Airstreams look even better under Texas sunsets.

West Texas isn’t the wilderness

I’m convinced that Lubbock is Texas’ best kept secret.

I hate to admit this: When Anthony Presley first asked us to bring the tech tour to Lubbock, I had to find it on a map first — I had never heard of it. Up until then, I always thought of Austin, San Antonio, Dallas or Houston when I thought about entrepreneurial ecosystems in Texas.

We spent a week getting to know the entrepreneurs, the President of Texas Tech and over 250 other smart people throughout the community. And we found a city with nearly 250,000 people, a University with nearly 30,000 undergrads and a whole lot of money looking for deals. And tacos — really good tacos.

As with every other stop on the tech tour, we ask other investors and founders to join us. One of those investors is Ed Pizzarello (www.pizzainmotion.com) — he’s joined us in more than half of the cities we’ve visited over the past year and he asked to share some of his thoughts on Lubbock.

Take it away, Ed…

***

I really should stop being surprised when we show up in small towns and find successful companies.  And yet, as we head home from Lubbock I’m again impressed with the companies we discovered.

The very first session I walked into upon arriving was a group of students from Texas Tech who all had ideas for a company of their own.  Some were more fully-formed than others, with detailed business plans.  Interestingly, they were evenly divided between “hardware” and software.  I’m using the term hardware to define pretty much anything that’s not software or SaaS.

In fact, the highlight of that group was a young man with a completely new take on nail polish.  Without getting into all the details (some of it he’s keeping quiet until launch), it’s a very novel idea that I’ll be curious to see how much traction it gains.  This young man really did his homework, conducting almost 4,000 surveys with women on campus.  An innovative solution to being without an umbrella was another idea students were excited to present to us .  There’s plenty of promise amongst the entrepreneurs in the student body at Texas Tech.

What Else Did We See?

We met with a student who’s developing an app to connect restaurants with excess food to hungry customers.  Cheap Eats (www.cheapeatsapp.com) is rolling out with brute force in the Lubbock area right now.  When a restaurant has excess inventory they can offer it via a flash sale model to nearby customers.  Hungry college students are a key demographic here.  Their business model is to charge restaurants only when they’re able to sell excess inventory.

There’s a similar model in Europe (Too Good To Go) where restaurants put together mystery boxes of food for a heavily discounted price. 

If you’re in Texas, oil and gas is always on people’s minds.  We spent 20 minutes one evening at dinner discussing the practice of selling your home but maintaining the mineral rights to the land.  Fascinating.  Amplisine Labs is a robust Texas-based startup with experience in oil and gas. They’re automating parts of the exploration and drilling process to save money and increase safety.  Their core product, SitePro (www.sitepro.com), continues to see sizable increases in revenue.

Truno was another interesting team conquering the problem of automating grocery stores.  They’re past “start-up”, with over 9,000 grocery stores as clients and millions of dollars in revenue. But, there’s another 30,000+ grocery stores for them to conquer, and then that whole C-store market.  Truno touches virtually every element of a grocery store when they roll out a product, from the cash registers to the cameras that track which aisles customers spend the most time in.  In short, they’re a fast-growing company who impacts you every time you go to the grocery store. 

It Wouldn’t Be Texas Without Great Steak

I took a detour from the full group to sit with Tate From Raider Red Meats (www.raiderredmeats.com).  I love what they’re doing, and not just because I love a great steak.  They’re employing students at Texas Tech to source and sell steak, bacon, sausage and more.  These products are all sourced by the students who are part of the program.  Many of them go on to work in the meat industry after graduation.  They run a store on campus.  They also offer gift boxes and subscription packs for sale.  What a smart way to teach students about commerce while pursuing their degree.  I love real-world applications of knowledge in school.

Probably the most interesting company we ran into was Hand Held Nitrous (www.handheldnitrous.com).  They sell, wait for it, hand held nitrous oxide inhalers.  Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) plays a key role in the dentist office for many folks, including my kids.  Why not extend that to our pets as well?  The man behind the idea, Mark, is trying to make inroads into both the medical and veterinary space.  This company is a great example of investors helping push an idea forward.  Paul pushed Mark on being confident in rolling out the product to veterinary offices.  When I think about how many startups I see focused on our pets, I can’t help but think there’s a winner here.

West Texas Isn’t The Wilderness

Let’s face it, you’re not likely to wander into Lubbock from a neighboring town.  It’s bigger than you think, but still a “small town feel”.  You might expect the ideas coming out of Lubbock to be geared towards agriculture and oil/gas.  Some are, but many more are helping solve problems you see in your hometown. 

It’s just another example of how great ideas can start anywhere, not just Silicon Valley and New York.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we made an investment in a Lubbock start-up.  With plenty of community support, these guys are going places.


Also published on Medium.