HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 69

Houston expert: 2020 was 'hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial' for the energy transition

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss 2020's effect on the energy transition — and what that meant for startups. Photo courtesy of TPH

In 2020, the economy was hit with a double whammy of sorts — from a devastating pandemic to an unprecedented drop in oil prices — and that has meant that the energy transition is happening at a faster pace than ever.

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., joined the Houston Innovators Podcast this week to discuss what she observed throughout the year as she worked closely with energy tech businesses.

"Because it was such a disruptive year, everyone — from the commercial and business side to the consumer side — has rethought how they are using and thinking about energy," she says on the show. "It was the first time that you saw such a mass disruption of energy demand, and that rolls through the entire ecosystem."

The effect touched all four corners of the industry in some way, and it forced all major energy players to be more intentional with their business strategy — especially when it comes to the role they play within the energy transition.

"The energy transition saw a huge uptick in 2020 — and there's a lot of implications of that from what pilots are getting commercialized and what companies are getting more funding," says Zhang. "All around it was hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial I think to the energy transition."

Environmental, social and corporate governance, which has been growing in importance to investors and company leadership for several years now, also got a spur from 2020. ESG has been propelled by activism and consumer choice, Zhang says, but now investors are now forced to be more cognizant than ever.

"What's the investor responsibility to society as a whole? It's going beyond economics — what's your social and environmental responsibility? I think a lot of that expansion of responsibility is what's driving ESG," she says. "That's going to trickle down corporations and companies as they think about what is their expanded responsibility."

Zhang, who works closely with energy startups, also observed a profound effect when it came to capital and new business.

"A lot of companies say numbers go down in 2020, but the exceptions to that were companies that had a strong energy transition angle. Those companies were able to reposition themselves to ... counteract what was going on in the market in general," Zhang says. "From a capital raising standpoint, it was also really challenging. A lot of funds put a hold on investing in new companies and even some to their existing portfolio."

Investment came back toward the second half of the year, but there was a new level of caution, she says, and this is something startups saw happening across the country.

Zhang discusses more about what she saw happen last year for energy technology — as well as what that means for 2021 — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Trending News

Building Houston

 
 

This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

Trending News