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The Cannon Houston's third location is planned to open on December 9. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

A Houston entrepreneurial hub plans to open its third coworking space location only a few weeks after its main campus debuted in West Houston.

The Cannon Houston's newest location will be a 17,000-square-foot space on the top floor of The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main in Downtown Houston. The opening date for the new space is Monday, December 9.

The announcement follows the grand opening of The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot flagship space, which is now close to being completely leased by startups and small businesses, and represents another step in the company's ambitious expansion plan.

"We've long known that we will need multiple locations across Houston in order to serve our mission of supporting Houston's entrepreneurs, and we are thrilled to work with an incredibly forward-thinking organization like Amegy to continue to fulfill this mission," says Cannon founder and president, Lawson Gow, in a news release. "The Cannon Tower at Amegy on Main will be unlike any other space in the city, in which we will be developing a 'vertical village' of innovation, programs, and resources, transforming Amegy on Main into a hub for Downtown Houston's entrepreneurs."

Gow — who is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media — recently transitioned into his position as The Cannon named Jon Lambert as CEO earlier this month.

The Cannon's space is just one part of the equation that is the Downtown Launch Pad — a joint project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank. The Amegy building will also house MassChallenge and gener8or, as well as event and common space for programming on the 11th floor.

"Amegy Bank is thrilled to be a part of the expansion of the innovation community by offering space, amenities, and business development support," says Kelly Foreman, Amegy Bank's senior vice president and manager of corporate real estate and facilities, in a news release. "We have a long track record of helping businesses grow, and creating this space for a hub of start-ups and accelerators is yet another way to do just that."

Moving forward, The Cannon will play a role in expanding workspace, resources, and programming in the building. The space is now open for leasing, and the first 100 members to join the new space will receive free parking for the course of their membership.

Plans for growth

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon Houston will be a major player as the Downtown Launch Pad expands throughout the building.

At The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel of the week, representatives from The Cannon, Amergy Bank, and Central Houston discussed game-changing plans for the Downtown Launch Pad. Image courtesy of The Cannon

3 takeaways from The Houston Innovation Summit's first panel

ICYMI

The Houston Innovation Summit is in full swing, and the first panel of the week's events started strong. Representatives from The Cannon Houston, Amegy Bank, and MassChallenge took the stage at Amegy Bank's downtown office — soon to be converted into the Downtown Launch Pad — to discuss big picture topics within Houston Innovation.

Grace Rodriguez hosted the panel that covered diversity and inclusion efforts, the growth of The Cannon, and what you can expect from Launch Pad. Here's what you may have missed from the event.

The Downtown Launchpad will shake up the innovation ecosystem

Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston and an advisory board member for MassChallenge, set the scene for Houston innovation a few year ago. Houston was overlooked for the Amazon headquarters, and it was the wakeup call Houston needed.

Now, the city, with the help of organizations like Central Houston, has attracted major top 10 accelerators in the world to town and plans to house them in the same space — the Downtown Launch Pad, which is a joint venture project between Central Houston, Downtown Redevelopment Authority, The Cannon, and Amegy Bank.

The Launch Pad will occupy a few floors in the Amegy building to start. There will be coworking and event space, as well as a floor dedicated to MassChallenge and gener8tor — the two new-to-Houston accelerators.

"We'll be the only place in the United States that has co-located two top 10 accelerators," Pieroni says.

The project also is working with an incubator yet to be announced to help bring into the fold undeserved startups and entrepreneurs in Houston, and there will also be a bootcamp targeted directly at the disadvantaged within the innovation ecosystem.

From Amegy's perspective, the bank is committed to growing the building to being something unique and effective for startups, says Andy Buchmann, vice president of corporate real estate and property management at Amegy Bank.

"We are hopeful that this is only the first two floors that we have figured out, and we hope there are other three or four that come behind it as it grows into a real hub for startups in the years to come," Buchmann says.

The Cannon's new CEO has global growth on the mind

Earlier this month, The Cannon Houston brought on Jon Lambert to serve as CEO as the company plans to grow and scale. Lambert, who joined the panel, says that the Downtown Launch Pad was well timed for The Cannon as it's looking to find the optimal areas of the city to grow.

