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.”

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

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


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.

Venture Houston returns this year — this time focused on the digitization of decarbonization. Photo courtesy of Venture Houston

Annual Houston conference to target topics on digitalization of decarbonization

thought leadership

An event that brings top venture capitalists to Houston returns for its third year — and this time the topic of conversation is the energy transition.

Venture Houston, taking place on September 7, 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," and Sandy Guitar, managing partner at HXVF, tells EnergyCapital that while that might sound like a narrow topic, attendees will see at the event how broad a theme it really is.

"We're calling it digitalization to decarbonization in order to help identify the fact that decarbonization is just a market that you sell into — the technologies are very broadly defined," Guitar says. "Underneath that, the decarbonization market happens to involve everything that is better, cheaper, and faster."

The event, which has its ticket registration open now, has a full agenda with several keynote addresses and panels featuring venture leaders, CEOs, startup founders, and more from Houston and beyond. There will also be networking breaks and other activations, including a breakfast presented by DivInc and Capital Connect on September 6. This event features curated collisions for a select VCs and founders.

The conference's first panel, "Seeding Sustainability: Unlocking the Power of Early Stage Investments," includes Josh Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures, who will share the stage with the founder of one of his firm's portfolio companies, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, among others.

To Posamentier, one of the things he hopes attendees takes away is how timely decarbonization is — especially in Houston.

"If I had one ask, it would be that people, especially for this audience, double down and mobilize more toward alternative energy," he tells EnergyCapital. "Take all the learnings, all the skills that come from conventional energy and repurpose them. I think there's it's a bigger market — more is being spent on renewables now than on oil and gas development and, you've got got a good 50 years of insane growth ahead."

And, as Guitar adds, the energy transition is not something that only affects the companies building the technology or working within the energy industry.

"I do think it's important to see the decarbonization not as a hard tech event, but as everything that touches carbon, which is basically everything in our planet in just the coal previously," she says. "Everything we make and use touches the climate."

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

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A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.