A Canadian software company is expanding its presence in Houston to meet the needs of its clients. Photo via Getty Images

One of the biggest obstacles heavy industry tech startups face — especially in oil and gas — is getting that first big customer, says Vicki Knott, co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM.

"Our biggest challenge is nobody wants to be first in energy," she tells InnovationMap.

But Crux OCM, based in Calgary, overcame that challenge and currently counts Houston-based Phillips 66 among its clients. The two companies announced a pilot program for Crux OCM's pipeBOT technology earlier this year.

Crux OCM's technology focuses on automating the control room operations — something that, like most automation software, increases revenue and reduces errors. The company, which was founded in 2017, also allows its clients consistency and reliability with its software.

"Even though the pumps and the equipment are automated, control room operators are still executing procedures, checklist, and rules of thumb on their own via screens," Knott says. "If you think of pilots and planes have autopilot software, why don't our control room operators? That's really the problem we set out to tackle."

Vicki Knott is co-founder and CEO of Crux OCM. Photo courtesy

Automation is certainly a growing opportunity for energy companies — especially in light of the pandemic that forced remote work and less on-site personnel across industries. Knott says just over a year ago, Crux OCM saw increased interest.

"We had a couple customers who had their capital budget cut when the pandemic hit and when oil went negative, and we had a couple customers who said they were doubling down on software like this," Knott explains.

The company has raised $3 million in venture funding, backed by Root Ventures, Angular Ventures, and Golden Ventures. Knott says another funding round is on the horizon as is growth for its Houston presence.

Crux OCM currently has three full-time Houston employees and is looking to grow that team in the next six months. Specifically, the local team will focus on sales, as well as product development, as the company's head of sales and senior product manager are both based here. As the local clientbase grows, Knott says they will also need to hire deployment engineers as well.

A new office to support this growing team is also in the works. Knott says she's looking for space in North Houston, and, depending on how comfortable people are returning to offices and meetings, it could open as early as later this year.

Calgary and Houston have a lot in common, Knott says, and she sees a very natural connection to the two regions. Knott plans to work six months of the year in Houston with the local office.

"A lot of the companies that head offices in Houston, they have head offices in Calgary," she says. "If a startup in Houston is getting traction, I think there's a natural movement to start in the Calgary market and vice versa."

Quorum Software is growing fast by adding to its suite of technology by making strategic acquisitions. Getty Images

Houston energy software company prepares to continue acquisition growth in 2020

M&A moves

A Houston software company specializing in cloud-based accounting and finance technology for oil and gas companies is growing at a rapid pace thanks to recent acquisitions.

Houston-based Quorum Software has grown its company over 100 employees last year, and Gene Austin, who was recently named CEO, says it's just the beginning.

The software solutions provider, which is a portfolio company of California-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo LLC since 2018, has big plans to continue the exponential growth with more acquisitions that diversify their portfolio of services and a Houston office expansion later this year.

According to Austin, he expects this growth spurred by M&A activity to double Quorum's revenue of $200 million in the next 3 to 5 years.

"We are always thinking about how to best serve our customers," Austin says. "We've made millions of dollars of investments in our support organization and cloud team services that are foundational to reinvigorate innovation and help our customers see how the future can unfold for them."

Courtesy of Quorum

Quorum is in the midst of a transformation into a software provider, focusing on cloud operations and digital software with significant acquisitions. Most recently, they launched OGsys on Demand, a cloud-based accounting software, after acquiring OGsys in August of 2019. The integration of OGsys expands the cloud-based capabilities for accounting products tailored for upstream medium-sized energy companies.

The launch was right on the heels of two other acquisitions that included Irving, Texas-based Archeio Technologies in June, a document classification smart search technology provider, and Pasadena, Texas-based Coastal Flow Measurement Inc. in March, a family of energy measurement services, one of which was Flow-Cal, a measurement data management software for oil and natural gas.

"Using innovation for us means not only acquiring new technologies but also investing in the right areas for our business and our current products," says Austin.

