From the potential for electric vehicle growth to the role of corporates, experts joined a panel to discuss the progress of Houston's low-carbon energy initiatives. Photo by Katya Horner

Houston is moving the needle on low-carbon initiatives, as one panel agreed at the Center for Houston's Future's Low-Carbon Energy Innovation Summit.

The annual event, which is taking place virtually this year, was broken up into two days. The first installment focused on low-carbon markets on October 8. This week on October 15, the virtual programming will cover Houston's energy ecosystem.

While the day of low-carbon programming zeroed in on specifics within the subject, one panel zoomed out to check in on Houston's progress. Brett Perlman, president and CEO for the center for Houston's Future, moderated the discussion, which featured five energy experts. Here are some highlights from the panel.

“We’ve identified 200 companies in Houston that we would call energy 2.0 companies — solar, wind, energy stories, and other energy and clean tech companies. So, there’s already a lot happening.”

— Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

“While innovation and the energy transition are not the same thing, they are close cousins. Innovation is about change and new businesses and how they work with incumbent businesses, so when you think about the transition, you have to include both of them.”

— Barbara Burger, Chevron's vice president of innovation and president of Chevron Technology Ventures.

“Hurricane Harvey was a point where so much changed. Everything I do in my job changed. We went from climate being talked about discretely to something we can’t not talk about. It’s in every conversation whether we like it or not.”

— Lara Cottingham, chief of staff and chief sustainability officer for the city of Houston.

“This is a global challenge, but Houston is a global leader. We really want to be hands on and tackle this to keep Houston in that leadership role.”

— Cottingham continues.

“Houston has the engineering expertise and experience doing energy at scale. Frankly, we need that set of expertise at the table.”

— Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which recently expanded to Houston.

“We’d like to see 30 percent of new vehicle sales be electric vehicles by 2030. I think we’ll get there much sooner.”

Chris George, president and executive director of EVolve Houston.

“Houston is very important and significant because of our relation to the port. Whether it’s looking at hydrogen trucking for long haul trips or looking at reducing logistics cost for manufacturing and assembly, Houston has everything to offer.”

George continues.

Greentown Houston is headed for the Innovation District, which is being developed in Midtown. Photo via Getty Images

Cleantech incubator announces location in Houston, names newest partners

Greentown's moving in

After announcing its plans to expand to Houston in June, Boston-based Greentown Labs has selected its site for its cleantech startup and tech incubator.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the Greater Houston Partnership announced that Greentown Houston will be opening in the Innovation District, being developed by Rice Management Co. and home to The Ion. The site is located at 4200 San Jacinto St., which was Houston's last remaining Fiesta grocery story before it closed in July.

The facility is expected to open this coming spring and will feature 40,000 square feet of prototyping lab, office, and community space that can house about 50 startups, totaling 200 to 300 employees.

"We are thrilled to announce the selection of Greentown Labs' inaugural location in partnership with RMC, the City of Houston, the Partnership, and leading global energy and climate impact-focused companies," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in a press release. "In order to meet the urgent challenge of climate change, we must engage the talent and assets of major ecosystems around the country. We look forward to catalyzing the Houston ecosystem's support for climatetech startups as we work together toward a sustainable future for all."

Emily Reichert is the CEO of Greentown Labs. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

Greentown Labs launched in 2011 as community of climatetech and cleantech innovators bringing together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and more to focus on scaling climate solutions. Greentown Labs' first location is 100,000 square feet and located just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. Currently, it's home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 280 startups since the incubator's founding. According to the release, these startups have created more than 6,500 jobs and raised over $850 million in funding

"We are so pleased that Greentown Houston will locate in the heart of the Innovation District, where they will seamlessly integrate into the region's robust energy innovation ecosystem of major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, VC-backed energy startups, and other startup development organizations supporting energy technology," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at the Greater Houston Partnership, in the release. "Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and Greentown Houston will ensure we continue to attract the next generation of energy leaders who will create and scale innovations that will change the world."

Greentown Houston, which previously announced several founding partners in June, has just named new partners, including: RMC, Microsoft, Saint-Gobain, and Direct Energy. According to the release, Greentown Houston is also looking for Grand Opening Partners. Naturgy and and FCC Environmental Services (FCC) are the first to join on as a grand opening partners, and startups and prospective partners can reach out for more information via this form.

