Nearly 40 climatetech startups will pitch at this upcoming CERAWeek event from HETI, the Rice Alliance, and TEX-E. Photo by Natalie Harms

Houston orgs name student, industry teams for CERAWeek pitch competition

taking the stage

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Houston Energy Transition Initiative and the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy announced the 39 energy ventures that will pitch at 2024 Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition during this month's CERAWeek.

The ventures are focused on driving efficiency and advancements toward the energy transition and will each present a 3.5-minute pitch before venture capitalists, corporate innovation groups, industry leaders, academics, and service providers during CERAWeek's Agora program.

The pitch competition is divided up into the TEX-E university track, in which Texas student-led energy startups compete for $50,000 in cash prizes, and the industry ventures track.

Teams competing 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

Thirty-four companies will present within the industry ventures track, which is further subdivided into three industry tracks, spanning materials to clean energy. The top three companies from each industry track will be named. Click here to see the full list of companies and which investor groups will participate.

The pitch competition will be held Wednesday, March 20, at CERAWeek from 1-5 pm. An Agora pass is required to attend.

For those without passes, a pitch preview will be introduced to the programming for the first time this year. The preview will be held Tuesday, March 19, from 9:30 am to 2:30 pm at the Ion. It's free to attend, but registration is required. Click here to register.

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.

David Pruner, the executive director of TEX-E joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last month. He discussed how the nonprofit is expanding opportunities for students at its five university partners—Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin. Listen to the episode below.

David Pruner, executive director of TEX-E, joins the Houston Innovator Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Why this organization is focused on cultivating the future of energy transition innovation

Q&A

David Pruner is laser focused on the future workforce for the energy industry as executive director of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, a nonprofit housed out of Greentown Labs that was established to support energy transition innovation at Texas universities.

TEX-E launched in 2022 in collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and five university partners — Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Pruner was officially named to his role earlier this year, but he's been working behind the scenes for months now getting to know the organization and already expanding its opportunities from students across the state at the five institutions.

"Our mission is to create the next generation of energy transition climatetech entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs — they don’t all have to start companies," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Listen to the show below and read through a brief excerpt from the episode with Pruner.


EnergyCapital: Can you share a little bit about the origin of TEX-E?

David Puner: There were a variety of factories that led to its creation, but the seminal event was a piece of work that had been done for the Greater Houston Partnership by McKinsey on the future of Houston. It showed that if Houston isn't careful and doesn't make sure to go ahead and transition with this energy expansion we’re seeing, that they’re at risk of losing hundreds of thousands of jobs. If they catch the transition right and make the conversion to cleaner and low-carbon fuels, they can actually gain 1.4 million jobs.

It was this eye opener for everyone that we need to make sure that if the energy transition is going to happen, it needs to happen here so that Houston stays the energy capital of the world.

David Baldwin (partner at SCF Partners) literally at the meeting said, “listen I've got the beginning of the funnel — the universities, that’s where innovation comes from.” From that, TEX-E was born.

EC: How are you working with the five founding universities to connect the dots for collaboration?

DP: In the end, we have five different family members who need to be coordinated differently. The idea behind TEX-E is that there's plenty of bright students at each of these schools, and there's plenty of innovation going on, it's whether it can grow, prosper, and be sustainable.

Our main job is to look to connect everyone, so that an engineer at Texas A&M that has an idea that they want to pursue, but they don't know the business side, can meet that Rice MBA. Then, when they realize it's going to be a highly regulated product, we need a regulatory lawyer at UT — we can make all that happen and connect them.

At the same time, what we found is, no one school has the answer. But when you put them together, we do have most of the answer. Almost everything we need is within those five schools. And it's not just those five schools, it really is open to everyone.

EC: As you mentioned before, TEX-E started as a way for Houston to take the reins of its energy transition. What's the pulse on that progress?

DP: I spent the last decade building boards and hiring CEOs for all kinds of energy companies and there was the period I would say — pre-pandemic and a little bit into the pandemic — where not everybody was on board with climate change and the issue of carbon. The nice thing now is that’s fully in the rearview mirror. There’s not really a company of any size or a management team of any major entity that doesn’t fully believe they need to do something there.

The train has fully left the station — and picked up speed — on this whole issue of transition and climate. So, that’s been nice to see and create a lot of tailwinds.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E. Photo via LinkedIn

New leadership team named climate tech-focused organization for Texas college students

welcome aboard

A collaborative initiative between several colleges and Greentown Labs has named its inaugural executive director.