Quorum, who provides software solutions for a broad spectrum of energy companies' needs, from operations to accounting, plant management, and financial forecasting, began as a consulting firm more than 20 years ago. The company got its start with a customer-oriented structure for large oil and gas companies, known as enterprise organizations in the industry.

Eventually, the business transitioned to working with mid-size firms along with their larger set of clients. It was then when Quorum began to hear from clients their need for better accounting software that met the specific challenges of mid-size companies.

"Our products are designed to help our clients know much more about what's happening inside the business, making sure efficiency is possible," Austin tells InnovationMap. "We're doing that by using web applications that allow our clients to use mobile devices, that's a fairly new innovation in the energy world, we're trying to lead the way."

The focus on quick and efficient software technologies is reaping benefits for Quorum. Eighty percent of the largest oil and gas producers in the United States use Quorum, and its technology powers 80,000 miles of pipeline and that accounts for 80 percent of all-natural gas processed in the U.S.

"We believe because of the products we represent and the way we position our services, including our cloud-based accounting and financial application," Austin says. "We are well-positioned to help our clients do a great job of driving efficiency."

Penrose's advance process control software can increase production by 10 to 15 percent in downstream oil and gas refineries. Pexels

Houston oil and gas software company is increasing downstream productivity while lowering emissions

Efficient energy

In the next 30 years, the world will need 30 percent more energy due to population growth. While energy production will increase to keep up with demand, there is an increasing concern with the impact on the environment.

"How do you produce more energy without emission increases or more air quality pollution?" asks Erdin Guma, CFO of Penrose Technologies.

According to Guma, Penrose is uniquely well-suited to solve these serious challenges with its advanced process control technology increases the productivity of a chemical plant or refinery by 10 to 15 percent. The increase in productivity means the plants use less fuel to produce the energy. The plant then releases fewer emissions while producing the same amount of energy.

The technology itself is an automation software — similar to autonomous software on a plane. The autonomous operation increases downstream productivity, which brings about the energy efficiency.

"Our autopilot software (like a human operator) can manage and foresee any unexpected disturbances in the plant," Guma explains. "The achievements that the Penrose technology has brought about seemed impossible to chemical and process engineers in the refinery space a few years ago."

Penrose recently signed its first project with one of the biggest downstream firms in the world. With a network of refineries and petrochemical plants around the world, this contract could lead to a global roll out of the Penrose technology.

A ground-breaking technology for O&G
The word "Penrose" is taken from a penrose triangle, an impossible geometrical object. Guma explained that the energy efficiency brought about from their software seemed impossible at first. Penrose has been able to reduce emissions inside plants and refineries by 15 to 20 percent while keeping production at the same level.

In 2007, a chief engineer working at a major oil and gas processing plant in Houston procured the technology for one of his plants. When the engineer saw how well the technology worked, he founded Penrose Technologies in 2017 with Tom Senyard, CTO at Penrose, who originally developed the technology.

After starting the company at the end of 2007, Penrose joined Station Houston. Guma said that by becoming a member, Penrose was able to plug into a large refining and petrochemical network.

"Penrose Technologies is completely self-financed. We worked with [Station Houston] as we finalized the software to find out what potential customers thought of the product. For us, Station Houston has been a great sounding board to potential investors in the company," Guma says.

Guma also explained that while there has been an uptick in innovation in the last few years, the refining and petrochemical business is traditional a slow mover in the uptake of innovation.

"I think more major oil and gas firms are becoming attune to startups and the innovation solutions they offer," Guma says.

He went on to explain that the biggest challenge Penrose faces is perception. Since the software allows plant operators and engineers at the plant to be hands off in the processes, there is a concern with reliability. For industry insiders, any viable product must be reliable even when process conditions at the plant change, which can happen often.

"The Penrose software is maximum hand off control from operators, and the reliability of our software gives us a huge edge in other competing products that can be unreliable," Guma says.

