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New-to-Houston construction tech company files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy

After relocating its headquarters to Houston, Katerra has filed for bankruptcy. Photo via Getty Images

Construction startup Katerra, which only recently moved its North American headquarters from Silicon Valley to Houston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy June 6 — five days after news reports indicated the company was shutting down most of its U.S. operations.

Katerra's filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Houston show the company and various affiliates have between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities and only $500 million to $1 billion in assets. In a June 6 news release, Katerra says it lined up $35 million in financing from a unit of Japan's SoftBank Group, the startup's largest investor.

Katerra recently notified its key stakeholders that many of its U.S. projects will be "demobilizing," according to the news release.

In an email sent June 1 to employees, Katerra said it would be winding down the majority of its U.S. operations and would lay off most of its U.S. employees. News website The Information first reported about the email. Globally, Katerra employs about 7,500 people.

Aside from letting go thousands of employees, Katerra is likely to walk away from dozens of construction projects it had agreed to build, The Information reported. As part of the bankruptcy case, Katerra plans to sell its renovation and Lord Aeck Sargent architecture businesses to unidentified buyers.

Katerra has been hemorrhaging money for months. In December, SoftBank pumped $200 million into Katerra, in addition to its previous investment of roughly $2 billion. Five months after Katerra received that cash infusion, Paal Kibsgaard stepped down as CEO, a role he'd held since July 2020. Kibsgaard is former chairman and CEO of Houston-based Schlumberger.

"The rapid deterioration of the company's financial position is the result of the macroeconomic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the construction industry, inability to procure bonding for construction projects following the unexpected insolvency proceedings of Katerra's former lender, and unsuccessful attempts to secure additional capital and business," according to the news release announcing the bankruptcy proceedings.

Greensill Capital, the lender referenced in the news release, filed for insolvency protection in March. Like Katerra, Greensill is backed by SoftBank.

Katerra was founded in 2015 with the intent to capitalize on technology — such as automation and robotics — in order to streamline construction. Its projects have included hotels and apartment buildings. Last year, it posted nearly $2 billion in revenue.

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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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