HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 145

Houston corporate investor on why Houston is poised to lead the energy transition

Jim Sledzik joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss corporate venture, Houston's role in the energy transition, and more. Photo courtesy of Aramco

When it comes to Houston's potential to lead the energy transition, Jim Sledzik, North American managing director of Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, says it's a no-brainer.

"We understand the energy business — we understand size and scale. And the size and scale of the challenges in front of us to get to net zero is enormous,” he says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators podcast. “The basics are here. We just need to tap into the talent and experience."

Over the past decade, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures has invested $320 million into 33 portfolio companies in the United States. Sledzik, who's worked in various energy services roles around the world before entering in to investment, explains that the corporate venture model is ideal for scaling big technology — and fast.

“When you’re using the venture model in a corporate setting, you have the company and the balance sheet behind you, which brings different benefits to companies you’re investing in,” he says. “These entrepreneurs who are looking to figure out how to deploy technology at scale becomes the real interesting item. All entrepreneurs want to grow — and they want to grow fast."

Scaling fast is risky, but big corporates — like Aramco — can help address the risks by providing a foothold in the market, a place to roll out the technology, and more.

“With corporate venture, you can bring the assets and the application of those technologies, and you can work to scale it in a manner that’s somewhat derisked,” Sledzik says on the show. “In corporate venture capital, you have other levers in which to pull to add value to the entrepreneurs you’re investing in. The private side brings different values.”

Earlier this year, Aramco announced a partnership with the Ion, representing its dedication to the Houston innovation ecosystem. Sledzik says Aramco being named a founding partner at the Ion opens the door to more collisions with Houston entrepreneurs. Starting later this month, Sledzik and his team will host office hours every other Friday.

"Ion is the place where you can find those collisions,” he says. “You just never know when serendipity is going to be created.”

He shares more about the types of technology Aramco is looking for and his advice to energy tech entrepreneurs on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

This Houston staffing firm has tapped into tech to support the growing gig economy workforce. Photo via Getty Images

As the independent workforce continues to grow, a Houston-based company is aiming to connect these workers with companies that match their specific needs with a new digital platform.

FlexTek, a 14-year old recruiting and staffing company, launched a first gig site tailored to the needs of the individual worker. The platform, Workz360, is built to be able to manage projects, maintain quality control, and manage billing and year-end financial reporting.The company is also working to expanding the platform to provide infrastructure to assist independent workers with education, access to savings programs, tax compliance through vetted third-party CPA firms, and hopes in the future to assist with access to liability and medical insurance.

With a younger workforce and a shifting economy, the “gig economy,” which is another way to describe how people can earn a living as a 1099 worker, offers an alternative option to the corporate grind in a post-pandemic workscape. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Penczak of Workz360 calls this era “Gig 2.0,” and attributes the success of this type of workforce to how during the COVID-19 pandemic people learned how to work, and thrive in non-traditional work environments. The site also boasts the fact it won’t take a bite out of the worker’s pay, which could be an attractive sell for many since other sites can take up to 65 percent of profit.

“In the past few years, with the advent of gig job platforms, the Independent workers have been squeezed by gig work platforms taking a disproportionate amount of the workers’ income,” said FlexTek CEO and founder Stephen Morel in a news release. “As a result, there has been what we refer to as ‘pay padding,’ a phenomenon in which workers are raising their hourly or project rates to compensate for the bite taken by other platforms.

"Workz360 is designed to promote greater transparency, and we believe the net result will be for workers to thrive and companies to save money by using the platform,” he continues.

As the workforce has continued to change over the years, a third of the current U.S. workforce are independent workers according to FlexTek, workers have gained the ability to have more freedom where and how they work. Workz360 aims to cater to this workforce by believing in a simple mantra of treating your workers well.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about this, but we like the Southwest Airlines model,” Penczak tells InnovationMap. “Southwest Airlines treats their people very well, and as a result those employees treat the passengers really well. We believe the same thing holds true. If we can provide resources, and transparency, and not take a bite out of what the gig worker is charging, then we will get the best and the brightest people since they feel like they won’t be taken advantage of. We think there is an opportunity to be a little different and put the people first.”

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