making moves

Houston-based clean energy venture firm opens new office, adds partner

An energy transition venture team has moved into the Ion. Photo courtesy of The Ion

A Houston-based venture capital firm has been busy — with deploying capital, growing its team, and moving into new space.

Energy Transition Ventures has opened an office in the Ion Houston. The fund, which was announced last year, was founded by Craig Lawrence and Neal Dikeman — two former Silicon Valley venture capitalists with Texas ties. The team has a presence in Austin, as well as a satellite office in San Mateo.

"We’re excited after working remotely since we 'opened our doors' during the pandemic, to place our first office in the Ion," says Dikeman, adding that he's excited to work with the community's leadership. "I know several other investors have been looking or are in process to relocate to the Ion, but I believe we are the first venture capital fund to move in. Looking forward to the time when we are just one of long list of funds competing for startup founders’ attentions at Ion."

In addition to the new office space, ETV has also added a third investing partner. Q Song — vice president of GS Group, which was an early investor in the fund — relocated from Seoul, Korea, to Houston last summer to join the organization full time.

“Houston is a natural fit both professionally and personally," Song says. "GS Group has been partnered with Chevron in the GS Caltex refinery, one of five largest refineries in the world, for decades, and there is a huge Korean expat community here as well. For ETV, we needed a place like the Ion both suitable for hosting investors and executives when they come to town, and where startup founders feel comfortable and at home.”

The firm has made investments in four startups, and three have been announced publicly, Dikeman says. The most recent investment was in green hydrogen company Ohmium, which was founded by former SunEdison, Bloom Energy, and Plug Power executives and closed a $45 million round last month.

ETV has also invested in Dronebase, an aerial inspection company for renewables, and Resilient Power, a power electronics startup launching a next generation EV Fastcharging product.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kerri Smith of the Rice Alliance joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Rice

Kerri Smith knows accelerators. Through her over 18 years at Rice Alliance, she's been responsible for overseeing several and was on the founding leadership team of Houston's first energy tech startup accelerator, SURGE. After years of focusing you accelerating Rice University's student-focused program, Owl Spark, she's transitioned back into the energy tech space.

"I've worked with many types of founders. There's not one unique characteristic that everyone has," Smith says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal is to help move them along and help them move the needle. At the end of the day, we want them to have a good experience and to meet their goals and objectives."

The Rice Alliance's Clean Energy Accelerator launched last summer with its inaugural cohort of 12 cleantech startups, which represented energy sectors from solar and wind innovations to hydrogen, geothermal, and more. Smith says the startups represented a wide range of stages and were from all over — only two companies were from Houston originally. The out-of-town companies were able to make critical partnerships in town and set up a presence and a home here.

"We were able to build a family-like culture among our group, and that was something that was wildly appreciative," Smith, who serves as executive director of the program, says.

Applications for Class 2 of CEA are open until May 31. While the program will offer the same access to mentorship and opportunities, the program will change slightly. CEA will focus on seed and series A-stage companies and will be a hybrid program. Throughout the 10 weeks, which begins in the fall instead of the summer this year, founders will visit Houston three times at the beginning, middle, and the end of the accelerator. Each startup will receive a grant to cover the expenses of the equity-free program.

CEA is just one part of a greater ecosystem of innovation under the umbrella of Rice University, which includes the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Ion Houston, Owl Spark, and more. All these entities also play into the greater Houston area's innovation ecosystem.

"Rice Alliance has a strong history of demonstrating collaboration with a number of organizations," Smith says. "I think one of the primary benefits that we have in these collaborative opportunities is to ensure that we are collectively building a capable and diverse pipeline of talent to solve for these problems and provide them with access to experiencing all of the benefits of our ecosystem."

With CEA specifically, some of these collaborations include working with Greentown Houston, which is just next door to the program's home at The Ion, and the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Initiative.

"We're a cog in the wheel. We do really well with that. We play well with others – in ways that the founder has a good experience and can benefit," Smith says.

Smith shares more about what she's looking for in the second cohort of CEA on the podcast episode, as well as what she sees as Houston's role in the energy transition. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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