ACCEL has opened applications for next year. Photo via Getty Images

Calling all cleantech startups founded by innovators of color — an inclusive accelerator program is now accepting applications.

Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL, has opened applications for it's second cohort. The program — from Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space — provides access to funding, networking connections, incubation space, mentorship, resources, and opportunities for energy tech founders of color for a year.

“ACCEL is one of the most impactful, meaningful programs we’ve run to date,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “We are eager to expand upon the great success and momentum of year one, and to welcome another incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups that are developing much-needed climatetech solutions. We’re equally committed to helping these companies accelerate and deploy their solutions, while also helping to build a more diverse, inclusive climatetech workforce—ACCEL sits at the nexus of those two critical efforts.”

The program, supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, accelerated six startups this year — Active Surfaces, DrinKicks, EarthBond, florrent, frakktal, and SpadXTech.

“The ACCEL Program directly aligns with our mission to ensure that climatetech jobs and wealth creation opportunities are available to all residents of the Commonwealth,” Emily Reichert, CEO at MassCEC and former CEO at Greentown, says in the release. “We are excited to see the second round of this important program, with our Equity Workforce Fund support fostering a partnership between Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space aimed at accelerating the growth of minority and women business enterprises in Massachusetts.”

ACCEL, which doles out $25,000 in non-dilutive grant funding to each participant, is also supported by Boston-based Barr Foundation and provides programming from VentureWell, a nonprofit with expertise in climatetech.

“Through our partnership with Greentown and VentureWell, we are able to put our respective strengths together to create an ambitious program to bolster founders of color in climatetech and propel innovations that benefit communities most impacted by climate change,” Kerry Bowie, executive director and president of Browning the Green Space, says in the release. “Opening applications for Year 2 of ACCEL is an important milestone in strengthening critical support for traditionally excluded entrepreneurs in our communities.”

Applications for ACCEL are open until January 5, 2024. While entrepreneurs from anywhere can apply, preference will be given to applicants in Greater Boston and Greater Houston, where Greentown’s incubators are located.

Despite making up more than 57 percent of the workforce, women are still significantly outnumbered by men in STEM professions. The SUPERGirls Shine Foundation is hoping to change that in Houston and beyond. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

Houston organization strives for equity for energy transition for young women in STEM

the view from heti

STEM occupations account for nearly 7 percent of all U.S. occupations, however, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, women make up only 27 percent of STEM workers. Studies continue to show that between the ages 8 and 14, girls’ confidence levels drop by 30 percent and by the time they reach middle school, they completely lack confidence and self-esteem to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Loretta Williams Gurnell is working to change the narrative for Houston students.

In 2016, Gurnell established SUPERGirls Shine Foundation, which is a Houston-based nonprofit organization that is focused on providing underserved girls with the opportunity and resources to succeed in STEM. By providing a strong STEM foundation, the organization equips girls with the tools to excel in professions that traditionally have low female and diverse representation.

In addition, the organization focuses on closing the gender gap in STEM, noting that their goal is to increase the number of girls in STEM classes, degrees and careers by 25 percent by the year 2025. Despite making up more than 57 percent of the workforce, women are still significantly outnumbered by men in STEM professions.

On a yearly basis, SUPERGirls Shine Foundation awards graduating high school seniors and collegiate ambassadors up to $10,000 dollars to close the financial gaps for college degrees. The foundation offers internships for college students and recent graduates to bring awareness, access and equity for more women and girls from underserved communities in STEM, innovation and leadership initiatives.

Through their 40/40 Mentorship Program, the foundation matches high-level industry leaders to grades 8th – 12th to provide skill-building and networking opportunities. The SUPERGirls Collegiate Ambassador Membership Program serves as a network for college students and recent graduates seeking community, careers and access to industry experts and mentors in STEM.

Learn more about Greentown Labs startup SUPERGirls Shine Foundation and how the organization is providing underserved girls with the opportunity and resources to succeed in STEM.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Ally Energy, is featured in an NOV-produced film about DEI in the energy transition. Photo via allyenergy.com

Short film focused on Houston entrepreneur, energy transition ecosystem releases online

dirty nasty people

In a new short film, a Houston energy entrepreneur sets the scene for the energy industry and showcases her passion for an equitable transition for the sector.

"Dirty Nasty People" originally premiered May 18 to the Houston community. Now, the NOV-produced film featuring Katie Mehnert and her company Ally Energy is available for viewing online.

