Known as the Wayne B. Duddlesten Free Enterprise Institute, the new program will operate in association with the UH Bauer College’s Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and be open to all UH students. Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

A $5 million gift from the Wayne Duddlesten Foundation will establish expanded opportunities for entrepreneurship at the University of Houston, according to an announcement from the college earlier this month.

Known as the Wayne B. Duddlesten Free Enterprise Institute, the new program will operate in association with the UH Bauer College’s Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and be open to all UH students. It's expected to launch in 2024.

UH staff from the Duddlesten Institute and the Wolff Center will be able match budding entrepreneurs across campus with mentors, offer website-building resources, provide legal services and other tools.

"Our goal is to empower imaginative thinkers from idea to market," Paul A. Pavlou, dean of the Bauer College of Business and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor, said in a statement. "We will support the process from a concept to incubation and continue offering necessary resources all the way to launching a successful new business.”

Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, said the new institute will create a new type of "synergy across campus."

"It will help create a fabric of innovation, talent, financial, legal and technical service along with a commitment to long held values of the importance of character and integrity as businesses are created," Cook said. "We are honored to share this vision through this collaboration.”

Duddlesten has been a longtime supporter of the university. The successful real estate developer, who's credited for bringing the Rockets to Houston in the '70s, was a Houston native and UH graduate.

His foundation donated $5 million to establish an endowed scholarship at Bauer for students studying entrepreneurship or real estate in 2020. It also established an endowed Tier One Scholarship and endowed scholarship in the Graduate College of Social Work, as well as 25 one-time scholarships for Wolff Center students over the years.

Duddlesten also served as a trustee emeritus and advisory board member for the UH Foundation and the UH System Development Board before his death in 2010.


Earlier this academic year, Rice University also unveiled a new facility dedicated to Ralph O'Connor, former president and CEO of the Highland Oil Company and founder of Ralph S. O’Connor & Associates. The $152 million, state-of-the-art facility features five floors of labs, classrooms and seminar rooms, and is Rice's largest core campus research facility. Click here to read more.
Rice University and the University of Houston each ranked No. 1 on lists on entrepreneurship programs. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Houston schools reign supreme on lists of best universities for entrepreneurship

we're No. 1

Perhaps Houston warrants a new nickname in addition to Space City and Bayou City. How about Entrepreneurship City?

Rice University tops a new list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs in the U.S., and the University of Houston lands atop a new list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Rice and UH repeated their No. 1 rankings from last year. The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine published both lists November 17.

The Princeton Review ranked graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs based on a survey of administrators at more than 300 graduate and undergraduate schools that offer entrepreneurship programs. Schools were rated according to more than 40 metrics, including the percentage of students taking entrepreneurship courses, the number of startups founded by recent alumni, and the cash prizes offered at school-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Princeton Review, a provider of tutoring, test prep, and college admission services, noted that businesses launched by graduates of Rice's program have launched have raised more than $5.5 billion in capital over the past 10 years. Meanwhile, graduates of UH's program have started over 1,300 businesses in the past 10 years.

Entrepreneurship initiatives at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business include the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, which launched in 2000, and its annual Rice Business Plan Competition; the OwlSpark Accelerator, which began in 2012; and the Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Lilie), which started in 2015. In addition, Rice is developing the Midtown innovation district anchored by The Ion, set to open next spring.

"Entrepreneurship and the creation of new businesses and industries are critical to Houston and Texas' future prosperity and quality of life," Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez says in a release.

Here are two highlights of Rice's offerings:

  • Lilie equips students, faculty and alumni with entrepreneurial prowess through courses, co-curricular opportunities, and resources for founders such as coworking space, mentorship, and equity-free funding. Lilie hosts the university's new venture competition, the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, in which Rice-founded teams compete for $65,000 in equity-free prizes.
  • The Rice Alliance's flagship event is the Rice Business Plan Competition, billed as world's richest and largest student startup competition. Startups from across the globe — including one team from Rice — compete in front of over 300 investor and industry judges. The competition awarded more than $1.3 million in prizes in 2020.