"The distribution of the city is unlike any other in terms of the pockets of where people live and work," Lambert says, adding that The Cannon has an opportunity to reach these pockets.

Looking beyond Houston — and even Texas, the company is poised for growth by taking its model to cities — nationally and even globally — that are underserved when it comes to coworking and incubation space.

"You'd be astonished at some of the people reaching out to us," Lambert says on the panel. Some of this interest, Lambert adds, is setting up The Cannon as a global entry point for international companies looking to do business in Houston.

Inclusivity is the priority

With global initiatives and with Houston being the most diverse city in America, the city's innovation ecosystem has a great responsibility to provide inclusion, and each of the panelists maintains that their organizations have that as a top priority.

The Launch Pad is being developed with this in mind, and Pieroni says it's in the perfect place to do that. Amegy Bank has long been committed to small businesses and the building's location — across the street from METRO's Downtown Transit Center — makes it so that anyone in Houston can get to the hub.

Gener8tor and MassChallenge are also committed to providing programming at no cost, which will open doors to the entire community to get involved.

"As a part of our agreement with gener8tor, the will host free lunch and learns with the community monthly," Pieroni says. "We are working with MassChallenge to make them even more frequent."

The Downtown Launch Pad will house accelerator programs MassChallenge and gener8tor and coworking space from The Cannon. Photo courtesy of Downtown Launch Pa

New innovation ‘vertical village’ announced for downtown Houston

Coming soon

The Cannon Houston, a startup incubator and coworking space, and Houston-based Amegy Bank announced a partnership to create a 17,000-square-foot innovation space in downtown.

The Downtown Launch Pad is expected to open on a few floors of the Amegy Bank building at 1801 Main St. in the spring. Along with coworking space, the new hub will house MassChallenge Texas, which had its inaugural cohort earlier this year, and gener8tor, an early acceleration program announced in last month.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the project at Central Houston Inc.'s annual meeting on October 24. Both the accelerators that will be in the new hub received a combined combined $4 million in economic development grants from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority to be distributed over the next five years.

"Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority are committed to establishing Downtown Houston as a nexus for innovation and a leader in urban entrepreneurship," says Bob Eury, president of both entities, in a news release. "We've found strong, strategic partners in Amegy Bank and The Cannon, both of which are committed to fostering and sustaining a vibrant innovation culture in Houston, from startup to production."

Amegy Bank has tapped Gensler for the redesign. The 13th floor of the building will house the coworking space powered by The Cannon. This space is expected to open before the end of the year.

"We originally created The Cannon to be the missing piece in Houston's startup ecosystem," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media. "Through the Cannon Tower and The Downtown Launch Pad, we are excited to join up with Central Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Amegy Bank to create an entire 'vertical village' of innovation—a system of floors at Amegy on Main that will provide Houston's entrepreneurs with all the programs and resources they need to thrive."

The building's 10th and 11th floors will also be a part of the Downtown Launch Pad. The 10th floor will house the two accelerators, and the 11th floor will be a dedicated event space. The lobby of the building will be a common space for all members of the Cannon Tower and will have meeting rooms, a game room, work stations, a coffee bar, and a deli.

"Amegy Bank has a long history of reinvesting in the local community and supporting Texas families and businesses," says Kelly Foreman, senior vice president and corporate real estate and facilities manager for Amegy. "Now, through our partnerships with The Cannon and The Launch Pad, we are taking our commitment to small businesses to the next level by converting a part of Amegy on Main into a hub for emerging technology and start-up companies that aligns all the players across the entrepreneurial spectrum—corporations, mentors, investors, service providers and the startups themselves. This combination of offerings and capabilities will unlock significant value for Downtown, helping to attract and retain companies from not only Houston, but from around the country."

