Houston biotech company expands as a network of startups with energy transition solutions

Moji Karimi joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how Cemvita has evolved with three distinct lines of energy transition businesses. Photo courtesy of Digital Wildcatters

A lot has changed since Moji Karimi co-founded his biotech company Cemvita with his sister Tara in 2017. In fact, a lot has changed just in 2023 — for Cemvita, for the energy transition, and for world as a whole.

In the past year, Cemvita has evolved its business to target three verticals, all within the company's mission of using synthetic biology to create solutions for the energy transition. Now, as Karimi explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, Cemvita is a startup of startups.

Its eCO2 business line targets carbon dioxide utilization for feedstock, the technology's legacy application. But this year, Cemvita spun out its gold hydrogen arm into Gold H2, which has celebrated a successful pilot in the Permian Basin and raised early-stage funding. Cemvita has another vertical, a resource mining operation — under its Endolith spinoff — that operates out of a satellite office in Colorado.

While tackling the various verticals might seem ambitious, Karimi explains that they are all aligned with Cemvita's core mission and technology.

"If you think about it, everything we're doing has something to do with nature," he says on the show. "Environmental microbiology, biotech, and synthetic biology — it's now available, and we have the tools to do it. We want to be the company that goes and finds those applications and translates it from the idea and the science to the technology, and then scale it up into the engineer solution."

The way Cemvita is doing it is through partnerships. Karimi says he doesn't care about his logo being on the side of his plant, rather that a company can take the technology and apply it on a greater scale.

"The core of what we do is collaboration," he says. "What we care about is for the solutions to come to life."

Cemvita has a longstanding partnership with Oxy, first as an early investor in 2019, and later committing to establishing a plant around Cemvita's CO2-converting tech. Similarly, United Airlines invested in Cemvita before securing a massive offtake agreement with the airline for sustainable aviation fuel.

On the podcast, Karimi share some of his advice and observations on tackling startup-corporate relationships, as well as how these partnerships will continue in the new year. Karimi described 2023 as a year of resiliency, and he has big plans to deliver on for 2024.

"This next year is all about focused execution," he says, noting specifically a pre-commercial demo plant for CO2 utilization, a gold hydrogen field trial to prove out tech for Gold H2, and ongoing speed column tests for Endolith.

"We're graduating from the startup phase," Karimi says. "We need to make sure we don't lose the agility of being a startup."

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