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.

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A new AI-optimized COVID screening device, a free response resource, and more — here's your latest roundup of research news. Image via Getty Images

Researchers across the Houston area are working on COVID-19 innovations every day, and scientists are constantly finding new ways this disease is affecting humankind.

From a COVID breathalyzer to a new collaboration in Houston — here's your latest roundup of local coronavirus research news.

A&M System to collaborate on a COVID-19 breathalyzer

A prototype of the device will be used on the Texas A&M campus. Photo via tamu.edu

Researchers at Texas A&M University System are collaborating on a new device that uses artificial intelligence in a breathalyzer situation to detect whether individuals should be tested for COVID-19. The technology is being developed through a collaboration with Dallas-based company, Worlds Inc., and the U.S. Air Force.

The device is called Worlds Protect and a patient can use a disposable straw to blow into a copper inlet. In less than a minute, test results can be sent to the person's smartphone. Worlds Inc. co-founders Dave Copps and Chris Rohde envision Worlds Protect kiosks outside of highly populated areas to act as a screening process, according to a news release.

"People can walk up and, literally, just breathe into the device," says Rohde, president of Worlds Inc., in the release. "It's completely noninvasive. There's no amount of touching. And you quickly get a result. You get a yay or nay."

The university system has contributed $1 million in the project's development and is assisting Worlds Inc. with engineering and design, prototype building and the mapping of a commercial manufacturing process. According to the release, the plan was to test the prototypes will be tried out this fall on the Texas A&M campus.

"Getting tech innovations to market is one of our sweet spots," says John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, in the release. "This breakthrough could have lasting impact on global public health."

Baylor College of Medicine researchers to determine cyclosporine’s role in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients

BCM researchers are looking into the treatment effect of an existing drug on COVID-19 patients. Photo via BCM.edu

The Baylor College of Medicine has launched a randomized clinical trial to look into how the drug cyclosporine effects the prevention of disease progression in pre-ICU hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug has been used for about 40 years to prevent rejection of organ transplants and to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

"The rationale is strong because the drug has a good safety profile, is expected to target the body's hyperimmune response to COVID and has been shown to directly inhibit human coronaviruses in the lab," says Dr. Bryan Burt, chief of thoracic surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor, says in a press release.

Burt initiated this trial and BCM is the primary site for the study, with some collaboration with Brigham and Women's. The hypothesis is that the drug will help prevent the cytokine storm that patients with COVID-19 experience that causes their health to decline rapidly, according to the release.

The study, which is funded by Novartis, plans to enroll 75 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center who are not in the ICU. There will be an initial evaluation at six months but Burt expects to have the final study results in one year.

Rice launches expert group to help guide pandemic response

A new response team is emerging out of a collaboration led by Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University is collaborating with other Houston institutions to create the Biomedical Expert Panel, supported by Texas Policy Lab, to assist officials in long-term pandemic recovery.

"Not all agencies and decision-makers have an in-house epidemiologist or easy access to leaders in infectious disease, immunology and health communications," says Stephen Spann, chair of the panel and founding dean of the University of Houston College of Medicine, in a news release. "This panel is about equity. We must break out of our knowledge siloes and face this challenge together, with a commitment to inclusivity and openness."

The purpose of the panel is to be available as a free resource to health departments, social service agencies, school districts and other policymakers. The experts will help design efficient public health surveillance plans, advise on increasing testing capacity and access for underserved communities, and more.

"The precise trajectory of the local epidemic is difficult to predict, but we know that COVID-19 will continue to be a long-term challenge," says E. Susan Amirian, an epidemiologist who leads the TPL's health program, in the release. "Although CDC guidelines offer a good foundation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when managing a crisis of this magnitude across diverse communities with urgent needs."

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