At last year's awards program, Cemvita Factory's co-founders, Tara and Moji Karimi, accepted the award for the Green Impact Business category. This year, Moji Karimi served as a judge

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards announced its 52 finalists — a large portion of which are promising energy transition startups.

The awards program — hosted by EnergyCapital's sister site, InnovationMap, and Houston Exponential — will name its winners on November 8 at the Houston Innovation Awards. The program was established to honor the best and brightest companies and individuals from the city's innovation community.

The following startups, which all have an energy transition element to their business, received a finalist position in one or two categories.

Click here to secure your tickets to see who wins.

  • ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent, scored two finalist positions — one in the Female-Owned Business category and the other in the Social Impact Business category.
  • Eden Grow Systems, next generation farming technologies, is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Feelit Technologies, nanotechnology for preventive maintenance to eliminate leaks, fires and explosions, increase safety and reduce downtime, is a finalist in the Female-Owned Business category and the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy, scored two finalist positions — one in the Sustainability Business category and the other in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • FluxWorks, making frictionless gearboxes for missions in any environment, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • Helix Earth Technologies, decarbonizing the built environment and heavy industry, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • INOVUES, re-energizing building facades through its non-invasive window retrofit innovations, making building smarter, greener, and healthier for a better and sustainable future, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Kanin Energy, helping heavy industry monetize their waste heat and decarbonize their operations, was named a finalist in the BIPOC-Owned Business and the SustainabilityBusiness categories.
  • Mars Materials, developing a carbon-negative pathway for carbon fiber and acrylamide production using CO2 and biomass as raw materials, is a finalist in the BIPOC-Owned Business category.
  • Molecule, an energy/commodity trading risk management software that provides users with an efficient, reliable, responsive platform for managing trade risk, is a finalist in the Digital Solutions Business category.
  • Rhythm Energy, 100 percent renewable electricity service for residential customers in Texas, is a finalist in the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category.
  • Sage Geosystems, a cost-effective geothermal baseload energy solution company, also innovating underground energy storage solutions, was named a finalist in the Sustainability Business category.
  • Solugen, decarbonizing the chemical industry, is a finalist in the Hardtech Business category.
  • Square Robot, applying robotic technology to eliminate the need to put people into dangerous enclosed spaces and eliminate taking tanks out of service, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.
  • Tierra Climate, decarbonizing the power grid faster by helping grid-scale batteries monetize their environmental benefits and change their operational behavior to abate more carbon, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Utility Global, a technology company converting a range of waste gases into sustainable hydrogen and syngas, was named a finalist in the SustainabilityBusiness category.
  • Venus Aerospace, a hypersonics company on track to fly reusable hypersonic flight platforms by 2024, is a finalist in the HardtechBusiness category.

Additionally, two energy companies were named to the Corporate of the Year category, which honors corporations that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community. Aramco Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures are two of the four finalists in this category.

Lastly, Jason Ethier, co-founder of Lambda Catalyzer and host of the Energy Tech Startups podcast, and Kendrick Alridge, senior manager of community at Greentown Labs, scored finalist positions in the Ecosystem Builder category, as individuals who have acted as leaders in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem.

Click here to see the full list of finalists.

The Cannon and Chevron Technology Ventures are looking for startups that will improve operations. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston organizations call for startups to pitch at unique industry event

call for companies

Two Houston organizations are collaborating on a pitch competition and event that will focus on technologies that will transform operations.

The Cannon and Chevron Technology Ventures are partnering to present "Facilities of the Future," an event taking place at The Cannon West Houston on September 21.

"For over 100 years, Chevron has been a leader in leveraging technology to reduce risk and optimize efficiency in our facilities. Facilities that span all portions of the energy value chain including distributed unconventional wells, offshore deepwater platforms, and complex processing facilities, i.e. refineries, LNG plants," reads a statement about the competition. "But we also recognize the pace of change for technology is rapidly increasing and that our greatest potential lies in our ability to capitalize on these emerging technologies."

The companies, which must have at least $25,000 in annual revenue to qualify, will be selected by CTV and The Cannon and have until September 1 to apply online. The program is seeking participants with technology addressing one or more of Chevron's goals at its facilities:

  • Removing people from hazardous environments (e.g., confined spaces, working at heights)
  • Reducing the environmental impact (e.g., leak detection, emissions monitoring),
  • Increasing the operational efficiency (e.g., autonomous operations, advanced inspection capabilities, predictive asset health capabilities)

Each company will conduct a five-minute pitch followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. The winner, which will be announced at the conclusion of the event, have the opportunity to work on a field trial with Chevron and six months of free workspace at The Cannon.

