Businesswoman, philanthropist, educator, and entertainer Revani “Rani” Puranik discusses the convergence of sustainability and work ethos as part of the Energy Transition. Photo courtesy of ranipuranik.com

With a mind for business and a passion for people, one woman leads the legacy her family trailblazed in corporate social responsibility.

Revani “Rani” Puranik, named successor for the CEO of Worldwide Oilfield Machine (“WOM”) and current Chair of the Puranik Foundation, continues the institutions her parents created with the same emphasis on mindfulness, sustainability, and opportunity for all.

In addition to extending the reach of WOM’s 3,000+ employees across 10 countries–and counting–Puranik shapes future leaders and innovators of energy through The Energy Project, a program launched in 2020 by the foundation to support young minds tackling environmental challenges for sustainable development across five sectors: Alternative Power Generation, Sustainable Consumption, Waste Management, Urban Design, and Water Sustainability.

In her upcoming book, Seven Letters to My Daughters, scheduled for release on May 24th, Puranik shares lessons in love, leadership, and legacy carved out of distinct seven-year periods of her life. And if inspiring the next generation and writing a book weren’t enough, Puranik has her eyes set on building a more holistic charter school in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine.

With just a moment to spare before she launches a new initiative, Puranik met with EnergyCapitalHTX to discuss what Energy Transition looks like from her perspective.

EnergyCapitalHTX: You’ve had an interesting career, with one foot in something very altruistic, and the other in energy–which has a reputation for being… not so altruistic, let’s say. How did you get here?

Rani Puranik: First, I'll tell you that none of it, none of it, was planned.

The 1st 17 years of my life, I lived in Houston. I went to Lamar high school thinking I was going to be an engineer. But I was on a robust and dedicated journey singing and dancing, too. I was always very active and engaged in my heritage that way.

I went to India after I graduated from high school and stayed in my parents’ vacation home, which was next to a poverty-stricken area. All I thought was, “hey, how can I help?”

And that “how can I help?“ has always turned into larger projects than I ever imagined. Before long, I was running an after-school dance program for 60 kids. But it was more than dance. These girls needed a safe space to express themselves.

EC: How did you end up back in Houston?

RP: Well, life happens. I came to Houston on a one-way ticket with $200 in my pocket. My dad was still living here in Houston, running Worldwide Machine, so I volunteered in his company to keep busy.

Finally, in 2012, I realized I’m never going to be an engineer; I graduated from Rice with an MBA in finance in 2014. And then I just dedicated my entire life to WOM, my two girls, and the Puranik Foundation my mother started when I was in India.

EC: On one hand, you're encouraging innovation around building a sustainable environment with Puranik Foundation. And with WOM, you provide offshore equipment, services, and expertise. Do you see those concepts blending as part of the energy transition?

RP: One of the core principles of WOM is “stay curious.” We have something called the Idea Factory; sometimes we get ideas that are related to sustainability and alternative energies. The people that come up with these solutions and methods are deeply involved from start to finish as part of our research and development team.

We’ve currently got a patent on a frac valve that is so much healthier for the environment. There’s no disposal of grease, there’s much less use of water and chemicals injected because of the way our frac valve operates, and the pressures and temperatures it can sustain and withhold.

We’re also looking at design, revisiting processes and asking, “how can we make this more efficient?” How can we reduce not just the emissions, but the use of oils and liquids and fuels with process improvements and enhancements for the equipment that we're manufacturing?

EC: And for the foundation?

RP: What's important for me is to understand what energy is, why it's needed, and how we can tap into it from all sources.

If younger minds can think of things like some of the students in this year’s cohort of The Energy Project– things like using human movement to not just capture, but transform, energy–we're headed in the right direction.

EC: The energy transition is increasingly branded as a transition in mindset more than anything. Mindfulness is a core tenet of your foundation, is it a part of the nine core principles of WOM you mentioned?

RP: Absolutely. I've been called an empathetic leader because I listen. And I say the first part of listening is receiving. When you receive information, you're empowering yourself with knowledge and information being shared by someone else for you. And then you can offer a direction, a guide, or just a helping hand.

There's definitely a shift going on where people not just want to be heard, but there are leaders and organizations who understand the value and the importance of it. We can't do things on our own.

EC: You emphasize collaboration and human connectivity often, which are vital components of the sustainability economy. Can you elaborate on how your organizations embody these concepts?

RP: I made up the “earn to return” philosophy because I saw it in my own parents and I said, I've been given very valuable resources and I've been given a talent to connect people. And if together, that can create something beautiful to really enhance the abundance of resources and create stable pathways for people in their livelihoods, then that's my purpose and that's what I'm going to do.

