What is it going to take to make Houston a leader in the energy transition? Access to capital, according to a panel from Venture Houston. Photo by Natalie Harms/EnergyCapital

Last week, Tim Latimer sat on a panel that consisted mostly of his company's investors and discussed what he felt the missing piece still was for Houston's energy transition and innovation community.

“There’s no better place in the world than Houston to build and scale a climate tech startup," he says on a Venture Houston panel titled Seeding Sustainability: Unlocking the Power of Early Stage Investments.

“But I don’t know if I’m ready to make the claim that we’re the best place to start a business,” he adds.

Latimer, who co-founded Fervo Energy in the Bay Area in 2017 before relocating the company to Houston, explains that his company raised capital on the West Coast ahead of moving to Texas to grow and scale. This allowed the company, which recently announced the success of a major pilot, to tap into early stage funding and then make the most of every dollar raised by moving to a region where the money would last longer — and where there's talent, customers, and more.

“The dream for us to have a truly unlocked ecosystem is that the whole pattern can happen here in Houston, and the gap I see is that capital formation side,” he says.

Latimer was joined on the panel by some of Fervo's investors: Mark Cupta, managing partner of Prelude Ventures; Andrea Course, venture principal of Shell Ventures; and Joshua Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures.

Each of the panelists weighed in on what it would take for Houston to emerge as a leader within the global energy transition. Cupta says that it's going to take the city time to build out activity, successful outcomes, talent, money, and more.

“The venture capital community is an ecosystem, and that ecosystem consists of multiple stakeholders that all have to work in concert with each other," he says. "It has to be a flywheel that spins up over time.”

Course, the only Houston-based investor on the panel, says that Houston has potential because it's got talent, industry, and money, or TIM, as she describes.

“I think Houston is actually the perfect place for becoming the energy transition capital. If you ask me, I think we already are.” Course explains. “It really just takes people doing what we’re doing now to make it even greater."

Posamentier, who previously shared his outlook on Houston in a Q&A with EnergyCapital, explains that access to funding isn't the only issue. “There’s a lot more money than there are investable opportunities at the moment,” he says.

The panel also weighed in on the difference between venture capital and funding coming out of corporations.

“VCs and CVCs have different timelines,” Course explains, saying VC firms have 5- to 7-year life cycles. After that, they need to see an exit to be able to provide that return. “With a CVC, we don’t really have that. Of course we want to show financial returns, but we are long-duration capital.

CVC is patient capital with value-add investors, but Course admits there's a longer due diligence because she wants to find a strategic stakeholder before an investment is made.

“The worst thing that could happen is that Shell gives you money, but they don’t give you business. We don’t want that,” she says.

Waiting for that right investor can be extremely important to company success, Latimer says from the founder perspective.

“It’s hard to put a hard dollar value on help, but our ability to have advisers and introductions from different types of investors … makes all the difference in the world,” he says on the panel. “A lot of startup founders think about their org design very critically and who they want to bring onto the team, and you should be deliberate on your cap table.”

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Chevron, TotalEnergies back energy storage startup's $15.8M series A

money moves

A California startup that's revolutionizing polymer cathode battery technology has announced its series A round of funding with support from Houston-based energy transition leaders.

LiNova Energy Inc. closed a $15.8 million series A round led by Catalus Capital. Saft, a subsidiary of TotalEnergies, which has its US HQ in Houston, and Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures, also participated in the round with a coalition of other investors.

LiNova will use the funds with its polymer cathode battery to advance the energy storage landscape, according to the company. The company uses a high-energy polymer battery technology that is designed to allow material replacement of the traditional cathode that is made up of cobalt, nickel, and other materials.

The joint development agreement with Saft will have them collaborate to develop the battery technology for commercialization in Saft's key markets.

“We are proud to collaborate with LiNova in scaling up its technology, leveraging the extensive experience of Saft's research teams, our newest prototype lines, and our industrial expertise in battery cell production," Cedric Duclos, CEO of Saft, says in a news release.

CTV recently announced its $500 million Future Energy Fund III, which aims to lead on emerging mobility, energy decentralization, industrial decarbonization, and the growing circular economy. Chevron has promised to spend $10 billion on lower carbon energy investments and projects by 2028.

Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”