Tickets for the event, which will provide drinks and networking, are free and registration is available online.

Gautam Phanse of Chevron Technology Ventures answers questions about this unique program. Photo courtesy

Q&A: Chevron's unique clean energy studio role in Houston entrepreneur community

matchmaking innovation

A new program from Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures is rethinking how best to commercialize research-based technology.

This spring, Chevron Studio announced its second cohort of its program that matches entrepreneurs with promising technologies coming out of universities and labs. The overall goal of the studio — a collaboration between Chevron and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, or NREL — is to scale up and commercialize early-stage technologies that have the potential to impact the future of energy.

Once selected, there are three phases of the program. After the entrepreneur applications closed in March, the first step was matching the selected entrepreneurs with the inventors of the selected intellectual properties, which will occurs over three to four months. The next phase includes scaling up the product — something that will take one to two years, depending on the tech. The last step would be a trial or a pilot program that includes rolling out a minimum viable product at commercial scale at Chevron or an affiliate. The next cohort application period will open next month.

Gautam Phanse is the strategic relationship manager for Chevron Technology Ventures. He joins InnovationMap for a Q&A to explain more about the opportunity.

What types of technologies is Chevron looking to bring into commercialization through this program? How is the program different from existing accelerators/incubators/etc.?

GautamPhanse: Chevron Technology Ventures brings external innovation to Chevron. Key focus areas for CTV are industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy. Chevron Studio is one of the tools to achieve this goal. The current focus areas for Chevron Studio are: carbon utilization, hydrogen and renewable energy, energy storage systems, and solutions for circular economy. These focus areas will be reviewed every year and additional areas could be brought into the mix.

The goal of Chevron Studio is to scale up and commercialize technology developed in the Universities and National Labs. We curate the intellectual property developed at universities and national labs and provide a platform to match entrepreneurs with the IP. The program provides seed funding and a pathway through incubation, pilot and field trials to scale up the technologies. The uniqueness of this program is its target and the breadth of its scope — all the way from incubation to field trials.

How does Chevron Technology Ventures and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory collaborate on this project? What role does each entity play?

GP: CTV has a long history of supporting innovation and the startup community. And over the years we’ve seen the consistent gaps and the struggles that the startup companies have in scaling up technologies. We also have a long history of working with national labs and universities and have seen the challenges in getting these technologies out of the labs. The idea for Chevron Studio grew out of these challenges.

NREL’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center manages Chevron Studio, working closing with entrepreneurs and guiding them through the program while leveraging capabilities at the lab and activating the IEC’s network of cleantech startups, investors, foundations, and industry partners.

What are you looking for from the entrepreneur applicants? Who should apply?

GP: We are looking for entrepreneurs who are seeking their next opportunity. They should have a passion in lower carbon solutions and the patience to work on early-stage technologies to see them through scale up and commercialization. Aspiring entrepreneurs with demonstrated passion are also welcome to apply. The entrepreneurs are expected to build a team, raise funds and grow the business providing competitive solutions to the industry.

Tell me about cohort 1. How did it go and what were the participants able to accomplish?

GP: We were really excited about the response we got from both the entrepreneur community and the universities and national labs. We had a strong pool of entrepreneurs and a great mix of IP and frankly had a tough time making the selection. The first cohort had four entrepreneurs in the initial discovery phase. Some of them have now graduated, and we will be announcing the participants in the next phase — for scaling up — shortly.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity. This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy

Houston energy innovator on why now's the right time for energy transition innovation

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 190

The cleantech innovation space has momentum, and Chevron strives to be one of the incumbent energy companies playing a role in that movement, Jim Gable, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"People call it cleantech 2.0, but it's really cleantech 3.0," Gable says, explaining how he's been there for each wave of cleantech. "The people are better now — the entrepreneurs are better, the investors are better. Exits are here in the cleantech space."

"It's all driven by policy-enabled markets, and the policy is here now too. Twenty years ago, you didn't have nearly the same level of policy influence that you do now," he continues. "Things are coming together to help us really create and deliver that affordable, reliable, ever cleaner energy that's going to be needed for a long time."

Both CTV and Gable have been operating with this vision of cleaner, more reliable and affordable energy for over two decades. Gable, who's worked in various leadership roles across the company, returned to a job in the venture side of the business in 2021. He's officially relocated to Houston to lead CTV, which is based in the Ion.

