Here's what startups took home wins at CERAWeek. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Over 200 startups participated in CERAWeek this year, and 18 of those companies pitched at a Greater Houston Partnership event.

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative, an initiative to promote Houston's work within the energy transition, hosted its second annual HETI Energy Ventures Competition at CERAWeek Innovation Agora. The competition was divided into four categories. The first batch of startups consisted of five companies from the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, or TEX-E, a collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas.

The winning startups shared $50,000 of prizes, sponsored by TEX-E. Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies — which has developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA — won both the first place prize and fan favorite for the category. Helix's co-founders, Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, walked away with $25,000 in prizes

Founded by Bryon Praslicka, Daniel Zamarron, and Craig Newman from Texas A&M University, Flux Works LLC, and its magnetic gear technology, took second place and $15,000 home. Tierra Climate, a two-sided marketplace for carbon offsets and other sustainability efforts founded by Emma Konet and Jacob Mansfield from Rice University, won third place and $10,000.

Helix Earth Technologies walked away with the top prize of the TEX-E category. Photo via greentownlabs.com

The next sets of startup pitches we broken down by funding stages — pre-seed and seed, series A, and series B and beyond.

Red Shift Energy, uses plasma energy to produce hydrogen from hydrogen sulfide, won fan favorite in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by HX Venture Fund. A member of Halliburton Labs, the company also was recognized as Chevron favorite.

Per the judging panel, CanaGas won the title of most promising in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by Alchemy Industrial. The Canadian company liquifies natural gas without costly cryogenics or stripping of the gas.

Houston-based Criterion Energy Partners won both the most-promising series A company category sponsored by SLB, but also the fan favorite series A category sponsored by Guerrella LLC. A geothermal energy tech company, Criterion was also a member of Rice's inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator cohort.

OptiSeis Solutions also won in both categories for the series B track. The company, a geophysical acquisition design and software company, won the title of most promising in the series B category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments and the series B fan favorite category sponsored by Halliburton Labs.

Lastly, the competition named the Most Impactful DEI, a category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments. Austin-based Gazelle Ecosystems, a social innovation startup with eco-solutions for corporations, won that category.

Criterion Energy Partners is aiming to be a next-gen energy company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup gears up to deliver geothermal energy

ready to drill

Sean Marshall and Danny Rehg founded Criterion Energy Partners in 2020 with the hope that geothermal energy could be the cleaner, safer wave of the future. Less than three years later, the team is close to making their plan a reality thanks to a geothermal well that they hope to drill this year.

Entrepreneurship wasn’t always part of the plan for either partner. When Marshall enrolled in the MBA program at Rice University’s Jones School of Business in 2016, he had a successful career at Credit Suisse and had his eye set on a future political career. But then he met classmate Rehg, whose background was in petroleum engineering. Their wives were both attorneys in the Houston district attorney’s office and the couples became fast friends. They also realized that, as Marshall now puts it, Rehg knew how to drill wells and he knew how to make deals.

In the ensuing years, both Rehg and Marshall's careers evolved and, eventually, the pair started looking for other opportunities. That’s when they read an article in Rolling Stone about geothermal energy.

“It was really a place where it really felt like this was something we were put here to do,” says Marshall.

Marshall and Rehg spent the ensuing months “like rats in a dumpster” learning about the players and opportunities in the geothermal industry and built from there. They learned about Pleasant Bayou Power Plant, a 1989 geothermal energy project based in Brazoria County that was backed by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Last summer, Criterion Energy Partners, a member of Greentown Houston, closed on a 10,000-acre lease around the site of Pleasant Bayou.

"We hope by the end of this year we will be generating electrons,” says Marshall.

Though the company has a patented technology that connects wells to the grid, called Criterion Geothermal System, Marshall says that some of the best advice he’s gotten was, “Don’t fall in love with your technology; fall in love with the problem.” The 2021 Texas freeze reminded the founders what that was.

“People were looking for cleaner, lower-emission power sources and [there was] a need for energy resiliency,” says Marshall, explaining that the freeze created an ideal situation for the company, as people began to think more outside the grid.

The year 2022 was a big one for Criterion Energy Partners. Oil and gas powerhouse Patterson-UTI invested in the company, followed by funding from the Department of Energy. The money not only allowed Criterion Energy Partners to lease their land, they are also now paying 12 salaries, including those of the founders. The team offices in The Cannon’s Esperson coworking space.

“Our mission is to make geothermal commercially viable everywhere,” says Marshall. “I still believe in that.”

However, Criterion Energy Partners may be even bigger than proving an alternative energy source. Marshall says that geothermal is the foundation on which they are building “a next-generation energy company.” Criterion Energy Partners could be the more stable basis for a whole new energy system.

Sean Marshall and Danny Rehg founded Criterion Energy Partners in 2020. Photos courtesy

Twelve Houston startups will pitch at the World Petroleum Congress, which will be hosted in Houston this year. Photo via Getty Images

International energy conference names 12 Houston companies to pitch at inaugural innovation track

it's (almost) go time

A dozen Houston companies will take the stage next month for a pitch competition during the World Petroleum Congress at the George R. Brown Convention Center.

In all, 32 innovators have been selected to make presentations at the World Petroleum Congress' first-ever Innovation Zone. Presented by ConocoPhillips, the Innovation Zone will let startups showcase their solutions to challenges facing the energy sector. The winner of the pitch competition will receive the inaugural Energy Innovator Award.

The World Petroleum Congress is set for December 5-9.

The 12 Houston companies chosen for the Innovation Zone are:

  • CeraPhi Energy, whose technology helps companies transition to clean energy.
  • Chainparency, whose blockchain technology digitizes and secures records shared throughout the supply chain.
  • Criterion Energy Partners, an exploration and production company whose energy projects are co-located with commercial and industrial customers to promote emission reductions and improve operating efficiencies.
  • CruxOCM, whose technology powers autonomous control rooms in heavy industrial settings.
  • dataVediK, whose AI and machine learning technology fuels performance optimization, energy transition, and carbon footprint reduction at energy companies.
  • DrillDocs, whose software allows real-time analysis of activity at onshore and offshore drilling rigs.
  • Hess, an oil and gas exploration and production company that will show off technology enabling autonomous fracturing. (Hess is one of the sponsors of this year's World Petroleum Congress.)
  • Ionada Carbon Solutions, a producer of carbon capture systems.
  • Nesh, a creator of subject-matter avatars.
  • Oilify, whose WhaleShark technology advances the process of separating gas and solids.
  • Sourcenergy, which specializes in upstream energy and water intelligence supported by AI and machine learning.
  • Water Lens, whose mobile system provides lab-quality tests for over 30 water quality factors.

"For more than a century, innovation has enabled our industry to keep pace with the growing demand for safe and reliable energy," W.L. "Bill" Bullock Jr., executive vice president and chief financial officer of ConocoPhillips, said in an August news release. The Innovation Zone will shine a spotlight on "innovations that can propel our industry's purposeful journey through the energy transition and into the future," he added.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.