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 on May 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

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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