The funds will go toward bringing a new, pre-accelerator program to Houston. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves $1.25 million grant for new-to-Houston accelerator program

New to town

Houston has yet again attracted a nationally recognized accelerator program to downtown. Wisconsin-based genera8tor has announced its plans to launch its pre-accelerator program, gBETA, in Houston in spring of next year thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

"With gener8tor joining nonprofit global accelerator MassChallenge in Downtown, the Houston innovation ecosystem will be home to two nationally ranked accelerators," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "This agreement furthers Central Houston's long-term goal to create a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown and helps bridge the gap between small local startups and the city's growing innovation economy."

The grant will not exceed $1.25 million and will be paid out over the next five years. Gener8tor will have two gBETA cohorts a year, and the seven-week program will have a max of five teams across industries. The program will be equity-free and at no cost to participants accepted into the program. The program will also host six lunch-and-learn events that will be free and open to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"The city of Houston's leadership is supporting its community members to be the economic drivers of tomorrow," says Abby Taubner, partner at gener8tor and managing director of gBETA, in the release. "We are humbled and excited to be part of the palpable excitement surrounding the local startup ecosystem, and cannot wait to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

According to gener8tor, a third of gBETA graduates will advance to a later stage equity-based accelerator program or raise a seed round of at least $50,000, and gBETA graduates from across the organization's eight states have collectively raised $57.7 million and created 716 jobs.

This announcement comes on the heels of MasChallenge Texas launching its Houston program earlier this year, as well as Silicon Valley's Plug and Play Technology Center entering the Houston market as well this year. Houston's downtown landscape has become a major hotbed for tech and innovation, with UiPath opening a major Houston office and coworking space popping up across downtown.

"Innovation is the next economic frontier for Houston, and gener8tor's gBETA program will help bridge the gap between the city's legacy industries—energy, medicine, space exploration and the port—and our growing innovation ecosystem of startup accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "gBETA is the latest leap into that future, following in the exciting footsteps of The Ion innovation hub; the relocation or expansion of Silicon Valley firms to Houston such as Bill.com, UiPath and Google Cloud; the plans for the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 translational research commercialization campus; and so much more."

Midway's GreenStreet in downtown will be the site of MassChallenge Texas' Houston program. Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

MassChallenge Texas announces the 26 companies in its inaugural Houston cohort

Startup studs

Since announcing its entrance into the Houston innovation market in January, MassChallenge Texas has been scoring the city — and the rest of the world — for the accelerator programs inaugural cohort. Now, the organization is ready to announce its 26 startups ahead of the program's July 22 launch.

The 26 companies come from three countries and six states, and half have female founders. The startups are mostly within the health care and high tech industries — eight companies reside in each of those categories. Two companies are energy related, and one company has a social impact focus. The remaining seven companies are categorized as "general," according to the release.

"We have an incredibly diverse cohort of startups for our first MassChallenge Texas in Houston program," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, in the news release. "The startups cross five industries, where 50 percent of the startups come from outside of Houston bringing talent from innovation hubs like New York, San Francisco, and Switzerland. Proving that Houston's global reach is not just for the Fortune 500 and that startups are looking for their place in the global economy, something that Houston is uniquely suited to offer."

As a part of MassChallenge, the selected startups aren't asked for equity in order to participate, and free coworking space, more than $250K in deals and discounts, and more prizes await the top companies at the conclusion of the six-week programming.

Throughout the accelerator, MassChallenge will provide training, guidance, and corporate connections with a large network of companies, such as Southwest Airlines, TMAC, WeWork, USAA, Upstream, Central Houston, the City of Houston, Lionstone, Midway, BAE Systems, BHP, Ingram Micro, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Houston Texans. Houston-based Reliant, an NRG company, is the latest corporate partner to join those ranks, according to the release.

Over 280 companies applied for the program, says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development for Central Houston, in the release, a clear indication for him that the Houston program was a good decision for both the city and MassChallenge.

"When we set out to find a partner to support our innovation initiatives, we were seeking a catalyst for Houston's innovation ecosystem," Pieroni says in the release. "We knew we needed an organization that matched Houston's global reach and our passion for bringing creative ideas to life through business."

