growing gains

Growing Houston energy tech company plans to hire 150 new employees this year

Houston-based Corva, an AI-optimized analytics company, is in the process of hiring — a lot. Photo via corva.ai

While the oil and gas industry may be in store for sluggish growth in 2020, that's hardly the case for Houston-based energy tech startup Corva AI LLC.

Corva — which offers a real-time data analytics platform for drilling and completion (the stage when a well is prepared for production) — added 85 employees last year, mostly in Houston. And it's on track to make 150 new hires in 2020, including software developers, researchers, drilling engineers, and data analysts, says Courtney Diezi, the company's general manager. Two-thirds of this year's new hires will work in Houston, she says.

Diezi says the company's headcount currently stands at 120, with 100 employees in Houston and 20 in Ukraine.

Corva has expanded so much and so quickly that it outgrew its previous 11,000-square-foot office and is now at The Cannon, a coworking space and innovation hub in the Energy Corridor. It's set to move later this year to a new 40,000-square-foot space at The Cannon.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Ryan Dawson, Corva has raised just $3 million in outside funding to propel its growth.

"Our business has grown exponentially at the same pace as companies raising hundreds of millions in funding," Dawson says. "While the startup world has chased endless rounds of funding with the notion of either becoming a unicorn — or dying — we have focused on creating a company that cares deeply about our employees and a business that lasts 100 years."

Dawson describes Corva as the "modern brains" of drillings and completions. Oil and gas equipment sends millions of datapoints to Corva to help make complex decisions about drilling operations, she says. About 40 customers use Corva's technology.

In a 2019 news release, Dawson said Corva gauges its success "by the number of days we save on rigs, the costs we can quantifiably cut, and the number of catastrophic events we prevent." Corva's technology has saved millions of dollars for its customers and reduced the length of drilling projects by as many as three days, he said.

"Corva's challenge is to change the behavior of drillers who work for somebody else," the Journal of Petroleum Technology reported in 2019. "The fast-growing company has no shortage of users. Retaining those customers will require convincing oil companies that the real-time drilling data and analysis is creating enough value to justify the cost."

Corva's user-focused approach to developing technology helps attract and retain customers. Executives say they consider Corva a tech company that operates in the oil and gas sector rather than an oil and gas company that happens to develop software.

"Our software platform rivals Netflix and Twitter in terms of giant datasets and real-time processing," Diezi says. "Without a core expertise and founding team in software, we wouldn't be able to provide the amazing technology we do — it's too central to what we do. Corva is the perfect mixture of oil industry veterans and software whiz kids. Our customers love to work with us because we speak their language but provide world-class products solving hard problems."

As it continues to enlarge its workforce, Corva seeks to foster a workplace that embraces both oil industry veterans and software whiz kids.

"We want to be the most admired workplace in Houston, with a Google-like status both for our amazing products and our company culture," Diezi says.

How is technology affecting the energy sector? These experts weigh in. Getty Images

Last week, Houston-based Pink Petro hosted its annual conference — but, quite like other events across the country, it took a very digital approach.

Energy 2.0, formerly called HerWorld, was always going to be streamed from two locations — Denver and Houston — but the conference, which took place from March 9 to 11, likely had more digital attendees than previous years thanks to the rising threat of COVID19, or the coronavirus.

The digital shift was pretty on par with the conversation of the "unconference," as its called. The last panel of March 10 was how tech was rattling the energy industry. Three panelists discussed the effect of technology on the industry, climate change, startups, and more. Here are some of the panelists best points made during this event.

“Technology isn’t new to the energy sector. The energy sector is used to adopting and adapting to new technologies. What we are talking about now is digital technology, and what’s happening there — we are not familiar with that.”

Geeta Thakorlal, president at Worley Digital. It's not innovation that's unfamiliar to energy companies, but the digital aspect, which includes introducing new tech from outside the industry. "When you talk about adoption and use of digital technology, it means different things to different people," she adds.

"We’re taking a look at technology, but also addressing the people [aspect] — looking at what people are doing with technology and how the social issues are impacted by technology."

Jennifer Hohman, CIO and vice president, at Seadrill. The conversation started with a broad scope on how the energy industry is approaching technology, and Hohman cites climate change and sex trafficking — two issues the industry has been affecting.

“As society is changing, we start to worry about people’s safety — that’s very natural in our industry, but moving that into what about social issues or even renewables."

David Reid, CMO of National Oilwell Varco. Reid adds that the energy industry is aware of its role in the world and has a people-centric approach to technology, including being aware of how it affects the people involved in the energy company's supply chain. "I think it all ties together."

“Technology is constantly going to move fast — we have to continue to face that.”

Hohman says on the energy industry adapting to technology, adding that tech allows for more collaboration — something energy companies should be doing, even if it means collaborating with a competitor.

"What the tech sector has done is actually helped energy industry because they challenged all these norms — diversity of thought, fail and fail fast — you don't use that language in the energy sector."

Thakorlal says, explaining that influences from the tech sector have been crucial. Ultimately, big tech companies are looking to small startups for innovation, and energy companies will be doing more of that as well. "The tech companies have had to learn it's not they who has got the solutions, and the energy sector has learned that too."

“We’ve got a world that wants a change, and does not know and understand what we’ve done.”

Reid says on the topic of the energy industry's role in the future of the sector. "What's missing is the potential of our industry to make a difference."

“The biggest barrier to advancing technology is fear — people not really understanding. Fear is a choice.”

Thakorlal says, adding that fear is a choice companies can make — but shouldn't. Instead, they should maintain their business while simultaneously adopting tech that will be key in the future. "We say in our organization that if you talk about energy transition or digital transformation in our sector, it's not an 'either/or' it's an 'and.' We have to keep doing what we are doing and transition that to what we want the future to be."