Outside of Silicon Valley, Texas is one of the biggest tech hubs in the USA. And its tech core is Austin. The Texas state capital boasts attractive features such as low-income tax and a low cost of living as two main reasons why big tech companies choose to call it home.
Apple, Amazon, Dell, Facebook, Google and Tesla are just some of the many businesses that make up the “Silicon Hills”. But what about the smaller, more nimble tech companies on the rise in the Lone Star State?
We shortlist eight tech companies in Austin doing great work, in fields that couldn’t be further apart, from robotics to invoice management:
One curiosity: four of them work with government agencies in one capacity or the other, with two of them having collaborated with NASA.
Hume, Astra, Draco, Valkyrie, Dreamer and, coming soon, Apollo.
You’d be forgiven if you assumed the above are Game of Thrones characters. They are not. Instead, they are some of the robots Apptronik has worked on over the years. And unlike GoT protagonists, these robots are here to help humans at their jobs, rather than, say, murder them at their wedding.
The company is a spin-out from the Human Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas and wears its Austin badge proudly. In an interview with CBS in May, CEO and Co-Founder Jeff Cardenas stated that the city represents “sort of the intersection between the arts and technology” and that it “is the place to build this type of company”.
Will its robots eliminate jobs? According to the company, not at all. Apptronik’s view is that it’s all about robots and humans working together, rather than the latter being replaced by the former.
For now, the focus is on servicing the manufacturing, construction and logistics sectors, which makes sense, given that automation has long been a part of those industries. And it seems that investment funds agree – since its foundation in 2016, the company has raised $24.8 million, according to Crunchbase.
In the years that followed the Apollo 11 moon landing, space exploration carried on, but without the urgency that had propelled it to that historic moment.
While governments and private enterprises continued to invest billions into building the modern satellite communications infrastructure we use today (as well as launching the International Space Station, with its endless research possibilities), it would take another 40-something years – and a little company called SpaceX – before the space race would heat up again.
With SpaceX re-energising the space industry and the US entering a period of increased competitiveness with China, investment increased both through government agencies and private funding. This in turn fueled the demand for more sophisticated technology in the sector. All of this brings us to Slingshot Aerospace.
Founded in 2017 by former US Air Force veterans, it’s one of those cases of “right company, right place, right time”. And, if we may add, right technology! Slingshot Aerospace offers Data Visualisation and Data-as-a-Service solutions that are essential for companies operating in space, with NASA, the United States Space Force and the UK Space Agency as customers (among many others).
Among its products, the company offers what it describes as the world’s first “collision avoidance coordination and communications platform for space” as well as the “only day/night LEO-to-GEO optical satellite tracking and monitoring service”.
In layman’s terms, whenever a company or government sends something to space, it needs to very carefully ensure it does not collide with anything, which has become increasingly difficult as the number of satellites orbiting the planet increased (there are now more than 7,000).
That’s where Slingshot Aerospace’s technologies come into play. Given the increased commercial interest in space exploration, we suspect that its particular star will continue to shine.
There was a time when having something shipped involved a great deal of “wait and see”. Once an order was placed, there wasn’t always visibility into where it was or when it would arrive. Logistics were, as an industry, rather opaque, powered by pen and paper and, like most verticals, ripe for technology disruption.
Few companies ignited that disruption like Amazon did, most notably with its same-day delivery offering. It set a standard that, to this day, warped what consumers think is acceptable for their orders.
Yet, few waste time thinking of the inner workings that enable a bulk order of AAA batteries, shampoo and cat food to be delivered within 24 hours. For most of us, it’s like with most technologies invisibly powering our lives; it’s just magic.
Well, that magic usually has a company like Mothership working behind the scenes to make it happen. This B2B Austin-based company specialises in freight technology, enabling businesses to connect with carriers to source, book and track freight trucks in local areas across the US. And yes, it does boast of same-day delivery (although not everywhere).
Its dashboard allows customers to provide key details of the freight they require including the shipping addresses and size of the delivery. From there, Mothership generates a quote which a customer can use to put through an order, which is then connected to a carrier for delivery.
Mothership is used by major US businesses including Lyft, Doordash and GoPuff. In 2022, it raised over $76 million in investment from investors such as Benchmark, WestCap and Bow Capital.
Quantum computing has been heralded as “the next big thing” many times over the last 30-odd years. It has gone through several cycles of hype, with billions of dollars of investment in the field. And understandably so; after all, its promise of solving complex equations could have a deep impact in fields from astrophysics to healthcare (for a deeper dive, read “Why is there hype around quantum computing?“).
