Here's what student-founded startups are leaving CERAWeek with fresh funding. Photo courtesy of HETI

For the third year, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Institute hosted its startup pitch competition at CERAWeek by S&P Global. A dozen startups walked away with recognition — and three some with cash prizes.

HETI joined partners Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and TEX-E for the 2024 Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek on Wednesday, March 20. Forty-two companies, which have collectively raised over $265 million in investment funding already, pitched to judges. Nine startups won awards across three tracks.

TEX-E, a Texas nonprofit that supports student-founded upstarts, had five of its companies pitch and three winners walked away with monetary prizes. Teams that competed in the TEX-E Prize track, many of which come from Houston universities, include:

  • AirMax, University of Texas at Austin
  • BeadBlocker, University of Houston
  • Carvis Energy Solutions, Texas A&M University
  • Coflux Purification, Rice University
  • Solidec, Rice University

Solidec, which is working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, won first place and $25,000. The company also recently scored a $100,000 grant from Rice's One Small Step Grant program, as well as a voucher from the DOE. Coflux Purification, which has a technology that destroys PFAS in filtration, won second place and$15,000. The company also secured a One Small Step Grant to the tune of $80,000. AirMax, which focuses on optimizing sustainability for air conditioning equipment, won third place and $10,000.

Last year, Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies took home the top TEX-E price and $25,000 cash awards. The venture, founded by Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA.

The rest of the companies that pitched competed for non-monetary awards. Here's what companies won:

  • Group A (CCUS, oilfield solutions, analytics and minerals):
    • First place: Ardent
    • Second place: Vaulted Deep
    • Third place: Mitico
  • Group B (batteries, renewables, water, and grid technology):
    • First place: SungreenH2
    • Second place: FeX Energy
    • Third place: Mercurius Biorefining
  • Group C (Mobility, Materials, and hydrogen solutions)
    • First place: Thiozen
    • Second place: Power2Hydrogen
    • Third place: Arolytics
  • People's choice: Decimetrix
HETI, Rice Alliance, and TEX-E celebrated the winners at a private reception on Wednesday evening.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. Photo via htxenergytransition.org

HETI, collaborators open pitch competition applications for annual CERAWeek event

the view from heti

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and TEX-E have opened applications for their Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek, set to take place in the Agora program on March 20.

The pitch day will feature more than 40 energy ventures driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition showcasing their companies. The fast-paced competition is designed to connect energy startups with venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics and service providers.

Ventures will be showcased across three industry tracks, spanning materials to clean energy. Industry experts and investors will judge the pitches, and the top three ventures from each track will be named at the conclusion of the event. The pitches from energy ventures will include a university track, the TEX-E Prize, highlighting the innovation of five Texas student-led energy startups. With mentorship leading up to the competition, these student startups will compete for $50,000 in cash prizes.

“The goal of the TEX-E Prize is to support, encourage and inspire students across the state of Texas to pursue entrepreneurship as a means of reducing emissions and building a healthier, more resilient society,” said David Pruner, executive director at TEX-E.

Energy ventures for all tracks of the competition are asked to apply by Feb. 9. More details about eligibility can be found at alliance.rice.edu/EVD.

“The Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek bring together key members of the energy ecosystem, investors and startups to showcase innovations and emerging technologies that create value from the world’s transition to low-carbon energy systems,” said Jane Stricker, senior vice president at the Greater Houston Partnership and executive director of HETI. “We are thrilled to partner with our ecosystem partner, Rice Alliance, on this exciting event at CERAWeek and build on the momentum of the last few years.”

“In addition to the access to investors and awareness at CERAWeek, this is an invaluable opportunity to pitch in front of active investors, corporates and key players in the energy industry,” said Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance and vice president for industry and new ventures in Rice’s Office of Innovation. “The Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek is a platform designed to foster innovation, collaboration and investment in the ever-evolving energy landscape.”

Learn more about this year’s pitch day here.

The Cannon and Chevron Technology Ventures are looking for startups that will improve operations. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Houston organizations call for startups to pitch at unique industry event

call for companies

Two Houston organizations are collaborating on a pitch competition and event that will focus on technologies that will transform operations.

The Cannon and Chevron Technology Ventures are partnering to present "Facilities of the Future," an event taking place at The Cannon West Houston on September 21.

"For over 100 years, Chevron has been a leader in leveraging technology to reduce risk and optimize efficiency in our facilities. Facilities that span all portions of the energy value chain including distributed unconventional wells, offshore deepwater platforms, and complex processing facilities, i.e. refineries, LNG plants," reads a statement about the competition. "But we also recognize the pace of change for technology is rapidly increasing and that our greatest potential lies in our ability to capitalize on these emerging technologies."

