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.

Patrick Lewis co-founded BBL Ventures that helps connect energy companies to startups that have innovative technology solutions for their pain points. Courtesy of Patrick Lewis

The energy industry is at an inflection point. In order to compete, oil and gas companies are really focusing on innovation and engaging startups. That's where Patrick Lewis comes in.

Lewis, co-founder of BBL Ventures, has been a tech investor in the Houston innovation ecosystem for about 25 years, and he started seeing an opportunity to help large companies identify their pain points and connect them with startups that have the technology to design solutions. He created BBL Ventures — and an accelerator for its portfolio companies, BBL Labs out of Station Houston — to become a matchmaker of sorts for big corporations and the startups that can help them stay competitive.

"At our core, we're an investment firm, but our mission statement is to be the innovation partner for the energy and natural resources industry," Lewis says on the fourth episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

The key element to BBL's model is the reverse-style pitch. Rather than hosting a pitch competition with a wide range of energy tech startups, BBL teamed up with ExxonMobil earlier this year and identified two specific robotics problems and called for startups to pitch solutions.

After the success of the reverse pitch, BBL hosted an Emerging Technology Symposium at The Cannon last month. The event brought together individuals on both sides of the table — the corporates and the startups — further bridging the gap between the two.

Lewis discusses BBL's past success and future plans, as well as what keeps him up at night as a tech investor in Houston on this week's podcast. Check it out below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.