CTV acts as Chevron's external innovation bridge, evaluating pitches from around 1,000 companies a year, funding and accelerating startups, working with internal teams to implement new tech, and more, as Gable explains. Under CTV's umbrella is the venture fund, the Catalyst Program, and the Chevron Studio, a newer initiative that matches entrepreneurs with technology research in order to take that tech to market.

"We say we open doors to the future within Chevron," he says on the show. "We're the onramp for early stage technology to get into the company."

Now that he's firmly planted in the Houston innovation ecosystem, Gable says is optimistic about the incumbents and the innovators coming together in Houston to forge the future of energy.

"I would just encourage Houston to not try to be something that we're not. Houston's got to be Houston, and I don't think we should try, necessarily, to follow the same path as Palo Alto or Boston," Gable says, adding that Houston's large and specialized energy sector is not a disadvantage. "We may not have the same breadth of primary research that other ecosystems have, and that's perfectly OK."

Gable shares more on his perspective of Houston's ecosystem and the energy transition as a whole on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Leaders across Houston shared their thoughts on the Future of Global Energy today. Image courtesy of HETI.

Energy leaders across Houston provide a global perspective​

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

Just over one month ago, a major Houston drilling executive challenged the energy industry to embrace partnering to attain the sustainability goals of the energy transition. The sentiment echoed across multiple sessions held throughout Houston and broadcast virtually at today’s Future of Global Energy Conference presented by Chevron.

Read on for key statements made by leaders across the city at Day 2 of this three-part event, hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), and Center for Houston’s Future.

SESSION 1: COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND EQUITY

“My work over the past 20 years… has allowed me to connect with communities that live in the shadows of large industrial facilities,” says John Hall, CEO of Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC).

“If energy companies, and the rest of the business sector, and government could come together… we have the opportunity, if we work innovatively and creatively to mesh all of those resources together, through a process of deliberate and thoughtful conversations, and engagement with some of the most disadvantaged communities in this state–we have the opportunity, without having to spend extra money, but through cooperative collaboration and solution building… not only achieve corporate goals, but uplift these communities.“

SESSION 2: BUILDING A WORKFORCE FOR THE TRANSITION

“We have to educate younger people that are coming into the workforce where the jobs are, and where the where the jobs are going to be in the next 10-15 years,” declares Tim Tarpley, president of the Energy Workforce & Technology Council. “We do not have enough young people coming into the energy space to [back]fill the folks that are retiring. And that’s a big problem.”

Tarpley continues, “Younger people don’t always feel like there’s going to be opportunities in this industry going forward. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is tremendous opportunity.”

SESSION 3: INNOVATION & TECHNOLOGY FOR THE ENERGY TRANSITION

“Being able to take technology from lab development to commercialization, crossing that barrier of risk–we have to do that as an industry and as a society,” explains Billy Bardin, Global Climate Transition Director, Dow Inc.

“Houston has a leading role to play in that, given the deployed assets, the expertise, the workforce development plans we heard about in the previous session with our academic partners. This portfolio of capabilities is ultimately required. At Dow, we talk about a decarbonizing growth strategy – where we want to decarbonize our assets but at the same time make safer, more sustainable materials that our customers need.”

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“Partnerships are critical with earlier stage startups, but also partnerships on deployment are critical. When thinking about scaling up, and the challenges of scaling up, it’s really hard to find one company that can do it all,” says Jim Gable, President, Chevron Technology Ventures. “Every solution has to fit within the rest of the system. It’s not just one breakthrough that’s going to resolve the world’s challenges related to decarbonization or lowering our carbon footprint.”

SESSION 4: FUNDING THE ENERGY TRANSITION

“One of the vexing issues is the demand side of the equation,” posits Kassia Yanosek, Partner, McKinsey & Company. “We are in a different world today, where we have to think, ‘How do we scale new molecules?’ Green LNG, hydrogen and ammonia made from green hydrogen or blue hydrogen–we don’t have a deep market for those types of molecules. The challenge we are facing today, in addition to the supports on the supply side, is creating a market and demand for these molecules that cost more but also have a greener content.”

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Houston startup taps new corporate partner for AI-backed sustainability consumer tech

out of the boxes

With the help of a new conversational artificial intelligence platform, a Houston startup is ready to let brands get up close and personal with consumers while minimizing waste.

IBM and Boxes recently partnered to integrate the IBM watsonx Assistant into Boxes devices, providing a way for consumer packaged brands to find out more than ever about what its customers like and want.

The Boxes device, about the size of a 40-inch television screen, dispenses products to consumers in a modern and sustainable spin on the old-fashioned large vending machine.

