Alex Reed, co-founder and CEO of Fluence Analytics, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A on the company's move to Houston and its growth plans. Photo courtesy of Fluence Analytics

Founded in 2012 in New Orleans, a tech company that provides software and hardware solutions for the chemicals industry has entered its next phase of growth by moving its headquarters to Houston following a $7.5 million venture capital raise

Fluence Analytics, which announced its recent raise led by Yokogawa Electric Corp. last month, has officially moved to the Houston area. The company's new HQ is in Stafford. Alex Reed, co-founder and CEO of the company, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about what led up to the move and the future of the company, which includes expanding into the life science field.

InnovationMap: Tell me about Fluence Analytics — what does the technology do and why did you decide to start the company?

Alex Reed: We have developed a patented technology that can optimize chemical production. We basically are able to measure what's happening in real time in a process. Imagine if you're baking a cake, and you follow this recipe and sometimes you get the cake you want, sometimes it's too dry, and sometimes it's not cooked enough. And so the polymers industry, for simplistic terms, has that type of an issue. You don't really know exactly where you're at your equipment behaves differently. Basically, what we're able to do is give them real-time information on what's happening as they're baking the cake so that every time they can get a perfect cake.

We have a software and hardware solution that we install in these plants to get these measurements so that our customers can optimize production — and they want to do that to improve their yield, reduce waste, increase safety, and improve quality. There are a lot of different reasons that companies are interested in our technology and we have managed to grow globally. We have customers in Asia, Europe, and the U.S.

We spun out of Tulane University. It's an interesting story because my dad is the inventor of the technology — he's a physics professor at Tulane. I grew up working in the lab with him literally since the age of 12, and I was super interested in technology and science and saw that he was working with all these chemical companies. They were always very interested in what he was working on. I got to the point where I realized that I didn't want to be a scientist — I was far more interested in the commercialization and how you go from lab to product. That transition is very difficult. So, I stepped into the role of the entrepreneur. We had the patents and technology for my dad, I had an excellent mentor, and then our other co-founder was a technical founder.

IM: When and why did you start considering an HQ move? 

AR: We raised our first institutional venture funding in April 2017. Up until that point, it was primarily working with customers and grant funding. We worked with actually a group that has an office here called Energy Innovation Capital. They came in and invested in us and supported us, and George Coyle joined our board.

So, we had that tie to Houston, and I was in Houston a lot because there was a concentration of partners and customers — and not just like chemical plant customers, but also technology and R&D centers. As we started to scale, we brought on some other investors — Mitsubishi Chemical, JSR Corp., and most recently Yokogawa Electric Corp., which has its North American headquarters in Sugar Land.

We started to just build momentum towards it. I'd say we first had the conversations pre-COVID and then COVID hit, and we'd kind of just stopped everything for a while, just to make sure we knew where the business was heading. We've made it through COVID fine and did well on coming out of it. Then we felt it was the right time to pick that thread back up. We knew it made sense. The labor pool is amazing here, and there's just so many reasons why we were looking at it. So then we just pulled the trigger.

IM: How did you decide on the Houston area? What drew you to Stafford?

AR: Initially, we had a little landing pad in the East End Maker Hub, so we got in there and they were awesome. We actually had started hiring remote people here in 2019 because we knew the move was going to happen at some point. We had a place for them to go work out of EEMH while we searched for a permanent facility. We connected with the Greater Houston Partnership, and they plugged us in to Houston Exponential, and they have been very good at introducing us to the right people. We just don't know the lay of the land to be honest, so they've been a great resource. We were looking originally on the northside of Houston, and then we saw the Stafford area. There's a huge concentration of similar type companies — automation, some software, some hardware. There were some tax advantages. We settled in the Stafford area and are very happy with the choice we made to end up here.

IM: I know you recently raised a $7.5M venture funding round. What does that funding mean for growth?

AR: Like any capital, the objective is to use it to grow. For us, "grow" has several different areas. One is the product. There's a very long roadmap of both hardware and software improvements that we want to make. So basically we're accelerating a lot of the things on our roadmap to do things like closed-loop control based on our data — imagine running a whole plant autonomously based on measurements that we're making. We're moving more and more toward that autonomous operation world and improving a lot of the actual underlying hardware, making the measurements, building out sales and marketing as we start to serve more and more customers. Product sales and marketing and customer success are the areas that we're scaling.

IM: As you grow your local team, what are you looking for?

AR: Field applications, software, some automation technicians, and more. We do have some life science applications. So, in addition to our core area on the chemical side, we have a product we've sold into biopharma, and so we want to grow some of that. We're actually hiring for a product manager for the life science side of the business. So, that one's a pretty unique opportunity and role.