One of the baseline challenges with quantum computing is the hardware it requires, which means research into its applications remains naturally limited to a selected group of companies with the funding or access to invest. Enter Strangeworks, a company offering to make quantum computing accessible to anyone on a pay-as-you-go basis.
To be specific, it offers Quantum-as-a-Service. Rather than produce quantum hardware and software the way AWS or IBM do, it develops tools to interface with those services, billing customers only for what they use.
For businesses, it reduces the investment required to experiment and research the possibilities of quantum computing. Individual developers or researchers can even use Strangeworks’ tools for free, while its Enterprise plans start at US $10,000 per year.
It’s worth noting that, on top of Strangeworks’ fee, there might be hardware costs and/or third-party licences or fees priced by providers. That said, it’s still an extremely viable option for companies wanting to explore quantum computing or develop pilots, without having to bet the ranch on it.
Advertising software company Pushnami has been busy. Busy sending 20 billion notifications a month and busy racking up awards.
Founded in 2017, the Austin-based company has built a platform that integrates with 20,000 websites, serving web and mobile push notifications on behalf of advertisers. For publishers, it’s an additional source of income and a way to generate subscribers. For advertisers, it’s a way to get in front of over 100 million monthly active users. Since its inception, the company claims over one trillion messages have been sent from its platform.
Beyond commercial success, it seems to be doing something right for its staff too. Pushnami has been featured in Builtin’s “Best Places to Work” four times. And in 2021, Inc. Magazine named it number two in its ‘Top 250 Fastest Growing Private Companies in Texas‘.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been over 300 mass shootings and over 9,000 murders/homicides involving a gun in 2023 in the United States alone. In Austin, where Athena Security is based, 329 people have died from gun-related violence since 2014. It’s no wonder then, that Athena lists its company mission as, literally, “to help save lives“.
Athena Security develops weapon detector systems that don’t require a person to remove any items of clothing when walking through. Its Weapons Detection product uses thermal imaging and electromagnetic technologies to identify potential threats, with Athena claiming it finds concealed weapons ten times faster than most walk-through metal detectors.
In recent years, its solutions have expanded to include features more commonly seen in visitor management software, such as check-in data capture, video monitoring, real-time alerts and visitor dashboard and analytics tools. These advancements enable customers to, for example, trigger alerts based on video footage and notify surrounding security and police upon detection of a threat. Athena’s Visitor Management solutions are available as a standalone product.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance comes with a lot of features but, like many other cloud platforms, it allows third parties to develop apps that supplement it with any tools it doesn’t offer off the shelf.
Austin-based Dooap is one such partner. The company specialises in automated accounts payable (AP) solutions exclusively for D365 Finance or AX 2012. Its app automatically processes invoices and digitises its data, recognising characters and keywords in both paper and digital invoices, before routing them to whatever system comes next.
This is particularly useful for small finance teams, as it can save many manpower hours processing what are, otherwise, pretty routine tasks. Users can choose to be more or less involved with validating the data at each step of the way, with Dooap claiming that its AI software continually learns from the data it processes.
We particularly love the company’s analogy between sheep and invoices, one in which Dooap is proudly the Border Collie in charge.
Over the last decade, digital transformation has been a top priority for governments all over the world. With that digitalisation comes the need for tools that enable collaboration and increase productivity. Project management software is usually in the mix, too.
While leaders in the project management software space – Asana, Monday.com or Wrike – are packed with features that are suitable for industries of all kinds, government agencies have very specific needs, particularly when drafting policy.
That’s where Esper distinguishes itself from the pack. This cloud-based SaaS platform leverages many of the features commonly found in project management solutions but adds specific workflows, tools and processes hand-crafted to support the work that government officials do. Two such examples:
- Esper users can create rulemaking documents from within the platform, often making away with requiring Google Docs or Word.
- Users can also research federal and state laws from within the platform itself, again, keeping all the work in one place
It’s no wonder, then, that the company counts amongst its customers the NYPD, the State of Texas and the State of California.
Other cities covered in this series
- Top tech companies in Dublin
- Top tech companies in Leeds
- Top tech companies in Barcelona
- Top tech companies in Cork, Ireland
- Top tech companies in Bournemouth
- Top tech companies in Brisbane
- Top tech companies in Reading and Thames Valley
Our thanks to Owen Lucy who helped to research this article.
-  Stats accurate as of 26 June 2023.
-  Data available on https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/ for Austin, Texas. CSV copy available here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WJxcFshqkcZBwcBpx3bbqBncVau8tYyC/view?usp=sharing
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