Tyler Lancaster, a Chicago-based investor with Energize Capital, shares his investment thesis and why Houston-based Amperon caught his eye. Photo courtesy of Energize Capital

One of the biggest challenges to the energy transition is finding the funds to fuel it. Tyler Lancaster, partner at Energize Capital, is playing a role in that.

Energize Capital, based in Chicago, is focused on disruptive software technology key to decarbonization. One of the firm's portfolio companies is Amperon, which raised $20 million last fall.

In an interview with EnergyCapital, Lancaster shares what he's focused on and why Amperon caught Energize Capital's attention.

EnergyCapital: Energize Capital has been investing in climate tech for the better part of a decade now. What types of companies are you looking for and how are these companies’ technologies affecting the greater energy transition?

Tyler Lancaster: We partner with best-in-class innovators to accelerate the sustainability transition. This means identifying climate technology companies at various stages of maturity — from early commercialization to approaching the public markets — that we can help scale and realize their full potential. We invest in software-first climate technology businesses, with a focus on asset-light digital solutions that can help scale sustainable innovation and enable the new energy economy. Our portfolio currently drives software applications across renewable energy, industrial operations, electrification & mobility, infrastructure resilience, and decarbonization. We primarily focus on proven, commercially available and economically viable energy transition solutions (solar, wind, batteries, heat pumps, etc.). These solutions suffer from challenges related to efficient deployment or operations, where enabling digital platforms can play a key role in optimizing costs.

EC: Amperon is one of Energize Capital's portfolio companies. What made the company a great investment opportunity for Energize Capital?

TL: Accelerating the energy transition will require critical forecasting tools like what Amperon provides. This is underscored by the escalating impact of extreme weather events, increasing penetration of variable energy resources, like wind and solar, on the supply side, and surging demand growth driven by flexible loads and rapid electrification. We believe the need for Amperon’s platform will only continue to grow, and their increased raise from Series A to Series B showed they are scaling smartly. We’ve also known Sean Kelly, Abe Stanway, and the entire Amperon team for a long time, and building strong relationships with founders is how we like to do business. Amperon has built a blue-chip customer base in the energy sector in a very capital efficient manner, which is more important than ever for startups operating in the current equity market environment.

EC: One of the energy transition’s biggest problems is sourcing and storing reliable and affordable energy. What have you observed are the biggest problems with Texas’ electricity grid and what types of new tech can help improve these issues?

TL: Today’s electricity grid and the demands we’re putting on it look very different than they ever have. Major changes in climate and extreme weather show how perilous and unreliable the power grids in this country are, particularly in regions like Texas that don’t have the right infrastructure to shield grids from unusual temperatures — just look at the damage done by 2021’s historic Winter Storm Uri. And consumer demand for electricity is increasing as electrification accelerates globally. The makeup of the grid itself is shifting from centralized power plants to distributed clean energy assets like solar arrays and wind turbines, which brings issues of intermittent electricity production and no traditional way to forecast that.

Tech solutions like Amperon are the only way to navigate the nuances of the energy transition. With global net-zero goals and impending Scope II accounting, Amperon’s expertise in granular data management further enables companies to build accurate, dynamic forecasting models with smart meter data and get more visibility into anticipated market shifts so they can optimize their energy use — all of which helps to create a more resilient and reliable power grid.

EC: You are also on the board of the company, which recently announced a collaboration with Microsoft’s tech. What doors does this open for Amperon?

TL: Partnering with Microsoft and offering its energy demand forecasting solution on the Azure platform enables Amperon to better serve more companies that are navigating the energy transition and a rapidly evolving grid. Many power sector companies are also undergoing cloud migrations with Microsoft Azure having high market share. This partnership will specifically accelerate Amperon’s reach with utility customers, who typically have slower sales cycles but can greatly benefit from improved accuracy in energy demand forecasting and adoption of AI technologies.

EC: As a non-Texas investor, how do you see Houston and Texas-based companies’ investability? Has it changed over the years?

TL: While most tech startups are concentrated on the coasts and in Europe, we see Texas emerging as a hub for energy and climate focused startups due to its vicinity to energy giants, which represent potential customers. Texas leads the country in renewable energy production and sits at the forefront of the transition. Energy companies based in this region are relying on technology innovation and software tools to modernize operations and meet the evolving demands of their customers.


This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

A Houston investor is looking to target high-potential hardtech startups within the energy transition with his new venture studio. Photo via Getty Images

Houston investor launches energy transition venture studio to help elevate early-stage hardtech startups

money moves

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

The undisclosed amount of funding will be used to continue Syzygy's work on it commercial-scale photoreactor. Photo via Syzygy

Houston cleantech co. secures investment from Mitsubishi

money moves

A Houston-based company that's created a photocatalytic reactor that uses light instead of heat to cleanly manufacture chemicals has announced its latest investor.

Syzygy Plasmonics announced a strategic investment agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., executed through Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America Inc. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Syzygy reports that the funding will go toward commercialization and development of its products.

"MHIA has been making moves to establish themselves as one of the leaders in the energy transition," Syzygy CEO Trevor Best says in a news release. "Formalizing our relationship with them shows their commitment to helping scale cutting edge technology and opens up new avenues for Syzygy and MHIA to work together as we commercialize our industrial decarbonization platform."

Currently, Rigel, the commercial-scale photoreactor, is being tested in Syzygy's Pearland facility. Founded based off a breakthrough discovery out of Rice University from co-founders and professors Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander, Syzygy closed a $76 million series C financing round last year, a $23 million series B round in 2021, and its $5.8 series A in 2019.

The funding will support advancement and commercialization of the technology and is a part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Group's commitment to decarbonization.

"By collaborating with and investing in partners with innovative technologies, MHI Group is working to build a hydrogen ecosystem and a CO2 ecosystem that can contribute to the realization of a decarbonized society," the company writes in a statement. "Through this investment, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will support Syzygy's efforts to develop innovative alternative technologies that will lead to the diversification of both ecosystems."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

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.