According to a new report, Houston attracted the fifth most climatetech funding last year in the United States. Photo via Getty Images

Climatech funding for Houston-area startups crept toward the $200 million mark in 2023 — putting it ahead of Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and several other major metro areas and making it a standout among U.S. climatech hubs.

Last year, the Houston area collected $199.94 million in climatech funding across 14 deals, according to PitchBook data analyzed by Revolution Growth, a venture capital firm based in Washington, D.C.

“With its deep-rooted energy sector, Houston is an attractive HQ for companies innovating within renewable energy, carbon capture, and emissions reduction,” Revolution says. “Partnerships with oil and gas companies also provide unique collaboration opportunities for climate tech startups, accelerating market adoption and helping companies achieve scale quickly.”

Los Angeles led the climatech funding list at $544.62 million, followed by No. 2 Denver, No. 3 D.C., No. 4 Seattle, and No. 5 Houston. In 12th place was Dallas-Fort Worth ($30.55 million). Austin claimed the No. 15 spot ($13.38 million).

“While traditional coastal tech hubs still hold considerable influence, dozens of [climatech] clusters are emerging between them,” says Revolution.

In its new report on America’s top climatech hubs, Revolution cites three Houston startups to watch:

  • Buildforce, a platform for workers in the electrical trades
  • Fervo Energy, a supplier of carbon-free energy through geothermal projects
  • Solugen, a developer of bio-based chemicals that replace traditional petroleum-based products
Solugen claims a spot on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Photo via solugen.com

Houston-based Solugen named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt were originally named regional winners in this year's competition this summer along with nine other Houston entrepreneurs. Photos via solugen.com

Houston sustainability startup founders named winners for 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year awards

winner, winner

Houston’s Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt, the founders of the transformative chemical manufacturing company Solugen, have been named EY’s US National Award winners for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Solugen, also recently named a finalist in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, is an environmentally friendly approach that relies on smaller chemical refineries that helps in reducing costs and transportation-related emissions.

Some of their noted accomplishments includes innovations like the proprietary reactor, dubbed the Bioforge, which is a carbon-negative molecule factory and manufacturing process produces zero wastewater or emissions compared with traditional petrochemical refineries.The Bioforge uses a chemienzymatic process in converting plant-sourced substances into essential materials that can be used instead of fossil fuels.

Chakrabarti and Hunt were originally named regional winners in this year's competition this summer along with nine other Houston entrepreneurs.

Founded in 2016 by Hunt and Gaurab Chakrabarti, Solugen has raised over $600 million from investors like Sasol that believe in the technology's potential. The company is valued at reportedly over $2 billion. Solugen is headquartered in Houston, not because it is the hometown of Chakrabarti, but for what Houston brings to the company.

“There’s no way our business could succeed in the Bay Area," Chakrabarti said in a 2023 interview at SXSW where he detailed the offers Hunt and he received to move the business out of state. “For our business, if you look at the density of chemical engineers, the density of our potential customers, and the density of people who know how to do enzyme engineering, Houston happened to be that perfect trifecta for us.”

Even though they are headquartered in Houston, Solugen recently secured plans to expand to the Midwest, as in November they announced its newest strategic partnership with sustainable solutions company ADM (NYSE:ADM) in Marshall, Minnesota. The partnership includes plans for Solugen to build a 500,000-square-foot biomanufacturing facility next to an existing ADM facility , with the two companies working together on producing biomaterials to replace fossil fuel products.

“The strategic partnership with ADM will allow Solugen to bring our chemienzymatic process to a commercial scale and meet existing customer demand for our high-performance, cost-competitive, sustainable products,” Chakrabarti said in a news release. “As one of the few scaled-up and de-risked biomanufacturing assets in the country, Solugen’s Bioforge platform is helping bolster domestic capabilities and supply chains that are critical in ensuring the U.S. reaches its ambitious climate targets.”

For Chakrabarti and Hunt, Solugen was born out of a 12-year friendship, and the journey began after a friendly card game. After an entrepreneurship contest at MIT, which earned them second place and a $10,000 prize, they invested the winnings to work on what would become Solugen, a proof-of-concept reactor with materials bought from a local home improvement store.

"We had a conviction that we were building something that could be impactful to the rest of the world,” Chakrabarti said at SXSW in 2023.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Solugen and Sasol have entered into a strategic partnership. Photo via Solugen

Houston-based sustainable chemicals company secures major partnership with Sasol

cleaner chemicals

A Houston company that's creating cleaner chemicals with little to no impact on the environment has scored a partnership with a major chemicals producer.

