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Annual Houston conference to target topics on digitalization of decarbonization

Venture Houston returns this year — this time focused on the digitization of decarbonization. Photo courtesy of Venture Houston

An event that brings top venture capitalists to Houston returns for its third year — and this time the topic of conversation is the energy transition.

Venture Houston, taking place on September 7, is presented by HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds that deploys capital into non-Houston firms to encourage investment in local startups. This year's theme is "Spotlighting the path for decarbonization in a digital world," and Sandy Guitar, managing partner at HXVF, tells EnergyCapital that while that might sound like a narrow topic, attendees will see at the event how broad a theme it really is.

"We're calling it digitalization to decarbonization in order to help identify the fact that decarbonization is just a market that you sell into — the technologies are very broadly defined," Guitar says. "Underneath that, the decarbonization market happens to involve everything that is better, cheaper, and faster."

The event, which has its ticket registration open now, has a full agenda with several keynote addresses and panels featuring venture leaders, CEOs, startup founders, and more from Houston and beyond. There will also be networking breaks and other activations, including a breakfast presented by DivInc and Capital Connect on September 6. This event features curated collisions for a select VCs and founders.

The conference's first panel, "Seeding Sustainability: Unlocking the Power of Early Stage Investments," includes Josh Posamentier, co-founder and managing partner of Congruent Ventures, who will share the stage with the founder of one of his firm's portfolio companies, Tim Latimer of Fervo Energy, among others.

To Posamentier, one of the things he hopes attendees takes away is how timely decarbonization is — especially in Houston.

"If I had one ask, it would be that people, especially for this audience, double down and mobilize more toward alternative energy," he tells EnergyCapital. "Take all the learnings, all the skills that come from conventional energy and repurpose them. I think there's it's a bigger market — more is being spent on renewables now than on oil and gas development and, you've got got a good 50 years of insane growth ahead."

And, as Guitar adds, the energy transition is not something that only affects the companies building the technology or working within the energy industry.

"I do think it's important to see the decarbonization not as a hard tech event, but as everything that touches carbon, which is basically everything in our planet in just the coal previously," she says. "Everything we make and use touches the climate."

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A View From HETI

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now."

And, predictably, some of those waves are caused by new momentum within the energy transition.

"The energy transition has thrown up a lot of questions for everyone in the maritime industry," Costello says. "The regulations create a lot of questions around cost primarily. ... And that has created a huge number of opportunities for technology."

Fuel as a primary cost for the maritime industry. These cargo ships are traversing the world 24/7 and burning fuel at all times. Costello says there's an increased focus on the fuel process — "all with a goal of essentially reducing carbon intensity usage."

One of the ways to move the needle on reducing the carbon footprint of these ships is optimizing the time spent in port, and specifically the delays associated. Demurrage are charges associated with delays in loading and unloading cargo within maritime shipping, and Costello estimates that the total paid globally in demurrage fees is around $10 billion to $20 billion a year.

"These fees can be huge," Costello says. "What technology has really enabled with this problem of demurrage is helping companies drill down to the true root cause of what something is happening."

All this progress is thanks to the enhancement — and wider range of acceptance — of data analysis and artificial intelligence.

Costello, who says Voyager has been improving its profitability every quarter for the last year, has grown the business to around 40 employees in its headquarters of Houston and three remote offices in Brazil, London, and Singapore. The company's last round of funding was a series A in 2021. Costello says the next round, if needed, would be next year.

In the meantime, Voyager is laser focused on providing optimized, cost-saving, and sustainable solutions for its customers — around half of which are headquartered or have a significant presence in Houston. For Costello, that's all about putting the control back into the hands of his customers.

"If we think back to the real problems the industry faces, a lot of them are controlled by different groups and parties. The fact that a ship cannot get in and out of a port quickly is not necessarily a function of one party's issue — it's a multitude of issues, and there's no one factor," Costello says on the show. "To really make the whole process efficient end-to-end you need to provide the customer to access and options for different means of getting cargo from A to B — and you need to have a sense of control in that process."


This article originally ran on InnovationMap.

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