Future growth on a global market
Given the pressing need for more environmentally sustainable energy production, new technology will be adopted in the oil and gas energy. As Guma explains it, there will be no way to continue producing energy as it's been produced for decades because the negative effects of air pollution and emissions will be too severe — particularly in the areas where refineries operate.

"We see the global market for this type of technology as severely underserved," Guma says. "It's a big and sizable market, and I think we can reach a $2 to $3 billion valuation in the next five years."

With a core team of six employees in Houston, Penrose's software is now commercially available, and the company is in full growth mode at this point. The software can be distributed directly to customers, but they are working to develop distribution with major engineering companies as well.

Guma is grateful to be in an environment conducive to energy start-ups. He sees Houston as a major advantage given its proximity to the energy sector.

"No technology rises up in a vacuum. Any new technology needs a good ecosystem to come from," says Guma. "Houston was that ecosystem for Penrose."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

4 tips for pay negotiation amid inflation from this Houston expert

guest column

With the consumer price index rising 9.1 percent since last year, many Americans are evaluating new employment opportunities with better pay. However, employees would be wise to consider the risks of accepting a new position in the face of inflation and a possible recession, which could leave employers unable to sustain higher wages and generous benefits.

As a safer option in the longterm, employees may wish to ask for a raise from their current management, yet many do not know how to start the conversation. By understanding best practices for negotiations, employees can improve their chances of obtaining a pay raise without undermining relationships.

Understand the risks of job-hopping

Conventional wisdom suggests that job hopping can result in higher salary increases than an annual raise. During the pandemic, many employees took advantage of labor market shortages to secure new positions for higher pay. However, job hopping presents risks, particularly in an uncertain economic environment. Companies may institute “last in, first out” layoffs, leaving recent hires unemployed.

Even in strong economic conditions, job-hoppers face uncertain outcomes. When employees leave a company, they may leave behind teammates, mentors, client partnerships and friendships years in the making. These relationships can redevelop in a new organization, but employees may find themselves in an unfamiliar setting, facing unrealistic expectations or unexpected challenges that were not clear during the interview process.

Prepare ahead of time

Before approaching management with a request for a raise, employees should understand their own financial needs and how much additional compensation would improve their finances. If inflation has caused financial strain, employees should gather recent data on inflation, including the consumer price index, to share with management. The more information employees can offer about changing economic conditions, the more management will understand and accept their position.

Focus on the positive

Employees should begin a conversation about salary with praise for the organization and a reiteration of their commitment to the team. By beginning on a positive note, employees set the tone for a mutually productive conversation. Although employees may view salary negotiations as adversarial across the table, productive negotiations are a conversation with both employee and employer on the same team.

Likewise, while employees may worry about looking greedy, employees should not let that fear prevent them from opening the conversation. Employers also understand that employees work to meet their financial needs. While employers may face budget constraints or other considerations in salary allocation, strong management also recognizes the importance of nurturing growth among employees, both in compensation and job responsibilities.

Nonetheless, employees should focus the discussion on broader economic conditions like inflation, not on their personal budget items. By acknowledging the economic environment outside of the employer’s control, employees can then respectfully request their salary be adjusted for inflation.

Employees with a record of strong results can also gather data or performance reviews to demonstrate their contributions to the team beyond the expectations of their role. In doing so, employees can frame a salary increase as a celebratory recognition of the mutually successful partnership between employee and employer and an investment in the relationship.

Be flexible if negotiations stall

If employers decline to adjust an employee’s salary for inflation, employees should not give up on negotiating additional compensation or benefits. Rather than a pay raise, employees can ask for reimbursement for gas mileage or additional remote days to cut down on their commutes. If management declines a pay raise based on timing, employees can acknowledge that management may face budgetary constraints, remaining flexible but firm. For instance, a compromise may involve revisiting the discussion in three to six months.

As employees face record-breaking inflation, it remains critical to consider the risks of departing one role for another. By implementing best practices in salary negotiations, employees can secure a salary increase that matches inflation, avoid the uncertainty of job-hopping and invest in the future at their current company.