Reichert previously told InnovationMap that it was looking for an existing industrial-type building that could be retrofitted to meet the needs of industrial startups that need lab space. She also said that this approach is very similar to how they opened their first location.

Rice Management Company is developing the Innovation District in the center of Houston. Screenshot via ionhouston.com

The new location will be in the 16-acre Innovation District that's being developed by RMC, which will be anchored by The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot hub that is being renovated from the former Sears building.

"What we love about Greentown Labs as much as its commitment to helping Houston become a leader in energy transition and climate change action is its proven track record of job creation through the support of local visionaries and entrepreneurs," says Ryan LeVasseur, managing director of Direct Real Estate at RMC, in the release. "Greentown Houston, like The Ion, is a great catalyst for growing the Innovation District and expanding economic opportunities for all Houstonians. We're thrilled Greentown Labs selected Houston for its first expansion and are honored it will be such a big part of the Innovation District moving forward."

Acquiring the new Greentown location is a big win for the mayor, who released the city's Climate Action Plan earlier this year. The plan lays out a goal to make Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"We are proud to welcome Greentown Labs to Houston, and we are excited about the new possibilities this expansion will bring to our City's growing innovation ecosystem," says Turner in the release. "Organizations and partners like Greentown Labs will play a vital role in helping our City meet the goals outlined in the Climate Action Plan and will put us on the right track for becoming a leader in the global energy transition. The City of Houston looks forward to witnessing the innovation, growth, and prosperity Greentown Labs will bring to the Energy Capital of the World."

Greentown Labs will host a celebratory networking event on September 24 at 4 p.m. Registration for the EnergyBar is open here.

Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, shares why the incubator's expansion was a year in the making — and only just the beginning. Photo courtesy of Greentown Labs

New-to-Houston startup incubator CEO on why there's 'no better place' to expand

Q&A

Greentown Labs announced its intent on expanding to Houston last week with 11 corporate partners signed on already, and is currently scouting out its physical location in town

Already, says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, the Bayou City has left a positive impression on her and her team.

"It's exciting to see how many people we can engage in being part of the future of energy," Reicher shares in an interview with InnovationMap. "I think there's really no better place for that to be led out of Houston."

Two Houstonians have been identified to lead local efforts. Jason Ethier, a Houston-based energy tech founder, is the operations lead for Greentown Houston, and Juliana Garaizar, local investor and former director of the TMC Venture Fund, is the Greentown Houston launch director.

Reichert, in the Q&A with InnovationMap, shares more on what her organization's Houston plans are, what she's looking for in participating startups, and when the city will know more about the brick-and-mortar space.

InnovationMap: When did Greentown Labs start considering a second location?

Emily Reichert: Greentown I think seriously began entertaining the idea of Houston as a possibility during the CERAWeek conference in March 2019. I was there to speak in a couple of their pods, and there were actually 10 Greentown teams there as well.

Jason Ethier of Dynamo Micropower, who was on our board and based in Houston, had been encouraging us to consider Houston for a long time because of the need for someone to be bringing together the community of entrepreneurs around cleantech in Houston. And he felt, talking to other entrepreneurs, that there was a bit of a gap there and that it would be beneficial to have a Greentown labs in Houston to convene that community. Up until that point, I had kind of said, "Jason, I can't think about that." We were expanding in Boston just a year earlier, and we had more than doubled in size. But for the first time in March 2019, it seems like something that we should at least entertain.

During that course of that visit, the Greater Houston Partnership, Jason, and I believe some folks from Houston Exponential as well, were involved in setting up a series of meetings for me to really test the idea of Greentown Labs coming to Houston.

So, I talked with a diversity of partners, city officials, and — probably most importantly from my perspective — a bunch of entrepreneurs that showed up with less than a week's notice at a bar in EaDo. They really expressed to me that they felt that need for a community for cleantech entrepreneurs. And that there really wasn't anything equivalent and that there was a gap there.

