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Houston expert shares 5 tips for people looking to expand their career into climate tech

A Houston energy professional shares his advice for those looking for a job in climate tech. Photo via Getty Images

If hard times build strong people, then extreme weather events build strong climate tech ecosystems. Nobody knows this conventional wisdom better than Houston.

The past six years alone have seen the second costliest natural disaster in United States history (Hurricane Harvey), the longest power outage in Texas history (Winter Storm Uri), and this June, a heat wave that pushed the ERCOT power grid to record levels.

Combine our ever more volatile climate with a post-COVID-19 reckoning of what it means to work for what you believe in, and you get a recipe for the most significant workforce shift the world has ever seen. This workforce shift rules in favor of climate tech, and it will largely target those who’ve grown up, come of age and started their careers in the midst of this increasing volatility. Climate tech will no longer be considered a standalone industry; it will be baked into all existing industries, and those that don’t accept it will die.

I’m proud to be a climate optimist, but I’m also a realist. The truth is no matter what we do, our volatile climate is going to get worse before it gets better. But if extreme weather events build strong climate tech ecosystems, I can live with that.

To students and young professionals considering a jump into climate tech: There is no better place to be right now. Here are five things to keep in mind as you make that jump.

1. Meet as many people from diverse backgrounds working on as many different things as you can. You will likely feel awkward at first, especially if you don’t naturally gravitate toward conferences and happy hours. At the risk of sounding trite, just treat every stranger like a friend you haven’t met yet. Some of us could probably use more friends anyway.

2. The advice in the self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People, originally published in 1936, is timeless. Possibly the most useful (and most obvious) point is this: Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Whenever possible, repeat your new friends’ names when you meet them. Especially if you’re seeking a business development, sales or other external-facing role, perfecting this point should be your Holy Grail.

3. Depending on how new you are to energy and climate tech, you’ll hear lots of unfamiliar lingo. Ask questions, take note of what you still don’t get, and do your best to fill in the gaps on the side. Eventually, acronyms will become your best friend. For example: Have you seen what the ITC and the PTC from the IRA will do to the LCOE of PV according to NREL? IYKYK.

4. Coachability is key. You may feel like you’re getting rejected 99 percent of the time, but the way you respond to and learn from those experiences will ensure the other one percent makes all the difference. At the end of the day, climate tech is so vast that it’s impossible to become an expert in everything, and that’s okay. We may not know what’s going on 70 percent of the time, but I’ll take a .300 batting average any day.

5. It may be impossible to become an expert in everything, but you should proactively learn as much as you can, especially given how quickly the ecosystem is expanding. If you’re not embarrassed by how little you knewone year ago, two years ago or even five years ago, then you’re probably not trying hard enough.

These are only five of my takeaways over the past few years and I’ll be the first to admit that I have a long way to go in implementing them. In a way, that’s what makes this journey what it is. I just can’t wait to see what we build.

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Ryan Davidson is business development lead for CalWave Power Technologies, a California-based company and Greentown Houston member that's focused on converting ocean waves’ hydrokinetic energy into reliable electricity.

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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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