Entrepreneurship

A new Dallas unicorn gets 2023′s venture funding cycle off to a fast start

A new Dallas unicorn gets 2023′s venture funding cycle off to a fast start

The money flow to Dallas-area startups is off to a fast start in 2023, a trend that mirrors last year before venture backing plummeted amid end-of-the-year economic uncertainty.

Since Jan. 1, at least five North Texas-founded firms have hauled in sizable investments, including a $300 million round that crowned the region’s newest “unicorn” — the label given to startups that hit a $1 billion valuation.

Investment deals so far include:

  • $300 million to Dallas-based ShiftKeya technology firm that connects licensed professionals with health care companies seeking to fill open shifts. Investors include Lorient Capital, Ares Management, Pantheon, Clearlake Capital and Health Velocity Capital.
  • $40 million to Dallas-based The inventiona conversational AI platform that automates customer service interactions. Tritium Partners led the investment round.
  • $35 million to Addison-based Medix Infusiona firm that offers personalized care to improve infusion therapy access for chronically ill patients in rural, suburban and underserved areas. Investors include Echo Health Ventures, Pittco Direct Investments II and Noro-Moseley Partners.
  • $21.2 million to Dallas-based Worlds Enterprisesa technology platform that brings AI-based automation to ground floor operations of large industrial companies.
  • Up to $15 million to Dallas-based ReCode Therapeutics for development of a genetic platform that can deliver drugs to selective organs in the human body. Its inhaled messenger RNA therapy could eventually be used for treating cystic fibrosis. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the investor.

In addition, lottery betting app and website Jackpot.com expanded into Texas this month with $42 million in backing from some of the state’s biggest sports franchises — the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.

2022′s falloff

Venture backing of North Texas innovators had been on the upswing during the pandemic recovery, topping the $1 billion mark in investment in successive quarters at the end of 2021 and start of 2022, according to data from research firm CB Insights.

The total investment flowing to Dallas-Fort Worth startups eclipsed $3 billion in both years, with 2021′s $3.65 billion representing a nearly threefold increase over pre-pandemic 2019′s $1.36 billion.

Recession fears caused investors to tighten their wallets to close out 2022, and funding in the region fell to the lowest level in three years — or $190 million in the final three months.

Globally, venture funding tumbled 35% year-over-year to $415 billion last year. In the U.S., the year-end total of $198.4 billion was down 37%.

Funding rounds of $100 million or more were off by 50% — marking a 10-quarter low.

Meet the new ‘double unicorn’

Leading the way this year is ShiftKey’s massive funding round that places a $2 billion value on the company founded by Tom Ellis in 2016.

ShiftKey built a proprietary scheduling platform for the health care industry to connect licensed professionals with facilities looking to fill shifts. The company said its platform is being used by over 10,000 health care facilities nationwide.

A new Dallas unicorn gets 2023′s venture funding cycle off to a fast start
ShiftKey co-founder and CEO Tom Ellis. (ShiftKey)

“ShiftKey is changing the future of work by empowering licensed professionals to have the freedom and flexibility to choose when, where and how they want to work,” Lorient Capital managing partner David Berman said in a statement.

Its mobile app lets nurses, radiology technologists, respiratory therapists and other health care workers search for and bid to work nearby shifts covering for absent employees.

Ellis and his firm earned multiple distinctions last year, including the No. 1 ranking in Southern Methodist University’s Dallas 100. That program recognizes the region’s fastest-growing companies with revenue of $500,000 to $100 million.

ShiftKey’s revenue grew 2,000% over a three-year period, according to SMU, which doesn’t disclose revenue figures for the companies it ranks.

“During the peak of COVID, health care facilities struggled to staff their shifts 24/7,” said Simon Mak, executive director of the Caruth Institute for Entrepreneurship at SMU’s Cox School of Business. “The platform that ShiftKey provided was literally a lifesaver.”

It joins other notable North Texas unicorns Caris Life Sciences, o9 Solutions, LTK, Island and Mavenir. Tracking site Crunchbase lists 1,432 companies as unicorns.

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