CEO Fernando Machin Gojdycz learned that business from his entrepreneur father, Carlos Daniel Machin, while growing up in Uruguay.

“That’s where my passion comes from — him,” Gojdycz says of his father. In 2016, Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay with some engineer friends

Funded by a $2,000 grant from the University of Uruguay, the company's mission was “to democratize and economize affordable and sustainable shopping,” in part by eliminating wasteful single-use plastic packaging.

“I worked for one year from my bedroom,” he tells InnovationMap.

Fernando Machin Gojdycz founded Boxes in Uruguay before relocating the company to Greentown Houston. Photo courtesy of Boxes

The device, attached to a wall, offers free samples, or purchased products, in areas of high foot traffic, with a touch-screen interface. Powered by watsonx Assistant, the device asks survey questions of the customer, who can answer or not, on their mobile devices, via a QR code.

In return for completing a survey, customers can get a digital coupon, potentially generating future sales. The software and AI tech tracks sales and consumer preferences, giving valuable real-time market insight.

“This is very powerful,” he says.

Boxes partnered in Uruguay with major consumer brands like Kimberly-Clark, SC Johnson and Unilever, and during COVID, pivoted and offered PPE products. Then, with plans of an expansion into the United States, Boxes in 2021 landed its first U.S. backer, with $120,000 in funding from startup accelerator Techstars.

This led to a partnership with the Minnesota Twins, where Boxes devices at Target Field dispensed brand merchandise like keychains and bottles of field dirt.

Gojdycz says while a company in the Northeast is developing a product similar in size, Boxes is not “targeting traditional spaces.” Its software and integration with AI allows Boxes to seamlessly change the device screen and interface, remotely, as well.

Boxes aims to provide the devices in smaller spaces, like restrooms, where they have a device at the company's headquarters at climate tech incubator Greentown Labs. Boxes also recently added a device at Hewlett Packard Enterprise headquarters in Spring, as part of HPE’s diversity startup program.

Boxes hopes to launch another sustainable innovation later this year, in universities and supermarkets. The company is also developing a device that would offer refillable detergent and personal cleaning products like shampoo and conditioner with a reusable container.

Since plastic packaging accounts for 40 percent of retail price, consumers would pay far less, making a huge difference, particularly for lower-income families, he says.

“We are working to make things happen, because we have tried to pitch this idea,” he says.

Some supermarket retailers worry they may lose money or market share, and that shoppers may forget to bring the refill bottles with them to the store, for example.

“It’s about..the U.S. customer,” he says, “….but we think that sooner or later, it will come.”

Boxes has gotten funding from the accelerator startup branch of Houston-based software company Softeq, as well as Mission Driven Finance, Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund, and Right Side Capital, among others.

“Our primary challenges are scaling effectively with a small, yet compact team and maintaining control over our financial runway,” Gojdycz says.

The company has seven employees, including two on its management team.

Gojdycz says they are actively hiring, particularly in software and hardware engineering, but also in business development.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Houston software company to manage IRA compliance for solar, storage company with national presence

tapping into tech

Houston company's Inflation Reduction Act compliance management software has scored a new partner.

Empact Technologies announced a multi-year agreement with Ampliform, which originates, builds, develops, and operates utility-scale solar and solar plus storage projects. The Empact platform uses a combination of software and services to ensure projects meet IRS regulatory requirements, which focus on wage and apprenticeship, domestic content, and energy and low-income community incentives. The terms of the agreement were not disclosed

Empact will partner specifically with Ampliform’s project Engineering, Procurement, and Construction (EPC) firms, subcontractors, and key suppliers of steel and iron products. In addition, they will work through a project’s life cycle for EPC’s solar modules, trackers, and inverters to manage prevailing wage & apprenticeship, domestic content, and other tax incentive qualification and compliance.

“The team at Ampliform had the leadership and foresight to recognize the significant risks of IRA non-compliance and the need to have third party compliance management in place prior to construction kick-off," Charles Dauber, CEO and founder of Empact, says in a news release. We look forward to helping Ampliform fully leverage the IRA tax incentives to develop and build their project development pipeline.”

Ampliform has approximately 700MW of projects in short-term development. Ampliform also plans 3GW of projects in its development pipeline. Ampliform’s future expansion plans exceed more than 13GWdc in total. Empact will manage the IRA compliance for these projects. According to a Goldman Sachs report, the IRA is estimated to provide $1.2 trillion of incentives by 2032.

