Crystal ball

Venture Houston sparks 6 predictions in energy corporate venturing for 2019

Energy corporate venture capital expected to trend toward more renewables, data tech, and energy storage investments. Getty Images

In November, Houston played host to a meeting of the corporate venture minds at Venture Houston. Global Corporate Venturing and Global University Venturing put on the two-day conference and organized panels, showcases, and chats from energy and investment professionals from leading companies.

Following the Houston conference, Leif Capital published "Corporate Venturing and the Future of Energy."

"What better place to reflect on what happened in energy corporate venture capital in 2018 and look ahead to what might happen in 2019 than Houston, the world's capital of energy," the report reads.

In it, Tom Whitehouse, CEO of Leif Capital, and Kaloyan Andonov, reporter at Global Corporate Ventures, look ahead to what the energy corporate venturing trends will be in 2019. Here's what they identified in the report.

1. Data-driven technologies will be a hot commodity
Focusing on organizational efficiency, corporate venture capitalists will continue to look to invest in data-tracking technologies. Where there's data reporting, there's lower cost and increased safety. One example of a company that's already had some success is Maana, a "knowledge platform that accelerates knowledge discovery to increase profitability for industrial and oil and gas companies," the report says. The company received GCV's award for Energy-tech Corporate Venture Capital Investment of the Year.

2. The United States will continue to follow Europe's low carbon lead
Despite the government's passive approach to climate change and reinvigorated respect for coal, U.S. energy companies will invest in low carbon and renewable resources. "Indeed, historians may look back at Chevron's and American Electric Power's November participation in Chargepoint's $280m Series H round as the point at which mainstream US oil & gas accepted that the future of mobility was electric," according to the report. Attendees at the November Venture Houston event saw a fair amount of accomplished low carbon companies. The resurgence of renewables is due to advancements in technology.

3. Rethinking rechargeable tools
A big issue in robotics development, according to Houston Mechatronics CTO Nick Radford, is efficient batteries — and he and the robot industry isn't alone. Across the automotive, mobile phones, and utilities industries, companies are in want for better power storage tools. But not only better — cheaper would be nice as well. "Battery cost went down from $1,000 to about $200 perKw/h from 2010 to 2016 and thus, made intermittent renewables more viable, both operationally and commercially," the report notes.

4. Off-grid energy storage investing
Industrial and domestic energy consumers alike are trending toward "grid defection" — a mix of on-site renewable resources and energy storage that allows off-grid energy consumption. This practice will result investments in batteries and a new breed cleaner modular power generators. For example, a California company, EtaGen, that creates a linear generator raised $83 million in January 2018 from the likes of American Electric Power, Centrica Innovations, and Statoil Energy Ventures, the report says.

5. Upstream corporate venturing is now lower priority
In recent years, upstream has been the belle of the ball when it comes to corporate venturing, but the report notes that this isn't the case for 2019. "This creates an interesting vacuum that is being filled by financial VCs," the experts say in the report. "We predict that upstream venturing will be increasingly led by specialist US financial VCs, who will be happy to see their CVC counterparts busy with other opportunities. Leaving them with some rich pickings perhaps."

6. More collaborations and few exits
Corporate investors have only recently increased investment activity over the past two years, so exits are a bit far off. "Emerging energy businesses take more time to mature and the investment horizon in energy is longer than in, say, software," the report reads. Instead, expect internal joint ventures and collaborations between entities.

Chevron Technology Venture will have an office in the new, 120,000-square-foot coworking space The Cannon is expecting to open this spring. Courtesy of The Cannon

As corporate venture grows as a presence in oil and gas, more and more startups have access to funding from large corporations. Aware of the corporate venturing trend, The Cannon, a West Houston coworking space, has formed a partnership with Chevron Technology Ventures, Chevron's venture arm that's currently based in Downtown Houston.

CTV will have an office and regular office hours in The Cannon's new, 30-acre campus that is expected to open this spring. (A previous version of this story included other details of the CTV office at The Cannon.)

"We are always trying to surround our members with as much support and as many resources as possible to help them succeed. Chevron's engagement with our community will help further these efforts in a really exciting way," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, in a release. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company Gow Media.

Established in 1999, CTV aims to champion "the innovation, commercialization and integration of emerging technologies into Chevron," reads the Chevron website. The team seeks to identify and invest in technologies or processes that could enhance and optimize core aspects of Chevron's operations. The technologies of interest to CTV are, according to the website: Water management, production enhancement, emerging materials, power systems, information technology, and subsurface and base business.

The Cannon's commitment to helping startups find access to venture has been an ongoing goal since May of last year when The Cannon launched Cannon Ventures — a venture studio and investor network. Cannon Ventures then teamed up with a few other venture funds in December to create the Houston Investment Network Alliance.

Peek inside what the new Cannon space will look like

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based Abel Design Group and Burton Construction are responsible for the designs and execution of the building.