To me, that was really the trigger for turning this all on as a serious opportunity for Greentown. We're really all about entrepreneurs. Our mission is to support them and help them get their clean technology into the world where it can have an impact and make a difference. Knowing that there was an entrepreneur community that needed fostering and growing and building was really a reason for Greentown Labs to come to Houston.

IM: What about Houston was alluring for the organization?

ER: When people ask me, "Why Houston?" the first thing that I always say is it's the energy capital of the world, and we are an organization that is promoting the entrepreneurship of companies that are developing the world's next energy solutions. It makes total sense to be working in the place where the companies and customers are that are really putting these technologies into the marketplace. So, it being the energy capital of world is kind of a key driver — and one that we think needs to be the energy transition capital of the world, which is where we're all headed in needing to address climate change.

IM: I see several corporate partners have been announced — are you looking for more and what role do the corporates play in the incubator?

ER: The corporate partners are incredibly important to the entrepreneurs that Greentown Labs support. The reason for that is that most of the startups that we work with are going to be selling their solutions to a larger partner. They're not consumer oriented startups — they're going to be a B2B-type play. So, in order to get these solutions that the startups are building to scale, they need to partner with usually another large entity to help that happen.

From the get-go, corporate partners have been part of Greentown's overall community of solutions for startups to get their technology to scale. We work with about 50 corporate partners total.

I'd say there's a variety of ways that they participate — one is simply mentorship and expertise that they can provide the startup real market knowledge and know how. They can also provide investment or a place to do pilot studies, they can do licensing agreements, and they can be customers — that's another important role.

We are absolutely looking for more corporate partners because the energy transition is a big problem, and we're going to need lots of partners in the solution. We would invite others to reach out to us.

IM: How will Greentown Houston be different from the original in Massachusetts?

ER: We're starting at a more modest size than we are currently in Massachusetts. We're a 100,000-square-foot, three-building campus in Somerville just outside of Boston, and we can accommodate about 100 startups in that location.

In Houston, we're starting at the scale that we actually started at in 2013, and that is about a capacity for about 50 startups in about 30,000 square feet with about 120 desks and about 20,000 square feet of prototyping lab space. The space that we're building in Houston will be smaller, but also very flexible.

We don't quite know yet what the Houston market wants and needs, and so we have to just kind of plan to create a flexible structure based on what we know that Houston entrepreneurs need and then kind of evolve from there.

IM: You don't have office space pinned down yet — what are you looking for in an office and what's your timeline for announcing more details?


ER: I think we'll be able to announce that in September. But, I will say that we've been pleasantly surprised by the different opportunities that are available and how so many people just trying to help and provide us with space, but I'd say we are pretty much there on selecting the space.

We will be retrofitting an existing building, which is exactly what we did whenever we moved into Somerville in 2013. We like to preserve flexibility and, until we really understand the market, we don't want to custom build anything because what if we created it and then no one needed it?

Instead, we're going to take over an existing industrial-type building that can be utilized for our purpose. And for our purpose, we need a lot of electricity, we need cement floors that can take a lot of weight, and we need to kind of have some isolation in terms of the machine tools and whatnot that can make a lot of noise — so can our events.

IM: With two pairs of boots on the ground already, will you be growing your Houston team?

ER: It somewhat depends on the track of our fundraising, but currently the plan right now is to do some additional hiring in late 2020 or 2021 — at which time we'll probably be looking for a community manager, a lab manager, and a program manager. Those all won't happen at the very beginning, but the community manager is probably the next position we'd be hiring for. That role is just incredibly critical to doing what we do at Greentown Labs, which is bringing together that community of entrepreneurs, helping them connect with one another, and really just helping them to support one another as peers.

IM: What are you looking for in participating startups and how can Houston startups get involved and learn more?

ER: Absolutely. We would love it if Houston entrepreneurs want to reach out to us. We have a landing page specifically for Houston on our website, and that will allow you to actually fill out a form that allows us to follow up with you.

We will be starting to have early access membership that Houston entrepreneurs can take advantage of uniquely, and that will allow entrepreneurs to start getting engaged in what right now will probably be mainly virtual events, but going forward, it's a great way to start learning about the community and really for the community to be built before we have a physical location that can bring people in. More information out that will be coming out in the next couple of weeks.