Without further adieu, here are the 26 companies that begin their MassChallenge journey on July 22:

  • AeroGenics (Iowa,)
  • AeroMINE (Texas,): AeroMINE is a motionless wind turbine created for the building environment. It installs like solar panels but is more cost effective.
  • Animatus Biosciences, LLC (Texas): Animatus Biosciences is an R&D company focusing on the development of unique regenerative therapeutics based on our modified mRNA platform.
  • Ask Doss (Texas): DOSS is a Real Estate Operations System (ReOS) that will radically simplify how people search (voice activated) and transact real estate.
  • Bell Analytics (Texas)
  • Bright Angle (Texas): Bright Angle is a Pinterest style activity platform for teachers, students, parents, and admins that is the "chalkboard" of the 21st century
  • Camppedia Inc. (Texas): Camppedia plans to disrupt the $18B children's camps industry and in the process improve the lives of millions of working parents.
  • Captain (Texas): Captain is a user-friendly, multi-sided platform that connects outdoor sports adventurers and guides.
  • Celise (Virginia): Celise is a compostable disposables company in the foodservice industry that aims to replace and eliminate single-use plastic waste.
  • Combined Arms [CAX-X] (Texas): Combined Arms is a forward-thinking nonprofit that is committed to unleashing the impact of veterans on Houston.
  • DoBrain (Republic of Korea): DoBrain is a children's diagnosis app that detects neuropsychological markers indicative of developmental delays.
  • Door Space Inc. (Texas): Door Space built a cloud-based platform that automates professional credential management and verification for clinicians and their employers.
  • ElecTrip (Texas): ElecTrip offers city-to-city, door-to-door transportation services in private-professionally driven Teslas with Wi-Fi and laptop charging. Book online to any major Texas-based city.
  • FloodFrame (Texas): FloodFrame is a concealed flood protection system that utilizes the natural buoyant force of water to deploy and protect your home.
  • Māk Studio (Texas): Māk Studio is a fabrication studio in the heart of Houston. We design and fabricate custom walls and furniture for commercial interiors.
  • NeuroRescue (Ohio): NeuroRescue improves the standard of care used to treat stroke, brain injury, and cardiac arrest to increase neurological outcome by up to forty-percent.
  • Noleus Technologies Inc. (Texas): Noleus is a novel medical device that reduces post op ileus, saves post op hospital days and accelerates patient recovery
  • ORDRS (Texas)
  • PTC Wizard (New York): PTC Wizard helps K-12 schools streamline their scheduling and sign-up process thereby improving parent involvement and decreasing overhead.
  • RehabMaker Corp. (California): Rehabmaker is a manufacturer of exercise equipment that attaches to wheelchairs and allows people to move their legs.
  • Reveal Technologies (Texas)
  • Sensytec Inc. (Texas): Sensytec is revolutionizing the oil & gas, and construction industries by bringing smart cement technologies and real-time data collection.
  • Swoovy (Texas): Swoovy is a mobile app that connects single people and volunteer opportunities with nonprofits, as a date.
  • Waterdata (Ticino, Switzerland): Waterdata offers Liquidprice, an Intelligent pricing software that optimizes prices with AI by adapting to customers, competitors and market behavior quickly.
  • WellWorth (Texas)
  • Zero5 (California)
Downtown Houston has over 100,000-square-feet of new coworking space expected to open by the end of 2020. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

These are the 3 downtown Houston coworking concepts expecting to deliver by end of 2020

Digesting downtown

Recently, Houston got a "needs improvement" on its coworking space report card — but the tide is changing as more and more coworking spaces plan to open in town — especially in the downtown sector.

Houston's current coworking space volume ranked it No. 15, according to a report from Colliers International, which fell behind Dallas and Austin. However, Houston has many future projects due to deliver in the next 18 months or so — including over 100,000 square feet of space in downtown alone.

Downtown has a slew of features that's made it attractive to coworking companies — public transportation, various retail and restaurant concepts, green spaces — but commercial real estate has typically been reserved for major corporations who can afford it, says Robert Pieroni, Central Houston's director of economic development.

