ones to watch

Investors name most promising energy tech startups at annual Houston event

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship handed out awards to the founders of the most promising companies that pitched. Photo courtesy of Slyworks Photography/Rice Alliance

Nearly 100 energy tech startups pitched at the 19th annual Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum this week — and over a third of those companies are based in the Houston area.

At the conclusion of the event — which took place on Thursday, September 15, at Rice University, and included a day full of company pitches, panels, and thought leadership — 10 startups were deemed the most promising among their peers. The group was voted on by investors attending office hours ahead of the event.

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship facilitated nearly 700 meetings between 70 investor groups and 90 ventures, according to the organization. The group of presenting companies included participants from Rice's Clean Energy Accelerator's first two cohorts.

Here are 10 of the energy tech industry's most promising companies — and the technology they are working on that's set to disrupt the status quo.

Arolytics

Based in Calgary and founded in 2018, Arolytics is a software company that specializes in emissions management, ESG performance, and regulatory compliance. The company's platform is able to save its users up to 40 percent of their associated measurement costs and emissions management.

Atargis Energy

Atargis Energy is based in Pueblo, Colorado, and is a a member of Rice's second cohort of its Clean Energy Accelerator. The company has developed a twin hydrofoil-based wave energy converter that creates electric power from ocean waves. The technology is paired with real-time sensors and machine learning to optimize power conversion.

Compact Membrane Systems

Based in Delaware, Compact Membrane Systems, is pioneering membrane systems for decarbonizing hard-to-abate chemical manufacturing and industrial carbon capturing. The technology has the potential to revolutionize the chemicals industry.

Dimensional Energy

Dimensional Energy, based in Ithaca, New York, is transforming carbon dioxide into sustainable aviation fuels and products at market competitive prices. The technology integrates carbon capture, electrolysis, and Fischer Tropsch synthesis.

Kanin Energy

Headquartered in Houston, Kanin Energy works with heavy Industry to turn their waste heat into a clean baseload power source. The platform also provides tools such as project development, financing, and operations.

Orbital Sidekick

Orbital Sidekick, based in San Francisco, is an intelligence and analytics company that specializes in remote detection of environmental hazards by way of hyperspectral satellites. The technology provides actionable insights for its customers.

Power to Hydrogen

Based in Columbus, Ohio, Power to Hydrogen has developed an AEM-based electrolysis technology that produces high pressure, high efficiency hydrogen at low cost via water and renewable energy.

Quino Energy

Another Clean Energy Accelerator Class 2 member, Quino Energy produces flow battery systems with over eight hours of energy storage. The batteries are cheaper than lithium-ion alternatives, as well as being safer and easier to scale.

STARS Technology

Based in Richland, Washington, STARS Technology Corp. is commercializing advanced micro-channel chemical process technology that originally was designed for NASA and the Department of Energy. The company's reactors and heat exchangers are compact, energy-efficient, and more.

Syzygy Plasmonics

Houston-based Syzygy Plasmonics is commercializing its light-reacting energy, which would greatly reduce carbon emissions in the chemical industry. The technology originated out of Rice University.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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