In terms of what we're looking for, we are looking for startups that are actively working on climate or environmental solutions — especially those that are working on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through electricity, transportation, agricultural tech and water, building, manufacturing, or industry industrial applications. There's a lot of broad categories, but reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a big challenge and it needs to be attacked in all sectors of the economy.

Even beyond energy or renewable energy, there are a lot of different solutions that we consider as part of clean tech and climate tech. We're just really excited to learn about more entrepreneurs and engage with them as a part of building Greentown Labs Houston.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Greentown Labs has announced its second location will be opened in Houston next spring. Getty Images

Cleantech startup incubator announces new location in Houston

seeing green

A Massachusetts-based startup incubator focused on clean energy technology has announced its plans to open a new location in Houston.

The Greater Houston Partnership and Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Greentown Labs will open its Houston location in Spring 2021. Greentown Houston, according to a press release, falls in line with the city's Climate Action Plan.

"Opening Greentown Labs' second location in Houston — the energy capital of the world — is the best place to broaden our impact and help accelerate the energy transition through cleantech entrepreneurship, in partnership with the nation's fourth largest city and the world-leading energy organizations headquartered there," says Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, in the release.

Reichert adds that Houston's access to talent and corporate energy partners made the Bayou City especially alluring as a new market.

Greentown Labs launched in 2011 as community of climatetech and cleantech innovators bringing together startups, corporates, investors, policymakers, and more to focus on scaling climate solutions. Greentown Labs' first location is 100,000 square feet and located just outside of Boston in Somerville, Massachusetts. Currently, it's home to more than 100 startups and has supported more than 280 startups since the incubator's founding. According to the release, these startups have created more than 6,500 jobs and raised over $850 million in funding.

The organization will be establishing a 30,000-square-foot prototyping lab and office space that will be able to accomodate about 50 startups. More details of this office are forthcoming.

"Climate change cannot be solved from the coasts — we need all hands on deck at this time," Reichert continues. "Houston has the opportunity to be the energy transition capital of the world and we believe bringing Greentown Labs to Houston will accelerate the shift in this direction."

Along with the mayor's office and the GHP, Greentown Houston will bring together key stakeholders from entrepreneurs and educators to corporates and investors.

"Reducing Houston's emissions and leading a global transition is a community-wide effort and will require action from residents and the business community," says Mayor Turner in the release. "This is why it's more important than ever to have partners and organizations like Greentown Labs, whose mission is to solve the climate crisis through entrepreneurship and collaboration."

Greentown Houston's network of founding partners includes the likes of Chevron, Shell, NRG Energy Inc., Sunnova Energy, BHP, Vinson & Elkins, and more. Ahead of the spring 2021 launch, Greentown Houston is seeking more strategic partners and interested startups. More information can be found online.

"We are thrilled to welcome North America's largest cleantech incubator to Houston, which comes at a time of great momentum for Houston's innovation ecosystem and further positions the region to lead the transition to a cleaner, more efficient and more sustainable, lower carbon world," says Bob Harvey, president and CEO at GHP. "As the home to major corporate energy R&D centers, corporate venture arms, and VC-backed energy startups, Houston is already leading the way in digitization, renewable forms of energy, and the development of carbon capture management technology."

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Chevron's Houston-based venture arm launches $300M fund focusing on low-carbon tech

show me the money

Chevron Corp.'s investment arm has launched a $300 million fund that will focus on low-carbon technology.

Chevron Technology Ventures LLC's Future Energy Fund II builds on the success of the first Future Energy Fund, which kicked off in 2018 and invested in more than 10 companies specializing in niches like carbon capture, emerging mobility, and energy storage. The initial fund contained $100 million.

"The new fund will focus on innovation likely to play a critical role in the future energy system in industrial decarbonization, emerging mobility, energy decentralization, and the growing circular carbon economy," Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures says in a February 25 release.

Future Energy Fund II is the eighth venture fund created by Chevron Technology Ventures since its establishment in 1999. In 2019, the investment arm started a $90 million fund to invest in startups that can help accelerate the oil and gas business of San Ramon, California-based Chevron.

