following the money

New report shows what industries in Houston are attracting the most venture capital investment

According to a new report, Houston's energy and health care industries are attracting the most VC investment — with cleantech and oncology investments specifically on the rise. Graphic via the Houston Tech Report by the GHP

According to a recently released report, a few key industries in Houston have attracted the bulk of the city's venture capital investment dollars.

The Houston Tech Report by the Greater Houston Partnership and Houston Exponential has revealed that the city is home to 8,800 tech-related firms, including over 700 venture-backed startups that have attracted over $2.6 billion in VC funding over the past five years. Annual VC investment has tripled in that same timeframe — from $284 million in 2016 to $753 million in 2020.

"Houston is a city that has been leading the way for decades, with breakthrough innovations that have truly changed the world," says Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, in a news release. "Over the past few years, we have been working to transform an already incredible economy into one that competes as a leading digital tech city."

Zooming into the industries attracting the most capital in Houston, life sciences and oil and gas technology continue to reign supreme. Of the VC dollars going into Houston companies, 17 percent goes into life science companies and 17 percent goes into oil and gas, according to the report. Cleantech and Oncology are both niches in Houston that have seen growth in VC investment.

Graphic via the Houston Tech Report by the GHP

Software as a service has seen significant growth since 2011, and represents the third-most invested in industry with 14 percent of the VC investment.

Contributing to the innovation ecosystem's growth is an increase in startup development organizations — the city now has added over 30 SDOs including non-profits, incubators/accelerators, coworking spaces and makerspaces since 2017 — and access to tech talent. According to the report, Houston has the 12th largest tech sector in the U.S. with 235,000 tech workers, and this sector generates $28.1 billion to the region's GDP.

"Houston in 2020 had not one but two unicorns (private tech companies exceeding a $1 billion valuation), our first ever," says Harvin Moore, president of HX. "That's a reflection of both the rate of growth and early stage of our ecosystem. We will see an increasing number of startups as these companies continue to grow and others follow."

Graphic via the Houston Tech Report by the GHP

According to the report, the most active investors into Houston-based companies between 2017 and 2020 include Austin-based Capital Factory with 29 deals, Houston-based TMC Innovation with 25 deals, and Houston Angel Network with 23 deals.

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Building Houston

 
 

Irving-based ExxonMobil has announced the Houston Ship Channel will be the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. Photo via Business Wire

In a move that would be a gamechanger for Houston, oil and gas giant ExxonMobil envisions creating a $100 billion carbon-capture hub along the Houston Ship Channel.

ExxonMobil foresees the Houston Ship Channel being the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Joe Blommaert, the Houston-based president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says Houston would be "the perfect place" for the project because:

  • The ship channel is home to dozens of refineries and petrochemical plants.
  • The geological formations in the Gulf of Mexico could "safely, securely, and permanently" store tons of carbon emissions under the sea floor, according to the blog post. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast could handle 500 million metric tons of CO2.

Irving-based ExxonMobil, which employs more than 12,000 people in the Houston area, says the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030. By 2040, that number could rise to 100 million metric tons.

"We could create an economy of scale where we can reduce the cost of the carbon dioxide mitigation, create jobs, and reduce the emissions," Blommaert tells the Reuters news service.

In a news release, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauds the ExxonMobil plan.

"This proposal by ExxonMobil is the type of bold ambition and investment we will need to meet our climate goals and protect our communities from climate change," Turner says. "ExxonMobil's proposal represents a significant step forward for the energy industry, and I hope it brings more companies to the table to help Houston lead a global energy transition."

Turner notes that the Houston area is home to some of the largest emitters of carbon in the U.S., adding that everyone has "a responsibility and role to play in decarbonization."

Blommaert says the project would require public and private funding, along with "enhanced regulatory and legal frameworks that enable investment and innovation." According to Politico, ExxonMobil wants the federal government to kick in tax breaks or to set carbon-pricing policies to help get the project off the ground.

Politico reports that the Biden administration isn't considering ExxonMobil's idea as it prepares a climate-change package.

"Meanwhile, environmental groups and many Democrats have slammed carbon-capture proposals as a climate strategy, saying the only way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels," Politico says.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency maintains that carbon capture and storage "are critical for putting energy systems around the world on a sustainable path." Achieving net-zero goals "will be virtually impossible" without carbon capture and storage, the group says.

ExxonMobil announced creation of its Low Carbon Solutions business unit in February as part of its push to invest $3 billion in lower-emission energy initiatives through 2025. Low Carbon Solutions initially will focus on technology for carbon capture and storage. The business unit is exploring opportunities along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Wyoming, Belgium, the Netherlands, Qatar, Scotland, and Singapore.

Last year, ExxonMobil hit the pause button on a $260 million carbon-capture project in Wyoming due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg news service.

In a December report, the Global CCS Institute, a think tank, said 65 commercial carbon-capture projects were in various stages of development around the world.

"Climate ambition, including efforts to decarbonize industry, has not been curtailed despite the adversities faced in 2020," Brad Page, CEO of the institute, says in a news release about the report. "We're continuing to see an upward trajectory in the amount of CO2 capture and storage infrastructure that is being developed. One of the largest factors driving this growth is recognition that achieving net-zero emissions is urgent yet unattainable without CO2 reductions from energy-intensive sectors."

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