After winning CodeLaunch last year, Matt Bonasera, enterprise architect at E360, looks forward to the future of the energy tech company. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston-based energy efficiency company Energy 360 is working to balance what is often viewed as a tradeoff between high quality clean air and energy efficiency within corporate buildings.

E360 is a subsidiary of InTech Energy, a software company that provides a variety of energy efficiency solutions for commercial spaces. The enterprise architect of E360, Matt Bonasera, says the platform functions as an energy management system as it monitors air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and can adjust electricity usage among a host of other outputs.

“We are trying to holistically look at each building instead of just looking at it purely from the energy efficiency perspective or purely from looking at it from a health perspective,” Bonasera says.

Bonasera says E360 is the “last mile” in the energy transition, ensuring companies stick to their cost and energy-saving tactics after implementing them via consistent monitoring. E360 also helps users acquire energy efficiency grants from the U.S. government, using the platform to keep corporations accountable to their energy-saving goals.

“The market is really desperate for energy efficiency, and there’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there. Only 10 percent of buildings have any energy efficiency mechanisms whatsoever,” Bonasera shares.

Bonasera says E360 predominantly works with corporations that own their own commercial space, particularly charter schools, churches, and Native American reservations. Though the platform is designed to save building-owners money and can assist commercial subletters, Bonasera says E360’s users tend to have a personal interest in their own air quality and emissions, prompting them to use the system.

Bonasera says E360 has the potential to dramatically improve the learning environment in schools since contracting with Stafford ISD and several charter schools. After implementing E360’s air quality monitoring and purifying system, Bonasera said schools experienced a significant drop in absenteeism.

“If you just improve the air quality in the building, students will do better, they will have better grades and we will have better outcomes,” Bonasera says.

After initially rolling their product out in California, Bonasera says E360 is gaining serious traction in the South, particularly in Texas. Following the devastating Winter Storm Uri, Bonasera says there has been increased interest in systems like E360 as Texans are hyper-aware of the delicate state of the energy grid.

“In Texas people are looking for ways to be more energy efficient and self-sufficient and this is a way that we help them,” Bonasera shares.

E360 won the top prize at CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, in March 2023 and Bonasera says he is excited about what the future holds as they continuously release new updates to the platform.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in the company and I think this is going to be a really pivotal year for us in growth,” Bonasera says.

Bart Womack founded Eden Grow Systems in 2017. Photo courtesy

Houston entrepreneur crowdfunding for sustainable farming solution

growing green

Whether it’s on Mars or at the kitchen table, entrepreneur Bart Womack wants to change what and how you eat.

But the CEO and founder of next-generation farming startup Eden Grow Systems is seeking crowdfunders to help feed the venture.

The company evokes images of a garden paradise on earth. But the idea behind the Houston-based NASA spinoff came from a more pragmatic view of the world. Womack’s company sells indoor food towers, self-contained, modular plant growth systems built on years of research by NASA scientists looking for the best way to feed astronauts in space.

The company has launched a $1.24 million regulated crowdfunding campaign to raise the money it needs to scale and expand manufacturing outside the current location in Washington state.

Additionally, the U.S. Air Force recently chose Eden as a food source for the U.S. Space Force base on remote Ascension Island, in the Atlantic Ocean, Womack tells InnovationMap. Another project with Space Center Houston is also in the works.

“We want to be the government and DOD contractor for these kind of next-generation farming systems,” he says.

The Houston-based company includes former NASA scientists, like recent hire Dr. L. Marshall Porterfield, of Purdue University, as an innovation advisor.

Womack, a former digital marketer, Houston public channel show host, night club owner and entertainment entrepreneur, left those ventures in 2012, after the birth of his first child. While taking a year to study trends research, in 2014, what he read intrigued and alarmed him.

“I’ll never forget, I came across a report from Chase Manhattan Bank….of the top 10 disruptive investment sectors, over the next decade,” he says. “At the very top of the list was food.”

His conclusions on the fragility of the world’s food supply system, due to overpopulation, and scarcer land, led him to launch Eden in 2017, funded by venture capital firm SpaceFund, Womack, his family, friends and angel investors.

Womack believes “black swan” events will only increase, disrupting the food supply system and further jeopardizing food supplies.

“We’re going to enter a period of hyper novelty in history,” Womack says.. "The system we’ve built for the last 100 years, the super optimized system, is going to begin to break apart."

To avert a centralized food production outcome, operated by corporate giants like Amazon or Walmart, Womack’s vision offers a decentralized alternative, leaving it in local hands.

With $2 million put into the company so far and a half million-dollars in sales last year, Womack argues that Eden has achieved much and can make food independence within reach for everyday families.

The company commercialized NASA technology to fill what it viewed as “a huge gap within the controlled…agricultural space.”

The tower is the building block of a modular, automated and vertical indoor plant growth system, with calibrated misting, fans, and LED lighting, controlled by an app.

The company website touts the towers as an easy way to grow plants like lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes, with little water, no soil, and lots of air, without the expense and work of cultivating an earth-based garden.

For those who want to eat more than greens, the towers provide a way to breed fish and shrimp in an aquaponic version, recycling fish waste as plant fertilizer.