The film, directed by Paul Dufilho, tells Mehnert's story, her passion for energy, and her career, which began at Enron, grew at Shell and BP, and took her to founding a company dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the space. Ally Energy, which was founded in 2014 as Pink Petro, is a community and talent platform for the evolving energy industry.

In the movie, Mehnert introduces the dual challenge the industry is facing — and how DEI is integral to solving it.

“On the one hand, we all need energy — affordable, reliable energy — to keep lives going,” she says in the film. “But we are harming the planet. And ourselves.

"It is complicated — this challenge is very complicated," she continues. "But it’s going to take collaboration, and diversity of thought — diversity of energy form. It’s going to take bringing people into the energy industry, into the fold, looking at this challenge in a different way — but it’s all about working together.”

Houston-based NOV Inc., an international oil and gas industry equipment and tech provider, backed the production of the film which was meant to showcase Ally, Mehnert, and the energy transition ecosystem locally.

"The energy workforce of the future will need to be as large and diverse as the technical solutions that will be needed to offset the effects of Climate Change," writes Dufilho on the website. "This project hopes to put a singular human focus on what is one of the largest issues of our day.

"There are already incredible people inside the industry doing the work of developing better energy solutions, and this project highlights just one of them," he continues. "However, the energy problems of the near future will require the perspectives and know-how of those who have not yet seen themselves as part of the solution. The outsider. The consumer. This project is for them."

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Houston company expands JV to build new power generation, storage assets

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Houston-based Conduit Power is broadening the scope of its joint venture with Oklahoma City-based Riley Exploration Permian.

Under this deal, the joint venture, RPC Power, will build power generation and storage assets for the sale of energy and related services to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), which operates the power grid for the bulk of Texas.

RPC Power, established in March 2023, owns and operates power generation assets that use Riley Permian’s natural gas to power its oilfield operations in Yoakum County, located in West Texas.

The expanded relationship will enable RPC Power to sell power and related services to ERCOT, with plans for 100 megawatts of natural gas-fueled generation and battery energy storage systems across facilities in West Texas. The facilities are expected to start commercial operations in 2025.

In conjunction with the expanded scope, Riley Permian bumped up its stake in RPC Power from 35 percent to 50 percent. Furthermore, it plans to sell up to 10 million cubic feet per day of natural gas to RPC Power as feedstock supply for the new generation facilities.

"Our JV expansion at RPC Power represents a significant milestone for our company, and we are proud to build upon our successful partnership with Riley Permian,” Travis Windholz, managing director of Conduit, says in a news release.

Conduit, a portfolio company of private equity firm Grey Rock Investment Partners, designs, builds, and operates distributed power generation systems.

Riley Exploration Permian specializes in the exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas reserves, primarily within the Permian Basin.

Elon Musk sees more resistance against his multibillion dollar pay package

just say no

A second shareholder advisory firm has come out against reinstating a pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk that was voided earlier this year by a Delaware judge.

ISS late Thursday joined Glass Lewis in recommending against the package, recently valued by the company at $44.9 billion but in January had a value of about $56 billion.

Shareholders of the electric vehicle and solar panel company are voting on the package, with the results to be tabulated at Tesla's June 13 annual meeting.

ISS said in its recommendations on Tesla's proxy voting items that Musk's stock-based package was outsized when it was approved by shareholders in 2018, and it failed to accomplish board objectives voiced at that time.

The firm said that Tesla met the pay package’s performance objectives, and it recognized the company's substantial growth in size and profitability. But concerns about Musk spending too much time on other ventures that were raised in 2018 and since then have not been sufficiently addressed, ISS said.

“The grant, in many ways, failed to achieve the board’s other original objectives of focusing CEO Musk on the interests of Tesla shareholders, as opposed to other business endeavors, and aligning his financial interests more closely with those of Tesla stockholders,” ISS wrote.

Also, future concerns remain unaddressed, including a lack of clarity on Musk's future compensation and the potential for his pay to significantly dilute shareholder value, ISS wrote.

Musk plays big roles in his other ventures including SpaceX, Neuralink and the Boring Company. Last year he bought social media platform X and formed an artificial intelligence unit called xAI.

Last week the other prominent proxy advisory firm, Glass Lewis, also recommended against reinstating Musk's 2018 compensation package. The firm said the package would dilute shareholders' value by about 8.7%. The rationale for the package “does not in our view adequately consider dilution and its long-lasting effects on disinterested shareholders,” Glass Lewis wrote.