The companies, which must have at least $25,000 in annual revenue to qualify, will be selected by CTV and The Cannon and have until September 1 to apply online. The program is seeking participants with technology addressing one or more of Chevron's goals at its facilities:

  • Removing people from hazardous environments (e.g., confined spaces, working at heights)
  • Reducing the environmental impact (e.g., leak detection, emissions monitoring),
  • Increasing the operational efficiency (e.g., autonomous operations, advanced inspection capabilities, predictive asset health capabilities)

Each company will conduct a five-minute pitch followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. The winner, which will be announced at the conclusion of the event, have the opportunity to work on a field trial with Chevron and six months of free workspace at The Cannon.

Tickets for the event, which will provide drinks and networking, are free and registration is available online.

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Climatetech funding: New York investment firm to donate part of proceeds to Greentown Labs

donations incoming

Effective immediately, Greentown Labs, which has locations in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, is benefitting from funds raised by an investment group.

Greentown Labs, a nonprofit climatetech incubator, announced its partnership with New York-based Prithvi Ventures, a firm that specializes in early-stage climatetech. The unique partnership includes Prithvi Ventures donating "a percentage of proceeds received from its Fund 1 and Fund 2 to Greentown on a quarterly basis, in perpetuity," per Greentown's news release. The exact percentage was not disclosed.

“There’s an understanding in sports that the best teams always take responsibility and accountability for their own and look out for each other—that the members of the team are a reflection of the franchise,” says Kunal Sethi, founder and general partner at Prithvi Ventures. “I have always believed the same to be true in venture, too.

"Founders should know their supporters, team, and cap tables inside and out. It matters who you surround yourself with and Greentown Labs is always the first name that comes up for me," he continues. "Every founder in climatetech should work with them or they’re missing out on so much.”

Prithvi Ventures already has a handful Greentown member companies in its investment portfolio, including Carbon Upcycling, Mars Materials, Nth Cycle, and Rheom Materials. The firm has invested in 30 companies total, and aims to lead rounds, preferring to be the first large check for the startups it invests in.

“We are delighted to deepen our relationship with Prithvi Ventures and are grateful for their ongoing support,” Aisling Carlson, senior vice president of partnerships at Greentown Labs, says in the statement. “Through this new partnership, Prithvi Ventures and its limited partners are setting an example for how the venture community can more directly support the incubators and accelerators working to catalyze climatetech innovation and entrepreneurship.”

New rule to require railroads in Texas, beyond to provide hazardous cargo details upon derailment

in case of emergency

A new federal rule finalized Monday aims to ensure first responders can find out what hazardous chemicals are on a train almost immediately after a derailment so they can respond appropriately. Texas, a major hub for chemical development, will be affected by the ruling.

Too often in past disasters like last year's fiery Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, firefighters risked their lives trying to extinguish a blaze without knowing the right way to respond. The local fire chief in charge of the response said it took him 45 minutes to learn exactly what was in the 11 burning tank cars on the train, but some firefighters from neighboring departments that came to help said they didn't know what they were dealing with until two hours after the February 3, 2023, crash.

First responders need to know exactly which hazardous materials are on a train so they can look it up in the government's official guidebook and make sure they have the right protective gear and firefighting tools, said Tristan Brown, deputy administrator of the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration agency that proposed the rule.

Knowing what chemical is involved and how much of it is aboard also affects how big of an evacuation zone might be required to protect the public.

“There are so many different types of hazardous materials being transported across the country on any given day — one in 10 goods that move across the United States — and each one, poses unique risks and hazards, certainly to the folks who are running towards a fire,” Brown said. “But certainly as well for anybody who may be living or working in that vicinity.”

The rule was published just one day ahead of the National Transportation Safety Board's final hearing on the East Palestine derailment, where they will discuss exactly what caused that crash and recommend steps to prevent similar disasters.

Train crews have long carried lists of their cargo in the cabs of their locomotives, but in the middle of the chaos after a derailment those engineers and conductors, who might have moved their locomotives miles down the track, can't always be found right away.

That's part of why the largest freight railroads developed an app called AskRail roughly a decade ago that enables firefighters to quickly look up the details of what each train carries. But not every firefighter had the app, and cell phones don't always have a signal strong enough to work in a disaster.

Regulators want the railroads to continue expanding access to that app, including to 911 centers, so information reaches first responders sooner. The railroads have been expanding access over the past year. The Association of American Railroads trade group estimates some 2.3 million first responders now have access to that information as a result of the effort to expand into dispatch centers.

The six biggest railroads also make train cargo information immediately available through the chemical industry's hazardous materials hotlines in the U.S. and Canada known as the CHEMTREC and CANUTEC, emergency call centers.