Guest column: Cold weather and electric vehicles — separating fact from fiction

EVs in winter

Winter range loss is fueling this season’s heated debate around the viability of electric vehicles, but some important context is needed. Gasoline cars, just like their electric counterparts, lose a significant amount of range in cold weather too.

According to the Department of Energy, the average internal combustion engine’s fuel economy is 15 percent lower at 20° Fahrenheit than it would be at 77° Fahrenheit, and can drop as much as 24 percent for short drives.

As the world grapples with the implications of climate change and shifts toward sustainable technologies, it's important to put the pros and cons of EVs and traditional gas vehicles in perspective. And while Houston isn't known as the coldest of climates, you still might want to review this information.

The Semantics of Energy Consumption Hide the Real Issue: Cost

First, let's talk about the language. When discussing gas vehicles in cold climates, the conversation often centers around "fuel efficiency." It sounds less threatening, doesn't it? But in reality, this is just a euphemism for range loss, something for which EVs are frequently criticized.

Why does that matter? Because for most drivers who travel less than 40 miles a day, what range loss really means is higher fueling costs. When a gas vehicle loses range, it costs a lot more than the same range loss in an EV. For example, at $3.50 a gallon, a car that gets 30 MPG in warm weather and costs $46.67 to go 400 miles suddenly costs $8.24 more to drive the same distance. By contrast, an EV plugging in at $0.13 per kWh usually costs $13 to go 400 miles and bumps up to a piddly $16.25 even if it loses 20 percent efficiency when the temperature drops.

Some EV models lose 40 percent in extreme cold. OK, tack on another $3. That still leaves almost $30 in the driver’s pocket. Over the course of a year, those savings pile up.

Let’s Call It What It Is: Fear Mongering

Any seismic shift in technology comes with consumer hesitancy and media skepticism. Remember when everyone was afraid to stand in front of microwaves and thought the waves would make the food unsafe to eat? Or how, just a decade or so back everyone was talking about how cell phones could spontaneously explode?

Fear of new technology is a natural psychological response and to be expected. But it takes the media machine to turn consumer hesitation into a frenzy. Any way you slice it, 2023 was one big platform for expressing fears around EVs. Headline-grabbing tales of EV woes often lacked context or understanding of the technology. In a highly partisan landscape where EVs have been dubbed liberal leftist technology, what should be seen as a miraculous pro-American, pro-clean-air, pro-energy independence, pro-cost saving advancement is getting a beating in the press. In this environment, every bit of “bad EV news” spirals out into an echo-chamber of confirmation bias.

For example, Tesla’s recent software update was hyped as a 2 million vehicle “recall” even though the software was updated over the air without a single car needing to leave the driveway. Hertz's recent decision to reduce its Tesla fleet was seen by many as a referendum on the cars’ quality but was actually a decision based on Hertz’s miscalculations around repair costs and a mismatch in their projections of consumer demand for EV rentals.

While the cost of repairs might be higher, maintenance and fuel costs are still much lower than gas vehicles. EVs are better daily-use cars than rentals because while our country’s public charging infrastructure is still lagging, home charging is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Instead, the Hertz move and the negative coverage are further spooking the public.

The Truth About EVs

Despite the challenges, it's crucial to acknowledge the environmental advantages of EVs. For instance, EVs produce zero direct emissions, which significantly reduces air pollution and greenhouse gasses. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EVs are far more energy efficient than gas-powered cars, converting more than 77 percent of electrical energy from the grid to power, compared to 12-30 percent for gasoline vehicles.

This efficiency translates to a cleaner, more sustainable mode of transportation. And stories of EVs stranded in Chicago aside, generally they perform well in cold weather, as clearly demonstrated in Norway. In Norway, the average temperature hovers a solid 10 degrees lower than in the U.S. Yet 93 percent of new cars sold there are electric. The first-ever drive from the north to the south pole was also completed by an electric vehicle. The success story of EVs in Norway and demonstration projects in harsh winter climates serve as a powerful counterargument to the notion that EVs are ineffective in cold weather.

So where does this leave us? The discourse around EVs and gasoline vehicles in cold weather needs a more balanced and factual approach. The range loss in gasoline vehicles is a significant issue that mirrors the challenges faced by EVs. By acknowledging this and understanding the broader context, we can have a more informed and equitable discussion about the future of automotive technology and its impact on our environment.

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Kate L. Harrison is the co-founder and head of marketing at MoveEV, an AI-backed EV transition company that helps organizations convert fleet and employee-owned gas vehicles to electric, and reimburse for charging at home.