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13 Houston energy tech startups pitch at Rice Alliance's first virtual event

The show had to go on at the annual Energy Tech Venture Day, which was put on virtually by the Rice Alliance on May 7. Zukiman Mohamad/Pexels

Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's annual Energy Tech Venture Day is usually hosted as a part of the Offshore Technology Conference that takes over NRG Center each May. However, when OTC announced its cancelation, Rice Alliance made sure the show would go on.

"We had many startups and corporations reach out to us and ask us if we could go ahead with the event in a virtual format, so that's how we ended up where we are today," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event.

Throughout the two-hour pitch event, 39 startups pitched their companies in two minutes and 30 seconds or less. The companies were selected based on input from the alliance's energy advisory board. The companies, Burke says, represent innovations across the energy industry.

An additional 24 companies participated in virtual office hours with investors through a speed-networking process.

"We know that the needs of startups to raise capital, to find customers, and to find pilots is even greater today than it was several months ago," Burke says. "And we know that the needs of energy companies to find innovative technologies to reduce costs and increase production are even greater as well."

Usually at this event, the advisory board decides on the 10 most promising energy tech startups, however, this list will not be revealed this year.

Of the startups that pitched that represented 11 different states and six different countries, 13 call Houston their HQ. Here's what local startups pitched.

Bluware

Bluware's E&P clients use the startup's cloud computing and deep learning technology to access seismic data. This data is crucial for geoscientists to make faster and smarter decisions to reduce time to oil. Bluware's headquarters is in West Houston, and has an European office in Norway.

DAMorphe

Southwest Houston-based DAMorphe uses nanotechnology to provide solutions within oil and gas — among other sectors, including life sciences, consumer goods, and more. Within O&G specifically, the company has designed dissolvable frac plugs and balls with superior performance and lower cost, as well as a flowable sensor for downhole measurements.

dataVediK

Early-stage Houston startup dataVediK focusing on enterprise digital transformation with a plan to create an artificial intelligence platform for collaboration between data scientists and domain experts to provide tech solutions for oil and gas — such as optimizing operations costs and productivity, enhancing safety, and more.

DelfinSia

Houston-based Delfin specializes in text analytics and is working with two oil supermajors. Sia, Delfin's product, is a virtual adviser, able to reference a client's unstructured data in real-time to ensure that decisions are fully informed. Users can simply ask Sia a question and get the best answers from company data.

Flutura Decision Sciences and Analytics

Flutura's motto is to promote actions — not just insights with data. The company's main product is Cerebra uses artificial intelligence and industrial internet of things to connect the dots within the oil and gas supply chain. Flutura's clients include Shell, Honeywell, Henkel, TechnipFMC, Patterson UTI, ABB, BJ Services, Daimler Benz, and more.

MyPass Global

A workforce management system, MyPass Global is putting the power of data into the hands of the individual workers at oil and gas companies and is creating digital work skills passport for each employee. The startup has developed a network of over 180 business partners across Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which includes more than 27,000 registered workers.

Nomad Proppant Services

For E&P companies, Nomad is revolutionizing the way sand is delivered and used by wells. The average well uses 10,000 tons of sand, and that means trucking that volume via long hauls. However, Nomad has created a new, mobile mine that can save 25 percent of the company's spend on sand.

Osperity

Houston-based Osperity's technology provides AI-driven intelligent visual monitoring for industrial operations that can result in improved safety, reduced carbon footprints, and more. The company has more than 40 industrial customers using its monitoring services. Osperity offices in the Galleria area and has a location in Calgary.

PhDsoft Technology

PhDsoft, an engineering technology company, has created a technology specializing in industrial digital twins. The company's 4D software, PhDC4D®, can predict the effect of time and elements on equipment and facilities, which can save its industrial clients money and downtime of its machinery, as well as improve safety conditions.

Quidnet Energy

Clean energy tech company, Quidnet Energy, is providing electricity storage solutions that are cost effective and are able to be used long term. Quidnet uses traditional pumped hydro storage that, before the company, was restricted to specific terrains. The company offices out of downtown Houston.

SOTAOG

Data analytics company SOTAOG wants to be one-stop shop for its energy clients' data needs. SOTAOG's proprietary algorithms can provide real-time data that can improve operations and create cost-saving initiatives. The company works out of The Cannon's West Houston campus.

Voyager

Houston-based software startup Voyager is making waves in the maritime bulk-shipping industry. Whether shipping plans are transporting crude oil and LNG or complex offshore rig movements, Voyager can replace the thousands of logistics emails shared across several companies and bring communications and data onto one platform. The company's main office is in downtown Houston, but also has an office in Brazil.

WellNoz

WellNoz creates inflow control devices, or ICDs, for its oil and gas industry clients. The downhole devices are crucial for controlling the opening and closing of the well. WellNoz's device is made from a proprietary metal alloy that remains strong to remain closed when required, and then dissolves after a certain time to open up the valve. The startup's first client is Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which will will purchase 10,000 ICDs each year for the next five years.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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