And in the process, yeah, we make great sales, great profits. But then the profits have to be returned back to our local communities and our people and our kids so that they end up having stable livelihoods for their future. For me, that was always the driving force, and it still is.

But I'll tell you again, none of it was planned. None.

Students from the 2023 cohort of The Energy Project showcased their innovations at the Puranik Foundation Lotus Innovation Awards. Photo courtesy of Jacob Power Photography

Sustainability-focused philanthropy recognizes student innovations, local leaders

EMPOWERING THE TRANSITION

From the moment of arrival at the Puranik Foundation Lotus Innovation Awards, attendees engaged in an experience that stimulated the senses and excited the mind – a precise reflection of the foundation’s approach to a holistic education for future innovators.

The event, held last week at the Post Oak Hotel in Uptown, honored Houston leaders supporting the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs and celebrated the dedication of high school students dreaming sustainability solutions into reality.

“[These students] have the potential to reach innovative places that none of us can think of because we are so set in our ways,“ says Bhakti Puranik, executive director of Puranik Foundation, just steps from where the students showcased their prototypes to secure the gala’s Fan Favorite award. “They are open-minded and creative and constantly inspired by the community that surrounds us.”

The Energy Project, launched in 2020 by the foundation, supports young minds tackling environmental challenges for sustainable development across five sectors: alternative power generation, sustainable consumption, waste management, urban design, and water sustainability.

Multiple small student teams from across the country met for design thinking lessons before creating prototypes of their own solutions at TXRX Labs. The foundation’s primary sponsor, Worldwide Oilfield Machine, provided mentors and resources to the 25 students in this year’s cohort alongside Rice University.

For the winning team, Refoam Maine, the application of mushroom mycelium in lieu of plastic for floating buoys came from the optimistic minds of Maggie Blood, Olivia Huard, Tula Bradley Prindiville, and Laura Riordan, students of Camden Hills Regional High School near Rockport, Maine.

A close-knit community, Camden Hills has collectively seen thousands of orphaned buoys pile up against their docks and beaches for years. The team plans to use their Lotus Innovation Award grant of $15,000 to get their floats in the water, and is actively working with boatyards, aquaculture farmers, and others to bring that vision to reality this summer.

Cyrus Golshan, Nathaniel Lemon, and Alexander Kristof took home the Fan Favorite Award for their solution Piezot, which harnesses energy from revolutionary piezoelectric tiles that convert pressure into energy and electricity.

The team studies at the Energy Institute High School in Houston and envisions an energy ecosystem that doesn’t rely so heavily on natural forces, but rather on human movement as a means to generate power. Placement of the tiles in high-traffic areas like airports, schools, and shopping centers could mean an exponential growth in power supply created simply by the many feet that pass through these areas every day.

Bobby Tudor, CEO and founder of Artemis Energy Partners, and recipient of the Sustainability Lotus Award from Puranik Foundation, attributes the success of the program to the convergence of expertise, a collaborative ecosystem, and global connectivity available from Houston as part of the burgeoning Energy Transition industry.

“We are the energy capital of the world because we are the intellectual capital of energy,“ says Tudor. “The knowledge, the engineering, the expertise, sits here in a more concentrated way than it sits anywhere else in the world. It is that intellectual capital that will pave the way for us to continue to be the energy capital of the world a decade from now, two decades from now, and five decades from now.”

Additionally, Paula Harris, senior vice president of the Houston Astros Community Affairs and Executive Director for the Astros Foundation, accepted the Education Lotus Award for her continued commitment to advancing STEM education across underserved communities.

For his positive impact on the mental well-being of students, Bradley H. Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Psychological, Health, and Learning Services at the University of Houston School of Psychology, Puranik Foundation honored him with Mindfulness Lotus Award.

Applications for The Energy Project are due by 1 November each fall. In addition to the team competition, next year’s cohort includes an immersive experience in India for holistic learning and leadership development.

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Houston innovation leaders secure SBA funding to start equitability-focused energy lab

trying for DEI

A group of Houston's innovation and energy leaders teamed up to establish an initiative supporting equitability in the energy transition.

Impact Hub Houston, a nonprofit incubator and ecosystem builder, partnered with Energy Tech Nexus to establish the Equitable Energy Transition Alliance and Lab to accelerate startup pilots for underserved communities. The initiative announced that it's won the 2024 U.S. Small Business Administration Growth Accelerator Fund Competition, or GAFC, Stage One award.

