Introducing: Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week, a collaborative initiative that will showcase Houston's ecosystem of energy tech innovators. Photo via Getty Images

Three organizations are teaming up to put on a week of programming and events focused on energy and climate startups.

Greentown Labs, Halliburton Labs, and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship have announced Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 taking place September 9 to 13.

“These organizations will execute events that will serve as a launching pad for an Energy and Climate Startup Week in Houston, showcasing the city as a national hub for the energy future,” Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance, says in the release. “We welcome the community to bring other energy and climate events to the week, which we’ll cross-promote as the dates approach.”

The week will assemble investors, industry leaders, and startups from across the energy industry and from around the world to showcase Houston's growing sustainable, low-carbon energy future.

The initiative is in collaboration with the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, an initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership, as well as Activate, Digital Wildcatters, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and TEX-E.

“As the energy capital and one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston stands as a center point for these solutions. The region is welcoming, diverse and has the know-how to play a critical role in building an energy abundant, low-carbon future," Jane Stricker, executive director of HETI and senior vice president at GHP, says in the release. "We welcome all who want to be part of the solution to join for this exciting, inaugural week of events.”

Attendees can expect tech and startup showcases, panels, pitches, discussions, and networking events to be hosted across Houston and at the Ion, Rice's innovation hub in Midtown. More details on the events will be added to the Ion's website as they become available.

“We look forward to the opportunity to highlight talented founders and connect them with investors, industry practitioners and university resources to help accelerate energy innovation,” Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs, says in the release. “The collaboration to launch Energy and Climate Startup Week reflects how Houston works together to scale solutions."

Activate's soft opening runs until November 15, with a grand opening planned for November 16-17. Photo courtesy of Activate

New immersive, live-action gaming venue powers up Houston debut

hi, tech

Houston is leveling up its gaming scene with the debut of a new high-tech immersive experience. Called Activate, the indoor venue combines technology and physical activity in 75-minute gaming sessions, which can be played in teams up to five people.

Simply put, the whole place is like stepping inside a live-action arcade.

Activate's first Houston-area location opened softly November 2 at 20225 Katy Frwy., Katy. Official grand opening is set for November 16-17. It is the high-tech brand's sixth location across the country, and second in Texas (behind one in Plano, which opened in spring 2023).

According to a release, the Katy facility spans 9,600 square feet, with 11 different activity rooms offering more than 500 unique games across all difficulty levels. Games include Megagrid, Hoops, Press, Hide, Laser, Strike, Portals, Control, Grid, and more. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands track participants’ scores and progress.

"Our mission is to fuse technology, movement, and strategy to create a unique interactive gaming experience," says Activate partner Bryce Anderson in the release. "We want guests to bring their closest friends, family, or co-workers and leave with a feeling of achievement, ready to come back for more."

While gaming activities are mostly adult-focused, children aged 13 and younger can participate with adult supervision.

During Activate's soft opening phase through November 15, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that provides mentorships for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Check the website for limited hours during soft opening.)

After the grand opening November 16-17, Activate will be open daily, 10 am-10 pm. Gaming sessions (75 minutes) are $24.99 Monday-Thursday, and $29.99 Friday-Sunday. Reservations are encouraged.

Activate has been creating live-action gaming experiences for adults since 2019, and has plans for further expansion, they say.

"As we continue expanding Activate across the United States, we are confident our concept will fill a void for interactive entertainment," says Anderson in the release. "We believe the Houston community will embrace this experience and find it both thrilling and challenging."

More information and reservations can be found on the website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Activate announced Cyrus Wadia as its new CEO and opened its 2024 applications. Photo courtesy of Activate

New-to-Houston hardtech accelerator names new CEO, opens applications

apply now

A national organization that helps accelerate scientists into entrepreneurs has named its new CEO in the same week that applications opened for its 2024 cohort.

This week, Activate announced Cyrus Wadia as CEO of the organization. Based California, Activate recently expanded to Houston. The two-year accelerator provides funding and support for its selected cohorts.

Wadia most recently served as director of worldwide product sustainability at Amazon. He also oversaw sustainable business and innovation at Nike and was appointed assistant director of clean energy and materials R&D at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama.

"I’m thrilled to join this incredible team at such an exciting moment for the organization. Because of Activate, scientists are designing new products, accelerating the creation of new businesses, and becoming leaders who will transform our future," Wadia says in the news release. "I look forward to building on this momentum to expand the role science leadership plays in solving society’s most pressing issues.”

Wadia’s new role takes effect on October 16. Todd Johnson has served as interim CEO for the past year, and he will return to his role on Activate’s board of directors with the transition. The program's led locally by Jeremy Pitts, managing director for Activate Houston, who was named to the role last month.

The announcement came just a few days before Activate opened applications for its 2024 program — which will be the first year to have a Houston cohort. Applications are open until October 17 across Activate's five programs. The two-year, hardtech-focused program was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 and expanded to Boston and New York before launching its virtual program, Activate Anywhere.