Solugen and Sasol Chemicals, a business unit of Saslo Ltd., revealed that they are working together to explore commercialization of sustainably-made home and personal care products.

“This agreement is an example of our approach of partnering to find innovative solutions for our customers,” Jonathan Ward, senior manager of Strategy and Sustainable Growth for Sasol’s Essential Care Chemicals business division, says in a news release. “Our focus is delivering high-performing products with lower carbon footprints at competitive prices, and we are eager to see how Solugen’s products might help us do that.”

Founded in 2016 by Sean Hunt and Gaurab Chakrabarti, Solugen's carbon-negative molecule factory, named the Bioforge, uses a chemienzymatic process in converting plant-sourced substances into essential materials that can be used instead of fossil fuels. The manufacturing process is carbon neutral, and Solugen has raised over $600 million from investors that believe in the technology's potential.

"We are thrilled to partner with Sasol Chemicals, one of the world’s largest producers of surfactants, to drive positive impact in the home and personal care market,” Chakrabarti, CEO of Solugen, says in the release. “Sasol’s commitment to sustainability makes it an ideal partner for Solugen. We look forward to leveraging our combined strengths in technology, production, and market development to meet increasing consumer demand for our high-performance, bio-based solutions.”

Chakrabarti shared some of the secrets to Solugen's success and early partnerships at a SXSW panel earlier this year. The company was also recently named a finalist in the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

These Houston-area executives were recognized by EY's annual regional awards. Photos courtesy

Houston energy leaders score wins at annual regional entrepreneur competition

eyes on EY

You might say that four Houston executives with ties to the energy sector are energized about an award they just received.

The four executives recently were named winners in the Gulf South division of the Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program. They’ll now compete at the national level.

The one winner who works directly in the energy industry is Roger Jenkins, president and CEO of Houston-based Murphy Oil. Jenkins rose to the company’s top positions in 2013. He joined Murphy Oil in 2001 as a drilling manager in Malaysia.

Jenkins earned a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering from Louisiana State University and an MBA from Harvard University’s business school.

Murphy Oil is an oil and natural gas exploration and production company that operates primarily onshore in the U.S. and Canada, and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

A Fortune 1000 company founded in 1944, Murphy Oil generated revenue of nearly $4 billion in 2022.

In 2020, the company announced it was shuttering its headquarters in El Dorado, Arkansas, as well as its location in Calgary, Canada, and consolidating its operations into a new main office in Houston. About 190 Murphy Oil employees worked in El Dorado and Calgary.

“Our ongoing execution excellence across our significant offshore backlog and over 1,000 oil-weighted onshore locations will ensure that we will remain a long-term sustainable company,” Jenkins told Wall Street analysts in May 2023.

While not exactly an energy company, Solugen's co-founders — Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO, and Sean Hunt, CTO — are representing the clean chemicals space within the energy transition.

Solugen, founded in 2016, makes and distributes specialty chemicals derived from feedstock. The startup is reportedly valued at more than $2 billion. To date, Solugen has raised $642.2 million, according to Crunchbase.

In naming Solugen one of the most innovative companies of 2022, Fast Company noted that the carbon-negative process embraced by Solugen and the startup’s “ability to sell flexible amounts of chemicals to companies looking to lower their own footprint have helped the company make inroads in a traditionally slow-moving industry.”

Another Houston executive with connections to the energy sector also is regional Entrepreneur Of The Year winners.

Ludmila Golovine is president and CEO of Houston-based MasterWord Services. The company provides translation and interpretation services in more than 400 languages for clients in sectors like energy, health care, and tech. The woman-owned business launched in 1993.

“It is a great honor for me and for MasterWord to be recognized alongside the other EY Entrepreneur Of The Year winners,” Golovine says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year honor.

In all, 10 executives from Houston-based companies were hailed as 2023 regional winners in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program, run by professional services firm EY. Aside from Jenkins, Golovine, Walker, and Smith, they are:

  • Steve Altemus, president and CEO of space exploration company Intuitive Machines.
  • Mark Walker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Houston-based Direct Digital Holdings, and Keith Smith, co-founder and president. Direct Digital Holdings operates advertising platforms for clients in sectors such as energy, health care, travel and financial services.
  • Daryl Dudum and Matthew Hadda, founders and co-CEOs of Specialty1 Partners. The company provides business services to dental surgery practices.
  • Mohammad Millwala, founder and CEO of DM Clinical Research. The company operates 13 sites for clinical trials.

Also grabbing a regional award is Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Austin-based Cart.com. The company, which provides software and services to online merchants, relocated its headquarters from Houston to Austin in 2021. Tariq remains in Houston, though.

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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.”