IM: Considering your life science application, it seems like Houston is a good fit for that vertical as well, right?

AR: We're working with the Houston of today, but also the Houston of tomorrow, which is this life science play. The next phase is kind of following that innovation value chain. So, figuring out what's the R&D and manufacturing of these pharmaceuticals, and how you can attract more of those technology centers and factories to make the stuff here. If you look at the talent pool here, those resources are somewhat fungible with the resources that serve petrochemical and oil and gas.

This cross pollination I think actually could be quite an interesting differentiator for Houston if the city can build that critical mass. So yes, I think there is an opportunity for us to leverage this vision that Houston has for life science. Now, we'll still have to go to the coast to go to our customers, but I think talent pool, and eventually you might even have customers here. It's certainly feasible.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston-based Corva, an AI-optimized analytics company, is in the process of hiring — a lot. Photo via corva.ai

Growing Houston energy tech company plans to hire 150 new employees this year

growing gains

While the oil and gas industry may be in store for sluggish growth in 2020, that's hardly the case for Houston-based energy tech startup Corva AI LLC.

Corva — which offers a real-time data analytics platform for drilling and completion (the stage when a well is prepared for production) — added 85 employees last year, mostly in Houston. And it's on track to make 150 new hires in 2020, including software developers, researchers, drilling engineers, and data analysts, says Courtney Diezi, the company's general manager. Two-thirds of this year's new hires will work in Houston, she says.

Diezi says the company's headcount currently stands at 120, with 100 employees in Houston and 20 in Ukraine.

Corva has expanded so much and so quickly that it outgrew its previous 11,000-square-foot office and is now at The Cannon, a coworking space and innovation hub in the Energy Corridor. It's set to move later this year to a new 40,000-square-foot space at The Cannon.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Ryan Dawson, Corva has raised just $3 million in outside funding to propel its growth.

"Our business has grown exponentially at the same pace as companies raising hundreds of millions in funding," Dawson says. "While the startup world has chased endless rounds of funding with the notion of either becoming a unicorn — or dying — we have focused on creating a company that cares deeply about our employees and a business that lasts 100 years."

Dawson describes Corva as the "modern brains" of drillings and completions. Oil and gas equipment sends millions of datapoints to Corva to help make complex decisions about drilling operations, she says. About 40 customers use Corva's technology.

In a 2019 news release, Dawson said Corva gauges its success "by the number of days we save on rigs, the costs we can quantifiably cut, and the number of catastrophic events we prevent." Corva's technology has saved millions of dollars for its customers and reduced the length of drilling projects by as many as three days, he said.

"Corva's challenge is to change the behavior of drillers who work for somebody else," the Journal of Petroleum Technology reported in 2019. "The fast-growing company has no shortage of users. Retaining those customers will require convincing oil companies that the real-time drilling data and analysis is creating enough value to justify the cost."

Corva's user-focused approach to developing technology helps attract and retain customers. Executives say they consider Corva a tech company that operates in the oil and gas sector rather than an oil and gas company that happens to develop software.

"Our software platform rivals Netflix and Twitter in terms of giant datasets and real-time processing," Diezi says. "Without a core expertise and founding team in software, we wouldn't be able to provide the amazing technology we do — it's too central to what we do. Corva is the perfect mixture of oil industry veterans and software whiz kids. Our customers love to work with us because we speak their language but provide world-class products solving hard problems."

As it continues to enlarge its workforce, Corva seeks to foster a workplace that embraces both oil industry veterans and software whiz kids.

"We want to be the most admired workplace in Houston, with a Google-like status both for our amazing products and our company culture," Diezi says.

This growing Houston company is providing industrial industries with smart analytics. Getty Images

Houston software company looks to grow its workforce internationally

Staffing up

A Houston-based analytics-focused company is gearing up for growth in 2019 and plans to staff up its headquarters and remote offices abroad.

Arundo Analytics Inc. brings industrial companies — which sometimes are slow to adopt brand-new technology — into the world of machine learning and advanced analytics to help boost revenue, cut costs and reduce risks.

The startup's enterprise software gives asset-heavy industrial businesses "a virtual window into their day-to-day operations," says Stuart Morstead, co-founder and chief operating officer of Arundo. Among the operations that benefit from software are equipment maintenance, safety, logistics and scheduling.

Morstead points out that most industrial companies that encounter issues with operations such as equipment maintenance "lack the data science and software capabilities to drive value from insights into their daily operations."

Arundo aims to solve that problem by incorporating machine learning and advanced analytics — the kind of innovations emanating from the likes of Amazon, Google, and IBM — into everyday business operations at industrial companies, says Morstead, a former partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Co. and a graduate of Rice University.

