Q&A

Houston entrepreneur plans to revolutionize and digitize the energy industry

Camilo Mejia, CEO and founder of Houston-based Enovate Upstream, has big plans for increasing efficiency across the oil and gas sector. Photo courtesy of Enovate

A Houston energy tech company announced a new artificial intelligence platform that aims to digitize the oil and gas sector to provide the best efficiency and return on investment at every stage of the supply chain cycle — from drilling and production to completion.

Enovate Upstream's exponential growth, says Camilo Mejia, CEO and founder of the company, has already led to two new strategic partnerships in the works with European and Latin American companies.

"We see a better future in the oil and gas industry," Mejia shares in an interview with InnovationMap. "Our team worked in various roles in O&G, and we don't think the industry will end up as some people may think. The future will be different and digitized, we are just here to facilitate that transition to give back to the industry that gave us a lot."

The company's proprietary cloud-based ADA AI digital ecosystem is challenging the assumptions of the industry by using new technology powered artificial intelligence to provide historical data with AI to give real-time production forecasting. Thanks to the cloud, users can access the information anywhere in the world.

The new platform combines three models — digital drilling, digital completions, and digital production — that provide precise data that can be customized to the client's needs, integrating into an existing platform easily for a real-time view of their return on investment and carbon emission output.

Mejia shares more about his company's growth and what goals Enovate Upstream is setting to continue the course of digitization in the oil and gas industry in the Q&A with InnovationMap.

InnovationMap: What inspired Enovate Upstream’s focus on artificial intelligence technology for the upstream value chain?

CamiloMejia: For the past five or six years, there's been talk of digitalization, and the value of data. The next level is not the value of the data, it's about the automation, how you can improve operations, and how you can help customers to make better decisions. Every single technology that we are developing here is about the return of investment.

Our AI concept is about the physics behind the data. We are accelerating digital adoption by properly showing the tangible value of the technology by speaking the same language and showing the value from the oil and gas perspective, which was one of the challenges other AI technology faced to break into the industry before. Our artificial intelligence component upgrades this technology to optimize the industry while integrating it with this digital ecosystem all in one place. The digital ecosystem we're building covers the entire value chain.

One of the challenges the industry faces is around capital allocation — how we can help customers to properly allocate capital into projects, which is a fundamental way we forecast new projects. Another challenge is the size of the organization that ranges from corporations to small businesses. They have many opportunities to improve cost but that varies across companies.

We are overcoming that challenge in order to develop a technology that can show the inefficiencies between the sizes. The third challenge is the adoption of digital technology. There are two different ways of deploying artificial intelligence. One is data-driven analysis, data-driven models, or data trading — this is the foundation.

IM: What fundamental changes do you think your cloud-based ADA technology can provide across every stage of the value chain?

CM: The biggest change we have in the platform is revising the workflow based on the production size. We use the data the customers already have, to develop a model that changes the way we forecast production in the industry. Before you deploy the capital and execute the project, you are going to have a better idea of the maximum potential profitability, so you can make better decisions at any stage from that point.

One of the inspirations for this was Tesla. The automotive industry was failing to provide a self-driving vehicle because it was using mathematical approaches, but Tesla overcame that challenge using data of millions of drivers to drive and park the cars efficiently, optimizing the process.

We are doing exactly the same, which is applying mathematical equations only for drilling forecasts, production forecasts, and using the data from the wells to see how the projects are behaving. We also integrate the modules so every single module is communicating with each other at every stage to correlate back to a production forecast to set your targets or operation based on that expected return of investment.

Our concept is about the return of investment, in order to develop the ROI concept, you got to plan the events right and the varying size production, that becomes the second component. The third component is about optimization of operations, which is about automation to improve operations and therefore decision-making. We are developing technology that has a very modern interface to automate operations in a more intuitive way so customers can be independent in the process and make the best decisions.

IM: At the moment, there is a need for virtual connections. How does your technology allow certain hands-on tasks to be handled remotely?