At UH, Paul Pavlou, dean of the C.T. Bauer College of Business, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is woven into the DNA of the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship and the Bauer College.

"Entrepreneurship is at the heart of American business life," Pavlou says in a release. "The culture and values of the Wolff Center allow our students to found successful new companies and bring new and innovative ideas to established organizations. We believe these skills will be even more crucial in the coming years as we seek to rebuild our economy post-COVID-19."

Between 35 and 40 students are accepted each year into the Wolff Center's entrepreneurship program. However, more than 3,000 UH students from 85 different majors took at least one entrepreneurship course last year.

"The students at the Wolff Center are not just passionate about entrepreneurship. They are eager to take the lessons learned in the classroom and enhance their lives," Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a release. "Purpose isn't just a class in [the center]. It is a challenge to create the best life possible, with a focus on the student's values and on doing good in the world."

Other than UH, these Texas schools appeared on the list of the top 50 undergraduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • Baylor University, No. 7
  • University of Texas at Dallas, No. 18
  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 24
  • Texas Christian University, No. 27
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 35

Aside from Rice, these Texas schools made the list of the top 25 graduate entrepreneurship programs:

  • University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, No. 6
  • University of Texas at Dallas, Naveen Jindal School of Management, No. 10
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, Mays School of Business, No. 26

"The schools that made our ranking lists for 2021 all offer exceptional entrepreneurship programs," Rob Franek, The Princeton Review's editor in chief, says in a release. "Their faculties are outstanding. Their courses have robust experiential components, and their students receive outstanding mentoring and networking support."

Beyoncé's dad is teaching a must-attend music business class. Photo courtesy of Mathew Knowles

University of Houston music business course to be taught by Mathew Knowles

DESTINY'S DAD WILL SCHOOL YOU

Ever notice how Beyoncé's hair magically flows as if a fan follows her around everywhere she goes? That's not an accident. That attention to image micro-detail is preached by her father, Mathew Knowles, who created Destiny's Child and Music World Entertainment, the label and production company that boasts two of the top-selling superstars of the previous decade.

Now, music mogul Knowles is sharing his considerable knowledge in a new, 15-week virtual master class at the University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business, running from January 25, 2021 to May 10, 2021. Knowles teases that there will be star-caliber guest instructors and appearances. The $3,000 virtual class is limited to 35 students but open to all who are able to register. (UH students and recent alumni can pay a discounted rate of $1,000.)

"I want to change the way we do things in the music business," Knowles says on a Zoom call. "Unfortunately, we have a very high failure rate [in the music industry]. Part of the reason we have this much failure is the business acumen of the team around the artists. It's not their talent. It's their team."

He hopes to change that with the class, dubbed "The Music Industry and the Digital Age." The class isn't specifically for aspiring artists, but aimed at those "behind the microphone," says Knowles. "Some people will be managers. Others will be independent record labels. Others will be in marketing. Artists will be part of this that would like to know business side of this."

Knowles is one of Houston's great success stories. Once a successful executive at Xerox, he recognized that his daughter, Beyoncé, had extraordinary music talent. He created Destiny's Child, held what he called "music bootcamps" at his home, and took night classes in entertainment management at Houston Community College.

From there, he founded his Music World Entertainment empire in 1992 in a Third Ward house, which mirrored his faraway mentor, Quincy Jones, who ensured every aspect of Motown's operation was all under one roof. Knowles would then become one of the most respected business minds in the music industry; he's taught at Texas Southern University; scored a PhD, and crafted management degrees for other schools. His empire boasts more than 100 award-winning albums and an MTV Video Music Award.

But that success, knowledge, and experience came with trial, error, and considerable money lost. "I wish someone had told me, 'Look, you need to really focus on getting the business acumens of the music industry down,'" he says.

