Sustainability investor addresses startup challenges, Houston's capital shortages, and more

Josh Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner at Congruent Ventures, will join Venture Houston as a speaker this year. Photo via congruentvc.com

It's been a challenging year for venture capital, but how are climatetech startups doing specifically? One Bay Area investor shares his point of view on this this topic ahead of Venture Houston next week.

Joshua Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures, a San Francisco-based firm that invests in early-stage sustainable companies, is taking the stage at Venture Houston on September 7. Among others, Posamentier will be in conversation with the founder of one of his firm's portfolio companies, Fervo Energy, discussing seed and early-stage funding for sustainability-focused startups.

Venture Houston is presented by HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital into non-Houston firms to encourage investment in local startups. This year's theme is "Spotlighting the path for decarbonization in a digital world."

Posamentier, who has worked over a decade in this space, shares some of his thoughts on Houston as an energy transition leader, the challenges climate-tech startups face, and more in an interview with EnergyCapital.

EnergyCapital: How do you see Houston and its role in this energy transition, its challenges, its opportunities, etc.?

Josh Posamentier: I actually tend to disagree with the people that say Houston is too far down the oil and gas path. I mean, it's it's capitalism at the end of the day. There's money to be made in in climate mitigation technologies. People are going to go chase it, and I think Houston, of all places, is a pretty capitalistic city. And people are definitely not shy about chasing the next big opportunity. I mean, it was oil and natural gas before, and now it's now it's alternative energy. And so I think from that perspective, it's fine. There's a lot of money.

I think the biggest challenge is honestly, especially on a perception basis, a lot of the policy and social stuff that's endemic to Texas, which is a bummer. I mean, especially for younger talent. Austin had a shine, but I think that's largely gone and Houston never had it. So, I think it's something that needs to be overcome and needs to be thought about at a state level basis, especially if you're going to want to attract young entrepreneurial talent.

EC: What are some of the challenges energy transition startups are facing these days? How is your fund kind of supporting your portfolio companies through these challenges?

JP: There's some normalization that's had to happen over the last 9 to 12 months. As you know, corrections have come down the pipe in the venture ecosystem. By all accounts, it has been really frothy for the last few years, especially so in parts of climate. Some of that's due to the the proliferation of investment from non climate-specific firms. And it's, in many ways, decoupled from the ups and downs of different parts of the venture ecosystem, but it also has different timelines. I think not everyone always appreciates what that means and what that implies for for startups. So there's a lot of frustration and a lot of missed expectations in the early stage part of the ecosystem that are slowly getting fixed. I think getting expectations more in line with reality is going to help immensely.

The other thing is just figuring out how to talk more in a language that venture investors understand. I think that's a little bit of a challenge. There's there's actually a pretty big gap between if you're an oil and gas developer and thinking about how you fund that kind of a business versus how you fund a technology-enabling business. Fervo Energy is an interesting example. It's a tech company, but now it's really a tech enabled developer because they have no choice but to do that full stack. They went to school out here. They understand the ecosystem. They've really taken the effort to really understand all the capital players. And so we're waiting to see how that ultimately plays out.

But there's just different capital. I think it is a little challenging. And this is a good thing. There does need to be a way, I think, to just get people more exposure to to the market there — in the Houston market specifically. If you're spinning at Stanford, there are hundreds of VCs within walking distance. In Houston, the ones I know I can count on one hand.

EC: Has that pace of commercialization changed over the years or have founders found ways to survive that valley of death?

JP: I don't think anything's really changed fundamentally. I think people have gotten a little more clever about understanding how the adoption occurs, and figuring out how to phase into those processes that that comes with experience. But there's only so much acceleration you can do when you're dealing with critical infrastructure. You know, people are not going to want to just jump right in, rip out, and replace things that keep the lights on. And so you just have to figure out how to how to capitalize a business in such a way that you can you can live with those kinds of timelines. Venture capital is a fantastic tool, and it is far from the right tool for every problem. And so there are plenty of opportunities to deploy other tools that are more appropriate to different kinds of different kinds of challenges.

