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

 
 

Regardless of which side of the hiring table you're sitting at, these are the skills startup and SMB employees need to have. Photo via Getty Imahes

As an executive recruiter, two questions I regularly receive are how to get a role in a SMB fast growth company after having been in a larger, and oftentimes global organization for a significant amount of time, or how to change career paths — whether it’s into another department (e.g., operations to sales) or breaking into a different industry altogether (quite frequently the tech space to O&G).

I have helped several candidates successfully navigate one or all of those scenarios, but also was able to do so myself when I transitioned from owning a booking agency and working as an independent makeup artist. And in my experience, those who were able to leverage transferable skills, provided their new employers with a unique perspective and significantly broader lens, especially in terms of strategy.

With the state of our economy influx — as some industries announce layoffs and others continue to experience labor shortages — I have culled together the following tips for hirers and job seekers alike.

First of all, let's identify the traits of someone well suited for SMB or startup culture:

  • Tenacious, a self starter, and someone who thrives on being busy at work.
  • Revered as a go-to person. When leadership needs something done, this is the team member they know they can rely on to do it well and on time.
  • Volunteers to step outside their comfort zone and take on new responsibilities.
  • Intellectually curious and thrives on learning new things.
  • Identifies problems, but also takes initiative to solve them or recognize workarounds without expecting someone else to.

Looking to break into the startup scene? Consider highlighting and/or acquiring these industry agnostic skills:

Conviction

I always recommend people interviewing for any position create a “verbal resume” or addendum to accompany their traditional one. These are examples of projects or scenarios you successfully navigated in past roles that make the case for your ability to meet the prospective employer’s expectations.

Job descriptions often list the most important requirements first. Identify similar skills that were expected in your previous positions and examples to cite in conversation. I also recommend briefly bullet-pointing the most impressive ones on the resume. Going through this process will help you personally identify if you are able to confidently take on the position.

We often undervalue certain perspectives we might bring to a role if they are something that comes easily or is done regularly. Do not assume hiring companies know your role-relevant skills and do not be afraid to share notable accomplishments.

Steadfast

Smaller companies often rely on positions having wider scopes than at their larger counterparts. This requires worker flexibility instead of sticking to a rigidly defined role.

As a recruiter, I am hesitant about placing candidates with experience only from larger organizations where typically people are not required to wear as many hats. Smaller companies require people to be self starters and to exemplify tenacity in order to make it through the messiness that fast growth startups often possess. It is exciting, challenging, and rewarding for the right person.

Be able to identify times you were proactive, especially if you identified a problem or a breakdown in process, developed a solution, and then executed it. With fast growth, this has to happen often to support scale. There is not the luxury of going to senior leaders and saying, “I cannot do my role because of this problem and I need it fixed.” They need candidates who are able to identify issues, but who also love the opportunity to fix them. Especially if you used to working in a corporate environment, identify times you raised your hand to take on something that was not required, initiated opportunities to collaborate with new teams, or stepped outside your comfort zone.

Pliable

Be flexible around compensation, especially if breaking into a new industry. I almost never recommended a lateral move in compensation, and even less so, a step down. But it is important to acknowledge that there are exceptions. If you are changing industries or breaking into a new part of the company altogether (e.g., engineering to sales), you will need to expect to not be compensated similarly to others who may have as many years of work as you but more experience in the specific role/industry.

The company is taking a risk on you and knows there will be a learning curve. For the right candidate, that assimilation will be quick and compensation will eventually balance out. Smaller companies in startup mode can sometimes find it challenging to compete with larger organizations’ salaries, especially if a candidate has a longer tenure (7 to 10 years or more) at the same company.

At the executive level though, the reward of gaining experience and successfully navigating the startup scene, can pay off exponentially in the long term for people especially in equity bearing roles. Oftentimes, I have seen candidates make the move and initially the role does not offer equity or additional incentives. However, over time, their performance can be rewarded with it.

While other SMBs might believe you will make the transition successfully and may offer packages with it from the get go. Where this recommendation gets sticky is candidates historically do not stay in a role very long if they have a reduction in pay. It is much easier to say you can do without for a period of time than to actually do it. Carefully assess if a cut is something your budget can truly bear.

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Leah Salinas is a managing director with Houston-based executive hiring firm Sudduth Search LLC.

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