That said, even with Destiny's dad's name attached, students shouldn't expect a get-famous-quick lottery ticket path to success with this class. "They think they can go from zero to a hero," Knowles says of that mindset. "This is not a microwave industry. I always say there is a price of admission to the music industry."

Sign us up. Memo to Professor Knowles: May we request guest lectures by Houston royalty Queen Bey and Lizzo?

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Dean Paul Pavlou of Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston shares how the school quickly pivoted to online classes and services amid the COVID-19 crisis — and how he's taking that tech into future semesters. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

University of Houston business school dean says he's seen enrollment increase amid COVID-19

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 31

About a month ago, the University of Houston announced it's waiving the fees for students during the summer semester. With classes across campus switching to online only in light of the pandemic and the country experiencing historic unemployment, UH made accessibility and affordability a priority.

For the C.T. Bauer College of Business, Dean Paul Pavlou realizes the opportunities that online classes bring — like the ability to serve more students.

"One advantage of online learning is it's very flexible — we aren't confined to the classroom," Pavlou says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've opened up more sections and seats to make it easier for students to sign up."

Bauer has seen enrollment up 70 percent for the summer, and that could be for a few reasons — the waived fees, for instance. But also, with the mandates, many of students' summer plans have been canceled — like travel and internships — have freed up students' time to get ahead in their degree.

The school had just a week to turn its in-person courses into online programming, but that's not all that had to switch to virtual. Library and career services had to make changes as well.

"Career services was one of the most challenging — not because it's so difficult to move online, but because of the tight labor market," Pavlou says. "We were actually pretty close to 100 percent placement before the pandemic."

Ultimately, as he shares on the podcast, Pavlou sees some positive things coming out of this entire experience for the university. The school has been moving forward on creating online-only degree plans that will be more affordable.

"Even when we go back to the classroom eventually, we'll be able to use this technology to supplement the class and then we'll use the classroom time in a more productive fashion," says Pavlou. "In the long run, I see that this technology can help students who cannot physically come to the classroom and can actually get almost the whole experience."

And hey, students don't have to worry about traffic, parking, or sweaty walks across campus to get to class.

Stream the episode with Pavlow below or wherever you get you podcasts — just search for the "Houston Innovators Podcast."


According to a new study, Houston is among the cities most vulnerable to job loss due to the recession caused by COVID-19. Getty Images

COVID-19 could cost Houston 44,000 jobs by the end of the year, says local economist

hits keep coming

No matter whether the outlook leans more toward optimism or pessimism, Houston stands to lose a head-spinning number of jobs in the grips of a coronavirus-induced recession.

Economist Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, says a moderate recession could drain as many as 44,000 jobs from the regional economy by the end of 2020. That's out of nearly 3.2 million workers in the Houston metro area.

The job figures might look "much worse" through the second and third quarters of this year, Gilmer says. However, he adds, Houston's job losses should be followed by a "quick recovery" in 2021.

A study published March 27 by personal finance website SmartAsset predicts an even greater impact on employment in Houston.

SmartAsset forecasts 56,469 full-time and part-time jobs in just the city of Houston, or nearly 5 percent of the local workforce, could be lost in a coronavirus recession. In all, more than 282,000 jobs, or 24.6 percent of the city's workforce, could be in jeopardy, according to the study.

John Diamond, director of the Center for Public Finance at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy, says he thinks Smart Asset's job-loss estimate is "decent" but might be too low.

In light of the federal government's extension of social-distancing guidelines to April 30 and perhaps further extensions, Diamond believes Houston will suffer "substantial" job losses in the next two to four months. After the social-distancing rules are relaxed, Diamond expects an employment bounce-back later in the year.

"The recovery could be rapid if business supply chains and networks remain intact," Diamond says, "and if oil prices rebound by the end of the year."

For his part, Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, pessimistically envisions about 300,000 people in the Houston metro area will lose their jobs, at least in the short term, due to the coronavirus recession and the recent plunge in oil prices. (By comparison, the Economic Policy Institute projects the entire state of Texas will lose 442,717 private-sector jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.)

