Covering North Texas' tech scene everyday gives us a unique view into the ecosystem, including stealthy startups and those that have been building traction for years.
Now, we’re announcing NTX Inno's 2020 Fire winners, which includes a list of 50 people and companies that are crushing it in North Texas. Normally, this would be celebrated in-person with a champagne toast, but these are not normal times. So please join us for a virtual celebration of the movers and shakers who are changing the region as a whole on August 20.
By unveiling the 50 now and gathering everyone at a virtual event, we allow for the community as a whole to celebrate those that are driving North Texas startup and tech scene forward.
At the event, we’ll announce the 10 people and companies, one from each category, that a panel of esteemed judges have selected as the Inno Blazer winners (AKA category winners).
So, I’m sure you’re asking, what’s “on fire?” Based on nominations readers have sent in over the past few months, we’re showcasing startups that have had a banner year — people and companies with new funding, recent product launches, hot hires and innovative approaches to solving problems.
So, without further ado, let’s explore this year's winners.
- Kanarys - Founded in April 2018, Dallas-based Kanarys offers a platform for both employers and employees to help create a diverse and inclusive culture and workplace. It uses anonymized and aggregated data to determine the level of employee satisfaction with the workplace and the company’s initiatives. For employers, they are able to track trends and statistics, based on collected data and surveys. On the other end, employees are given a place to express issues or concerns without fear of retaliation. Raising a $1.5 million Seed round in November, that makes co-founder Mandy Price one of only about 50 Black women to raise more than $1 million in VC funding.
- INC/BTSM - INC was founded in 2015 to address the issue that while students of color make up the majority of students in public schools across the country, the bulk of staff are white. INC uses a holistic approach that covers every subject from first grade to graduate school. The Frisco-based company, which began with founder Jay Veal working alone, has grown more than 60 employees. With a presence in a number of cities across the country, INC is planning on opening a second HQ in Atlanta this year, with an expansion into the Charlotte market.
- InspireMore - InspireMore launched in Dallas in 2014. Its staff of 11 full-time employees highlight stories from social media, other news outlets, as well as through original reporting on events from different parts of the country. For InspireMore, the goal is not be out there breaking news, but rather to be a digest for readers looking for something more uplifting than traditional outlets. The focus is on stories of hope, inspiration and community. To help keep spirits up during the pandemic, InspireMore recently launched the Coronavirus Good News Dashboard to share tips and uplifting stories from around the globe related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Work Shield - Founded in 2018, Work Shield offers companies and employees a platform to report and track harassment and discrimination claims. Reports can be filed through the company’s call center or via the internet. Once a report is made, Work Shield contracts with a local law firm, sending trained attorneys to investigate the claim and make recommendations for resolution. Reports are made and distributed to all parties to keep a clear record of the incident. Late last month, the company landed a $4.11 million Series A. The funding round was led by local public and private securities holding company Hoak & Co. North Texas private investor Jeff Estes joined the round, along with other undisclosed strategic insurance and benefits investors.
- teleCalm - teleCalm was launch in 2016 in Allen, after co-founders Tavis and Jill Schriefer acted as caregivers for Tavis’ mother, who had early signs of dementia, for six years and witnessing the harassment by telemarketers and scammers looking to exploit her vulnerability. To help others living with or caring for those with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, teleCalm developed a patented managed phone service. The technology offers enhanced blocking of scam phone calls, as well as helping to filter outgoing calls. All the data can be tracked by caregivers through an app.
- UT Dallas Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship - Universities are a resource to the community; a pipeline for physical talent and intellectual innovation. Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, UT-Dallas has been quickly gaining a reputation in North Texas and beyond as one of the top STEM programs in the country, and the new leader of the university’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has plans to continue that growth. The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was started in 2006. The goal of the organization is to incorporate cross-disciplinary studies to give students and alumni the real-world skills they need to make it in the startup world, beyond the beginning steps of simply formulating an idea.
- SMU Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship – Founded in 1972, the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship is one of the oldest centers of innovation of its kind. Beyond educating some of the region’s tech leaders and founders, the institute also works to help train the next generation of entrepreneurs through its StartUp Camp 4 Teens. It also helps connect the local ecosystem through its quarterly Southwest Venture Forum. The institute is led by Simon Mak and recently brought on former Addison TreeHouse director Nancy Hong to serve as its new program director.
