Agora track

5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

The Agora track of CERAWeek focuses on all things innovation in energy, from panels to pods and even "houses" like the one pictured. CERAWeek/Facebook

Hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more are descending upon Houston for the 2019 CERAWeek by IHS Markit. For the second year, the conference will have its Agora track, focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — will take place in various locations in the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

March 11: Oil & Gas: Realizing value from digital transformation

In oil and gas, money talks, but justifying the value of integrating new technology or devices can be tricky and hard to navigate. Houston-based Justin Rounce of TechnipFMC and Michelle Pfluger of Chevron Corp. are among the panelists who will attempt to shed light on best practices and new ways of thinking.

Catch the panel at 4:30 pm on Monday, March 11. Learn more.

March 12: Sea Change: Autonomy, automation, offshore & the ocean

Offshore oil and gas rigs are a hotbed for new innovations and technologies — especially when it comes to automation. Two Houstonians join the panel that will discuss emerging tech in offshore E&P — Diana Grauer, TechnipFMC director, External Technology Engagement – North America, and Nicolaus Radford, Houston Mechatronics chief technology officer.

The event takes place at 9:15 am on Tuesday, March 12. Learn more.

March 12: Digital Ledgers: Oil & gas supply chain

Let's talk blockchain integration in oil and gas. The technology has a lot of potential in several aspects of the supply chain, but this panel — which features Andrew Bruce of Houston-based Data Gumbo — will weigh the pros and cons of the technology as well as go over the initial results of early adaptors.

The discussion begins on Tuesday, March 12, at 2.45 pm. Learn more.

March 12: Models of Innovation: Today & tomorrow

Inarguably, the energy's innovation ecosystem differs from that of other industries, but to what end? A panel of professionals — including Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures President Barbara Burger — will debate the challenges within innovation in energy, innovative corporations, and the best strategies moving forward.

The panel is on Tuesday, March 12, at 2.45 pm. Learn more.

March 14: Urban Resilience in a Changing Climate

You can't have an energy-focused conference without addressing the elephant in the room that is climate change, and Houston-based Sunova CEO John Berger and City of Houston Chief Sustainability Officer Lara Cottingham are the right people to do it.

The panel will take place on Thursday, March 14, at 10:30 am. Learn more.

Can't-miss pods

While panels focus on a challenging topic of discussion, the Agora Pods are platforms for companies to showcase new tech or developments or present their successes. Here are some pods hosted by Houston companies you shouldn't miss.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cloudbreak Enterprises is getting in on the ground level with software startups — quickly helping them take an idea to market. Photo via Getty Images

Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

"We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

"We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

"Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

"We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

"What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

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