Nauticus Robotics has extended a contract with one of its biggest customers. Photo via nauticusrobotics.com

A Houston startup has just secured an extended contract with a major customer.

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics, a maker of autonomous oceangoing robots, has bulked up its current contract with Reston, Virginia-based Leidos in a $2.1 million extension.. That brings Leidos’ total financial commitment from $14.5 million to $16.6 million.

In partnership with Leidos, Nauticus is developing next-generation underwater drones for business and military customers. These unmanned underwater vehicles are being designed to carry out tasks that are dangerous or impossible for human divers to do, such as mapping the ocean floor, studying sea creatures, and monitoring water pollution.

“This very important work combines great attributes from each company to deploy a truly novel subsea capability,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus.

Based on Nauticus’ Aquanaut product, these robots will feature the company’s toolKITT software, which supplies artificial intelligence capabilities to undersea vehicles.

“This work is the centerpiece of Nauticus’ excellent collaboration with Leidos,” says Radford, “and I look forward to continuing our mutual progress of advancing the state of the art in undersea vehicles.”

Founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus adopted its current branding in 2021. Last year, Nauticus became a publicly traded company through a merger with a “blank check” company called CleanTech Acquisition Corp.

During the first six months of 2023, Nauticus generated revenue of nearly $4 million, down from a little over $5.2 million in the same period last year. Its operating loss for the first half of 2023 was almost $12.7 million, up from slightly more than $5.2 million during the same time in 2022.

Nauticus attributes some of the revenue drop to delays in authorization of contracts with government agencies.

The company recently lined up a $15 million debt facility to bolster its operations.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Nauticus. We employ some of the best minds in the industry, and we are positioned with the right product at the right time to disrupt a $30 billion market,” Radford said earlier this month. “Demand from potential customers is high, but constructing our fleet is capital-intensive.”

More good news for Nauticus: It recently signed contracts with energy giants Shell and Petrobras. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The Shell contract involves a project in the Gulf of Mexico’s Princess oil and gas field that Nauticus says could lead to millions of dollars in additional contracts over the next few years. Shell operates the offshore field, which is around 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, and owns a nearly 50 percent stake in it.

Co-owners of the Princess project are Houston-based ConocoPhillips, Spring-based ExxonMobil, and London-based BP, whose North American headquarters is in Houston. In July, the Reuters news service reported that ConocoPhillips was eyeing a sale of its stake in the Princess field.

Under the contract with Petrobras, whose U.S. arm is based in Houston, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut robot to support the Brazilian energy company’s offshore activities in South America. Nauticus says this deal “opens up a potential market opportunity” in Brazil exceeding $100 million a year.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The World Petroleum Conference, hosted later this year in Houston, has announced an innovation focus for the first time. Photo via Getty Images

Upcoming energy conference adds innovation focus for Houston-based event

innovating energy

The World Petroleum Congress, which plans to return to in-person status in December, is adding a new wrinkle — a pitch competition — to this year's event.

On August 4, the World Petroleum Congress announced the launch this year of the Innovation Zone, which will enable energy pioneers to showcase their offerings. The 2021 World Petroleum Congress — hosted in Houston this time around — is set for December 5-9 at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Houston-based energy giant ConocoPhillips is sponsoring the Innovation Zone.

"For more than a century, innovation has enabled our industry to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and reliable energy," Bill Bullock, executive vice president and chief financial officer of ConocoPhillips, says in a news release. He adds that the Innovation Zone will highlight "innovations that can propel our industry's purposeful journey through the energy transition and into the future."

In all, 32 startups and individuals will pitch their products or practices on the World Petroleum Congress stage. One winner will be honored with the inaugural Energy Innovator Award.

The Innovation Zone is open to energy companies, private entities, and individuals working as independent contractors. Proposals will be evaluated on seven criteria:

  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Potential or actual technical or business success
  • Environmental impact
  • Stakeholder impact
  • Scalability
  • Broad-based uses

Applications for the Innovation Zone are due Aug. 20. To obtain an application, visit the World Petroleum Congress website. Representatives of ConocoPhillips and the World Petroleum Congress will sift through the applications and pick 32 finalists, who will be notified in early September.

"Startups, with their innovative business models, will play a decisive role in shaping a sustainable energy future, and for participating companies, this is a good opportunity to present and forge new links with key stakeholders and investors," says Serafina Lalany, interim executive director of entrepreneurship and innovation nonprofit Houston Exponential.

Aside from ConocoPhillips, sponsors of this year's World Petroleum Congress include Chevron, Halliburton, Accenture, Hess, ExxonMobil, BP, Qatar Petroleum, Baker Hughes, and Saudi Aramco.

The 23rd World Petroleum Congress was supposed to happen last year in Houston but was shifted to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend this year's event. It's been estimated that the World Petroleum Congress will pump $60 million to $80 million into the Houston economy.

Staged by the World Petroleum Council, the event hasn't been held in North America since 1987, when Houston hosted it. It's known as the "Olympics" of the oil and gas sector.

The 24th World Petroleum Congress will be held in 2023 in Calgary, Canada. The event traditionally takes place every three years.

ConocoPhillips is one of America's best employers. Photo courtesy of ConocoPhillips

Houston energy leader earns spot among America's 50 best workplaces

Best of the Best

A major Houston energy player is raking in the awards. Austin-based Indeed recently revealed its list of the top 50 workplaces in the U.S., and Houston-based ConocoPhillips is joined by two other Texas companies.

To identify these top-rated workplaces, Indeed's data team mined the 100 million employee reviews on its own website and analyzed those from companies also featured on this year's Fortune 500 list.

ConocoPhillips has been exploring and producing oil and natural gas since 1875 and maintains its secret to success lies in the mantra "it's not just what we do — it's how we do it." It lands at No. 35, with employees praising the work-life balance and noting how they feel valued and respected.

Coming in at No. 3, Southwest earned raves for its supportive and fun environment, competitive pay, flexible work schedule, and enviable benefits (including free travel). Founded in 1967, the world's largest low-cost carrier also ranked No. 11 on Fortune's list of world's most admired companies for 2019.

Once based in Aliso Viejo, California, construction and engineering giant Fluor Corp. moved its headquarters to Irving in 2006. It takes the No. 17 spot on Indeed's list, and also resides on the Fortune 500 list with a 2018 revenue of $19.2 billion and more than 53,000 employees worldwide.

California clinches the rest of the top five, with Adobe (San Jose), Facebook (Menlo Park), Live Nation (Beverly Hills), and Intuit (Mountain View) demonstrating how tech and entertainment continue to remain popular industries for eager employees.

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This story originally appeared on CultureMap.com.

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

funding the future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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

houston, we have a problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

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

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

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

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

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

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

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

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

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

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

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

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

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