- WorkSuites - Dallas-based WorkSuites was founded in 2001. However, until 2018, the company operated under the name Meridian Business Centers, until it expanded beyond the North Texas market into Houston. Overall, the company operates 21 locations across the two regions. However, unlike other coworking spaces across the Metroplex, WorkSuites’ digs don’t feature the large common areas filled with rows of desks. The company caters to a more established, executive-level crowd. The company recently opened a new location in Allen and has another planned one on the way in North Texas.
- Arm Candy – With services spanning media planning, buying, education and consulting, Dallas-based Arm Candy bills itself as more than a marketing and PR firm. It calls itself a media intelligence agency. Launched just last year, the firm uses a data-driven and scientific approach to the marketing industry.
- Think Three Media – Led by the 2018 Dallas Startup Evangelist of the Year and two-time Lone Star Emmy winner Leah Frazier, Think Three Media is a PR and marketing firm focused on creating strong brand identities, especially for Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs. Since 2002, the company is working to bring attention to business and areas historically underrepresented in North Texas.
- Moments By Design - Frisco-based Moments By Design, a maker of all-in-one party boxes, was created to let people focus on the moments rather than the work needed to make them happen. Part of the inspiration for the startup was born during the stress of rushing around to get party supplies across the Metroplex. CEO and founder Leslie Flores found herself picking up the slack after realizing her husband may not have been the best planner for a combined New Year’s Eve and birthday party. Working with a team of six contracted graphic designers and two operational staff, Moments by Design’s party boxes include cups, plates, gift bags and decorations all in one place. The company currently offers 13 trademarked designs, based around themes like birthdays, baby showers and masquerades, as well as offering custom boxes and boxes for larger corporate events.
- GoodieBoxx - Before its launch in 2015, Dallas-based GoodieBoxx began quietly putting up its self-serve retail stores up in a few choice locations around DFW. Since then, the startup’s combo of vending machine and mini-convenience store concepts have been popping up more around town. While still bootstrapped, Maxie Taylor was accepted into Capital Factory’s accelerator program, and at a Q&A session there earlier this year said he was ready for a seed round. In addition to its own physical stores, GoodieBoxx also offers software solutions to other retail businesses to help with logistics and inventory management, among other things.
- Linear Labs - Inspired by the windmills doting the landscape that lies to the west of their home, the father-son duo founded the company in 2014, after developing an electric motor that could provide efficient water and electricity to rural Africa and South America. And after their discovery they have brought the company to their 11,000 square-foot space in Fort Worth to bring electric motors to nearly every sector of the marketplace in which they’re used. The most recent iteration of the company’s patented Hunstable Electric Turbine (HET) technology, launched in June, is a motor designed for the micro-mobility space. Recently, the company landed a nearly $70 million grant from the City of Fort Worth to create a manufacturing, as well as research and development center.
- Rakkasan Tea - Rakkasan Tea was born in Afghanistan. It was founded by Brandon Friedman as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 as he was looking for a way to help rebuild communities destroyed in the wake of war and conflict. Shortly after launching, Friedman was joined by fellow Army vet Terrence “TK” Kamauf. The startup sources its tea from around the world, but the constant thread is that it is sourced by farmers in war-torn and disadvantaged areas. Some of the first tea the company sold came from Vietnam, now the company offers tea from nearly every continent, including Rwanda, Colombia, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Besides selling directly through its online shop Rakkasan can also be found at 1890 Marketplace, Fair & Square Imports and at the Coppell Farmers Market.
- VEX Robotics – VEX Robotics is a Greenville-based robotic solutions provider which was launched in 2004. The portfolio company of Innovation First International uses its products to propel its mission of increasing student interest in STEM through hands-on learning and host competitions. To help with that it hosts its annual VEX Robotics World Championship, which pits students in various robotic-related challenges.That's going to be hosted in Dallas this year.
