The show had to go on at the annual Energy Tech Venture Day, which was put on virtually by the Rice Alliance on May 7. Zukiman Mohamad/Pexels

Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship's annual Energy Tech Venture Day is usually hosted as a part of the Offshore Technology Conference that takes over NRG Center each May. However, when OTC announced its cancelation, Rice Alliance made sure the show would go on.

"We had many startups and corporations reach out to us and ask us if we could go ahead with the event in a virtual format, so that's how we ended up where we are today," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance at the start of the event.

Throughout the two-hour pitch event, 39 startups pitched their companies in two minutes and 30 seconds or less. The companies were selected based on input from the alliance's energy advisory board. The companies, Burke says, represent innovations across the energy industry.

An additional 24 companies participated in virtual office hours with investors through a speed-networking process.

"We know that the needs of startups to raise capital, to find customers, and to find pilots is even greater today than it was several months ago," Burke says. "And we know that the needs of energy companies to find innovative technologies to reduce costs and increase production are even greater as well."

Usually at this event, the advisory board decides on the 10 most promising energy tech startups, however, this list will not be revealed this year.

Of the startups that pitched that represented 11 different states and six different countries, 13 call Houston their HQ. Here's what local startups pitched.

Bluware

Bluware's E&P clients use the startup's cloud computing and deep learning technology to access seismic data. This data is crucial for geoscientists to make faster and smarter decisions to reduce time to oil. Bluware's headquarters is in West Houston, and has an European office in Norway.

DAMorphe

Southwest Houston-based DAMorphe uses nanotechnology to provide solutions within oil and gas — among other sectors, including life sciences, consumer goods, and more. Within O&G specifically, the company has designed dissolvable frac plugs and balls with superior performance and lower cost, as well as a flowable sensor for downhole measurements.

dataVediK

Early-stage Houston startup dataVediK focusing on enterprise digital transformation with a plan to create an artificial intelligence platform for collaboration between data scientists and domain experts to provide tech solutions for oil and gas — such as optimizing operations costs and productivity, enhancing safety, and more.

DelfinSia

Houston-based Delfin specializes in text analytics and is working with two oil supermajors. Sia, Delfin's product, is a virtual adviser, able to reference a client's unstructured data in real-time to ensure that decisions are fully informed. Users can simply ask Sia a question and get the best answers from company data.

Flutura Decision Sciences and Analytics

Flutura's motto is to promote actions — not just insights with data. The company's main product is Cerebra uses artificial intelligence and industrial internet of things to connect the dots within the oil and gas supply chain. Flutura's clients include Shell, Honeywell, Henkel, TechnipFMC, Patterson UTI, ABB, BJ Services, Daimler Benz, and more.

MyPass Global

A workforce management system, MyPass Global is putting the power of data into the hands of the individual workers at oil and gas companies and is creating digital work skills passport for each employee. The startup has developed a network of over 180 business partners across Australia, New Zealand, and the United States, which includes more than 27,000 registered workers.

Nomad Proppant Services

For E&P companies, Nomad is revolutionizing the way sand is delivered and used by wells. The average well uses 10,000 tons of sand, and that means trucking that volume via long hauls. However, Nomad has created a new, mobile mine that can save 25 percent of the company's spend on sand.

Osperity

Houston-based Osperity's technology provides AI-driven intelligent visual monitoring for industrial operations that can result in improved safety, reduced carbon footprints, and more. The company has more than 40 industrial customers using its monitoring services. Osperity offices in the Galleria area and has a location in Calgary.

PhDsoft Technology

PhDsoft, an engineering technology company, has created a technology specializing in industrial digital twins. The company's 4D software, PhDC4D®, can predict the effect of time and elements on equipment and facilities, which can save its industrial clients money and downtime of its machinery, as well as improve safety conditions.

Quidnet Energy

Clean energy tech company, Quidnet Energy, is providing electricity storage solutions that are cost effective and are able to be used long term. Quidnet uses traditional pumped hydro storage that, before the company, was restricted to specific terrains. The company offices out of downtown Houston.

SOTAOG

Data analytics company SOTAOG wants to be one-stop shop for its energy clients' data needs. SOTAOG's proprietary algorithms can provide real-time data that can improve operations and create cost-saving initiatives. The company works out of The Cannon's West Houston campus.

Voyager

Houston-based software startup Voyager is making waves in the maritime bulk-shipping industry. Whether shipping plans are transporting crude oil and LNG or complex offshore rig movements, Voyager can replace the thousands of logistics emails shared across several companies and bring communications and data onto one platform. The company's main office is in downtown Houston, but also has an office in Brazil.

WellNoz

WellNoz creates inflow control devices, or ICDs, for its oil and gas industry clients. The downhole devices are crucial for controlling the opening and closing of the well. WellNoz's device is made from a proprietary metal alloy that remains strong to remain closed when required, and then dissolves after a certain time to open up the valve. The startup's first client is Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, which will will purchase 10,000 ICDs each year for the next five years.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

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Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

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Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

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One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.