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.”

Josh Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner at Congruent Ventures, will join Venture Houston as a speaker this year. Photo via congruentvc.com

Sustainability investor addresses startup challenges, Houston's capital shortages, and more

Q&A

It's been a challenging year for venture capital, but how are climatetech startups doing specifically? One Bay Area investor shares his point of view on this this topic ahead of Venture Houston next week.

Joshua Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures, a San Francisco-based firm that invests in early-stage sustainable companies, is taking the stage at Venture Houston on September 7. Among others, Posamentier will be in conversation with the founder of one of his firm's portfolio companies, Fervo Energy, discussing seed and early-stage funding for sustainability-focused startups.

Venture Houston 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."

Posamentier, who has worked over a decade in this space, shares some of his thoughts on Houston as an energy transition leader, the challenges climate-tech startups face, and more in an interview with EnergyCapital.

EnergyCapital: How do you see Houston and its role in this energy transition, its challenges, its opportunities, etc.?

Josh Posamentier: I actually tend to disagree with the people that say Houston is too far down the oil and gas path. I mean, it's it's capitalism at the end of the day. There's money to be made in in climate mitigation technologies. People are going to go chase it, and I think Houston, of all places, is a pretty capitalistic city. And people are definitely not shy about chasing the next big opportunity. I mean, it was oil and natural gas before, and now it's now it's alternative energy. And so I think from that perspective, it's fine. There's a lot of money.

I think the biggest challenge is honestly, especially on a perception basis, a lot of the policy and social stuff that's endemic to Texas, which is a bummer. I mean, especially for younger talent. Austin had a shine, but I think that's largely gone and Houston never had it. So, I think it's something that needs to be overcome and needs to be thought about at a state level basis, especially if you're going to want to attract young entrepreneurial talent.

EC: What are some of the challenges energy transition startups are facing these days? How is your fund kind of supporting your portfolio companies through these challenges?

JP: There's some normalization that's had to happen over the last 9 to 12 months. As you know, corrections have come down the pipe in the venture ecosystem. By all accounts, it has been really frothy for the last few years, especially so in parts of climate. Some of that's due to the the proliferation of investment from non climate-specific firms. And it's, in many ways, decoupled from the ups and downs of different parts of the venture ecosystem, but it also has different timelines. I think not everyone always appreciates what that means and what that implies for for startups. So there's a lot of frustration and a lot of missed expectations in the early stage part of the ecosystem that are slowly getting fixed. I think getting expectations more in line with reality is going to help immensely.

The other thing is just figuring out how to talk more in a language that venture investors understand. I think that's a little bit of a challenge. There's there's actually a pretty big gap between if you're an oil and gas developer and thinking about how you fund that kind of a business versus how you fund a technology-enabling business. Fervo Energy is an interesting example. It's a tech company, but now it's really a tech enabled developer because they have no choice but to do that full stack. They went to school out here. They understand the ecosystem. They've really taken the effort to really understand all the capital players. And so we're waiting to see how that ultimately plays out.

But there's just different capital. I think it is a little challenging. And this is a good thing. There does need to be a way, I think, to just get people more exposure to to the market there — in the Houston market specifically. If you're spinning at Stanford, there are hundreds of VCs within walking distance. In Houston, the ones I know I can count on one hand.

EC: Has that pace of commercialization changed over the years or have founders found ways to survive that valley of death?

JP: I don't think anything's really changed fundamentally. I think people have gotten a little more clever about understanding how the adoption occurs, and figuring out how to phase into those processes that that comes with experience. But there's only so much acceleration you can do when you're dealing with critical infrastructure. You know, people are not going to want to just jump right in, rip out, and replace things that keep the lights on. And so you just have to figure out how to how to capitalize a business in such a way that you can you can live with those kinds of timelines. Venture capital is a fantastic tool, and it is far from the right tool for every problem. And so there are plenty of opportunities to deploy other tools that are more appropriate to different kinds of different kinds of challenges.

EC: What attracted you to investing in Fervo Energy?

JP: So, it's how we think about portfolio construction. Fervo has an amazing team, which we will bend a lot of rules for, and we saw this opportunity as something they could build a ton of value by validating the tech, establishing a huge land position, and then raising different kinds of capital for the out years and for the project development. A bunch of our companies took venture capital to develop a technology, and then they know that venture is not the right class of capital to then scale that throughout the world and whatever. So they would basically raise other forms of capital in the out years to deploy the technologies.

EC: And one of those options is government funding. How do your portfolio companies utilize that?

JP: A big chunk of our portfolio has some government money, even if it's very early stage research grants or something like that. I see government money being the most effective in a couple of ways. One way obviously is to get the core research out of it versus just spin it into something more commercial that we can all then look at.

The other place that is really exciting is in is getting technologies to scale where they're then cost effective without further subsidies. When we underwrite companies, we are very explicitly underwriting them in the absence of subsidies at scale. The assumption is those are just there to basically bridge the gap between "this is totally uneconomic because it's a tiny, tiny little factory or something" versus "it would be plenty economic if it were a big factory." So, if they can just bridge that gap with a little bit of government money.

We've been through this this cycle a couple of times, and we can't in good faith underwrite anything assuming that government subsidies are going to continue. We very much believe it's a bridge — it's got to be a bridge to something. It can't be a bridge to nowhere. And I think there are a lot of companies out there today that are almost designed to just pump the government incentives, and that's not a recipe for a business that can grow on its own over time.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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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.”