Norfolk Southern said that in addition to AskRail it is working with a different program called RapidSOS that will allow the railroad to directly send information about its trains to first responders after a derailment — instead of forcing them to look up the details in AskRail. The railroad said its work fits well with the new rule.

But the new federal rule also applies to the hundreds of smaller railroads that aren't involved in AskRail. Even railroads that only have one or two employees now must have a plan to get the crucial details of their cargo to the local fire department quickly, even if its as simple as having the fire chief's cell phone number at the ready. Railroads also must test their plan at least once a year.

“In a hazmat incident, firefighters and first responders arriving on scene need to know what kind of hazardous materials are present so they can protect themselves and their communities,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

It's not clear how this rule might have changed the outcome in East Palestine, but more information could have helped responding firefighters.

The derailment prompted a nationwide reckoning over railroad safety and prompted Congress to propose changes and regulators like Buttigieg to urge railroads to do more to prevent derailments.

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued various advisories about different aspects of railroad operations, but the reforms in Congress have stalled because Republicans wanted to wait for the final NTSB report and regulators have had only limited success making changes.

From virtual to reality: This Houston extended reality CEO weighs in on energy transition applications

Q&A

Founded in 2023, MadXR is a Houston-based Extended Reality startup. The innovative company specializes in safety training experiences for the energy sector and beyond. From pre-built virtual reality training modules to custom developed, end-to-end XR solutions, MadXR creates interactive, lifelike virtual reality and augmented reality experiences that allow trainees to practice safety procedures in a controlled environment.

Houston Energy Transition Initiative recently connected with Miranda Palmisano, CEO of MadXR, to discuss the applications and benefits of XR—and how it can help energy companies reduce HSE risk and carbon intensity like never before.

HETI: You were at Chevron for nearly 10 years before MadXR. How did your experiences at Chevron shape your approach to starting and running your own company?

Miranda Palmisano: Prior to founding MadXR, I held many different roles at Chevron across upstream and downstream. As the Connected Worker Product Manager, I drove digital acceleration for our global field and maintenance teams in refineries, terminals, and manufacturing sites, elevating efficiency and safety. During that time, I began exploring the value case of VR across Chevron.

I formed the Extended Reality Team and shortly became the Extended Reality Product Manager. Our team began using VR to conduct safety training within a virtual environment. It allowed us to train Chevron’s workforce safer and more efficiently by providing hands-on experience without the risk of real-world errors.

HETI: What inspired you to start your own company?

MP: Extended reality is an exciting new technology, and I quickly discovered the growing need for flexible, cost-effective XR content development in relation to life-saving-action training, such as confined-space entry, lockout/tagout procedures, and working from heights. I believe that affordable and high-quality XR experiences should be accessible to all companies, regardless of budget. That’s why MadXR has transparent pricing options that range from pre-built VR training modules to turnkey teams—and we empower our customers to take full ownership of their content and assets.

HETI: How has being based in Houston helped MadXR?

MP: The network in Houston is unmatched. In the energy capital of the world, it’s much easier to access the companies we’re targeting and hire the talent we need to grow. Innovation hubs like Houston’s Ion District have given us the resources and opportunities to connect with a vast number of forward-thinking businesses.

HETI: Do you believe XR will be instrumental in helping companies reach low carbon or net zero goals?

MP: XR is poised to revolutionize the energy industry, offering unprecedented opportunities for efficiency, engagement, and environmental sustainability. Imagine donning a headset and virtually navigating a facility halfway across the globe in real-time, or preparing your entire team with comprehensive virtual training before they physically enter a site. These scenarios highlight XR’s potential to enhance operational efficiency and employee engagement significantly. Beyond the immediate benefits, XR also plays a crucial role in reducing carbon emissions by eliminating the need for unnecessary travel. This technology isn’t just about improving current processes; it’s about reimagining the future of energy industry operations in a more sustainable, efficient, and engaging way.

HETI: MadXR will be celebrating its first anniversary in April. Can you tell us more about your vision for the future and what you’re focused on in 2024?

MP: In 2023, we were focused on ramping up and generating awareness. This year, we’re dedicated to expanding our reach and impact. We plan to incorporate AI into our learning modules and XR development to make them even more informational and interactive.

While our primary focus is on energy, we’re exploring how we can extend XR training to other industries, including automotive, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.

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This article originally ran on the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative blog. HETI exists to support Houston's future as an energy leader. For more information about the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, EnergyCapitalHTX's presenting sponsor, visit htxenergytransition.org.

To learn more about MadXR’s mission and XR training modules, visit MadXR.