"There's been a lot of new opportunities for companies — startups and companies who previously couldn't afford to be in the downtown market — to now be in the downtown market," Pieroni tells InnovationMap. "So, we've seen an influx of smaller companies particularly in the tech sector."

However, it's those major corporations sprinkled around downtown that have made Houston so attractive to startups and accelerators, Pieroni says, and these major corporations are willing to connect with entrepreneurs and startups.

"There's no difference on paper in our talent and the innovation hubs around the world," Pieroni says. "The one thing we have to offer startups that other places don't have to offer in Texas is we have the largest corporate presence in the state of Texas here in Houston."

The new coworking options are slowly changing the way commercial brokers approach leases for startups. Traditionally, brokers are wary of short-term leases.

"It's not because [the startups] are afraid they are going to go out of business," Pieroni says. "They're afraid that they are going to grow at such a rapid pace."

Two new-to-Houston tech companies opened offices in downtown Houston just this year. Oil and gas AI-enabled analytics platform, Ruths.ai, and global robotics company UiPath, which has a presence in 18 countries, moved into the Main&Co at 114 Main. And, Pieroni says, Central Houston expects more to come in that arena.

"We're having conversations daily with multiple companies that are evaluating coming to downtown Houston," he says.

Here's a breakdown of the three coworking spaces expecting to deliver in downtown Houston over the next 18 months.

Spaces brings second largest coworking space in downtown

Spaces, an Amsterdam-based coworking space company that entered the Houston market with a lease in Kirby Grove announced in 2017, has two more Spaces locations planned for end of 2019. Courtesy of Midway

Size: 63,000 square feet of workspace in repurposed retail space.

Estimated timeline: Opening later in 2019

Special features: Open space, smaller team rooms, private offices, phone booths, and a 3,000-square foot rooftop patio.

Other locations: Amsterdam-based Spaces has 3,300 flexible workspace locations across the world — another in Houston's Kirby Grove and one coming to Two Post Oak Central.

Overheard: "Spaces fits perfectly in GreenStreet, a mixed-use district that is being redeveloped as the new model of urban lifestyle," says Chris Seckinger, vice president and investment manager for Midway, in a release.

Life Time Work announces second Houston location

GreenStreet will soon have coworking space and a gym from Life Time. Courtesy of Midway Cos.

Square footage: 38,000 square feet of coworking space (additional 56,000 square feet of wellness space adjacent)

Estimated timeline: Opening in 2020.

Special features: Private offices, reserved desk, events, coffee, as well as other services.

Other locations: Last year, Minnesota-based Life Time Inc. opened its first location of Life Time Work in Pennsylvania as well as announced its second location headed to Houston's CIty Centre, which is expected to open later this year.

Overheard: "GreenStreet aligns well with our vision to meet the changing needs of consumers by bringing Life Time — through our athletic destinations and coworking space — as a lifestyle asset to bustling and successful developments," says Parham Javaheri, Minnesota-based Life Time's executive vice president of real estate and development, in a release. "We look forward to becoming an anchor to this new model of urban living in 2020."

Brookfield Properties' Houston Center renovation

Brookfield Properties is currently renovating Houston Center. One of the new amenities will be coworking space. Courtesy of Brookfield

Square footage: The total project is projected to be 4 million square feet, but it's unclear how much of that will be for the coworking aspect.

Estimated timeline: Construction should be concluded by late 2020.

Special features: A new central plaza and greenspace, a digital water wall, entertainment space, an iconic stair connection to new landscaped terraces, two-story glass façade, reclad skybridges, a new 10,000-SF fitness center, new dining and retail.

Other locations: Currently, Brookfield doesn't have any other coworking locations in Houston.

Overheard: "Brookfield continues to look to the future by transforming another of their Downtown properties into an amenity-rich development. This progressive, strategic shift accommodates the blurred lines of today's live-work-play corporate culture that tenants desire," says Bob Eury, Downtown District president, in a release. "In addition, the re-imagining of Houston Center and McKinney Street will add to Downtown's list of attractions creating a bustling linear space lined with restaurants, nightlife, parks and landscaping, connecting Main Street to Discovery Green and Avenida Houston."


