First Bight Venture's BioWell has received a $741,925 grant to continue supporting bioindustrial startups. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based nonprofit accelerator that works with early-stage synthetic biology startups has secured nearly $750,000 to support its mission.

First Bight Ventures' accelerator, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

The funding will support the BioWell's mission to establish a "vibrant bioeconomy" by helping startups scale and commercialize "through access to a unique combination of pilot bioproduction infrastructure," according to a news release from First Bight.

"Startups at BioWell will gain access to a robust ecosystem, expertise, mentorship, and financial resources essential for successfully commercializing their bio-industrial innovations," BioWell Executive Director Paul Palmer says in the release.

The BioWell is still working toward establishing a physical space and has worked out of the East End Maker Hub in the meantime. The organization has partnered with Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation, or UP CDC, which led the application process on this federal grant.

"BioWell chose to partner with UP CDC for the EDA grant, to continue the successful model that UP CDC has created at the East End Maker Hub for advanced manufacturing. UP CDC looks forward to continuing our partnership with BioWell in the UP CDC's BioCity project that will position Houston at the forefront of bio-manufacturing," UP CDC's CEO Patrick Ezzell says in the release.

First Bight Ventures Founder Veronica Wu established the BioWell to target high-potential startups, which usually have to overcome lack of funding challenges early on.

"Often times, early-stage startups gain momentum and hit important milestones, but ultimately find themselves heading toward the 'Valley of Death,' where progress is made on their enterprise, but no sufficient revenue is generated for the company's stability and longevity," Wu says in the release. "This 'Build to Scale' program's support will help offset these inevitable challenges in our bio-industrial space."

She shares more about her mission for First Bight Ventures on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the interview from March below.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Algenesis bills its patented Soleic technology as the world’s first renewable, high-performance, fully biodegradable, and backyard-compostable polyurethane made from plants and algae. Photo via AlgenesisMaterials.com

Houston VC invests in early stage California biodegradable plastics startup

seed funding

Houston-based venture capital firm First Bight Ventures led a $5 million seed round for Encinitas, California-based startup Algenesis, a developer of biodegradable plastics.

Algenesis bills its patented Soleic technology as the world’s first renewable, high-performance, fully biodegradable, and backyard-compostable polyurethane made from plants and algae. Each year, 25 million tons of hard-to-recycle polyurethane are produced for the footwear, medical, and textile industries. Polyurethane, typically made from petroleum, usually ends up as landfill waste or environmental microplastics.

Algenesis says Soleic can biodegrade in compost within a matter of months and does not contain harmful PFAS chemicals found in other plastics.

Algenesis says the new funding will enable it to expand beyond soft-foam applications, such as midsoles and insoles for footwear, and into injection-molded products such as smartphone cases along with waterproof textiles.

Aside from First Bight Ventures, investors in the seed round are Singapore-based Circulate Capital, India-based MIH Capital, Chesapeake, Virginia-based Diamond Sports Group, and France-based Rhinoshield.

The investment comes on the heels of a $5 million grant Algenesis received from the U.S. Department of Energy to scale up production of biochemicals.

“To save our planet and ourselves, we must move away from petroleum-based plastics and toward bio-based alternatives. Algenesis is clearly at the forefront of making this possible,” says Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures.

First Bight, which launched in 2022, invests in early-stage startups working on synthetic biology.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston,” Wu said last year.

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3 companies collaborate to build green hydrogen facility in Houston

Three corporations have teamed up to deliver a first-of-its-kind hydrogen production project to be located in the Houston area.

California-based HNO International Inc. has teamed up with Colorado-based Element One Energy and Houston-based Pneumatic and Hydraulic Co. to develop a hydrogen production facility that will produce 500 kilograms of green hydrogen a day.

"This collaboration represents a major milestone in our commitment to sustainable energy solutions," Donald Owens, chairman at HNO International, says in a news release. "The development of the 500kg per day green hydrogen production facility in Houston is a testament to our dedication to advancing sustainable hydrogen infrastructure.

"This facility is just the beginning, as we have plans for additional installations in 2024, 2025, and beyond, further solidifying our position as leaders in the hydrogen energy infrastructure sector," he continues.

The facility will install HNO International's Scalable Hydrogen Energy Platform, or SHEP, a hydrogen energy system that's designed to produce, store, and dispense green hydrogen from water using a 1.25 megawatt electrolyzer. SHEP is scalable, modular, and compact, requiring less than 3,000 square feet of space.

