Another Offshore Technology Conference, another Venture Day hosted by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. Photo by Zukiman Mohamad/Pexels

Fourteen companies pitched at the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's Energy Venture Day at the 2021 Offshore Technology Conference, and virtual attendees voted on the companies they think are the most promising.

The companies, which hailed from three countries, again pitched virtually. Last year's venture day was also hosted virtually. The event's judging panel usually names 10 of the most promising companies at the event, however, just like last year, Rice Alliance put the power into the people viewing the pitches online.

Here are the four most promising energy tech companies that pitched at the annual OTC event.

American Hydrogen

Image via amhydrogen.com

Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, American Hydrogen offers a fully integrated, end-to-end implementation solutions for hydrogen generation, storage, and distribution facilities.

"With roots in traditional energy, the American Hydrogen management team consists of senior oil and gas professionals who have spend decades developing infrastructure in prominent energy hubs across the United States. Through this field experience our team can furnish reliable and proven execution for an emerging clean technology market," per the company's website.

Alabastron Technologies

Image via alabastron.net

Houston-based Alabastron Technologies has developed a sensor that can detect organic and inorganic deposition in pipelines before any actual deposits form.

"Our service is a real-time closed-loop sensing, measurement and control strategy that remotely monitors oil production and the tendency of flow-restricting-substances or depositions prior to actual deposition," reads the company's website.

Applied Bioplastics

Photo via Getty Images

Applied Bioplastics, based in Austin, is commercializing an alternative to plastic by combining it plant fiber — operating with a carbon footprint 30 percent smaller than traditional plastic.

"Our products reduce petroleum dependency, pollution, and habitat destruction. Through our supply chains, we support eco-friendly agriculture in developing countries," according to the website.

DataSeer

Photo via dataseer.digital

Houston-based DataSeer is a cloud-based software application uses artificial intelligence to automatically detect, label and extract information from engineering data. The technology improves its customer's quality control and quality assurance of data extraction at scale.

"DataSeer was built in close collaboration with users at some of the largest engineering firms in the world, who we are proud to call our customers," the website reads.

Greentown Labs has announced its inaugural batch of members for its new Houston location. Photo via greentownlabs.com

New-to-Houston cleantech incubator names inaugural members

to the lab

A Somerville, Massachusetts-based cleantech accelerator has announced the 16 startups that will be a part of its new Houston incubator program.

Greentown Labs named the companies in the cohort this week just a few weeks after announcing the location of its new lab and workspace. The 40,000-square-foot space is being renovated from a former grocery store and is expected to open next spring.

"These early-access members are innovating across the key greenhouse gas-emitting sectors—including electricity, manufacturing, buildings, and more—and their solutions are helping create a sustainable future for all," reads a blog post on the company's website.

Here are Greentown Houston's inaugural members:

  • Austin-based Applied Bioplastics is creating affordable plastic alternatives with plant matter to help reduce consumers' carbon footprint.
  • Black Mountain Metals, based in Fort Worth, is focused on nickel and copper mining for lithium-ion battery cathodes.
  • Carbon Free Technologies created a home battery system that can store electricity when rates are low.
  • ClearValue uses pure hydrogen and oxygen as a sustainable power system.
  • e^2: equitable energy is described as a "multi-brand cause-marketing platform" that connects consumers to sustainable energy solutions through promotion and incentivization.
  • Eclipse Solar Projects builds, owns, and operates solar projects across the country through new technology and battery storage operations.
  • Houston-based Ennuity Holdings allows users to have access to solar energy subscription service — even though they don't have access to installing panels themselves.
  • Excipicio Energy , based in Houston, is taking renewable energy offshore by integrating wind, wave, and more into a single floating platform.
  • Houston-based Quantum New Energy platform, EnerWisely, helps people and companies make smart energy choices "to maximize their monetary savings and reduce their environmental impacts."
  • Spring, Texas-based Renu Energy is creating sustainable change through waste recycling and community engagement, according to its website.
  • REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, based in North Carolina, is working on a power generator that can be used in the offshore setting.
  • Houston-based Revterra is developing a long-duration energy storage solution.
  • Skylark, based in Houston, created a "broadband last-mile radio systems for internet service providers, with a focus on 40 million unserved Americans in rural markets."
  • Austin-based swytchX is working on a cloud-based SaaS solution that uses blockchain technology to optimize renewable energy delivery.
  • Houston-based Varea Energy, a software company, uses data to build business models focusing on eliminating barriers to green initiatives.
  • California-based Veloce Energy develops faster electric vehicle charging infrastructure.
Companies interested in joining the incubator should reach out to Greentown Labs online.

The 16 startups will move into the Greentown space when it opens in the spring. Image via greentownlabs.com

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.