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East Houston development launches smart city initiative with new hire

smart city

A 4,200-acre master-planned development that's rising on the east side of town has created a new role within their executive suite to drive innovation and a new smart city initiative.

Houston-based real estate developer, McCord, has hired Nick Cardwell as vice president of digital innovation. In the newly created role, Cardwell will be tasked with bringing data-driven solutions, digital transformation, and other smart city innovation to Generation Park.

"Sensor technology, machine learning, and big data capabilities have exploded in the last decade and are rapidly outpacing the built world," says Ryan McCord, president of McCord, in a press release. "Bolting this digital future onto aging cities is no easy task. With Generation Park, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to start from the beginning and rapidly prove up hardware and software technology solutions, at a massive scale."

Both the size of the development — which is larger than Google's Sidewalk Labs project in Canada and Toyota's Woven City in Japan, according to the release — and location are what provides Generation Park with this opportunity for smart city technology.

"Generation Park, while being physically many times larger than most smart city projects, also benefits from being located in a more physically, socially, and economically diverse test bed of a notoriously low-regulation part of the United States — Houston, Texas," McCord continues.

As the development is currently still being worked on, McCord's current focus right now is tapping into data to drive project and design decisions.

Cardwell has a background in technology and was previously overseeing operations and engineering at Austin-based construction software company, Bractlet.

"McCord's vision for Generation Park is the future of commercial development, pushing digital innovation into the forefront and leveraging cutting-edge technologies throughout their portfolio. I am beyond thrilled to join the McCord team and help make that vision a reality," says Cardwell, in the release. "Through the use of experiences, data, and collaborations, we will accelerate learnings and, in turn, advance resources that will truly improve people's lives."

Nick Cardwell has been hired as vice president of digital innovation at McCord. Photo courtesy of McCord

Houston lab develops game-changing supplement for cell heath

miracle worker

Rajan Shah, an MIT-trained chemical engineer, brought his patented manufacturing process 20 years in the making and from an ocean away to Houston with one goal in mind: to take what he calls the body's "master antioxidant" to market.

Known as Continual G, Shah's product packs the supplement known as Glyteine into a powder form that when mixed with water can be consumed as a citrus-flavored beverage. Glyteine is known to increase cellular glutathione levels in the body, which can boost immunity, support sports activity and recovery, and address a variety of oxidative stressors that impact the body and brain as humans age.

Shah and a team of four at his INID Research Lab in Cypress are the only company in the world producing the dipeptide in this accessible format.

"The fact that the only way to increase cellular glutathione is with Glyteine has been known for almost 40 years," Shah says. "The problem is how to make it in a way which becomes cost effective so that it can be sold and people can afford to buy it."

It was this problem that Shah and a team at the University of New South Wales in Australia spent about 13 years tackling, as the creation the Glyteine — which requires the rare catalyzation of enzymes — would leave researchers with expensive byproduct that would result in high costs for little product. But in 2005, the university was awarded a patent for the manufacturing process the group developed that essentially eliminated waste. Instead, they were able to recycle the by product to create even more of the powerful protein.

"Only when we could solve these problems did it become affordable. Then you are using your raw materials to produce your product and nothing else. We were able to recycle," Shah explains. "That is what took the time and that is what made it affordable cost wise."

Next the group spent years scaling the production of the compound and learning how to best deploy it to a customer base. Initially, the group hoped to simply sell the protein to large supplement companies, such as GNC. But when they were met with reservations due to the product's newness, they pivoted.

Houston's large pool of chemical manufacturing workers and easy access to water (a key ingredient in Continual G's production) attracted the Aussie-based scientist. And in 2017, Shah took the practices from down under to the Bayou City just days before Hurricane Harvey hit.

Today the group is producing about a quarter of a million packets of Continual G each month with the help of an outsourced, Texas-based manufacturer who assists the group of engineers in transposing the compound into a drinkable powder. They operate out of a state-of-the-art, 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and hope to scale up again.

