money moves

Houston chemicals company raises $357M, claims unicorn status

Solugen closed its Series C funding round at $357 million to grow its chemical products. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Solugen, a startup that specializes in combating carbon dioxide emitted during the production of chemicals, has hauled in $357 million in a Series C funding round. That amount eclipses the size of any Houston VC funding round this year or last year.

The Series C round lifts Solugen's pre-money valuation to $1.5 billion, according to the Axios news website. This gives Solugen "unicorn" status as a startup with a valuation of at least $1 billion.

Singapore-based GIC and Edinburgh, Scotland-based Baillie Gifford led the round, with participation from Temasek Holdings, affiliates of BlackRock, Carbon Direct Capital Management, Refactor Capital, and Fifty Years.

Since its founding in 2016, Solugen has raised more than $405 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase.

"Solugen's vision for cleaner chemicals through synthetic biology has the potential to be a fundamental shift in how chemicals are made, to help tackle the environmental challenges we face globally. The chemical market itself is colossal, and Solugen is just getting started," Kirsty Gibson, investment manager at Baillie Gifford, says in a September 9 news release.

Solugen's patented Bioforge processes produce "green" chemicals from bio-based feedstocks. These chemicals are aimed at reducing or eliminating carbon emissions from chemical producers. The Series C funding will help Solugen expand the Bioforge platform and broaden the reach of Solugen's products.

Carbon dioxide from chemical production ranks among the greatest contributors to industrial greenhouse gas emissions.

CNBC explains that Solugen designs and grows enzymes that can turn sugar into chemicals needed to make an array products used in many industrial settings. The company's bio-based chemical offering already includes water treatments, a chemical that makes concrete stronger, another chemical that makes fertilizers more efficient, and detergents that are strong enough to clean a locker room or mild enough to be used for facial wipes, according to CNBC.

"This fundraising round allows us to continue expanding the footprint of our Bioforge technology to give industries the products they need to reduce emissions in their existing supply chains, without compromising on performance or economics," Sean Hunt, co-founder and chief technology officer of Solugen, says in the news release.

Three days before the funding announcement, Solugen made news of a different sort.

Axiosreported September 7 that Solugen plans to open a new R&D facility outside Texas because many of the state's social policies — including its abortion restrictions — are making it hard to recruit employees.

Solugen employs about 115 people, most of whom work from its Houston headquarters, Axios says. The startup plans to more than double its R&D capability over the next two years, representing around 100 jobs, with most of those workers expected to be assigned to a new facility that will be set up in California or Massachusetts.

"We want to make sure we're hiring the top enzymologists and chemical engineers," Solugen CEO Gaurab Chakrabarti tells Axios. "We've come to the conclusion after talking to lots of candidates that they want to join Solugen, but they don't feel comfortable coming to Texas, so for us it's become a no-brainer to have R&D facilities elsewhere."

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Building Houston

 
 

HCC is working on a new center focused on resiliency on its Northeast Campus. Image via HCC

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.

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