"COVID-19 is going to be kind of a catch-all spring cleaning excuse for a lot of the oil and gas companies as they try to reduce their payroll," Hirs says.

For now, though, concerns about the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia must "take a back seat" to concerns about COVID-19, he says.

Aside from the energy industry, the escalating economic slump promises to hit several other prominent business sectors in Houston, including hospitality and manufacturing. Hirs thinks a recession could shrink Houston's 2020 economic output by 10 percent.

"This is across the board," he says, "and has the potential to be extraordinarily devastating."

ThinkWhy, a labor analysis firm, believes the impact of the COVID-outbreak on the Houston job market will be more evident in the blow it delivers to international trade than in any boost it provides to the health care sector. "But the pandemic will no doubt have an impact on both," the firm says.

It's already having a tremendous impact on small and midsize businesses in the Houston area. A March 23-28 survey by the Greater Houston Partnership found 34 percent of those businesses already had reduced their headcounts in response to the COVID-19 slowdown. And 55 percent said they're unsure whether they'll wind up carrying out permanent layoffs in the next six months.

"Houstonians like to embrace the notion that their metro was among the last to enter the Great Recession and was among the first to exit. That's not going to be the case this time," economist Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership, wrote in an unvarnished economic assessment published March 20. "All three pillars of Houston's economy — energy, global trade, and the U.S. economy — are tottering. The next 12 to 18 months will likely be very rough for Houston."
UH's business school just received its second largest gift ever. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston receives historic $13M gift for its entrepreneurship program

Money moves

University of Houston's C.T. Bauer College of Business has received its second largest donation to benefit its entrepreneurship program.

The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, which was recently ranked the top undergraduate entrepreneurship program in the country, received the $13 million gift from its namesake foundation — The Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation — and the state of Texas is expected to match an additional $2 million, bringing the total impact to $15 million.

"Our family is deeply committed to the ideals of entrepreneurship," says Cyvia Wolff in a news release. "Our business personified everything that it means to be an entrepreneur. The skills, the thinking, the mindset are fundamental to success for business leaders today and in the future. On behalf of my late husband, we are truly honored to ensure the entrepreneurial legacy not only endures but remains accessible for students. We are truly honored to be part of this program and university."

The money will be used to create three endowments for the program. The Dave Cook Leadership Endowment, named for the center's director, Dave Cook, will be created and funded with $7 million of the donation to support leadership within the organization. For $4 million, the center will create the Wolff Legacy Endowment, which aims to increase students involved in the center, as well as the companies coming out of the program. The last $2 million will be used to create the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Endowed Chair(s)/Professorship(s) in Entrepreneurship. This initiative will support research and community outreach.

"We are passionate about entrepreneurship and how it can forever change students' lives," says Bauer Dean Paul A. Pavlou in the release. "We seek to further promote entrepreneurship as a university-wide, even citywide effort, by collaborating within and across the university in a multitude of areas, such as technology, health care, arts and sports."

The program was created in the mid '90s and was later renamed after Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff in 2007, and has seen great success over the past decade. In that time, Wolff students have created 1,270 businesses, with identified funding of just over $268 million. According to the release, the program has been ranked in the top two spots of the Princeton Review's top undergraduate entrepreneurship programs for nine of the past 12 years.

"Entrepreneurship is crucial for the future of our country, as well as our city and state," says UH President Renu Khator in the release. "We are proud to be at the forefront of work around entrepreneurial training and research. The uniqueness of our program has and continues to make it the model program. This extraordinary gift ensures our leadership in this space will continue and will support the creation of businesses, change communities and impact our students' lives."

At UH, 2,500 students take at least one entrepreneurship course a year, and more than 700 students complete certificate programs.

"What we are doing is transformative in the lives of students, mentors and stakeholders in a way that elevates everyone towards excellence," Cook, who was named the director of the program in 2017, says in the release. "The impact of this gift allows us to remain the leader and to move forward with confidence, purpose and permanence."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston is the 4th best U.S. city for Black professionals, report finds

Black History Month

In acknowledgement of Black History Month 2024, a new report compiled by Black employees at online rental marketplace Apartment List has ranked Houston the No. 4 best U.S. city for Black professionals.