But in a proxy filing, Tesla said that Glass Lewis failed to consider that the 2018 award incentivized Musk to create over $735 billion in value for shareholders in the six years since it was approved.

“Tesla is one of the most successful enterprises of our time,” the filing said. “We have revolutionized the automotive market and become the first vertically integrated sustainable energy company."

Tesla is struggling with falling global sales, slowing electric vehicle demand, an aging model lineup and a stock price that has tumbled about 30% this year.

Tesla asked shareholders to restore Musk's pay package after it was rejected by a Delaware judge this year. At the time, it also asked to shift the company’s legal corporate home to Texas.

Glass Lewis recommended against moving the legal corporate home to Texas, but ISS said it favored the move.

California’s public employee retirement system, which holds a stake in Tesla, said it has not made a final decision on how it will vote on Musk’s pay. But CEO Marcie Frost told CNBC that as of Wednesday, the system would not vote in favor. CalPERS, which opposed the package in 2018, said it will discuss the matter with Tesla “in the coming days.”

In January, Delaware Chancellor Kathaleen St. Jude McCormick ruled that Musk is not entitled to the landmark stock compensation that was to be granted over 10 years.

Ruling on a lawsuit from a shareholder, she voided the pay package, saying that Musk essentially controlled the board, making the process of enacting the compensation unfair to stakeholders. “Musk had extensive ties with the persons tasked with negotiating on Tesla’s behalf,” she wrote in her ruling.

In a letter to shareholders released in a regulatory filing last month, Tesla Chairwoman Robyn Denholm said that Musk has delivered on the growth it was looking for at the automaker, with Tesla meeting all of the stock value and operational targets in the 2018 package. Shares at the time were up 571% since the pay package began.

“Because the Delaware Court second-guessed your decision, Elon has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years that has helped to generate significant growth and stockholder value,” Denholm wrote. “That strikes us — and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard — as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it.”

Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8 million electric vehicles worldwide in 2023, but the value of its shares has eroded quickly this year as EV sales soften.

The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles from January through March, nearly 9% fewer than it sold in the same period last year. Future growth is in doubt and it may be a challenge to get shareholders to back a fat pay package in an environment where competition has increased worldwide.

Starting last year, Tesla has cut prices as much as $20,000 on some models. The price cuts caused used electric vehicle values to drop and clipped Tesla’s profit margins.

In April, Tesla said that it was letting about 10% of its workers go, about 14,000 people.

Things to know: $17.5B oil acquisition, new accelerator focuses on sustainability, and more in Houston energy

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Editor's note: Dive headfirst into the new week with three quick things to catch up on in Houston's energy transition: a podcast episode with a biotech leader, a very big oil and gas deal, and events not to miss.


Big deal: ConocoPhillips to buy Marathon Oil for $17.B in all-stock deal

ConocoPhillips is buying Marathon Oil in an all-stock deal valued at approximately $17.1 billion as energy prices rise and big oil companies reap massive profits.

The deal to combine the two Houston-headquartered companies is valued at $22.5 billion when including $5.4 billion in debt.

Crude prices have jumped more than 12% this year and the cost for a barrel rose above $80 this week. Oil majors put up record profits after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and while those numbers have slipped, there has been a surge in mergers between energy companies flush with cash. Continue reading.

Podcast to stream: Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about." Continue reading.

Events not to miss

Put these Houston-area energy-related events on your calendar.

  • The Energy Drone & Robotics Summit is coming to Houston June 10 to 12. Join for the ultimate event in the world for UAVs, Robotics & Data/AI, 3D Reality Capture, Geospatial and Digital Twins focused on the business and technology in energy & industrial operations, inspections, maintenance, surveying & mapping. Register now.
  • Argus Clean Ammonia North America Conference will take place on June 12 to 14 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. Over the three days of the conference, explore the big questions many producers are facing around where demand is coming from, expect to hear perspectives from key domestic consumers as well as international demand centres for clean ammonia. Register now.
  • Join the over 150 senior energy and utilities leaders from June 17 to 18 in Houston for AI in Energy to unlock the potential of AI within your enterprise and delve into key areas for its development.Register now.
  • Energy Underground (June) is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition that connect monthly at The Cannon - West Houston. Register now.