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

 
 

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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