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.

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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.

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Houston's energy industry deemed both a strength and weakness on global cities report

mixed reviews

A new analysis positions the Energy Capital of the World as an economic dynamo, albeit a flawed one.

The recently released Oxford Economics Global Cities Index, which assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s 1,000 largest cities, puts Houston at No. 25.

Houston ranks well for economics (No. 15) and human capital (No. 18), but ranks poorly for governance (No. 184), environment (No. 271), and quality of life (No. 298).

New York City appears at No. 1 on the index, followed by London; San Jose, California; Tokyo; and Paris. Dallas lands at No. 18 and Austin at No. 39.

In its Global Cities Index report, Oxford Economics says Houston’s status as “an international and vertically integrated hub for the oil and gas sector makes it an economic powerhouse. Most aspects of the industry — downstream, midstream, and upstream — are managed from here, including the major fuel refining and petrochemicals sectors.”

“And although the city has notable aerospace and logistics sectors and has diversified into other areas such as biomedical research and tech, its fortunes remain very much tied to oil and gas,” the report adds. “As such, its economic stability and growth lag other leading cities in the index.”

The report points out that Houston ranks highly in the human capital category thanks to the large number of corporate headquarters in the region. The Houston area is home to the headquarters of 26 Fortune 500 companies, including ExxonMobil, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Sysco.

Another contributor to Houston’s human capital ranking, the report says, is the presence of Rice University, the University of Houston and the Texas Medical Center.

“Despite this,” says the report, “it lacks the number of world-leading universities that other cities have, and only performs moderately in terms of the educational attainment of its residents.”

Slower-than-expected population growth and an aging population weaken Houston’s human capital score, the report says.

Meanwhile, Houston’s score for quality is life is hurt by a high level of income inequality, along with a low life expectancy compared with nearly half the 1,000 cities on the list, says the report.

Also in the quality-of-life bucket, the report underscores the region’s variety of arts, cultural, and recreational activities. But that’s offset by urban sprawl, traffic congestion, an underdeveloped public transportation system, decreased air quality, and high carbon emissions.

Furthermore, the report downgrades Houston’s environmental stature due to the risks of hurricanes and flooding.

“Undoubtedly, Houston is a leading business [center] that plays a key role in supporting the U.S. economy,” says the report, “but given its shortcomings in other categories, it will need to follow the path of some of its more well-rounded peers in order to move up in the rankings.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

New collaboration to build data center microgrid in Houston

coming soon

Two companies are teaming up to build a natural gas microgrid in Houston that will reduce emissions by 98 percent.

Provider of prime and backup power solutions RPower has teamed up with Houston’s ViVaVerse Solutions to build a 17-megawatt (MW) microgrid at the ViVa Center campus in Houston, which is expected to be commissioned by the end of the year.

The microgrid plans to employ ultra-low emissions and natural gas generators to deliver Resiliency-as-a-Service (RaaS), and this will connect to ViVaVerse's colocation data center operations during utility outages.

RPower will also deploy the microgrid across different ERCOT market programs, which will contribute to assist with essential capacity and ancillary services for the local grid. ERCOT has increased its use of renewable energy in recent years, but still has faced criticism for unstable conditions. The microgrids can potentially assist ERCOT, and also help cut back on emissions.

“RPower's pioneering microgrid will not only deliver essential N+1 resiliency to our data center operations but will also contribute to the local community by supplying necessary capacity during peak demand periods when the electric grid is strained,” Eduardo Morales, CEO of ViVaVerse Solutions and Morales Capital Group, says in a news release.

ViVaVerse Solutions will be converting the former Compaq Computer/HPE headquarters Campus into an innovative technology hub called the ViVa Center, which will host the High-Performance Computing Data Center, and spaces dedicated to mission critical infrastructure and technical facilities . The hub will host 200 data labs.

“We are thrilled to partner with ViVaVerse to deploy this `first of its kind' microgrid solution in the data center space,” Jeff Starcher, CEO of RPower, adds. “Our natural gas backup generation system delivers the same reliability and performance as traditional diesel systems, but with a 98 percent reduction in emissions. Further, the RPower system provides critical grid services and will respond to the volatility of renewable generation, further enabling the energy transition to a carbon free future.”