Aside from its broad enterprise software, Arundo supplies out-of-the-box applications that tackle individual industrial challenges like flow metering for the offshore oil and gas industry and monitoring the condition of equipment. The virtual cloud-based multiphase flow meter is sold as part of a software package from industrial technology giant ABB.

More than 50 of Arundo's estimated 110 employees work on that technology from the startup's headquarters in downtown Houston. To propel its growth, Arundo plans to add employees this year in Houston as well as its other offices in Canada, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, according to Morstead.

In 2016, Arundo graduated from Stanford University's StartX accelerator program. A year later, Arundo was named to the MIT STEX25 accelerator program by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Startup Exchange.

Since its founding in 2015, Arundo has raised more $35 million in capital, including a Series A round of $28 million that closed in the first half of 2018. Investors include Sundt AS, Stokke Industri, Horizon, Canica, Strømstangen, Arctic Fund Management, Stanford-StartX Fund and Northgate Partners.

Aside from drawing more funding in 2018, the startup set up several strategic partnerships designed to increase the adoption of Arundo's software in sectors such as oil and gas, manufacturing, shipping, construction and maritime. Among the new partners are Dell Technologies, DNV GL's Veracity platform and WorleyParsons.

Going forward, Morstead says Arundo aims to bring its software expertise, business prowess and "world-class data science" to even more industrial companies and their physical assets as part of the global Industrial Internet of Things sector. That market is projected to approach $1 trillion by 2025, up from $100 billion in 2016.

To be sure, Arundo is competing in a market that's rife with opportunity. Consulting firm Accenture estimates the IIoT market could add $14.2 trillion to the global economy by 2030.

"Arguably the biggest driver of productivity and growth in the next decade, the Industrial Internet of Things will accelerate the reinvention of sectors that account for almost two-thirds of world output," the Accenture report says.

Tor Jakob Ramsøy, founder and CEO of Arundo, certainly grasps the enormous potential of IIoT.

"Asset-heavy companies can no longer afford to make business decisions based on an incomplete view of their organization," Ramsøy, a former McKinsey partner, said in a 2018 news release. "By combining deep data and [artificial intelligence] knowledge with decades of cumulative experience in enterprise consulting, Arundo is ushering in a new era in IIoT."

Tracking performance

Courtesy of Arundo

Arundo's Condition & Performance Monitoring Software can easily be plugged into a company's system and track its equipment using cloud technology.

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Greentown Labs hires former Houston sustainability exec

new hire

The country's largest climatetech startup incubator has made a strategic new hire.

Lara Cottingham is the new chief of staff for Greentown Labs, a Boston-area company that opened in Houston earlier this year. Cottingham previously served as the city of Houston's chief sustainability officer and the chief of staff for the city's Administration and Regulatory Affairs Department for the past seven years. In her new role, Cottingham will oversee the day-to-day operations and communications for Greentown's CEO Emily Reichert, along with key stakeholder engagements and strategic initiatives for the incubator.

"Lara brings a tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from her dynamic leadership role at the City of Houston," says Reichert in a news release. "Her breadth of knowledge in sustainability, climate, and the energy transition, and her expertise in regulatory and stakeholder aspects of the energy industry, will be incredibly valuable to our team and community."

Under her leadership at the city of Houston, Cottingham was the chief author of Houston's Climate Action Plan, an initiative aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Houston, and getting the city to a point where it meets the Paris Agreement goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Cottingham helped the city move to 100 percent renewable electricity, according to the release, and helped turn a 240-acre landfill into the nation's largest urban solar farm.

"In leading the Climate Action Plan, Lara helped spark Houston's leadership in what has become a global energy transition and was a passionate advocate for climate action in Houston," says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "While she will be missed, this new role will only strengthen our partnership with Greentown. I look forward to working with Emily, Lara, and the Greentown team to meet our climate goals and make Houston the energy capital of the future."

Before her work at the city, Cottingham worked at Hill+Knowlton Strategies' Houston office range of clients across the energy sector. Earlier in her career, she served as communications director for two congressmen in the U.S. House of Representatives. She began her work with the city in 2014.

"In working with Mayor Turner and Climate Mayors across the U.S., I saw how important partnerships are to helping cities decarbonize," says Cottingham in the release. "There is no better partner or place for climate action at work than Greentown Labs. Greentown is 100 percent committed to attracting and nurturing the energy companies of the future and making Houston the energy transition capital of the world. I'm excited to join the team and see how climatetech can help cities reach their climate goals."

Greentown Labs first announced its entrance into the Houston market last summer. The new 40,000-square-foot facility in Midtown across the street from The Ion opened its prototyping and wet lab space, offices, and community gathering areas for about 50 startup companies opened in April. Greentown was founded in 2011 in Somerville, Massachusetts, and has supported more than 400 startups, which have raised more than $1.5 billion in funding.