"Everyone involved with this endeavor has a heartfelt commitment," Shah adds in a statement. "Glyteine has profound implications for human health. That alone has made it well worth the effort to overcome every challenge we have faced and continue to face."

Energy and the election: What the 2020 outcome means for the future of oil and gas

guest column

The United States Presidential election is at our doorstep. The fossil fuel industry is under significant pressure and the outcome of the election could impact the speed at which exploration and production is impacted. This pressure is financial in nature, but also is operational, technological and all wrapped in physics. A mere 12 to 18 months ago, environmental, social and governance influences and overlays on E&P began and are only accelerating.

My company, Riverbend Oil and Gas, is beginning to see the industry rebound from a significant downturn in revenues, activity, and confidence in 2020 due to the impacts of COVID-19 and the OPEC price war earlier this year. The industry is battling with headwinds, including, lack of access to debt/equity capital, transaction valuations, commodity prices, shale well spacing, and other issues, all impairing market conditions.

At present, there is little to no lubrication in the system. With most talking about an oil and gas market cycle that is driven by supply and demand fundamentals over previous decades, now there is more discussion of a contrarian view of those confident of a demand recovery for oil and gas.

Since the start of energy private equity, funds were raised by general partners to support the small cap E&P space, in the late '80s, private equity became a significant participant in the oil and gas upstream space. Private equity firms became great in number as institutions desired exposure to a growing segment of the market outside of merely investing in the oil and gas public equities. This role, 30 to 35 years later, remains essential, but is currently stifled with thoughts of a declining fossil fuel world and with energy representing only about 2 percent of the S&P 500.

Hydrocarbon outlook

Looming headwinds in the fossil fuel industry include The Green New Deal, an accelerating consciousness of the carbon footprint, the Paris Climate Accord, ESG importance, and the growth of renewables. Additionally, the advent of electric vehicles presents a significant new entrant that is causing a substantial threat to oil's monopoly on the transportation sector. A collision of possible futures exists. Currently, around 1 billion vehicles today are using around 30 percent of the world's oil supply with an estimate of 4 million electric vehicles on the roads globally. Some forecasters predict around 400 million electric vehicles in 2040, decreasing oil supply demand by an estimated 6 percent.

These forecasts of human mobility are driven by the nature of human ambition and worldwide population growth. Africa, China, and India are expected to grow significantly through 2100. Moreover, all persons worldwide strive for a better life for themselves and their families — energy drives these ambitions.

Meanwhile, the capital markets for public fossil fuel companies has declined by over 90 percent from 2016 to 2019 with a continued dismal outcome year-to-date in 2020. The lack of cash flow and capital markets will likely drive less U.S. and non-nationalized produced oil and gas volumes and fewer sustainable companies. Many confident analysts predict a looming oil supply shortage in 2021 driven by these factors along with a federal lands development ban and the possible slowdown of fracking. However, others predict that peak oil demand is now and the need for fossil fuels has already reached a peak.

Assessing the candidates

The results of the election are anticipated to have significantly differing implications (should campaigning be a real signal) for the oil and gas industry. While a Donald Trump win would largely represent a status quo for the environment, a Joe Biden triumph could drive towards changes. Implications are wide ranging across the equity, credit and commodities market energy value chain.

It is important to evaluate who will have control of the House and Senate to pass said legislation. The House is expected to remain with the Democrats, comfortably winning at least 224 of the 435 seats. Recent polls have pointed toward a competitive Senate election cycle. The Republicans currently have a 53-47 Senate majority, but a Democrat favored majority of 51-49 is currently predicted.

The next question is whether the filibuster would be eliminated to push legislation through without a super majority needed; meaning Democrats could drive approvals with a 50-50 tie and Kamala Harris's vote. Although polls are pointing toward a "blue wave" for the Democrats, certain moderate democrats in oil and gas states such as Colorado, New Mexico and Pennsylvania may be swayed against major regulatory or legislative threats to oil and gas exploration and production. Additionally, elected authorities in anticipated Republican states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Utah, and Ohio who are home to industry trade groups and fossil fuel companies will play a significant role.

