Q&A

Why this organization is focused on cultivating the future of energy transition innovation

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

David Pruner is laser focused on the future workforce for the energy industry as executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"Our mission is to create the next generation of energy transition climatetech entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — they don’t all have to start companies," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the show below and read through a brief excerpt from the episode with Pruner.


EnergyCapital: Can you share a little bit about the origin of TEX-E?

David Puner: There were a variety of factories that led to its creation, but the seminal event was a piece of work that had been done for the Greater Houston Partnership by McKinsey on the future of Houston. It showed that if Houston isn't careful and doesn't make sure to go ahead and transition with this energy expansion we’re seeing, that they’re at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. If they catch the transition right and make the conversion to cleaner and low-carbon fuels, they can actually gain 1.4 million jobs.

It was this eye opener for everyone that we need to make sure that if the energy transition is going to happen, it needs to happen here so that Houston stays the energy capital of the world.

David Baldwin (partner at SCF Partners) literally at the meeting said, “listen I've got the beginning of the funnel — the universities, that’s where innovation comes from.” From that, TEX-E was born.

EC: How are you working with the five founding universities to connect the dots for collaboration?

DP: In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently. The idea behind TEX-E is that there's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable.

Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA. Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them.

At the same time, what we found is, no one school has the answer. But when you put them together, we do have most of the answer. Almost everything we need is within those five schools. And it's not just those five schools, it really is open to everyone.

EC: As you mentioned before, TEX-E started as a way for Houston to take the reins of its energy transition. What's the pulse on that progress?

DP: I spent the last decade building boards and hiring CEOs for all kinds of energy companies and there was the period I would say — pre-pandemic and a little bit into the pandemic — where not everybody was on board with climate change and the issue of carbon. The nice thing now is that’s fully in the rearview mirror. There’s not really a company of any size or a management team of any major entity that doesn’t fully believe they need to do something there.

The train has fully left the station — and picked up speed — on this whole issue of transition and climate. So, that’s been nice to see and create a lot of tailwinds.

———

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

A Houston-based initiative has been selected by the DOE to receive funding to develop clean energy innovation programming for startups and entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

where they’ll implement their programming and design a project continuation plan over the next 7 months. In September they will submit their plans with the hope of being selected to negotiate a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT, worth up to $1 million each.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.


The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

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