“Activate’s recruitment process is crucial, as it centers around finding scientists directly interested in solving urgent problems,” Pitts says. “Activate fellows are turning their technical breakthroughs into businesses that can help industries like manufacturing, energy, chemicals, computing, and agriculture, to meet their decarbonization and resiliency goals.”

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A version of this article originally ran on EnergyCapitalHTX.

Jeremy Pitts has been named the inaugural Houston managing director for Activate. Photo via LinkedIn

Exclusive: New-to-Houston hardtech accelerator names local leader

innovator to know

An organization that promotes early-stage innovation within the hardtech space has named one of the founding entrepreneurs of Greentown Labs as its local Houston lead.

Activate named Jeremy Pitts as the Houston managing director this month. The nonprofit, which announced its new Houston program earlier this year, was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products.

For Activate Houston, the challenge is to focus on finding and supporting innovators within the energy sector.

"There are so many reasons to be excited about the energy transition and overall innovation ecosystem in Houston — the region's leadership in energy and desire to maintain that leadership through the energy transition, the many corporations leading the charge to be part of that change who are speaking with their actions and not just their words, the incredible access to talent, the region's diversity, the list goes on and on," Pitts tells InnovationMap.

"Houston is second to none when it comes to solving hard problems and is a region that knows how to build things and execute on projects at the scale needed to tackle the energy transition," he continues.

Pitts was one of the founders of Greentown Labs, and served in a leadership role for the organization between 2011 and 2015. He moved to Houston from Ohio to take the position, but has previously worked in the Bayou City's energy sector.

"Jeremy is the ideal inaugural managing director for Houston — having built a startup there, co-founding the Greentown Labs community, and demonstrating a strong track record of thoughtful mentorship," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "Jeremy will serve as the primary guide for our Houston fellows, helping them navigate the ups and downs facing first-time technical founders, and create and foster community among them. He will also plug Activate into the ecosystem to serve as a synergistic partner to all the other amazing initiatives across Texas."

The program finds local and regional early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — who are working on high-impact technology. Each cohort consists of 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Applications for the inaugural Houston cohort for 2024 will open September 15 and will close sometime in October.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

"As an impact-focused organization that focuses on turning talented scientists and technology leaders into product and business leaders, Activate enters the Houston ecosystem with no ulterior motives other than finding the right partners and being part of a community that enables scientists to solve hard problems and help make the world a better place," Pitts says. "I have a deep appreciation for all that Houston can offer having started and run a startup here previously and having experience in both traditional energy and climate tech."

Tomorrow, the organization is hosting a virtual event to introduce Pitts and the program to the Houston innovation ecosystem. Those interested in learning more can attend the event or find more information online.

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Getty Images

Exclusive: Hardtech-focused program announces Houston expansion, seeks local leader

changing the world

An organization that directs support to scientists developing impactful technology has decided on Houston for its fifth program.

Activate was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

"Our mission is to empower scientists to reinvent the world by bringing their research to market," Aimee Rose, executive managing director of Activate, tells InnovationMap. "There's so much technical talent that we educate in this country every year and so many amazing inventions that happen, that combining the two, which is the sort of inventor/entrepreneur, and giving them the support mechanisms they need to get on their feet and be successful, has the potential to unlock an incredible amount of value for the country, for the environment, and to address other social problems."

This year, Activate is planting seeds in Houston to grow a presence locally and have its first set of fellows in 2024. While Activate is industry agnostic, Rose says a big draw from Houston is the ability to impact the future of energy.

"We're super excited about Houston as an emerging ecosystem for the clean energy transition as being the energy capital of the world, as well as all the other emerging players there are across the landscape in Houston," Rose says. "I think we can move the needle in Houston because of our national footprint."

The first order of business, Rose says, is hiring a managing director for Activate Houston. The job, which is posted online, is suited for an individual who has already developed a hardtech business and has experience and connections within Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We want to customize the program so that it makes the most sense for the community," Rose says about the position. "So, somebody that has the relationships and the knowledge of the ecosystem to be able to do that and somebody that's kind of a mentor at heart."

The program is for early-stage founders — who have raised less than $2 million in funding — working on high-impact technology. Rose explains that Activate has seen a number of microelectronics and new materials companies go through the program, and, while medical innovation is impactful, Activate doesn't focus on pharmaceutical or therapeutic industries since there are existing pathways for those products.

Ultimately, Activate is seeking innovators whose technologies fall through the cracks of existing innovation infrastructure.

"Not every business fits into the venture capital model in terms of what investors would expect to be eventual outcomes, but these these types of businesses can still have significant impact and make the world a better place," Rose says, explaining how Activate is different from an incubator or accelerator. "As opposed as compared to a traditional incubator, this is a very high touch program. You get a living stipend so you can take a big business technical risk without a personal risk. We give you a lot of hands on support and mentoring."

Each of the programs selects 10 fellows that join the program for two years. The fellows receive a living stipend, connections from Activate's robust network of mentors, and access to a curriculum specific to the program.

Since its inception, Activate has supported 104 companies and around 146 entrepreneurs associated with those companies. With the addition of Houston, Activate will be able to back 50 individuals a year.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.