Chevron Technology Ventures' portfolio for low-carbon technology comprises a dozen companies: Blue Planet, Carbon Clean, Carbon Engineering, ChargePoint, Eavor, Infinitum Electric, Natron Energy, Spear Power Systems, Svante, Voyage, Vutility, and Zap Energy.

Only one of the companies in the low-carbon portfolio is based in Texas — Infinitum Electric, located in Round Rock. However, Chevron Technology Ventures is active in the Houston entrepreneurial ecosystem as a participant in the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and The Ion. Chevron's investment arm was the first tenant at The Ion.

In an August 2020 interview with InnovationMap, Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, said the investment arm places a priority on helping advance entrepreneurship in Houston. "It is our home court," she said.

Burger said that for Houston to succeed in energy innovation, companies, government agencies, investment firms, and universities must rally around the city.

"We're doing a lot of things right — almost in spite of the world being crazy. … I think constancy of purpose is important," she said. "Despite the headwinds from COVID and despite the headwinds that industries are facing, we need to stay committed to that."

Burger noted that innovation "is not a straight path."

"We've got to plant a bunch of these seeds and see how they grow — we need to water them every day, and then I think we'll have a beautiful garden," she said.

Now's the time to find innovation opportunities in a trustless world, says this Houston expert

guest column

Hidden beneath all the recent events in the technology work, stock market, political landscape, and most of the social problems we see today lies one underlying trend. A trend so powerful that it's causing disruption in nearly every institution out there, and changing the business landscape faster than anyone can keep up.

Trust is gone. I mean completely gone.

At this point, the examples of this are too numerous to list but let's look at the past several months in the United States. In that short period, we saw an incredibly contentious election process, big tech disable the primary communication of a world leader, a mass exodus do decentralized messaging, an explosion in the defi industry and crypto, and a once promising vaccine process somehow not be effective despite being the primary conversation topic for everyone.

And this was all before a bunch of social media users treated the world's greatest stock market like a game, and far after we saw a country divided into two by racial movements, and we have yet to even get to things such as the Russian hacks.

We're left with an absolute mess of a situation where every social contract seems to be broken and the default response to any sort of central authority is being reevaluated. Without doubt we'll eventually figure out some great long-term answers, but at the speed at which the business world works today, it's going to be messy.

Luckily, mess creates opportunity and within all this disruption lies many golden nuggets of opportunity. The last twelve months was likely a watershed moment in key areas and as innovators, and business people — and it's our job to find them. It's what we signed up for and, for many of us, why we do what we do.

If there was ever a time to invest heavily in innovative technologies, today is it. Most of the time businesses are very resistant to change. Their default answer is always "no," and this puts innovators in a constant search of early adopters. But today, we see a different landscape. Businesses of all sizes and industries have been tossed around like a toy ship in an ocean. They do not know which way is up and business as usual seems like an old campfire story. Everyone, everywhere is looking for creative ideas to improve their business, and creative ideas is at the heart of true entrepreneurship and innovation.

Within this disruption also lies a few other key support pillars that should benefit all innovative minded individuals.

  • Despite terrible economic conditions, those invested in tech over the past year have done incredibly well. These individuals should be primed to reinvest their profits into bigger wins.
  • The workforce is truly global, and people are scrambling. The ideas of location being an advantage to hiring is truly disappearing. This means talent acquisition costs are falling through the floor and availability through the ceiling.
  • Consumers and businesses alike have been introduced to new technology so the legwork of explaining things such as defi and blockchain is much easier. It's also easy to find numerous use cases for anything involving proximity, health, privacy, and security.
  • The new administration will be eager to find wins, and invest money in different technologies than the previous. No matter what you think politically about this strategy, the reality is that areas such as healthcare, education, and will offer innovation opportunities. Even regulation itself, which we are likely to see increased, can be a great playground for innovation.

Twenty years ago, the way that business was done is unrecognizable in some industries. Many of the successful business today did not even exist then. Technology has a tendency to change things exponentially so imagine what the next ten years will look like. What are we not seeing today that will be the new business as usual?

The future is ours to create

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Cody Caillet is the founder at Gulf Coast Solutions, a Houston-based technology firm with speed-to-value approach in delivering business technology to impact top-line and bottom-line numbers for a business.