Fighting biases

Mentorship and communication identified as key aspects of ending gender inequalities in the energy industry

At WIN's inaugural event, attendees were asked to respond to questions about gender biases. Getty Images

Last week, female engineers and entrepreneurs from across the state gathered for the inaugural Society for Petroleum Engineers Gulf Coast Section' Women-in-Energy Congress.

Attendees were able to hear from speakers, like Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America, who delivered the keynote address, as well as opt into breakout sessions and discussions, like "The New Age of Startups."

Throughout the day, the attendees were asked to respond to questions regarding their experience as women in a male-dominated field. The results show that mentorship and communication are both keys to ending gender biases in the workplace, while things like politics and lack of female mentors hold back results.

When asked about how men could be allies in the workplace to women, over 48 percent of respondents said male coworkers could do a better job of checking their unconscious bias in themselves and in others.

More than 47 percent responded that the biggest positive impact for their careers has been a boss, mentor, or sponsor, and almost 70 percent of those polls said that direct managers or people in the C-suite had the greatest impact of eliminating gender biases in the workplace.

For women seeking support in their careers, it was clear from the event that the solution is looking to other women who may have been in similar situations. Almost 100 percent of respondents said they have considered or pursued a career change in the past — half of those wanted a career change to expand their skill set and over a third felt like they have growth opportunities in their current role.

Texas ranks as the top state for female entrepreneurs, so there is potential for success within larger companies. According to the speakers and conversations at WIN's event, there's a lot both women and men can do to end gender biases for future business operations.

Courtesy of WIN

Syzygy Plasmonics, which is creating a cleaner energy source that runs on hydrogen, closed a $5.8 million round. Photo via plasmonics.tech

A Houston technology company is doing something that, for many decades, wasn't thought to be possible. Syzygy Plasmonics is creating a hydrogen fuel cell technology that produces a cheaper source of energy that releases fewer carbon emissions.

The hydrogen-fueled technology originated out of research done over two decades by two Rice University professors, Naomi Halas and Peter Nordlander.

"There are rules in chemical engineering, and you can't break them, but we follow them in a different way," CEO Trevor Best tells InnovationMap. "What we're doing is fundamentally different. We're using light instead of heat to drive chemical reactions."

Syzygy's technology is structured more like a battery than that of a combustion engine. Inside the technology, there are cells, lights, and mirrors making as bright as possible, which then spurs a reaction that creates energy. It has the potential to be cheaper — it's made with cheaper materials — and, of course, cleaner than traditional fueling technology with fewer carbon emissions released.

This new photocatalytic chemical reactor has the potential to shake up the industrial gas, chemical, and energy industries — something that hasn't gone unnoticed by investors. Syzygy just closed a $5.8 million Series A round led by MIT's The Engine and Houston-based The GOOSE Society of Texas. Evok Innovations, a previous investor in the company, and angel investors from the Creative Destruction Lab also contributed to the round.

The funds will allow for Syzygy to continue to develop its technology and grow its team. Best tells InnovationMap that he expects to launch a full-size pilot by the end of 2020 and is already in talks with potential clients who are interested in the technology for industrial purposes.

"We're starting to solidify relationships and get customers ready," Best says.

Earlier this year, the company also received funding from the Department of Energy and from the National Science Foundation SBIR Program. The DOE tasked Syzygy with creating a reactor that transforms ammonia into hydrogen for fueling purposes. For the SBIR Program, the company is creating a reactor that processes carbon dioxide.