- SurviVR - Techstars-backed SurviVR is an immersive VR first responder training technology that enables police, military and security personnel training with realistic scenarios and graphics. The Dallas-based company also has offices in Austin, as it was accepted into the 2019 MassChallenge Texas cohort. In 2018, SurviVR took third place at UT Austin’s DisrupTexas competition and took top prize at UT-Dallas’ Big Idea Competition.
- Groove Jones - Groove Jones is a creative-technology studio that focuses on creating experiences for brands and consumers through AR, VR and artificial intelligence. Started in 2014, Groove Jones has expanded rapidly with now about 25 employees. While AR and VR comprise about half of Groove Jones’ business, the company’s been working on expanding the technology and use of those capabilities through a variety of spaces, including stints at the last two Super Bowls with the largest multiplayer quarterback challenge game created and other applications created for such recognizable names as Wells Fargo, Modelo and General Mills.
- Worlds - “We don’t want to run from the world’s biggest problems, we want to run towards them,” Ben Lamm, founder, CEO and chairman at Hypergiant Industries, said about the drive behind the company’s many divisions and spinoffs. And with the most recent Hypergiant company, which will operate under Hypergiant Sensory Sciences, the company is expanding that mission into the spatial AI industry. Dallas-based Worlds emerged from stealth last month, announcing a $10 million Series A funding round led by locally based Align Capital Partners and joined by Chevron Technology Ventures, Piva and Hypergiant Industries. The company is calling its platform the “first-of-its-kind extended reality (XR) environment.” Worlds’ software allows users to create AI-powered models of real-world spaces, allowing them to analyze and learn from their physical surroundings. It hopes that the technology will increase companies’ efficiency, while also increasing security, productivity and cost reduction.
- Bottle Rocket – Led by 2019 Tech Titans Emerging Company CEO Calvin Carter, Addison-based digital experience and mobile experience studio Bottle Rocket has been seeing steady revenue growth. The company recently took headlines for announcing a permanent “work from wherever” model for its 250-person workforce and making Juneteenth a company holiday. The company has worked with a number of large brands, including Mary Kay and Coca-Cola.
- Sahai - Launched last year, orientation mobility startup Sahai is preparing to release its technology into the world, with a focus helping others and the environment. However, the software has the potential to be a big player in other industries. The idea began with UT Dallas student Maithreya Chakravarthula when he was working with nonprofits assisting the blind and visually impaired. The startup’s technology uses AI and machine vision to detect a given object. It can then give the user audio instructions about how far the object is from them, what obstacles are in the way and directions on how to navigate the space between user and object.
- MediBookr – With co-pays, deductibles, service networks and more, not many like navigating their health care plans. Launched in 2015, Health Wildcatters-backed MediBookr uses tech to help employees and employers synchronize and personalize health care benefits. Recently founder and CEO Sunny Nadolsky was named one of the Dallas Business Journal’s 2020 Women in Technology winners.
- StaffDNA – With a global pandemic, StaffDNA seems well placed for the moment. The company, founded in 2014, helps connect health care professionals with job opportunities. To help out during the current crisis, StaffDNA launched a self-service mobile app to help manage short-term and permanent contracts based on location. The company said it has seen about 1,500 new users in the first month and is set to reach 100K downloads of its mobile app by the end of the year.
- NeuroRehabVR – NeuroRehabVR is a Fort Worth-based AR/VR physical and cognitive therapy startup co-founded in 2017 by Veena Somareddy and Bruce Conti – who was also Neuro’s original investor. Neuro started small, working in a single clinic, where the four-person team was able to get real-time feedback from patients and physicians. Last year, the company landed a $225,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Now the Neuro is working with large partners and customers like U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the UNT Health Science Center and UT Southwestern Medical Center. The company recently got some recognition, taking home the top prize at the Women in Tech Summit pitch competition, which came with a $10,000 in-kind prize.
- Rosy – The winner of NTX Inno’s Tech Madness competition, Rosy is a women’s sexual health app founded by former OB/GYN Lyndsey Harper. Rosy was launched on Valentine’s Day 2019 and has been rapidly gaining traction. Earlier this year the company landed a $1 million Seed Round from Social Starts and Joyance Partners, as well as individual investors James Beshara and Alex Snodgrass. In March, the startup was named one of the winners of the SoGal Global Pitch Competition in San Francisco, which focuses on female and diverse founders, which landed the company an additional $25,000.