Apartment List reviewed 76 cities across four major categories to determine the rankings: community and representation; economic opportunity; housing opportunity; and business environment.

Houston earned a score of 63.01 out of a total 100 points, making it the second-highest-ranked city in Texas for Black professionals, behind San Antonio (No. 3).

The city earned top-10 rankings in three out of the four main categories:

  • No. 3 – Business environment
  • No. 4 – Community and representation
  • No. 10 – Economic opportunity
  • No. 21 – Housing opportunity

Houston is commended for its strong Black business environment and economy, but there is some room for improvement when it comes to housing. Similarly to Apartment List's 2022 report – which also placed Houston at No. 4 – a little less than half (44 percent) of all Black Houston households are spending over 30 percent of their income on housing, which has increased two percent since 2019.

Houston has a larger Black population than San Antonio, at 19 percent, but its Black population share is overall lower than other cities in the top 10.

"Furthermore, the community is well-represented in some critical occupations: 20 percent of teachers are Black, as are 21 percent of doctors," the report said. "Houston is also home to the HBCU Texas Southern University, helping a job market when the median Black income is several thousand dollars above average."

Houston also has the highest rate of Black-owned businesses in the entire state, at 18 percent.

"From the Mitochondria Gallery to Ten Skyncare and Wisdom’s Vegan Bakery, Houston has it all!" the report said.

Here's how Houston stacked up in other metrics:

  • Black homeownership: 42 percent
  • Black lawyers: 14 percent
  • Black managers: 14 percent

Elsewhere in Texas
Texas cities dominated the overall top 10. San Antonio ranked just above Houston, with Dallas (No. 6) and Austin (No. 7) not too far behind.

San Antonio came in less than 2.5 points ahead of Houston with a total score of 65.44 points. The report praised San Antonio's scores across its economic opportunity (No. 2), housing opportunity (No. 7), and community and representation (No. 10). The city ranked No. 20 for its Black business environment.

But like Houston, San Antonio also fell behind in its Black homeownership rates, according to the study.

"While the Black homeownership rate is higher than average at 44 percent, the homeownership gap (Black homeownership rate - non-Black homeownership rate) quite low at -19 percent," the report's author wrote. "Perhaps this could be explained by San Antonio’s overall homeownership rate, which is also lower than the state’s average. Additionally, the lower homeownership gap could explain the cost burden rate also being lower than average at 41 percent."

The top 10 cities for Black professionals are:

  • No. 1 – Washington, D.C.
  • No. 2 – Atlanta, Georgia
  • No. 3 – San Antonio, Texas
  • No. 4 – Houston, Texas
  • No. 5 – Palm Bay, Florida
  • No. 6 – Dallas, Texas
  • No. 7 – Austin, Texas
  • No. 8 – Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • No. 9 – Lakeland, Florida
  • No. 10 – Charlotte, North Carolina
The full report and its methodology can be found on apartmentlist.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert: Can Houston replicate and surpass the success of Silicon Valley?

guest column

Anyone who knows me knows, as a Houston Startup Founder, I often muse about the still developing potential for startups in Houston, especially considering the amount of industry here, subject matter expertise, capital, and size.

For example, Houston is No. 2 in the country for Fortune 500 Companies — with 26 Bayou City companies on the list — behind only NYC, which has 47 ranked corporations, according to Fortune.

Considering layoffs, fund closings, and down rounds, things aren’t all that peachy in San Francisco for the first time in a long time, and despite being a Berkeley native, I’m rooting for Houston now that I’m a transplant.

Let’s start by looking at some stats.

While we’re not No. 1 in all areas, I believe we have the building blocks to be a major player in startups, and in tech (and not just energy and space tech). How? If the best predictor of future success is history, why not use the template of the GOAT of all startup cities: San Francisco and YCombinator. Sorry fellow founders – you’ve heard me talk about this repeatedly.

