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.”

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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Energy storage facility just outside of Texas gets funding from global investor with Houston presence

fresh funds

A global independent energy and commodities group with its United States office in Houston has announced an investment in a Gulf Coast salt dome energy storage project.

Mercuria did not disclose its financial contribution into Lafayette, Louisiana-based Black Bayou Energy Hub LLC, but the company's support will go toward the development of the energy infrastructure of the large-scale, underground energy storage facility in Cameron and Calcasieu Parishes in Louisiana, which is alongside the Texas border.

"Mercuria's investment in Black Bayou Energy Hub represents a significant step towards enhancing the resilience and flexibility of our energy infrastructure. This partnership leverages Mercuria's robust financial capabilities and extensive expertise in commodity markets, aligning with Black Bayou's strategic location and development potential," Boris Bystrov, managing director of investments at Mercuria, says in a news release.

"We are committed to supporting innovative projects like Black Bayou essential for transitioning to a sustainable global energy future," he continues. "Together, we aim to create a storage solution that addresses the dynamic needs of the energy sector, fostering stability and growth in the U.S. Gulf Coast region and beyond."

Located in Southwest Louisiana near what is called "LNG Alley," the Black Bayou Energy Hub will initially store FERC-regulated natural gas energy in its salt dome storage capacity, as well as develop wide range of energy products to meet growing customer need, per the release.

The strategic location of the facility — 25 miles on either side of growing cities Lake Charles, Louisiana, and Port Arthur, Texas — is just seven miles east of the Louisiana/Texas border and 18 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico coastline.

"Mercuria's investment in the Black Bayou Energy Hub creates an ideal partnership that combines Mercuria's financial strength, extensive commodity experience, and global reach with Black Bayou's unique project attributes and the team's deep expertise developing, owning, and operating underground salt dome storage projects," adds Tad Lalande, Black Bayou's CEO. "We're thrilled to add Mercuria to our roster of existing sponsors, including Charlestown Energy Partners and Cameron Prairie Sporting Club, as we progress our development and bring this project to life."

With its local office in Houston's Greenway Plaza, Mercuria, founded in 2004, has pledged that over half of its new investments will go toward renewables and transitional energy.

Houston solar-powered tech company to collaborate on street safety device

lights on

EnGoPlanet, a Houston-based company that makes solar-powered street lights, is collaborating with a Silicon Valley company to create a solar-powered street light with emergency detection features.

Each K1 Super Tower, being created in partnership with Mountain View, California-based Knightscope, will include public safety technology such as:

  • Automated gunshot detection
  • Automated license-plate recognition
  • Blue strobe light
  • Mass-notification speaker
  • 360-degree, ultra-high-definition video

“We have been hard at work transforming conventional street lighting to one of the most advanced solar, battery, and LED solutions in the market — and we are excited to work with Knightscope to leverage that technology to further the public safety mission in an innovative way,” Petar Mirovic, CEO of EnGoPlanet, says in a news release.

Investors in EnGoPlanet, founded in 2019, include Houston-based Sallyport Investments and Paul Hobby, founding partner and managing director of Houston-based private equity firm Genesis Park.

Among the target customers for the K1 Super Tower are cities and colleges.

“Knightscope is rethinking every aspect of public safety technology,” says William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Knightscope. “Pairing EnGoPlanet’s sustainable street lights with our innovative portfolio of capabilities will help illuminate more areas and set the new standard for city and campus safety.”

Knightscope, a publicly traded company, specializes in robotics and artificial intelligence geared toward public safety.

EnGoPlanet announced in April that it neared completion on its Calhoun County project that features 300 solar-powered, motion-activated street lights and 20 camera-equipped power poles at several local parks.

Newly named CEO to lead Houston gold hydrogen biotech co. into high-growth phase

bugging out

Using microbes to sustainably unlock low-cost hydrogen sounds like the work of science fiction, but one Houston company is doing just that.

Gold H2, a spin-off company from Cemvita, has bioengineered subsurface microbes to use in wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen. The technology was piloted two years ago by Cemvita, and now, as its own company with a new CEO, it's safe to say Gold H2's on its way.

"First of all, that was groundbreaking," Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon, CEO of Gold H2, says of the 2022 pilot in the Permian Basin, "to be able to use bugs to produce hydrogen within a couple of days."

"2024 is supposed to be the year where Gold H2 takes off," Sekhon, who joined the company in April, tells the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It was one of those opportunities that I couldn't turn down. I had been following the company. I thought, 'here is this innovative tech that's on the verge of providing a ground-breaking solution to the energy transition — what better time to join the team.'"

Sekhon shares on the show how his previous roles at NextEra Energy Resources and Hess have prepared him for Gold H2. Specifically, as a leader on NextEra’s strategy and business development team, he says he was tasked with figuring out what the energy industry looks like in the next five, 10, and 20 years.

"Green hydrogen was a huge buzz, but one of the things I realized when I started looking at green hydrogen was that it's very expensive," Sekhon says. "I wanted to look at alternatives."

This journey led him to what Cemvita was doing with gold hydrogen, Sekhon says, explaining that the ability to use biotechnology to provide a new revenue stream from the mostly used up wells struck him as something with major potential.

"The idea of repurposing existing oil and gas assets to become hydrogen assets, leveraging current infrastructure to drive down overall deliver costs — to me I thought, 'wow, if they can make this works, that's brilliant,'" he says.

Now, as CEO, Sekhon gets to lead the company toward these goals, which include expanding internationally. He explains on the show that Gold H2 is interested in expanding to any part of the world where there's interest in implementing their biotech. In order to support the growth, Sekhon says they are looking to raise funding this year with plans for an additional round, if needed, in 2025.

"When we compare our tech to the rest of the stack, I think we blow the competition out of the water," Sekhon says, explaining that Gold H2's approach to gold hydrogen development is novel when you look at emerging technology in the space. "We're using a biological process — cheap bugs that eat oil for a living."

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.