CM: In many ways, we have a big project in the Gulf of Mexico. We place technologies that we are using in today's market and deploy a platform that customers can use independently. We can also automate operations to the cloud by just deploying, trimming the data out of the field straight to the cloud so that people in the field can actually use the AI component to optimize operations. We don't require face to face interaction using the cloud environment.

Since the coronavirus these digital components have been on demand, we have grown about 500 percent from the end of Q1 and into the middle of Q2. We are experiencing an acceleration in the adoption of digital technology, but the ability to deploy the technology through the cloud has been instrumental in gaining more traction in the market. As a matter of fact, just as an indicator, we have been hiring people since the start of the coronavirus.

IM: Enovate Upstream started a year ago since then you’ve experienced exponential growth. What are a couple of goals that the company will achieve by the end of the year?

CM: Our strategy is focused on the next level for the company, which is securing funding round with investors in London. We are also aiming to facilitate the deployment of our technology globally. We are focusing on the United States and Latin America, but we hope to expand our funding round to Europe and the Middle East.

Our other goal lies with our partnerships, we are working through a distribution channel, through larger service companies that are facilitating the commercialization of the technology. The focus is on enabling these companies to properly support the customers by doing more technology integration and increasing the value creation.

The next goal is obviously to sustain the company, even though we have been growing, there is a lot of uncertainty in the market, and we are focusing on building the culture of the company, which is challenging in a virtual space.

IM: How has Enovate Upstream navigated an unstable market amid your rapid growth?

CM: That's a good question. I think the lesson is that you can always end up in a different direction. Coronavirus is having a big impact on many businesses, often negatively, but for us, it was instrumental to realize the full potential of the technology we were developing.

We saw that the activity was going from operations to the financial sector with companies selling assets to sustain their business. There were a lot of customers trying to decide what kind of wells they need to continue producing, so that was a market that we didn't capture before.

We grew the technology in that direction by starting a second company called Energy Partners. We created a joint venture with some producers in South Texas to make better decisions in asset acquisition. It was instrumental for us to realize the full potential on the finance side, as opposed to operations where the initial focus was.

We have assets in South Texas now and from a technology standpoint, it's the ideal way to test our analytic technology. We use our technology to properly evaluate the return of investment to make decisions about acquiring assets to optimize the operations and increase production. We have the opportunity to prove the technology with our investments, so we can actually build trust with customers. We are 100 percent sure that the technology works the way we say it works.

IM: There’s a huge emphasis on sustainability in the energy industry. How does your technology reduce carbon emissions?

CM: There are two kinds of components here. The first one is about optimizing operations — personnel transportation at the field level. We have studied calculations of what carbon dioxide output looks like to reduce it in terms of optimizing transportation, technology, and contributing to innovative ideas. We are currently initiating a feasibility study on a carbon capture technology, and working with customers to provide value in the technology in various aspects.

IM: I see several partnerships have already begun. Are you looking for more and what role do these partnerships play for your business?

CM: We have two partnerships about to close. One is with Telefonica, a Spanish telecommunications company, and another with Pluspetrol, an Argentinian production company. Telefonica provides cybersecurity services to oil and gas companies, we actually work with them to deploy our technology in Latin America and Europe. They provide the cloud and cybersecurity component while we provide the AI component.

In terms of our technology development, Pluspetrol has been one of our partners from the very beginning and we continue developing more technologies with this particular customer. They provide us with access to real data and real operational conditions that facilitate technological innovation.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Building Houston

 
 

Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, major ecosystem events, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Solugen raises another mega round of funding, CorInnova snags a prestigious award, applications are open for two programs, and more.

Houston unicorn chemicals company raises $200M series D

Solugen closed its Series d funding round at $200 million. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Solugen has announced its latest round of investment to the tune of $200 million. The company, which reached unicorn status after its $357 million series C round last year, uses its patented Bioforge processes to produce "green" chemicals from bio-based feedstocks.

"Solugen is reimagining the chemistry of everyday life with enzymes found in nature. We make chemicals better, faster, cheaper, and without fossil fuels from right here in Houston, Texas. Whether you care about the climate, local competitiveness, or just plain old profits, we have good news: it's working," the company states in its news release.

