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Houston venture capital fund launches energy-focused startup accelerator program

A new energy-focused startup accelerator hopes to better connect the dots between big companies and tech startups. Getty Images

While being renown as the energy capital of the world, Houston doesn't have an active oil and gas-focused accelerator program for the various startups rising in the energy industry. That is, until now.

Houston-based BBL Ventures, an early stage capital fund for energy startups, has announced BBL Labs, a new accelerator is based in Station Houston. BBLL is accepting applications for its inaugural cohort by February 22.

"BBLV looks forward to engaging in this partnership to drive entrepreneurial innovation focused on identified challenges and technology gaps in the global energy and natural resources industry," says Patrick Lewis, managing partner at BBLVentures, in a release.

BBLL will use BBLV's data on what the oil and gas industry needs from new tech startups as well as its connections to big energy companies to better connect the dots within the accelerator program.

Historically, tech startups focused on oil and gas solutions have a lot of trouble finding funding and validation in the industry — for a few reasons, Lewis says. On one hand, there's a disconnect between oil and gas companies and the startups that have solutions to industry problems, and on the other, the VC funds aren't there.

"Energy tech is a grossly underfunded industry. Venture capitalists hate it — the hyper cyclical industry, extremely long sales cycles, slow adopters — but that creates opportunities," Lewis says.

So what BBL's venture arm has done is flip the script on this way energy startups and big oil companies have traditionally functioned. Currently, it's up to the energy startups to tell large energy companies why their company or industry needs new technology to solve a problem. But what BBL has realized with it's venture arm is that it's much more efficient if the industry figures out its greatest technology needs and then looks for companies solving that problem. To do that, BBL's Innovation Navigator Software acts as a tool for energy employees to identify pain points.

"We've built software that's meant to be used pervasively across the organization — from the drilling engineer out in the field to the global office manager to the CTO," Lewis says.

These employees can log their daily pain points in the system, categorize them, and flag their priority. BBL takes that information, develop a reverse pitch, and market it to the startup ecosystem globally to identify companies that are addressing the problems of these energy employees.

BBL will use this proprietary pain point data to drive the new accelerator to produce a cohort of 10 startups creating technology that oil and gas companies have already indicated they need. Each cohort will go through six months of programing located in Station Houston. The two entities will collaborate on resources including lab space, investment, advisory services, mentorship, and more.

"Station Houston exists to support startups and with BBL Labs now inside our four walls, we can offer the Houston startup community access to even more resources and support," says Station CEO Gabriella Rowe. "At the same time, our 130 mentors are ready to roll up their sleeves and help these businesses get off the ground and start making an impact."

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Building Houston

 
 

Gathering the right info was vital. Photo by Krisanapong Detraphiphat/Getty

It's there in their name, but how often does a human resources company actually put emphasis on the "human" part? If it's HR&P, the answer is "especially when it matters most."

Following the COVID-19 pandemic announcement, small businesses scrambled to get their Paycheck Protection Program applications and documents in order. Up for grabs was a government-funded $349 billion in forgivable loans to help pay salaries, utilities, and other necessary expenses while businesses weathered the medical and economic storm. And if a business didn't have a company like HR&P on its side, its chances at obtaining a PPP loan weren't nearly as high.

"The PPP loan process required a great deal of HR information, and the requirements seemed to keep changing," says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media (the parent company of InnovationMap). "So we reached out to HR&P a number of times with requests, questions, etc. And each time HR&P assembled a full team to help us. I eventually started calling them 'the dream team,' because the team at HR&P had all the answers."

"As soon as the banks got set up to process these loans, the funds were gone. Every second mattered," says Kris Osterman, HR&P's CFO. "The CARES act is over 800 pages long — our team divided it in sections, and quickly went through it to find the parts that mattered to our clients. We had to make sure we had what we thought the banks needed — the information coming from the treasury was vague at the start — we had to make interpretations and apply our technical knowledge to gather what was ultimately needed for each client. A rapid response was critical."

Working (often remotely) around the clock, through that first weekend, and then several others, HR&P's team was in constant communication with its clients and their SBA lenders. At the end of the day, it was the community-based companies like HR&P that shined over their larger, more bureaucratic counterparts. The blitz of ambiguous COVID-19 relief legislation was an incubator for chaos in the financial and human resource communities. Most payroll companies simply could not respond with a level of intimacy required to support a company's specific needs. HR&P had the agility to navigate these moving targets and swiftly personalize service for their clients.

"Everyone had a different interpretation of the legislation, and there were inconsistencies in what was being requested from each financial institution. Corroborating the requests and staying in constant communication with the client was imperative," says HR&P's VP of client relations, Kevin Roblyer. "They could literally get ahold of us on a Sunday, where other providers were not available or couldn't provide that localized presence."

"All the lenders and financial institutions were asking for different information," says John McKay, HR&P VP of operations. "HR&P is entirely customizable. Our development team can quickly create functionality and generate reporting capabilities for each individual client and their bank's needs."

More importantly, "being able to speak to a designated HR&P representative was very important to limit client anxiety," says Chris Fisher, HR&P's VP of sales.

Thanks to years of expertise and a deep knowledge of its clients, HR&P played a critical role in securing vital PPP funds for many small and mid-sized businesses.

"It took a lot of creativity," says Fisher. "And everything changed with the second round of funding in April. Because of our high touch service model, our clients were prepared and more equipped to succeed."

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