------

Jill Chapman is a senior performance consultant with Insperity, a leading provider of human resources and business performance solutions.

Houston small biz tech platform launches entrepreneur-focused credit card

hello credit

When you're a small business owner, every service you sign up for or institution you open an account at should be a helpful partner on your business journey. At least, that's how Hello Alice sees it.

The Houston company has partnered up with Mastercard and First National Bank of Omaha to provide small business owners a suite of financial services with their line of credit. The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard will offer users expert business advice, business insights, cashback, and a rewards program that gives entrepreneurs points for completing business-advancing activities on the Hello Alice platform.

“We designed the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard to meet the needs of small business owners where they are, breaking longstanding barriers to mentorship, access to credit, and overall financial health for those who have traditionally been denied access,” says Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, in a statement.

“In times of economic boom and bust, access to capital remains the leading challenge for all small business owners, and particularly for New Majority owners, which is why we continue to focus our efforts on expanding the capital continuum beyond our existing grants and loans programs,” the duo continued.

Offered as a traditional credit card, the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard provides users with credit-building opportunities. Business owners with a limited or poor credit history also have the opportunity to a secured version of the credit card that still provides full benefits from the program.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our communities, yet too often face significant obstacles in securing the resources they deserve, particularly if the owners come from underserved communities,” says Linda Kirkpatrick, president for North America at Mastercard, in the release. “The launch of the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard is an important step in our mission to build a more inclusive digital economy by providing small businesses with the financial tools and capital they need to thrive, while also advancing our half-billion-dollar commitment to help close the racial wealth and opportunity gap for Black communities.”

This initiative is the latest announcement from Hello Alice’s Equitable Access to Capital program, which is focused on increasing access to the capital — as well as financial products, tools, and education — small businesses need to grow sustainably and power the national economy. By 2025, according to Hello Alice, approximately $70 million in grants could fund credit enhancements for approximately 30,000 business owners, unlocking up to $1 billion in credit access.

“FNBO has been committed to helping small businesses succeed for 165 years, and we are proud to partner with Hello Alice and Mastercard in this vital initiative to elevate all small businesses,” says Jerry J. O’Flanagan, executive vice president of Partner Customer Segment at First National Bank of Omaha.


The new credit card will provide credit and financial advice, support, and education to small business owners. Image via helloalice.com

Houston Methodist to open health innovation center in the Ion

coming soon

The Houston Methodist healthcare system has teamed up with the Ion innovation hub to open a health care innovation center.

The 1,200-square-foot tech hub is expected to open later this year. It initially will be geared toward activities like entrepreneurial programming, networking, mentoring, and pitching.

The space will be modeled after Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub, which opened in 2020. In fact, the new hub will be a smaller “twin” of the existing hub, according to a news release.

Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, says the collaboration with Houston Methodist “will advance the Ion’s ability to support entrepreneurs and innovators that are already at the Ion as we embark on a new focus in health care innovation.”

Amid the rise of artificial intelligence and other tech advancements, along with the health care sector’s continuing drive to cut costs, one forecast indicates the value of the global market for digital health care will jump from $216.4 billion in 2022 to $441 billion by 2026. That would represent an increase of 104 percent.

Houston Methodist is the Ion’s first health care partner. The Ion already has partnerships in the aerospace and energy sectors.

“We are advancing the evolution of the hospital’s role in health care through digital transformation,” said Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist. “Having a footprint at the Ion will not only provide the Ion’s network and Houston community with a window into what we are doing for patients, consumers and providers, but also gives The Ion community and rising innovators an opportunity to bring its own ingenuity and ideas to life with ours.”

Houston Methodist operates eight hospitals in the Houston area.

The 266,000-square-foot Ion anchors a 16-acre innovation district in Midtown. Rice Management Co. developed the district on behalf of Rice University.

“By enhancing opportunities for our network of academics, businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators to collaborate across the Ion District and globally, we’re creating a more resilient future economy for our region,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate at Rice Management.

The space will be modeled after Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub, which opened in 2020. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap