seeing green

Houston biotech startup scores $5M to fuel sustainable aviation innovation

The United and Occidental investment arms are planning to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

Houston cleantech startup Cemvita Factory has scored a $5 million investment from United Airlines Ventures, the venture capital fund of the Chicago-based airline.

The equity investment is aimed at propelling commercialization of sustainable aviation fuel through a process involving carbon dioxide (CO2) and synthetic microbes.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, a subsidiary of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum that’s a founding investor in Cemvita, and United Airlines Ventures are financing the startup’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental/Houston Airport.

If that work pans out, the United and Occidental investment arms plan to form a joint venture to commercialize the technology. The joint venture might include construction of plants for the production of sustainable aviation fuel.

Sustainable aviation fuel, known as SAF, is an alternative to jet fuel that uses non-petroleum feedstock and offers lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Founded by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita Factory relies on synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels, including SAF. The startup, founded in 2017, is among the first companies to employ this technology to support heavy-industry decarbonization and find ways to take advantage of microbiology to convert CO2 into fuel.

“The use of SAF is a promising approach that we believe can significantly reduce global emissions from aviation and further decarbonization initiatives to combat climate change,” Richard Jackson, president of operations for U.S. onshore resources and carbon management at Occidental, says in a news release.

Cemvita is the third SAF-related startup to receive an investment from United Airlines Ventures.

The partnership among Cemvita, Occidental, and United is among many initiatives seeking to ramp up production of SAF. For instance, the U.S. Department of Energy is collaborating with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other federal agencies to develop a strategy for scaling SAF technology.

The global SAF market is projected to grow from $219 million in 2021 to more than $15.7 billion by 2030, according to Research and Markets.

The International Air Transport Association says more than 370,000 flights have been fueled by SAF since 2016. Over 26.4 million gallons of SAF were produced last year.

Last month in France, aircraft manufacturer Airbus flew a A380 test jet for about three hours with one of the four engines operating solely on SAF. The three other engines ran on conventional fuel.

In December 2021, United flew a 737 MAX 8 jet from Chicago O’Hare International Airport to Washington Reagan National Airport outside Washington, D.C., with one of the two engines operating only on SAF. It was the first commercial flight with passengers aboard to use SAF in that capacity. The other engine ran on conventional fuel.

United CEO Scott Kirby, who was aboard the historic flight, said the flight was “not only a significant milestone for efforts to decarbonize our industry, but when combined with the surge in industry commitments to produce and purchase alternative fuels, we’re demonstrating the scalable and impactful way companies can join together and play a role in addressing the biggest challenge of our lifetimes.”

For now, airlines are allowed to use up SAF for up to 50 percent of the fuel on commercial flights.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

Here are some reminders of how to serve up a home-run of a pitch to potential investors. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Pitching to a venture capitalist is not only the most challenging part of building a startup, it’s also the most important. You can have the next pet rock idea, but nobody will ever experience it and you’ll never make a dime if the genius of this product cannot be expressed in an investor pitch. Okay, so pet rock isn’t the best example.

Let’s say you have a product that gets rid of stretch marks overnight. Great idea, right? Of course. But if you’re in front of an investor and they ask you how your product works, and you can’t answer them, your idea will forever remain just that: an idea. It’ll never manifest itself materially, which is your goal.

Did you know that the average venture capitalist holds around 500 in-person meetings per year? Further, did you know that only one in every 10 startups will make it past the first meeting?

With so many meetings with startup founders, you better believe that investors are virtually looking for reasons to pass on you and your cordless extension cord. Or whatever fakakta contraption you’ve developed in your garage.

Well, with so much importance placed on first impressions, here are some of the most important things investors look for and notice when you pitch to them:

Value proposition

This is what separates you from the pack. This is what makes your startup a standout. A value proposition shows an investor your company’s competitive advantage. If you can explain to your potential investor why it would be their folly if they invested in a competitor over your startup, then you’ll be that much closer to rolling out your product to market. Investors want to see a product or service that is unique because that means less competition, and less risk involved.

Entrepreneurship

Sure, you might be a brilliant scientist. You may have developed nanotechnology that eviscerates dirt and bacteria so you don’t have to shower anymore. But have you put together a team that can make your company a successful business? Do you have team members with experience in whatever it is your startup does? Do you have people with credibility congruent with your startup? Your pitch is a way for investors to find these things out. If you can show them that your team has experience, passion, insightfulness, and expertise, investors will feel much better about taking a chance on you.

Confidence is key

Investors can tell if a founder is confident, but not overconfident about how far they’ve come and how far they know they can go. During a pitch, investors can tell if your team is a cohesive unit or parts of a fractured whole.

Anatomy of an investor pitch

Your potential investor will notice if your pitch is structured well. He or she will take not of whether or not your pitch is designed well. They’ll ask themselves if it’s authentic. Does it cover business metrics? Is it concise and to the point? Is the founder communicating something complex in a simple way? Doing so shows absolute understanding and a total grasp of your product and the science behind it, plus the business aspect of it.


------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu was the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Trending News