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Houston-based veterans will lead the energy transition, says this expert

Houston has the the second largest veteran community in America — and the energy industry is vets' top employer. Photo via Getty Images

Many people living in Houston don't realize that the veteran community is taking an increasing leadership role in the energy transition. The Greater Houston area is the second largest veteran community in America with over 5,500 new veterans and their families coming to Houston annually. We are the fastest growing city in America for veterans as well.

In Houston you'll find a community of veterans who create a workforce and culture of excellence -- no handouts needed here. Our city is home to innovation in many industrial sectors, and also in the veteran services market. Combined Arms is the premier technology partner for accelerating the connection of veterans to resources like employment.

Headquartered in Houston, the agency operates in a dozen states nationally with a co-working space of over 30 veteran serving nonprofits on site and 120 services online. The top employment organization for veteran employment in the country, NextOp, is also headquartered in Houston. NextOp is focused on developing a pipeline of talent directly from military installations to industrial craft trades. They have the best numbers for placement of veterans and speed to employment, perfect for accelerating the energy transition as companies are looking for talent to fill new industry roles.

The energy sector is already the largest employer of veterans in Houston. We are a vibrant community with weekly networking happy hours for white collar veterans working in the energy industry at the original Kirby Icehouse on Wednesdays, put on by Houston Veterans in Business.

With one of the highest concentrations of public companies in the country, we have over 85 public companies with employee resource groups for veterans. The leaders of these groups meet regularly to support and serve our community. We are a thriving community that has the depth of relationships and connections to foster the personal and professional growth of veterans new to Houston and those that have called Houston home their entire lives. The majority of these groups are within energy companies that are actively supporting the energy transition.

Some examples of veteran-led energy transition companies include:

  • Everpoint Services, founded by Tyler Goodell, is bringing an oilfield services model to the wind, solar, and energy storage industries along with wind blade and solar panel recycling.
  • FastGrid, founded by Eric Curry, is rapidly growing through the project engineering side of renewable energy project development across the country.
  • WindCom, led by CEO Tim Hertel, conducts wind blade repairs and servicing.
  • Blue Bear Capital, co-founded by Tim Kopra, invests in high-growth technology companies across the energy, infrastructure, and climate industries.
  • eRenewable, co-founded by Fred Davis, provides real-time online auctions for Power Purchasing Agreements (PPAs) and Virtual PPAs.
  • Last Dollar Trucking, co-founded by Nate Reeve, focused on the transport of the massive number of wind blades entering texas ports.
  • JAG Argueta, founded by Keith Argueta, provides accounting and fractional CFO services to cleantech startups.
  • Digital Wildcatters, co-founded by Jake Corley, building the "Barstool Sports of Energy"
  • Amberjack Capital, co-founded by Patrick Connelly, is a private equity investor in energy transition and infrastructure projects.
  • re:3D, co-founded by Samantha Snabes, pioneering new innovations to decimate the cost & scale barriers to 3D printing.
  • South Union CDC, founded by Efrem Jernigan, is developing the Sunnyside Solar project.
  • Fervo Energy, led by CFO David Ulrey, is developing next-generation geothermal projects to deliver 24x7 carbon-free energy.

One of the top chapters nationally for Bunker Labs is also here, with a veteran entrepreneur accelerator at WeWork downtown, the WeWork Veterans in Residence program. On top of that the largest veteran business plan competition is hosted by Rice University. The Veteran Business Battle is entering its 7th year with one of the finalists Parasanti pivoting their successful edge computing solutions into the energy transition for cleantech applications through their recent acceptance to Haliburton Labs.

Houston is also building a chapter of the Veterans Energy Project which is advocating for the Biden administration's infrastructure bill. Jon Powers with CleanCapital, a private equity investor focused on accelerating the flow of capital into distributed generation project, co-founded the Veterans Energy Project. Having served our country in a time of war, it is time again to place the country first and advocate for the infrastructure that supports all Americans.

The veterans of Houston can help make Houston not only the leader in the energy transition but also ensure that we are the energy capital of the future.

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Kevin Doffing is the president of Energy Capital of the Future.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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