YCombinator is considered the GOAT of Startup Accelerators/Incubators based on:

  1. The Startup success rate: I’ve heard it’s as high as 75 percent (vs. the national average of 5 to 10 percent) Arc Search says 50 percent of YC Co’s fail within 12 years – not shabby.
  2. Their startup-to-unicorn ratio: 5 to 7 percent of YC startups become unicorns depending on the source — according to an Arc Search search (if you haven’t tried Arc Search do – super cool).
  3. Their network.

YC also parlayed that success into a "YC Startup School" offering:

  1. Free weekly lessons by YC partners — sometimes featuring unicorn alumni
  2. A document and video Library (YC SAFE, etc)
  3. Startup perks for students (AWS cloud credits, etc.)
  4. YC co-founder matching to help founders meet co-founders

Finally, there’s the over $80 billion in returns, according to Arc search, they’ve generated since their 2005 inception with a total of 4,000 companies in their portfolio at over $600 billion in value. So GOAT? Well just for perspective there were a jaw-dropping 18,000 startups in startup school the year I participated – so GOAT indeed.

So how do they do it? Based on anecdotal evidence, their winning formula is said to be the following well-oiled process:

  1. Bring over 282 startups (the number in last cohort) to San Francisco for 90 days to prototype, refine the product, and land on the go-to-market strategy. This includes a pre-seed YC SAFE investment of a phased $500,000 commitment for a fixed min 7 percent of equity, plus more equity at the next round’s valuation, according to YC.
  2. Over 50 percent of the latest cohort were idea stage and heavily AI focused.
  3. Traction day: inter-portfolio traction the company. YC has over 4,000 portfolio companies who can and do sign up for each other’s companies products because “they’re told to."
  4. Get beta testers and test from YC portfolio companies and YC network.
  5. If they see the traction scales to a massively scalable business, they lead the seed round and get this: schedule and attend the VC meetings with the founders.
  6. They create a "fear of missing out" mentality on Sand Hill Road as they casually mention who they’re meeting with next.
  7. They block competitors in the sector by getting the top VC’s to co-invest with then in the seed so competitors are locked out of the A list VC funding market, who then are up against the most well-funded and buzzed about players in the space.

If what I've seen is true, within a six-month period a startup idea is prototyped, tested, pivoted, launched, tractioned, seeded, and juiced for scale with people who can ‘make’ the company all in their corner, if not already on their board.

So how on earth can Houston best this?

  1. We have a massive amount of businesses — around 200,000 — and people — an estimated 7.3 million and growing.
  2. We have capital in search of an identity beyond oil.
  3. Our Fortune 500 companies that are hiring consultants for things that startups here that can do for free, quicker, and for a fraction of the extended cost.
  4. We have a growing base of tech talent for potential machine learning and artificial intelligence talent
  5. A sudden shot at the increasingly laid off big tech engineers.
  6. We have more accelerators and incubators.

What do we need to pull it off?

  1. An organized well-oiled YC-like process
  2. An inter-Houston traction process
  3. An "Adopt a Startup" program where local companies are willing to beta test and iterate with emerging startup products
  4. We have more accelerators but the cohorts are small — average five to 10 per cohort.
  5. Strategic pre-seed funding, possibly with corporate partners (who can make the company by being a client) and who de-risk the investment.
  6. Companies here to use Houston startup’s products first when they’re launched.
  7. A forum to match companies’ projects or labs groups etc., to startups who can solve them.
  8. A process in place to pull all these pieces together in an organized, structured sequence.

There is one thing missing in the list: there has to be an entity or a person who wants to make this happen. Someone who sees all the pieces, and has the desire, energy and clout to make it happen; and we all know this is the hardest part. And so for now, our hopes of besting YC may be up in the air as well.

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Jo Clark is the founder of Circle.ooo, a Houston-based tech startup that's streamlining events management.

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.