The Biden Administration has discussed several energy-related policies. These include support for climate-friendly legislation, a ban on federal lands and water permits that represented 21 percent of U.S. oil output in 2019, and an increased investment of $2 trillion over four years in clean energy technologies. To put this investment into perspective, total global energy investment from 2017 to 2019 averaged $2 trillion, and Biden's plan would add $500 billion per year. Biden would target roughly two thirds of U.S. carbon emissions focusing on transportation (40 percent) and electricity production (31 percent).

Broadly, the goal is a nationwide carbon reduction to achieve net-zero emission no later than 2050 and transition to a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. In order to achieve the 2050 net zero emissions goal, the world requires 2020 COVID-19 sized reductions (8 percent) every other year for the next 25 years. Throughout this energy transition, energy prices are likely to increase, and as a result, the pace of the energy transition will likely reflect the balance of societal demand to reduce fossil fuel usage and the costs (economic, convenience, speed, satisfaction) of doing so.

Renewables and hydrocarbons

In 2019, the U.S. accounted for 15 percent of global CO2 emissions (5,130 MM metric tons of CO2), down 873 MM metric tons since the U.S. peaked in 2007. The large decrease can be attributed to coal-to-gas switching, while wind generation and solar power installations also aided the decline. From 2018 to 2019 alone, coal-to-gas switching decreased U.S. emissions by 140 MM metric tons, driving the largest decrease for the year. While shifting from one end of the carbon-emitting energy spectrum to another, it is imperative to balance costs, plausibility and expectations.

Hydrocarbons can be stored for less than $1 per barrel of oil equivalent, or BOE, while renewables cost $200 per BOE. Total U.S. renewable storage capabilities can provide two hours of national electricity demand which is stored in the utility-scale batteries on the grid and in the about 1 million electric vehicles on U.S. roads. Storage, physics and costs are major drivers for a hydrocarbon partnership as the U.S. transitions to a less carbon-heavy source of fuel. While costs of wind and solar have been driven down by around 70 percent and 89 percent, respectively since 2009, the Betz Limit and Shockley-Queisser Limit do have a governor on further improvements of the current technology and materials. Similarly, subsurface oil and gas reservoirs have similar boundary conditions of physics involving ultimate recovery of resources through natural production, fracking and/or enhanced recovery techniques.

The goal of providing low cost, reliable energy to consumers, enhancing lives and providing better futures can be reached through utilizing hydrocarbon technologies in tandem with renewable sources. A vast amount of investment, research and development is still required in the renewable world, including battery storage, solar/wind efficiency, electric grid expansion and electric vehicle technology/charging stations.

According to the 2020 IEA Energy Outlook, oil and gas represented 55 percent of global energy demand in 2019 and the agency predicts that oil and gas will comprise 46 percent to 54 percent of the energy stack in 2040. This is a relatively flat market share. Coal, on the other hand, cedes market share to renewables and nuclear power, decreasing from 30 percent to 10 percent. While renewables are vital to reaching the U.S. goals of net-zero emissions, hydrocarbons are essential in backstopping U.S. energy needs and ambitions throughout this energy transition. Additionally, on a global scale, cheaply sourced and stored hydrocarbons are essential for emerging economies to advance through existing carbon-emitting infrastructure, eventually leading to renewable alternatives and global carbon reduction.

We remain encouraged for the next decade of growth and performance as we look to identify unique opportunities in the space. In a dynamic oil and gas market, Riverbend has a high degree of confidence to sustain and thrive due to our culture, performance-based team and systems. Riverbend is anchored by vigorous technical subsurface reserve assessments as well as land, accounting and commercial diligence. Additionally, Riverbend, as an energy company, is investing in the alternatives segment, concentrating on materials and services in the wind, solar and battery portions of the value chain. In a world full of human ambition, we see a need for all energy to support undeveloped nations and economies to access the opportunity of the American Dream, pursuing elimination of a "have" and "have not" world.

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Randy Newcomer is president and CEO of Houston-based Riverbend Oil and Gas, a private equity investment group specializing in the energy industry.