For 60 years, Pneumatic and Hydraulic Co. has worked in the compressed gas industry with its hydrogen division Total Hydrogen Solutions, serving a range of industries, including notable aerospace clients like SpaceX, Blue Origin, NASA,

Element One Energy designs and manufactures electrolyzers and solid-state hydrogen storage systems with over 20 years of engineering experience with cryogenic storage and high pressures.

Houston sustainable biotech company names new CFO

new hire

A growing Houston carbon utilization company has named its newest C-suite member.

Lisa Bromiley has joined Cemvita as CFO. Bromiley will work on spearheading capital markets, strategic positioning, and financial management of the company.

"We are thrilled to welcome Lisa Bromiley to Cemvita as our CFO,” Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita, says in a news release. “She joins us at an inflection point in our growth trajectory and I’m confident that Lisa's strategic financial acumen will play a pivotal role in driving Cemvita's continued success.”

Bromiley brings over two decades of experience in energy and commodity-related finance. She previously played a key role in the development of Flotek Industries Inc. and assisted Northern Oil and Gas, Inc. to achieve a market capitalization of $4 billion. Bromiley holds a Master of Professional Accounting and a Bachelor of Business Administration from the University of Texas. She is also a certified public accountant.

"As the new CFO of Cemvita, I'm very excited to lead the company through a crucial expansion in 2024,” Bromiley says in the news release. “We're moving swiftly from development to commercialization, using our patented microbes to produce sustainable feedstocks from carbon waste. I believe our core mission to recycle carbon waste, including CO2, for profitable industrial feedstock production is vital for a more sustainable world."

Cemvita’s eCO2 recently helped garner the Houston company its spot in the Sustainable Aviation Challenge. The eCO2™ takes waste streams and carbon dioxide and uses them to produce valuable materials like plastics,proteins, and fuel feedstock through microbiology. Cemvita also plans to remove 250 million tons per year from the atmosphere by 2050.

Houston offshore robotics company secures $12M, makes major leadership changes

big moves

In the wake of a leadership reshuffling and amid lingering financial troubles, publicly traded Nauticus Robotics, a Webster-based developer of subsea robots and software, has netted more than $12 million in a second tranche of funding.

The more than $12 million in new funding includes a $9.5 million loan package.

Nauticus says the funding will accelerate certification of the company’s flagship Aquanaut robot, which is being prepared for its inaugural mission — inspecting a deep-water production facility in the Gulf of Mexico that’s owned by a major oil and gas company.

The new funding comes several weeks after the company announced a change in leadership, including a new interim CEO, interim chief financial officer, and lead general counsel.

Former Halliburton Energy Services executive John Gibson, the interim CEO, became president of Nauticus last October and subsequently joined the board. Gibson replaced Nauticus founder Nicolaus Radford in the CEO role. Radford’s LinkedIn profile indicates he left Nauticus in January 2024, the same month that Gibson stepped into the interim post.

Radford founded what was known as Houston Mechatronics in 2014.

Victoria Hay, the new interim CFO at Nauticus, and Nicholas Bigney, the new lead general counsel, came aboard in the fourth quarter of 2023.

“We currently have the intellectual property, prototypes, and the talent to deliver robust products and services,” Gibson says in a news release. “Team Nauticus is now laser-focused on converting our intellectual property, including both patents and trade secrets, into differentiated solutions that bring significant value to both commercial and government customers.”

A couple of weeks after the leadership shift, the NASDAQ stock market notified Nauticus that the average closing price of the company’s common stock had fallen below the $1-per-share threshold for 30 consecutive trading days. That threshold must be met to maintain a NASDAQ listing.

Nauticus was given 180 days to lift its average stock price above $1. If that threshold isn’t reached during that 180-day period, the company risks being delisted by NASDAQ. The stock closed February 6 at 32 cents per share.

The stock woes and leadership overhaul came on the heels of a dismal third-quarter 2023 financial report from Nauticus. The company’s fourth-quarter 2023 financial report hasn’t been filed yet.

For the first nine months of 2023, Nauticus reported an operating loss of nearly $20.9 million, up from almost $11.3 million during the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, revenue sank from $8.2 million during the first nine months of 2022 to $5.5 million in the same period a year later.

Nauticus went public in September 2022 through a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger with New York City-based CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” company that went public in July 2021 through a $150 million IPO. The SPAC deal was valued at $560 million when it was announced in December 2021.

Nauticus recently hired investment bank Piper Sandler & Co. to help evaluate “strategic options to maximize shareholder value.”

One of the strategic alternatives involves closing Nauticus’ previously announced merger with Houston-based 3D at Depth, which specializes in subsea laser technology. When it was unveiled last October, the all-stock deal was valued at $34 million.