- Bed Beacon - Using medical- and care-related data from healthcare facilities and patent-pending algorithms, Bed Beacon was created to help solve the question of where to receive care. Whether that’s at a nursing home or in-home services, is one many don’t think about until those services are needed. Led by Kathryn Jarvis and based in Addison, the recently launched Bed Beacon is a health care-focused platform that aggregates data about in-home care, nursing homes and other in-patient treatment facilities, helping patients and their families find the right facility. Users of the platform are able to sort through facilities based on a number of options, including quality, lifestyle, availability and location factors.
- Glorious PC Gaming Race - It started with a passion for gaming, which eventually turned into a passion for the machines and technology it takes to game. Plano-based Glorious PC Gaming Race was launched in 2014 after founder Shazim Mohammad noticed that while PC gaming was supposed to be the highest level of gaming, the products marketed and designed specifically for gaming tended to be low-quality and high-priced. Recently, the company has been looking to give back to the community with its Give Gloriously fundraiser, which aimed to raise $25,000 for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the Communities Foundation of Texas’ North Texas Community Response Fund through a weeklong live Twitch stream.
- Sandlot Esports - Dallas-based Sandlot Esports is a gaming-focused social enterprise company that was founded in February. Sandlot’s entire mission is centered around giving back through video games. It hosted its first tournament in May, which for a small entry fee, allowed player of all levels to compete against each other. After paying out a $5,000 prize pool, the company donates the rest to local charities.
- Team Envy – Team Envy is a Dallas-based esports franchise, with teams such as the Dallas Fuel and Dallas Empire. Owned by Mike Rufail and Hersh Interactive Group, the franchise was founded in 2007. Playing in professional leagues and tournaments across a myriad of games, Team Envy was named the eSports Team of the Year at the 2016 eSports Industry awards.
- Complexity Gaming – While at time clashing with Team Envy, Frisco-based Complexity Gaming was launched much more recently in 2003 and owned by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
- Mission Control – While based in St. Louis, Mo. Mission Control has a significant presence in the North Texas scene. And with a focus on connecting people through video games, the executive team saw the Metroplex as a natural fit to expand into. The esports SaaS platform allows users to create their own esports leagues. The team at Mission Control saw an opportunity to use its platform to help the community enjoy digital recreation during lockdowns caused by the pandemic. The startup has partnered with a number of organizations and universities around the Metroplex, including Dallas Baptist University, UT Arlington, Dallas Parks & Rec. and the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Dallas, among others to help them digitally recreate the sports leagues and intramurals that have been canceled due to Covid-19.
- UWorld – Launched in 2003, UWorld is an online test prep resource for college entrance exams, grad school exams and professional certifications. Since its founding, the company has been steadily adding offerings to its platform, with physician assistant prep in 2019 and Law programs in April. Recently, it announced acquiring RxPrep, a California-based mobile exam prep application focused on pharmacy licensure and pharmacy law, with plans to merge RxPrep’s material to its offerings, as well as add new mobiles apps.
- RoboKind - RoboKind is a Dallas-based edtech startup launched in 2011 with the mission of helping students, especially those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, to develop new interests and realize their full potential. To do this, the startup has developed two products: Robots4Autism and Robots4STEM. Milo, the socially-advanced, life-like robot developed by RoboKind, leads the way for Robots4Autism. Through consistent repetition, patience and friendly demeanor, Milo gives children on the Autism Spectrum the structure they need to learn and grow. Robots4STEM is a visual programming language developed by the company to help spark interest in coding for children of all types. RoboKind recently hired Valorie Brown Loomer as its first female CEO. According to Crunchbase.com, the company has raised about $19.7 million in total funding, most recently with a $2.8 million investment from TPEG. Last year, RoboKind was named a winner of Red Herring’s 2018 Top 100 North America award, which recognizes innovative private tech companies.
- Trivie - Trivie creates software for companies that helps them remotely train employees and new hires. It develops training modules and activities based on a company’s needs and requirements. Analytics are uploaded to the employer so they can track progress and create a communication channel. The Frisco-based company recently landed a $5 million Series A funding round led by Houston’s Cottonwood Venture Partners. Launched in 2011, the round brings Trivie’s total funding to $11.6 million.