"We are incredibly honored to be recognized by the SBA alongside our esteemed partners at Energy Tech Nexus," Grace Rodriguez, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, says in a news release. "This award validates our shared commitment to building a robust innovation ecosystem in Houston, especially for solutions that advance the Sustainable Development Goals at the critical intersections of industry, innovation, sustainability, and reducing inequality."

The GAFC award, which honors and supports small business research and development, provides $50,000 prize to its winners. The Houston collaboration aligns with the program's theme area of Sustainability and Biotechnology.

“This award offers us a great opportunity to amplify the innovations of Houston’s clean energy and decarbonization pioneers,” adds Juliana Garaizar, founding partner of the Energy Tech Nexus. “By combining Impact Hub Houston’s entrepreneurial resources with Energy Tech Nexus’ deep industry expertise, we can create a truly transformative force for positive change.”

Per the release, Impact Hub Houston and Energy Tech Nexus will use the funding to recruit new partners, strengthen existing alliances, and host impactful events and programs to help sustainable startups access pilots, contracts, and capital to grow.

"SBA’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition Stage One winners join the SBA’s incredible network of entrepreneurial support organizations contributing to America’s innovative startup ecosystem, ensuring the next generation of science and technology-based innovations scale into thriving businesses," says U.S. SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

Texas-based Tesla gets China's initial approval of self-driving software

global greenlight

Shares of Tesla stock rallied Monday after the electric vehicle maker's CEO, Elon Musk, paid a surprise visit to Beijing over the weekend and reportedly won tentative approval for its driving software.

Musk met with a senior government official in the Chinese capital Sunday, just as the nation’s carmakers are showing off their latest electric vehicle models at the Beijing auto show.

According to The Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous sources familiar with the matter, Chinese officials told Tesla that Beijing has tentatively approved the automaker's plan to launch its “Full Self-Driving,” or FSD, software feature in the country.

Although it's called FSD, the software still requires human supervision. On Friday the U.S. government’s auto safety agency said it is investigating whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system did enough to make sure drivers pay attention to the road. Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since the recall, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In afternoon trading, shares in Tesla Inc., which is based in Austin, Texas, surged to end Monday up more than 15% — its biggest one-day jump since February 2020. For the year to date, shares are still down 22%.

Tesla has been contending with its stock slide and slowing production. Last week, the company said its first-quarter net income plunged by more than half, but it touted a newer, cheaper car and a fully autonomous robotaxi as catalysts for future growth.

Wedbush analyst Dan Ives called the news about the Chinese approval a “home run” for Tesla and maintained his “Outperform” rating on the stock.

“We note Tesla has stored all data collected by its Chinese fleet in Shanghai since 2021 as required by regulators in Beijing,” Ives wrote in a note to investors. “If Musk is able to obtain approval from Beijing to transfer data collected in China abroad this would be pivotal around the acceleration of training its algorithms for its autonomous technology globally.”

Houston organization celebrates zero waste goal

earth day win

Discovery Green celebrated Earth Day with a major milestone this year — achieving it’s Zero Waste goal.

The nonprofit, along with Citizens’ Environmental Coalition and Houston Public Works, are announced that the 2024 Green Mountain Energy Earth Day, which generated more than 3,800 pounds of garbage, diverted the majority of that waste from landfills. "Zero Waste," as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, is successfully diverting at least 90 percent of waste from the landfill.

On Earth Day, Discovery Green composted 2,200 pounds of waste and recycled 1,300 pounds of trash.

“Part of Discovery Green Conservancy’s mission is to serve as a village green for our city and be a source of health and happiness for all. Our goal is to sustain an exceptional environment for nature and people,” Discover Green President Kathryn Lott says in a news release. “We are beyond thrilled to have achieved Zero Waste certification.”

The achievement was made possible by volunteers from the University of Houston – Downtown.

Steve Stelzer, president of Citizens’ Environmental Coalition’s board of directors, acknowledged how rare the achievement is in a public space in a major city like Houston.

“Discovery Green Conservancy stepped up and made a commitment to weigh, measure and record everything. They should be congratulated to have done this at this scale,” Stelzer adds. “The Conservancy said they were going to do it and they did. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

The 2024 event included:

  • 31,000 visitors in attendance
  • 60 + exhibitors
  • 100 + volunteers
  • 12 artists
    • 9 chalk artists
    • Donkeeboy and Donkeemom
    • Mark Bradford
  • 25 Mark Bradford artworks made of scrap presented in partnership with Houston First
  • 4 short films shown
  • 3,836.7 pounds of waste collected during Green Mountain Energy Earth Day