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “Dave’s expertise will have a tremendous impact on the strategy, evolution, and success of this ambitious and important program.”With over 30 years of experience within the energy, academic, and business worlds, Pruner will take the helm of the organization that launched in 2022 in collaboration with Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin as its founding institutions.

“I am very excited about helping Houston and the state of Texas navigate the energy transition,” Pruner says in the release. “We are at a crucial pivot point for the industry and it will be essential for us to help create the next generation of energy transition entrepreneurs.

"An ecosystem in this area has been building and it will be our mission to inspire, equip, connect and accelerate these individuals and teams working with the universities to make it robust," he continues. "If we succeed we will assure Texas’s role as the leader in energy globally.”

Before this new role, Pruner held leadership positions at business management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles and Wood Mackenzie, as well as other energy firms and in financial services companies including Bridgewater Associates and Manufacturers Hanover Trust.

The two new hires are based out of Greentown Labs Houston. The next role TEX-E hopes to fill is director of university engagement, which will lead programming, recruitment, and partner management for TEX-E.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Greentown Labs opened applications for their TEX-E climatetech bootcamp. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs calls for applicants from Texas universities for climatetech bootcamp

Back to Basics

Greentown Labs is calling for student entrepreneurs, faculty, and staff from Texas universities to enroll in their climatetech bootcamp.

The course is part of the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy (TEX-E) program, a collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University, and Prairie View A&M University—powered by Greentown Labs and MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship. The free bootcamp will run from Sept. 22-24 at Greentown Labs and the deadline to apply is Aug. 27.

Participants will learn from faculty from several Texas universities and instructors from the Climate & Energy Ventures Course at MIT.

“Throughout the weekend, participants will learn from leading academic minds in the field of energy innovation, and they will work together on collaborative projects that could be the genesis of a new enterprise. They will leave the program with enhanced readiness to tackle one of the biggest problems humanity has ever faced,” reads a statement about the program.

TEX-E is seeking participants with interest in one or more areas within the intersection of energy and entrepreneurship:

  • Mobility and Transport
  • Energy
  • Food, Agriculture, and Land Use
  • Industry Manufacturing, and Resource Management
  • Built Environment
  • Financial Services
  • Climate Change Management and Reporting
  • GHG Capture, Removal, and Storage

Once the bootcamp is over, participants will join the TEX-E network and be eligible for follow-up opportunities, including: networking events, job postings, cross-learning with MIT, career fairs, on-campus events, and pitch competitions.

TEX-E previously sponsored a multi-round startup competition for Texas students who are creating companies focused on moving the energy transition forward. The winners were collectively awarded $50,000 in prizes.

Here's what startups took home wins at CERAWeek. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

8 energy tech startups recognized at Houston's CERAWeek pitch competition

taking home the W

Over 200 startups participated in CERAWeek this year, and 18 of those companies pitched at a Greater Houston Partnership event.

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative, an initiative to promote Houston's work within the energy transition, hosted its second annual HETI Energy Ventures Competition at CERAWeek Innovation Agora. The competition was divided into four categories. The first batch of startups consisted of five companies from the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, or TEX-E, a collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas.

The winning startups shared $50,000 of prizes, sponsored by TEX-E. Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies — which has developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA — won both the first place prize and fan favorite for the category. Helix's co-founders, Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, walked away with $25,000 in prizes

Founded by Bryon Praslicka, Daniel Zamarron, and Craig Newman from Texas A&M University, Flux Works LLC, and its magnetic gear technology, took second place and $15,000 home. Tierra Climate, a two-sided marketplace for carbon offsets and other sustainability efforts founded by Emma Konet and Jacob Mansfield from Rice University, won third place and $10,000.

Helix Earth Technologies walked away with the top prize of the TEX-E category. Photo via greentownlabs.com

The next sets of startup pitches we broken down by funding stages — pre-seed and seed, series A, and series B and beyond.

Red Shift Energy, uses plasma energy to produce hydrogen from hydrogen sulfide, won fan favorite in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by HX Venture Fund. A member of Halliburton Labs, the company also was recognized as Chevron favorite.

Per the judging panel, CanaGas won the title of most promising in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by Alchemy Industrial. The Canadian company liquifies natural gas without costly cryogenics or stripping of the gas.

Houston-based Criterion Energy Partners won both the most-promising series A company category sponsored by SLB, but also the fan favorite series A category sponsored by Guerrella LLC. A geothermal energy tech company, Criterion was also a member of Rice's inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator cohort.

