the future of climatech

Houston startup selected for international carbontech accelerator

Houston-based Cemvita Factory, which biomimics photosynthesis to turn carbon emissions into feedstock, has been selected for a new international accelerator. Photo courtesy of Cemvita Factory

A new international accelerator focused on the commercialization of carbontech has announced its new cohort — and one Houston-based company has made the cut.

Cemvita Factory has been accepted into the Carbon to Value Initiative, a recently launched accelerator supported by The Urban Future Lab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, Greentown Labs, and Fraunhofer USA. The program is focused on supporting companies with technologies that capture, convert, and store carbon dioxide (CO₂) into valuable end products or services, according to a news release.

"In addition to being absolutely necessary to stave off dangerous climate impacts, carbontech innovations represent a potential $3 trillion market opportunity," says Pat Sapinsley, managing director at the Urban Future Lab, in the news release. "We are excited to welcome 10 startups, each proposing different business models and technology innovations to realize that opportunity."

Cemvita Factory, which was founded by siblings Tara and Moji Karimi in 2017, has created a way to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something usable for its energy clients, like feedstocks. Cemvita has 30 different molecules its technology can produce and works with the likes of BHP, Oxy, and more.

"We are excited to represent Houston in the first cohort for the Carbon to Value Initiative," Moji Karimi tells InnovationMap. "We want to send a message that Houston is not just the Oil and Gas capital of the world, but also the center of gravity for a sustainable Energy Transition."The C2V Initiative selected 10 startups out of over 130 applications from 26 countries. The cohort has technologies ranging from carbon utilization product and process innovations to carbon capture and carbon sequestration solutions.

Cemvita isn't alone in repping the Lone Star State. San Antonio-based CarbonFree, which has commercial technologies that capture and convert industrial CO2 emissions into minerals for sale or storage, also made the cohort.

The other eight non-Texas companies are:

  • Air Company, based in New York City, transforms CO2 into high-purity alcohols that can be used in spirits, sanitizers, and a variety of consumer industries.
  • Reykjavík, Iceland-based Carbfix provides a natural and permanent carbon storage solution by turning CO2 into stone underground.
  • CarbonQuest, based in New York City, provides decarbonization technologies and solutions for buildings with a focus on modular carbon capture.
  • Toronto, Canada-based CERT converts CO2 to chemicals such as ethylene via electrolysis.
  • Made of Air, based in Berlin, Germany creates drop-in ready, durable thermoplastics using carbon captured by biomass.
  • Oakland, California-based Mars Materials develops a new pathway for carbon fiber production using CO2 as a raw material.
  • San Francisco-based Patch is a platform for negative emissions.
  • Planetary Hydrogen, based in Dartmouth, Canada, combines hydrogen production with CO2 sequestration via ocean air capture.

The program kicks off at a virtual event onMay 6 from 3-5 p.m. The six-month program will provide its cohort with a customized curriculum, hands-on mentorship, and knowledge-sharing sessions with C2V Initiative's Carbontech Leadership Council— an invitation-only group of international corporate, academic, and government thought leaders.

The cohort will also receive complimentary membership and access to the Greentown Labs community, which includes is recently opened facility in Houston.

"We know that to effectively address the climate crisis and mitigate the effects of climate change, we need to rapidly scale and deploy carbontech solutions to accelerate the energy transition," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs. "We're proud to support these startups from all over the world and look forward to the collaborations that will spark among the startups and our CLC members."

Listen to Cemvita Factory's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast below.


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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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