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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Building Houston

 
 

As of this week, Lara Cottingham is the chief of staff at Greentown Labs. Photo via LinkedIn

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

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