HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 76

Growing Houston biotech startup is capturing a new way for oil and gas to get to carbon negative

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory, is offering energy execs an innovative way to meat their climate change pledge goals. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

As more and more energy companies are focusing on reducing their carbon footprint ahead of lofty clean energy goals, Moji Karimi, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Cemvita Factory, is doing his oil and gas clients one better. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, Cemvita provides an additional revenue stream for its clients.

Karimi founded the company with his sister and Cemvita CTO, Tara, in 2017. The idea was to biomimic photosynthesis to take CO2 and turn it into something else. The first iteration of the technology turned CO2 into sugar — the classic photosynthesis process. Karimi says the idea was to create this process for space, so that astronauts can turn the CO2 they breathe out into a calorie source.

"While we were doing that, we realized the big picture is not just the space application. If we could apply the same technology for other chemicals made in energy-intensive way, then we could actually help with climate change," Karimi says on the podcast.

Now, Cemvita has 30 different molecules its technology can produce and works with the likes of BHP, Oxy, and more energy clients to take their carbon emissions and turn it into something useful.

"It's not just for sustainability reasons — it's part of the reinvention of the company to maintain its legacy for the next few decades to come," Karimi adds.

While 2020 was a chance for Cemvita to reset, by Q4 of last year the company was in growth mode and got back to the lab. The company's teams were divided between two spots — one being an R&D team in larger office at JLABS @ TMC — and Karimi says later this year that will change. Cemvita is moving into a larger, combined space in Upper Kirby in May.

But Karimi says one of the biggest challenges Cemvita is facing is that its doing something that's never been done before. There's a huge learning curve for clients and oil and gas stakeholders.

"There weren't biotech companies working with oil and gas companies for this use case that we have now," Karimi says. "We're defining this new category for application of synthetic biology in heavy industries for decarbonization."

There are other companies in the carbon capture and neutralization fields, though they are taking slightly different approaches. Rather than being competitive, companies in this space are working together for a greater good.

"The more successful that some of these other companies are in opening up the market, that also helps us the same way we're doing for them," Karimi says. "It's an interesting and collaborative area, because at the end of the day, the outcome is good for the world."

Karimi shares more about what Cemvita's growth plans on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

Craig Lawrence and Neal Dikeman co-founded a new venture capital firm focused on funding technology as a part of the energy transition. Photos courtesy

Two Texas entrepreneurs recently announced what they say is the first venture fund in Texas exclusively dedicated to investing in energy transition technologies.

Houston-based Energy Transition Ventures — led by Craig Lawrence and Neal Dikeman — officially emerged from stealth mode with anchor investment from two operating companies from the GS Group of Korea. The fund closed its first capital in February this, completed its first investment in March, and looks to close new investors for a total fund size of $75 million, according to a press release.

"In the near future, energy is going to be delivered and used completely differently. Marginal and average energy and CO2e prices are now on a long term deflationary trend," says Dikeman in the release. "There are 500 multi-billion dollar energy companies globally, and massive portions of global GDP, that are going to get disrupted in the energy transition, from energy & power, transport, real estate, industrial to consumer to agriculture."

Dikeman, who is the managing partner at Old Growth Ventures, a family office investor, also chairs the board at nonprofit cleantech accelerator Cleantech.org, virtual research institute. In 2001, he co-founded San Francisco based cleantech investment firm Jane Capital in 2001.

"We've been successful being highly selective as investors, and using our deep networks and understanding of energy and technology to avoid pitfalls other investors faced. It is exciting to be off the bench to do it again," he continues.

Lawrence, who's also been a part of the cleantech revolution for a chunk of his career, previously started and led the cleantech investing effort at Accel Partners and was previously vice president of product at software company Treverity. The duo chose the Energy Capital of the World to headquarter ETV.

"Texas is the energy capital of the world, and outside of corporate venture capital, there are not many venture funds in the state," says Lawrence. "So it makes sense to start an energy transition focused fund here as the latest wave of clean technology investing accelerates."

ETV will fund from seed to series B with select late-stage opportunities, according to the release, and will colocate a Silicon Valley office with GS Futures, the Silicon Valley-based corporate venture capital arm of energy, construction, and retail conglomerate GS Group of Korea.

"We're excited to be investing in ETV and in the future of energy," says Tae Huh, managing director of GS Futures, in the release. "Energy Transition Ventures is our first investment from the new GS Futures fund, and we've already run successful pilots in Korea with three US startups even before this fund closed an investment – we are working to accelerate the old model of corporate venture dramatically."

Jon Wellinghoff, former chair of FERC, and Deb Merril, president of EDF Retail and co-founder and former co-CEO of Just Energy, have also joined ETV as advisors. GS Energy executive Q Song moves from Seoul, Korea, to join the Houston ETV investment team, according to the release.

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