Texas market, Ali said. He hopes to establish first mover advantage with the customer base here.
Ali attended the latest Longhorn Startup Demo Day and he said his biggest takeaway came from Billionaire Mark Cuban. It’s best to learn from history, Ali said. Webvan, one of the biggest dot com failures of all time, blew through $1 billion setting up a home grocery delivery network and then filed for bankruptcy. Amazon bought its assets in bankruptcy. It also bought out HomeGrocer, which had gone public and then its stock plummeted.
Burpy has learned from the mistakes made by others, Ali said. The company has raised some angel investment. Sai Ganesh, CTO of Audingo in Austin, is mentoring Burpy. The company is also hiring drivers.

Disclosure: Burpy is an advertiser with Silicon Hills News

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