OptiSeis Solutions also won in both categories for the series B track. The company, a geophysical acquisition design and software company, won the title of most promising in the series B category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments and the series B fan favorite category sponsored by Halliburton Labs.

Lastly, the competition named the Most Impactful DEI, a category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments. Austin-based Gazelle Ecosystems, a social innovation startup with eco-solutions for corporations, won that category.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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3 Houston sustainability startups score prizes at Rice University pitch competition

seeing green

A group of Rice University student-founded companies shared $100,000 of cash prizes at an annual startup competition — and three of those winning companies are focused on sustainable solutions.

Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship's H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, hosted by Rice earlier this month, named its winners for 2024. HEXASpec, a company that's created a new material to improve heat management for the semiconductor industry, won the top prize and $50,000 cash.

Founded by Rice Ph.D. candidates Tianshu Zhai and Chen-Yang Lin, who are a part of Lilie’s 2024 Innovation Fellows program, HEXASpec is improving efficiency and sustainability within the semiconductor industry, which usually consumes millions of gallons of water used to cool data centers. According to Rice's news release, HEXASpec's "next-generation chip packaging offer 20 times higher thermal conductivity and improved protection performance, cooling the chips faster and reducing the operational surface temperature."

A few other sustainability-focused startups won prizes, too. CoFlux Purification, a company that has a technology that breaks down PFAS using a novel absorbent for chemical-free water, won second place and $25,000, as well as the Audience Choice Award, which came with an additional $2,000.

Solidec, a company that's working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, and HEXASpec won Outstanding Achievement in Climate Solutions Prizes, which came with $1,000.

The NRLC, open to Rice students, is Lilie's hallmark event. Last year's winner was fashion tech startup, Goldie.

“We are the home of everything entrepreneurship, innovation and research commercialization for the entire Rice student, faculty and alumni communities,” Kyle Judah, executive director at Lilie, says in a news release. “We’re a place for you to immerse yourself in a problem you care about, to experiment, to try and fail and keep trying and trying and trying again amongst a community of fellow rebels, coloring outside the lines of convention."

This year, the competition started with 100 student venture teams before being whittled down to the final five at the championship. The program is supported by Lilie’s mentor team, Frank Liu and the Liu Family Foundation, Rice Business, Rice’s Office of Innovation, and other donors

“The heart and soul of what we’re doing to really take it to the next level with entrepreneurship here at Rice is this fantastic team,” Peter Rodriguez, dean of Rice Business, adds. “And they’re doing an outstanding job every year, reaching further, bringing in more students. My understanding is we had more than 100 teams submit applications. It’s an extraordinarily high number. It tells you a lot about what we have at Rice and what this team has been cooking and making happen here at Rice for a long, long time.”

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

ExxonMobil's $60B acquisition gets FTC clearance — with one condition

M&A moves

ExxonMobil's $60 billion deal to buy Pioneer Natural Resources on Thursday received clearance from the Federal Trade Commission, but the former CEO of Pioneer was barred from joining the new company's board of directors.

The FTC said Thursday that Scott Sheffield, who founded Pioneer in 1997, colluded with OPEC and OPEC+ to potentially raise crude oil prices. Sheffield retired from the company in 2016, but he returned as president and CEO in 2019, served as CEO from 2021 to 2023, and continues to serve on the board. Since Jan. 1, he has served as special adviser to the company’s chief executive.

“Through public statements, text messages, in-person meetings, WhatsApp conversations and other communications while at Pioneer, Sheffield sought to align oil production across the Permian Basin in West Texas and New Mexico with OPEC+,” according to the FTC. It proposed a consent order that Exxon won't appoint any Pioneer employee, with a few exceptions, to its board.

Dallas-based Pioneer said in a statement it disagreed with the allegations but would not impede closing of the merger, which was announced in October 2023.

“Sheffield and Pioneer believe that the FTC’s complaint reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. and global oil markets and misreads the nature and intent of Mr. Sheffield’s actions,” the company said.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said it was “disappointing that FTC is making the same mistake they made 25 years ago when I warned about the Exxon and Mobil merger in 1999.”

Schumer and 22 other Democratic senators had urged the FTC to investigate the deal and a separate merger between Chevron and Hess, saying they could lead to higher prices, hurt competition and force families to pay more at the pump.

The deal with Pioneer vastly expands Exxon’s presence in the Permian Basin, a huge oilfield that straddles the border between Texas and New Mexico. Pioneer’s more than 850,000 net acres in the Midland Basin will be combined with Exxon’s 570,000 net acres in the Delaware and Midland Basin, nearly contiguous fields that will allow the combined company to trim costs.