- Access My Research - Access My Research is a nonprofit social platform dedicated to making academic research available to everyone. Founder Mehmet Günal, a UT-Dallas graduate student, found that most individuals and even some institutions had trouble paying for access to academic research locked behind paywalls by for-profit publishers. However, he found a loophole. By launching as a nonprofit, researchers are able to share their research directly with Access My Research’s platform, where it can be accessed by all, since it is not making money off of the material. The nonprofit recently took both The Biggest Idea and the third place, along with a $10,000 prize, at UT-Dallas’ Big Idea Competition, a Shark Tank-style pitch event. Günal said he hopes the platform can help level the academic playing field for disadvantaged communities, as well as potentially help facilitate the new innovative breakthrough.
- Istation – With a game-like interface, Istation is helping put personalized learning in the classroom. The company focuses on pre-K through 8th grade and offers “accurate assessments, engaging curriculum and trusted teacher tools.” However, Istation doesn’t just focus on the student, the company also provides lesson plans for teachers and reports that can be seen be administrators and parents to help track student growth.
- ShearShare – Like the gig economy for cosmetology, husband and wife team Tye and Courtney Caldwell launched ShearShare in 2015 to help connect open chairs in salons and barber shops to professional stylists. The company’s B2B platform allows professionals to find places in their geography with prices per day. Since its founding, the company has raised $3.6 million from backers like Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Structure Capital, Precursor Ventures and Backstage Capital, putting it in a group of less than 150 Black-owned startups to raise more than $1 million. The company was recently featured by Fortune.
- Alto - Alto launched in Dallas in February 2018. And with its company-owned fleet of cars, W-2 employees and safety features, the company is hoping to find a different, more targeted part of the rideshare ecosystem. Throughout the pandemic, Alto has been making a number of pivots to keep driving in a hard hit industry. On a smaller level, Alto had been providing B2B service for car dealerships to use its service instead of a loaner car, as well as providing concierge delivery services for members. In the past few months, the company launched The Market, a food delivery service that focuses on helping a single local business with lunch deliveries each day. Brunch service is available on the weekends. In addition, the company has partnered Dallas-based pharmaceutical delivery startup Scripx and garden kit delivery company Gardenuity to help deliver those businesses’ products. It also recently launched an alcohol delivery service, after receiving a consumer delivery permit from the TABC.
- Match Group – Best known for Match.com, Match Group is an online dating app company with a number of platforms in its portfolio, including Tinder, Plenty of Fish and OkCupid. The company operates worldwide and has been creating a number of new features for its brands as users learn to date from home. Most recently, Match is enjoying the single life after spinning out of New York-based IAC in early July.
- Securing Life Today - Financial management can be difficult. Securing Life Today’s app, created by Brandon Burton, a former financial advisor for firms like Northwestern Mutual, connects users accounts in one place so they can track finances and keep tabs on how well they are achieving their financial goals. The company was launched in 2013 with a $30,000 investment from Burton With this, Securing Life Today plans to expand its user base and begin working with getting larger companies to implement the software with its employees.
- Cooklist - Dallas-based Cooklist is a personal grocery platform that combines shopping, meal planning and inventory management. Cooklist was co-founded in 2018 by Brandon Warman and Daniel Vitiello. Shortly after launching, the company joined Techstars’ accelerator program, adding the organization as an early investor. Since then, the company has gone on to raise about $500,000 in funding, with backers like RevTech, Matchstick Ventures and HarloKyn Advisors. And due to the surge in online shopping and on-demand delivery amidst the pandemic, the four-person team at Cooklist has tripled its user base since December, along with a six times increase in monthly traffic. And to capitalize on the growth, Warman said the startup is planning to open a new round soon.
- Zyston – Focused on managed security, advisory and human capital services, Zyston is an end-to-end information security solutions provider. After launching in 2016, the company has racked up some recognitions, being named the No. 11 fastest growing company in Dallas by SMU and a Forrester Wave leader in midsized cybersecurity consulting in 2019. Prior to that, Zyston, led by Craig Stamm and Jonathan Steenland, was named one of the most promising enterprise security companies by CIOReview. The company has so far raised $5.9 million.
