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Exclusive: Plug and Play announces 15 energy tech companies for inaugural Houston cohort

Plug and Play Technology Center has named its first 15 startups in its Houston Energy and Sustainability cohort. Getty Images

A Silicon Valley accelerator program has announced the companies that will participate in its first Houston cohort just as the program begins to foster energy tech innovation in town.

Plug and Play Technology Center, which announced its entry into the Houston market this summer, named the 15 companies that will complete the program. While there are only two Houston-based companies in the mix this time around, all 15 companies will be operating locally with Houston corporate partners and startup development organizations.

"By being a part of this Plug and Play cohort, our corporate partners have validated that there is an interest in these startups' technology solutions," says Payal Patel, director of corporate partnerships for Plug and Play in Houston. "This will encourage these non-Houston based startups to spend more time in Houston, likely (and hopefully) leading to them doing business with our corporations, raising money from local investors, hiring local talent, and setting up an office in Houston."

Patel says the selection process was similar to the due diligence done in investor research, since Plug and Play treats its startups like a portfolio of sorts. Plug and Play hosted a pitch night in September as a way to introduce the cohort finalists to the ecosystem before making the final selection.

"We used the technology focus areas of our corporate partners to source 100 startups with commercial viability in Houston," Patel says. "Through consultation with our partners and voting at our Selection Day event in September, we ultimately narrowed the group to 15 startups we believe we can provide value to over the next few months."

The startups are off to Plug and Play's headquarters in California for a Focus Week, Patel says, then will return to Houston for various corporat events, converences, and more as part of the program.

Here are the 15 companies that will participate in the energy and sustainability accelerator from Plug and Play Tech Center.

Alchera Inc.

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $6 million
Employees: 45 full time, 60 part time
Headquarters: South Korea
About: Alchera's technology uses artificial intelligence image to prevent the loss of lives and money in dangerous situations on site.

Ario Technologies Inc.

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $2.3 million
Employees: 8 full time, 1 part time
Headquarters: Norfolk, Virginia
About: Ario has a augmented reality technology that allows its users to search its data in the real world.

Blacksands Inc.

Founded: 2012
Money raised: $1 million
Employees: 5 full time, 7 part time
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, California
About: Blacksands has a secured connection as a service business model for fast-paced cybersecurity.

BlastPoint

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $1.3 million
Employees: 7 full time, 3 part time
Headquarters: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
About: Using internal insights and data, BlastPoint helps make innovative ideas a reality in the workplace.

ForePaas

Founded: 2015
Money raised: $10 million
Employees: 40 full time, 1 part time
Headquarters:
About: The ForePaas platform combines cloud-based technology and data applications to optimize and accelerate industrial internal enterprise data initiatives.

Capella Space

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $50 million
Employees: 50 full time, 0 part time
Headquarters: San Francisco
About: Capella Space is building a large commercial radar satellite constellation to speed up the informed decision making process for industrial workers down on earth.

Cumulus Digital Solutions

Founded: 2018
Money raised: $4.5 million
Employees: 14 full time, 4 part time
Headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts
About: Using data collection and cloud-based software, Cumulus is eliminating poor work quality that causes accidents in the field.

Data Gumbo

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $3.2 million
Employees: 19 full time, 4 part time
Headquarters: Houston
About: Data Gumbo has developed a blockchain network for automated contract execution for industrial clients

Latium Technologies

Founded: 2019
Money raised: $1 million (Canadian)
Employees: 8 full time, 0 part time
Headquarters: Edmonton, Canada
About: Latium has developed a better industrial IoT platform for heavy industry.

Indegy

Founded: 2014
Money raised: $18 million
Employees: 53 full-time, 0 part-time
Headquarters: New York
About: Indegy specializes in real-time security for industrial campuses.

Ingu Solutions

Founded: 2014
Money raised: $2.1 million (Canadian)
Employees: 10 full-time, 0 part-time
Headquarters: Calgary, Canada
About: Ingu wants to revolutionize the economics of the pipeline industry with new technology and initiatives.

Cemvita Factory

Founded: 2017
Money raised: None disclosed.
Employees: 8 full time, 10 part time
Headquarters: Houston
About: Cemvita has patented technology that can mimic photosynthesis to lower carbon emissions.

KX

Founded: 1999
Money raised: None disclosed.
Employees: 2,500 full-time and 0 part-time
Headquarters: Northern Ireland
About: KX is a data company that uses its global technology in the finance, retail, pharma, manufacturing, and energy industries.

Ondaka Inc.

Founded: 2017
Money raised: $1.6 million
Employees: 8 full time, 2 part time
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California (has a local office at Station Houston)
About: Ondaka uses an alphabet soup of buzzword technologies — IoT, AI, VR — and allows oil and gas companies to really visualize their infrastructure.

Terrapin

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $3 million
Employees: 10 full time, 5 part time
Headquarters: Edmonton, Canada
About: Terrapin is a designer and developer of industrial heat recovery projects.

At the recent Global Corporate Venture conference, two corporate venture execs peeled back the curtain on what they look for from startups. Getty Images

One of the challenges for Houston energy startups is not knowing what potential big corporate partners want from them. At the recent Global Corporate Venture, two corporate venture execs shared what all they're looking for and the challenges they are facing.

Diana Grauer, director of external technology engagement and venture capital at Technip FMC, and Bradley Andrews, president of digital at Worley joined a panel with moderator Wade Bitaraf, founder of Plug and Play Energy & Sustainability. The panel, entitled "How globalization and diversification can boost a local innovation ecosystem," explored what each exec looks for in potential partnerships with startups.

At TechnipFMC, which has a newer corporate investment group, Grauer says her team looks for startup technologies within four key categories, industry 4.0, digitization, materials and processes, and energy transition. Within those categories, she says they aren't looking for startups that will provide a big return on investment, rather technologies that will advance the company's capabilities.

"We're focused on strategic returns, not necessarily your conventional financial returns," she says.

Andrews echoed this point, admitting that while a big exit for a portfolio company is never bad, but Worley would rather have technologies that benefit their business platform.

"As long as [a technology is] under core strategy and driving internal strategy, we're kind of in," he says. "Anything around data science, automation, new energy, sustainability, those are all kind of sweet spots for us."

A big challenge, Andrews says, is communicating companywide the importance of looking outward for innovative opportunities, rather than relying on the company's staff.

"The idea of corporate tech startups coming to fruition within our industry is kind of new. We used to build from within," Andrews says. "We're still as an industry trying to figure out how to do this."

Grauer says that, similarily, her biggest challenge is getting pushback from within TechnipFMC of people who just think their company should fund its current workforce to find solutions. But Grauer responds to them explaining that the company needs to move faster than that and the way to do that is through working with startups. That's why the company has created an Open Innovation Program. According to Grauer, the organization expects to make its first investment by the end of the year.

For Andrews, the state of Houston's innovation ecosystem is exciting, and he notes that he looks at emerging technologies across industries. A technical solution in medicine might have an application in energy, for example. And, considering the state of the energy industry, now is the time to be more collaborative within Houston as more and more global challenges emerge.

"I think Houston has everything it needs to make a stake in this," Andrews says. "We're not competing with each other in this industry. We're competing against what the world is going to demand from us. It's time for us in corporate land and set our egos aside."

Grauer says she's seen the city's innovation resources grow over the years, noting the emergence of The Cannon, Rice Alliance, and Plug and Play.

"I really think that the energy industry in Houston is really starting to catch up and blossom," she says.