When Antonio Arocha graduated from University of Texas five years ago, he wanted to start a tech company, but he needed an idea.
After eight months of working as a freelance programmer, Arocha, who holds degrees in computer science and government, heard about a big problem that needed solving.
“A friend of my father sells fire extinguishers to Pemex (Mexico’s state oil company) and he told me about how they were losing millions of dollars every year to fuel theft. He said ‘You’re an engineer, maybe you can figure out how to stop it,” Arocha said. “I didn’t know anything about the oil industry, but I decided to pursue it.”
He teamed up with Elom Tsogbe, a UT electrical engineering graduate, and in 2009 they founded Austin-based Nuve. The company developed hardware sensors and smart locks that help transportation companies protect against fuel and cargo theft and tell them when and where fuel is being stolen.
In 2011, the company landed its first customer when Pemex began using its technology to protect its oil tankers. It has since signed clients including Femsa, the Mexico City-based bottling giant and AHMSA, the largest integrated steel plant in Mexico.
Now, Nuve has raised its first round of venture capital, closing on $4.4 million of a planned $5.4 million offering to expand sales, marketing and product development.
Investors in the deal included Silverton Partners and Capital Factory, both based in Austin; and Alta Ventures, based in Monterrey, Mexico.
Currently, 95 percent of Nuve’s business is in Mexico, which is plagued by rampant energy theft. In the first eight months of this year, 7.5 million barrels went missing, a rate of about 30,000 52-gallon barrels a day, enough to fill a fleet of more than 100 tanker trucks.
Organized crime groups are behind much of the theft, which occurs along a network of pipelines that carry gasoline, diesel, crude oil, natural gas and petrochemicals around the nation.
Kip McClanahan of Silverton Partners said he was impressed by the large customers that Nuve has already won, as well as by the expansion possibilities in Mexico and across Latin America.
“When we dug into it, we saw that not only was Nuve’s technology the right solution to this sort of monitoring and protecting of assets, but the place where Antonio started in Mexico has this crushing, overwhelming need,” McClanahan said. “We’re really excited about the traction the company is experiencing, and we see a lot of opportunity for growth.”
The nine-person company plans to expand to the U.S. side of the border and into Central and South America in 2015, and is hiring in areas including sales and engineering.
Additional material from Tribune News Service.