EC: What attracted you to investing in Fervo Energy?

JP: So, it's how we think about portfolio construction. Fervo has an amazing team, which we will bend a lot of rules for, and we saw this opportunity as something they could build a ton of value by validating the tech, establishing a huge land position, and then raising different kinds of capital for the out years and for the project development. A bunch of our companies took venture capital to develop a technology, and then they know that venture is not the right class of capital to then scale that throughout the world and whatever. So they would basically raise other forms of capital in the out years to deploy the technologies.

EC: And one of those options is government funding. How do your portfolio companies utilize that?

JP: A big chunk of our portfolio has some government money, even if it's very early stage research grants or something like that. I see government money being the most effective in a couple of ways. One way obviously is to get the core research out of it versus just spin it into something more commercial that we can all then look at.

The other place that is really exciting is in is getting technologies to scale where they're then cost effective without further subsidies. When we underwrite companies, we are very explicitly underwriting them in the absence of subsidies at scale. The assumption is those are just there to basically bridge the gap between "this is totally uneconomic because it's a tiny, tiny little factory or something" versus "it would be plenty economic if it were a big factory." So, if they can just bridge that gap with a little bit of government money.

We've been through this this cycle a couple of times, and we can't in good faith underwrite anything assuming that government subsidies are going to continue. We very much believe it's a bridge — it's got to be a bridge to something. It can't be a bridge to nowhere. And I think there are a lot of companies out there today that are almost designed to just pump the government incentives, and that's not a recipe for a business that can grow on its own over time.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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A View From HETI

Four energy companies are putting their money where their mouths are following Hurricane Beryl. Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Four major energy companies in the Houston area have chipped in more than $400,000 to support relief efforts for Hurricane Beryl in Southeast Texas. Nationwide, it’s estimated that the storm caused at least $28 billion in damage and economic losses.

Here’s a breakdown of contributions announced by the four energy companies.

Baker Hughes Foundation

The Baker Hughes Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Houston-based energy technology company Baker Hughes, gave a $75,000 grant to the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross for Hurricane Beryl relief efforts.

“We understand recovery and rebuilding can take weeks or months, and we support the American Red Cross’ mission of providing people with clean water, safe shelter, and food when they need them most,” says Lorenzo Simonelli, chairman and CEO of Baker Hughes.

CenterPoint Energy

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, which at one point had more than 2 million customers without power due to Hurricane Beryl, says its foundation has donated to several disaster relief organizations in the region. These include the American Red Cross of Coastal Bend, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, Combined Arms, and the 4B Disaster Response Network in Brazoria and Galveston counties.

As of July 11, the company had also provided:

  • More than 30,000 bottles of water to cooling centers and distribution centers in the Houston area.
  • Meals to local first responders.
  • Mobile power generation at cooling centers, hospitals, senior living centers, and water treatment plants.

CenterPoint didn’t assign a dollar value to its contributions.

“Our first priority is getting the lights back on. At the same time, we have seen firsthand the devastation our neighbors are facing, and our commitment to the community goes beyond restoration efforts,” says Lynnae Wilson, senior vice president of CenterPoint’s electric business.


Houston-based ConocoPhillips contributed $200,000 to relief efforts for Hurricane Beryl. The company also is matching donations from U.S. employees of ConocoPhillips.

The money is being split among the Houston Food Bank, Salvation Army and American Red Cross.

“Houston is our hometown, and many of our employees and neighbors have been impacted by Hurricane Beryl,” says Ryan Lance, chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillip.

Entergy Texas

Entergy Texas, based in The Woodlands, donated $125,000 to the American Red Cross for Hurricane Beryl relief efforts. The money will go toward emergency needs such as food, shelter, and medical care.

“Our commitment to helping communities in distress remains unwavering, and we are hopeful that our contribution will offer relief and comfort to those facing hardships in the storm’s aftermath,” says Eliecer Viamontes, president and CEO of Entergy Texas.

Entergy Texas supplies electricity to about 512,000 customers in 27 counties. It’s a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp.

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