- Critical Start - Plano-based cybersecurity software company Critical Start was created in response to a number of cyberattacks on businesses and government organizations at the beginning of the decade and to address what founder and CEO Rob Davis saw was lacking in the marketplace. The company designed its offerings to work around mobile devices, in order to be able to respond to threats and alerts more quickly. The company boasts a 99% customer retention rate. Last year, it raised $40 million in a Series A and was valued at $150 million. In less than a year and a half, the company has more than doubled its number of employees. And it plans to double in size again in the next 16 months.
- Cysiv – Landing one of the largest funding rounds of the year so far, with a $26 million Series A led by ForgePoint Capital in February, Irving-based Cysiv is a managed security-operations-center-as-a-service provider. Cysiv was created in 2018 as partnership between Trend Micro and Frisco-based information risk management company HITRUST. However, the company now operates independently of the two. Cysiv provides cloud-based monitoring platform combines security information, threat intelligence software and user entity behavior analysis, among other things, to help clients detect, investigate and solve emerging cyber threats.
- Zimperium – Incorporating machine learning, Zimperium is focused on cybersecurity for mobile devices. Its software identifies security, privacy and compliance issues during development and protects apps while in use. Zimperium was founded in 2010 and has received $72 million in total funding, with backing from Warburg Pincus, SoftBank, Samsung and Sierra Ventures, according to Crunchbase.
- StackPath – StackPath emerged from stealth in 2016 with a bang, landing a $180 million Series A led by ARBY Partners. It followed that up this year with a Series B estimated at about $216 million. The edge computing security-as-a-software platform serves more than 30,000 customers across the U.S., Europe, South America, Asia and Australia, ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies. In a release, the startup said that the emergence of 5G technology is allowing for enhancements for its software and expanding its potential for growth.
- Gig Wage – Launched in 2014, Dallas-based Gig Wage is a 1099 payment management and support platform. For customers, it’s simple: Register, connect banking credentials and make payments. Gig Wage handles the details like onboarding, payment tracking and compliance. Since its launch, the startup has raised more than $3 million, with backers including the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund, Westcott and Stage 1 Ventures. The company also landed in the No. 2 spot in NTX Inno’s Tech Madness competition, beating out more well-funded companies like Park Up Front and Hedera Hashgraph.
- Kanna - After launching last year, Kanna, a gig work platform for the cannabis industry, has been gaining traction and momentum in the industry and among the VC community. Kanna was accepted into the DivInc Fall 2019 cohort, the Capital Factory VIP accelerator program, as well as the 2019 MassChallenge Texas cohort. It was also selected as one of three winners of the Dallas SoGal Pitch Competition. Now, moving virtually during the pandemic, the company has launched an online training course and put hundreds to work, primarily in Oklahoma.
- Hashing Systems – Not quite sure what blockchain really means? Well, Hashing Systems does. The UT Dallas startup specializes is in dapp (decentralized applications) and ledger technology on the Hedera Hashgrapgh platform. To put it in their words, they are a “studio aimed to improve the Hedera Hashgraph" ecosystem to help make “it easier to build and use applications.” Founder Pablo Peillard was recently accepted into the prestigious 2020 cohort of LaunchPad Lift, a virtual mentoring program from Blackstone LaunchPad and Techstars. The student entrepreneur-focused program lasts for 10 weeks and offers the selected 10 student-led startups a $10,000 grant.
- Invene – Started by OZY Genius Award winner James Griffin, Invene is a custom software development firm creating mobile and web applications for the health care industry. The company also works on UX design and hardware prototyping. Recently it has retooled some of that hardware to help slow the spread of the pandemic by making 3D-printed PPE for health care professionals and frontline workers.
- Zirtue - In this age of botched loans, Zirtue is forging a more direct path. The relationship-based lending application, founded in 2017 by Dennis Call and Michael Saey, “simplifies and automates loans between friends, family and trusted relationships.” Last year, the startup raised a $1 million Seed Round to further its spread into the marketplace and it now has hundreds of thousands of users.