"Our first Bioforge has been operating for a year and Solugen is running a nearly nine figure business with high margins selling commodity and specialty chemicals," the statement continues. "We have established ourselves with top tier customers for our existing solutions and fortune 100 technology partners to build a robust pipeline of future molecules that will help us achieve our goal of 10 mil tons of CO2 removed from the atmosphere."

According to the company, this latest raise has increased Solugen's valuation to over $2 billion. The round was led by investors Kennivik, Lowercarbon Capital, and Refactor Capital.

Houston health tech company wins funding from national organization

CorInnova has won a prestigious award. Photo via corinnova.com

Houston-based CorInnova was named one of five awardees from the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation's “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competition. Each honoree received a share of $150,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The awards ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 to support the advancement of pediatric medical devices.

CorInnova, founded in TK, has designed a minimally invasive biventricular non-blood contacting cardiac assist device to treat heart failure.

The 2022 competition was moderated by California-based MedTech Innovator. The other four pediatric device innovation awardees included:

  • Innovation Lab, from La Palma, California, created a mechanical elbow brace stabilizes tremors for pediatric ataxic cerebral palsy to improve the performance of Activities of Daily Living.
  • Prapela, based in Biddeford, Maine, created the first innovation to improve the treatment of apnea of prematurity in over twenty years.
  • Tympanogen, from Richmond, Virginia, replaces surgical eardrum repair with a nonsurgical clinic procedure
  • Xpan, based in Concord, Ontario, has created a universal trocar enables safest and most dynamic access and effortless upsizing in conventional/mini/robotic procedures.

"We are delighted to recognize these five innovations with critical NCC-PDI funding that will support their journey to commercialization. Improving pediatric healthcare is not possible without forward-thinking companies that seek to address the most dire unmet needs in children’s health,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI, in a news release. "We know all too well how challenging it is to bring pediatric medical devices to market, which is why we have created this rich ecosystem to identify promising medical device technologies and incentivize investment. We congratulate this year’s winning innovators and applaud their efforts to help bridge these important care gaps that are impacting children.”

Houston real estate tech scores funding from Amazon entity

DOSS is a real estate tech company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based DOSS, which was chosen this summer for the inaugural Black Founders Build with Alexa cohort, has received funding from the Amazon Alexa Fund. The startups in the program were selected based on their ability to innovate with Alexa and build the next generation of voice, artificial intelligence, and ambient experiences technology.

DOSS is a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable, and the company has developed a technology where customers are able to ask for real-estate advice and tips, search for home listings, get neighborhood information, and recent sales data, according to a news release from the company. They will also eventually be able to request to be connected with home service providers that serve their respective area.

CEO Bobby Bryant and COO Chris Norton founded DOSS in 2016. Last year, the company participated in the Google for Startups Black Founders program, receiving $100,000 from the fund.

TMC Innovation's Biodesign program applications open

Applications are open through the end of the year. Photo via tmc.edu

Applications are now open for the 2023 TMCi Biodesign program at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory. TMC is looking for candidates with relevant backgrounds for starting a digital health or medical device company, such as: engineering, medicine, hospital administration, R&D (prototyping), software development, finance, legal, regulatory, reimbursement, or technical. Candidates must have at least 1 to 2 years of industry work experience or have prior startup history. It is preferred that applicants have earned an advanced degree.

The position is an in-person, full-time requirement that will begin August 2023 and will span nine months with an opportunity to extend for up to two months.

Applications close on December 31. Candidates will undergo a series of interviews in January and then will be extended offers in the spring.

HX Venture Fund calls for startups to meet visiting VC

Calling all Houston tech startups. Image via Screenshot

HX Venture Fund, a fund-of-funds that encourages and enables non Houston-based VCs to tap into the local innovation ecosystem, is hosting Creighton Hicks, partner at Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners, later this month.

The organization is looking for Houston startups that are building a tech or tech-enabled services company raising a seed to series B round now or in the next six months. Startups have until November 18 to submit their interest via an online form.

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