Houston edtech nonprofit grows its technology with $440K grant from Kinder Foundation

student-focused

As the learning landscape shifted from in-person to virtual, the ability to provide students with necessary support systems and resources became compromised. However, one Houston edtech company worked hard to close that gap.

ProUnitas, a Houston-based nonprofit, partnered with Thoughtworks, a global technology consultancy, to expand its PurpleSENSE platform to mobile. This partnership was ensured through significant private investment, including a one-time gift of $440,000 from the Kinder Foundation.

ProUnitas promises that this expansion will allow student support teams to take the power of PurpleSENSE with them on the go for easier, real-time response using the new PurpleSENSE mobile app.

"A mobile version of PurpleSENSE will empower student support teams to work more rapidly, efficiently and effectively towards their mission and goals," Chris Murphy, CEO of Thoughtworks North America, says in a news release.

Committed to ensuring that no students fall through the cracks, ProUnitas' purpose is focused on providing all students, including those most impoverished, with support services such as food assistance programs, mental health counseling, and after-school clubs.

"Every day many of our students carry the burden of poverty on their shoulders to school, and despite the availability of services, schools do not have the technology infrastructure necessary to connect students to resources in a coordinated way. We want to change this reality," says Adeeb Barqawi, president and CEO of ProUnitas, says in the release.

Engaged in similar work, the Kinder Foundation was a natural partner.

"The Kinder Foundation believes that children cannot succeed if they are juggling significant personal challenges," says Nancy Kinder, president and CEO of the Kinder Foundation, in the release. "As a result of the pandemic, we are seeing mental health and the impact of stress with fresh eyes. Now is the time to support our children and help them thrive and learn. We are proud to help elevate the work of ProUnitas to reach more schools and more students in this critical time of need."

In a press release, ProUnitas states that through these new mobile capabilities, up to 60 percent of administrative work in providing social service options is eliminated. It also shortens the response time for a student to be identified and receive services by 90 percent.

The expansion of PurpleSENSE to mobile is a critical step for ProUnitas to effectively support more schools and students.

Renewables are Houston's next chapter, says this expert

guest column

Houston has long been known as an innovative city — from medicine to technology to creative cuisines (see Viet-Cajun). I am always proud to see how cultures, education, and change come together to build the fabric of our city. As we look forward to a new future, we need to look no further than one of our strongest industries: energy. As many before me, I've sat down to ask: What does that next chapter look like for Houston?

Renewable energy has rapidly grown in Texas and across the country. Emerging technology has furthered this innovation, bringing wind and solar projects that are more powerful and reliable online from the Panhandle to deep in the Rio Grande Valley. As these new projects come online, aging wind facilities built in the early 2000s are beginning to be revitalized, gleaming bright white with newer, longer blades. And, similar to cleaning out your closet of old clothes, the current blades have to go somewhere. Where others see a problem, we saw an opportunity: We've made a business out of recycling them.

At Everpoint, we are demolishing and removing blades all across the US, with projects in North Dakota, Colorado, and even here in another Texas city, Sweetwater. In this rural Texas town, wind investment took Nolan County market value from $607 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion as development peaked in 2009. This growth enabled the school districts, county, and hospital district to expand and upgrade their facilities. As a trailblazer in the industry, we worked closely with the Sweetwater team to handle a smooth transition, allowing their community to look forward to a breezier future.

The industry is quickly innovating to meet the demands of Texas' future, and new opportunities are forming every day, something we're proud to be a part of, especially as a veteran-owned company. We are driven to make the future of energy more transparent and traceable, that's why we partner with firms like Media Sorcery which uses sensors and an ESG based blockchain built by another Houston firm, Topl, to maintain full accountability throughout the decommissioning process.

Beyond our company, the renewable energy industry employs veterans at a higher rate than the national average, with more than 11,000 in the wind industry alone. As a veteran myself it only made since to team with another veteran founded company to pursue this opportunity. I appreciate meeting fellow veterans every day that are applying the skills they learned in the military: a technical knowledge base, teamwork, and discipline.

Across Texas, renewable energy is powering 40,200 well-paying careers that I know are building toward a better, brighter Houston. It's in our blood to continue the Texas legacy of welcoming energy industries, like wind and solar, into our state. I believe in an all-energy approach to the energy transition. Renewable energy is about more than hearts and minds, it's about dollars and cents.

In honor of that, we are celebrating American Clean Power Week this week, October 25-29, and we hope you will join us. Not to celebrate one industry, but to embrace an all of the above, made in Texas energy future — a future that I know we can all be proud of, and where Houston will be the Energy Capital of the Future.

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Kevin Doffing is the chief commercial officer of Everpoint Services.