houston innovators podcast episode 144
In 2020, Craig Ceccanti sat down to consider what his next career move would be. Former CEO and co-founder of national franchise Pinot's Palette and a co-founder of Houston sports tech startup sEATz, Ceccanti wanted a passion project.
His background is in software and computer science and, with years of experience in entrepreneurship, he decided a combination of his passions would be a software-focused consulting firm for startups and growing businesses. He founded T-Minus Solutions in November of 2020.
Ceccanti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast that at Pinot's Palette, he built the software himself, using freelancers to help build out and support his work. These developers were inconsistent and never lasted long, and Ceccanti says he experienced this challenge again when developing sEATz's software. He had the idea of providing a more reliable software outsourcing service for companies.
"I love technology and mentoring other entrepreneurs — those were two big factors," Ceccanti says on the show. "So, starting a consulting agency where we could help startups and mid sized-growth companies build custom software was kind of my perfect unicorn."
T-Minus Solutions, which is bootstrapped so far, has a team of six employees, and Ceccanti says they are specifically focused on working with impactful businesses. As a passion project, he explains he's less driven by revenue and more focused on the help and guidance he can provide his clients, whether it's building software for them or helping navigate a major business decision.
"Our statement is to empower entrepreneurs," he explains. "We want to make the accessibility to technology easy for them and have a trusted technology partner for them to come to."
Ceccanti, who's a mentor at Rice University, is dedicated to helping fellow Houston entrepreneurs and aspiring founders. He says over the years as he's doled out advice over coffee or beers, he got the idea to write down some of his lessons learned. The book, “A Founder’s Guide to A Software Startup,” is expected to release later this year.
Originally from Louisiana, Ceccanti — who moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina — is enthusiastic about Houston's innovation ecosystem. He says he's seen so much progress for startups and entrepreneurs, and Houston has so many industries represented here — something extremely valuable when it comes to access to consumers.
"Houston is really unique — when you think about Dallas and Austin or even the West Coast or the Northeast — with the demand of our consumerbase. You can test out anything here — you can't say that about Austin or Dallas the way you can here," Ceccanti says. "Industrial, medical, consumer, retail, restaurant — you're in the right place. If you can make it work here, it's going to do good."
He shares more about the his career — from franchising to tech startups — as well as why he's bullish on Houston's business economy on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.
Home Sweet Home
A blockchain technology company that was founded out of Rice University has closed its latest round of funding.
Founded in 2017, Topl is a blockchain-as-a-service company that's developing a purpose-built blockchain ecosystem to empower impact and sustainability within its userbase of businesses. The company's $15 million series A round was co-led by Houston-based Mercury, Republic Asia, and Malta-based Cryptology Asset Group.
“Topl’s blockchain was purpose built to power the next wave of supply chains and markets, that are more sustainable and inclusive,” says Chris Georgen, founder and managing director of Topl, in a news release. “Every decision we’ve made has been relentlessly focused on this problem and it’s exciting to see this approach yielding results with more than 30 different impact-forward use cases already live or approaching launch. Through this latest fundraise and with the strong network we’ve built, we’re looking to accelerate the growth of our ecosystem and setting a goal of at least 100 applications launched by next year.”
The company, which is now headquartered in Austin but still has a presence in Houston, has raised over $20 million in investment to date. Topl announced its $3 million seed round of funding — also led by Mercury — in 2020.
“Despite broader market dynamics across the Web3 sector, Topl’s strategic and early focus on users allowed the team to build an incredibly strong foundation that can weather cycles by providing an increasingly in-demand service to companies implementing various sustainable initiatives,” says Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury, in the release. “We are excited to support Topl in this pivotal growth period.”
The round included two new international investors in Topl. Republic Asia is a newly launched arm of private investing platform Republic that is focused on fintech and web3 solutions. Houstonian Youngro Lee leads the division as executive vice president at Republic and head of Republic Asia and will join Topl's board to assist with international expansion.
“Sustainability and climate considerations are no longer mere luxuries, but an absolute necessity for companies to contribute to global finance and commerce,” Lee says in the release. “Topl will make it easier than ever for any organization around the world to harness the power of blockchain to track and monetize their positive environmental impact.”
Cryptology, with its European operations, also brings Topl key international presence.
"It's been an honor to see Topl progress from when it first entered Iconic Lab's accelerator program back in 2018 to where it is today," says Patrick Lowry, CEO of Cryptology, in the release. "Cryptology is hyper-focused on driving crypto adoption in an impact-focused, sustainable manner. We are proud to add Topl to our portfolio of companies and excitedly await Topl's network decentralization."
In addition to increasing its international impact, Topl will reportedly continue to build out its blockchain and technology. Per the release, Topl expects to launch a traceability platform for ethically and sustainably sourced products later this year.
Topl, which launched a grant program to fund Web3 startups and developers with inclusive and sustainable solutions, plans to announce its first 20 grant awards early next year. The grant recipients will also receive development, go-to-market, and fundraising support from Topl's team and network.