However, big plans come with big costs. The towers range in price from $5,000 to $7,000, although payment plans for those who qualify make it affordable.

Eden has sold around 100 of their towers so far, to a variety of customers. But rising costs and shipping delays have led to a a three-month backlog.

The manufacturing and shipping associated with larger installations means that even if the company made a million-dollar sale, delivery of the product would take a year.

“One of the hardest things…as a start-up, the last couple of years, is trying to narrow down exactly where the biggest payback is,” Womack says. “There is the lower hanging fruit, of small sales to individual buyers, but there’s the larger fruit of institutional buyers. But they can take months and years to convert into an actual buyer.”

Customers include several universities, including Texas A&M University and Prairie View A&M University, and talks are underway with other large academic institutions.

For now, attracting investors so the company can reach its funding goal poses the biggest challenge.

“Texas investors are very, very hard-nosed, and they’re not like West Coast investors. They want to understand exactly how they’re going to get their money back, and exactly how quickly,” he says.

Womack says the crowdfunding round would allow the company to expand manufacturing operations into Houston, deliver product faster, and invest in advertising.

“When we complete this round, and become completely self sufficient, we’re planning on moving to a $25 million valuation,” Womack says. “We can show, given money, we can scale the company.”

The city of Nassau Bay, next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center, has purchased towers and plans to purchase more, not for the production of food, but to grow ornamental flowers.

Womack says that city officials there found that it’s cheaper to grow the decorative plants themselves, rather than buying them.

The towers are adaptable, and can grow not only food but cannabis and other plants, and if buyers want to use them other purposes, that adds to the product’s appeal, Womack says.

Eden has also sold some towers to Harris County Precinct 2 and the city of Houston, as part of a project he says will turn food deserts throughout the area into “food prosperity zones.”

“Our goal is to be the farming equivalent of Boeing,” Womack says.

---

This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston initiative selected for DOE program developing hubs for clean energy innovation

community focus

Houston has been selected as one of the hubs backed by a new program from the United States Department of Energy that's developing communities for clean energy innovation.

The DOE's Office of Technology Transitions announced the the first phase of winners of the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters, or EPIC, Round 3. The local initiative is one of 23 incubators and accelerators that was awarded $150,000 to support programming for energy startups and entrepreneurs.

The Houston-based participant is called "Texas Innovates: Carbon and Hydrogen Innovation and Learning Incubator," or CHILI, and it's a program meant to feed startups into the DOE recognized HyVelocity program and other regional decarbonization efforts.

EPIC was launched to drive innovation at a local level and to inspire commercial success of energy startups. It's the third year of the competition that wraps up with a winning participant negotiating a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT worth up to $1 million.

“Incubators and Accelerators are uniquely positioned to provide startups things they can't get anywhere else -- mentorship, technology validation, and other critical business development support," DOE Chief Commercialization Officer and Director of OTT Vanessa Z. Chan says in a news release. “The EPIC program allows us to provide consistent funding to organizations who are developing robust programming, resources, and support for innovative energy startups and entrepreneurs.”

CHILI, the only participant in Texas, now moves on to the second phase of the competition, where they will design a project continuation plan and programming for the next seven months to be submitted in September.

where they’ll implement their programming and design a project continuation plan over the next 7 months. In September they will submit their plans with the hope of being selected to negotiate a three-year cooperative agreement with OTT, worth up to $1 million each.

Phase 2 also includes two national pitch competitions with a total of $165,000 in cash prizes up for grabs for startups. The first EPIC pitch event for 2024 will be in June at the 2024 Small Business Forum & Expo in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Last fall, the DOE selected the Gulf Coast's project, HyVelocity Hydrogen Hub, as one of the seven regions to receive a part of the $7 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The hub was announced to receive up to $1.2 billion — the most any hub will get.


The DOE's OTT selections are nationwide. Photo via energy.gov

Law firm's Houston office expands energy expertise

new hire

Leading adviser to energy companies, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, has announced a new energy transactions partner in the firm’s Houston office.

Ian Goldberg will advise clients on various energy transactions, which will include project development, mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, and financial transactions that will involve oil and gas assets, energy transition investments and rare earth mineral deposits.

He previously led the energy transactions practice at Hunton Andrews Kurth.

“Akin has a top-tier integrated platform across the entire energy value chain,” Goldberg says in a news release.” I’m excited to be joining a growing and dynamic team.”

He will be joining recent additions to Akin’s energy practice that include projects & energy transition partners Ike Emehelu (New York), Alex Harrison, Matt Hardwick and Dan Giemajner (London), energy regulatory partners Emily Mallen and Stephen Hug (Washington, D.C.), tax equity partner Sam Guthrie (Washington, D.C.) and projects & energy transition partner Vanessa Richelle Wilson (Washington, D.C.)..

“Ian adds depth to our energy team with extensive experience in the onshore and offshore upstream and midstream sectors, and his current representation of clients in the carbon capture, utilization & storage and hydrogen spaces further strengthens our growing projects & energy transition practice,” corporate practice co-head Zachary Wittenberg adds in the release.