Now is the time for oil and gas companies to embrace modern technology solutions. Getty Images

The oil and gas industry has always been volatile. The profitability of leading companies has largely stemmed from their ability to predict future changes and therefore adapt to them. However, when a truly unpredictable situation happens, uncertainty clouds the entire market.

Such a structural shift has occurred at the intersection of the marketplace and COVID-19. The traditional energy sector must find ways to change, but it has to occur in non-traditional ways. We believe that technology will show us a way forward.

At the beginning of 2020, the oil and gas market looked optimistically at its forecasts for the year. Those predictions were left in shambles after the OPEC debacle and the novel coronavirus wreaked havoc on the world. Those events combined to cause demand shortages that led to historically low and unsustainable price points for the industry.

Therefore, we predict a lot of bankruptcies and layoffs until we see economies come back online and demand increase. However, companies with a strong cash flow and minimal debt should use this as an opportunity to turn technology into profitability, but it will require a willingness to learn and try new things.

At EAG Services & EAG 1Source, our midstream and upstream clients look to us for solutions. While they focus on combating the unknown and staying afloat, our team conducts diligent internal investigations to locate technological and infrastructure answers.

We have assembled three actionable insights in response to the shifts experienced by many oil and gas companies.

Lean into the digital age by automating your processes

The importance of accurate and timely data is at an all-time high as headcounts decrease and human capital becomes more valuable. By investing in automation, you'll increase business efficiency as a hedge against workforce risks. You will also achieve simplicity, transform your digital presence, and increase service quality and delivery.

Such tools should automatically capture, process, and extract essential data for executing routine processes. This includes information such as POP statements, invoices, meter readings, and non-operated statements that can be integrated into your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) System. These next-generation intelligent information systems combine workflows, content management, and automatic classification of files based on the meta-data most important to your organization.

Recognizing the value of your employee and their time goes a long way, especially in an emergency situation. It is imperative you give them tools that helps them operate as efficiently as possible so they can make rapid and informed decisions. During this time more than ever it is essential that your resources are able to quickly correlate information, and analyze and provide you with answers to determine your next move.

Provide remote access with cloud hosting

While many oil and gas companies look for ways to cut costs due to low consumer demand, cloud hosting offers you opportunities to eliminate capital purchases of IT hardware. Moving applications to the cloud not only helps protect your important data, but it inherently forces your organization into a remote work mentality.

Additionally, as team sizes and workloads shift, cloud computing offers essential flexibility to either grow or shrink, as many cloud and infrastructure hosting firms offer a "pay-as-you-use" model. Cloud computing also provides solutions for disaster recovery and business continuity by delivering data to your remote offices with enhanced security.

Establish a cybersecurity plan to protect your data

We've seen a rise in phishing attempts and cyber-attacks over the last month. Hackers recognize that people are in a unique situation, so they disguise themselves as "updates" and "signups" for news regarding COVID-19.

Do not let your employees or business assets fall victim to a cybersecurity incident. Give your staff secure access to data by providing systems with tools and software that block exploits and filter out malicious attacks.

Your company's exposure increases when corporate devices lack necessary security capabilities. This is true whether your employees connect to corporate assets from remote locations or use non-managed devices. You company should consider company laptops, change how users access corporate data, and deploy anti-virus and management tools to home-bound employees on a temporary basis.

Even with the unprecedented changes across the oil and gas industry, we've seen many businesses implement these modifications and succeed. By introducing technology that integrates their systems, they are weathering the current storm and preparing for unforeseeable threats in the future. Those who adapt and invest in technology today will be sustainable and scalable tomorrow.

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Elizabeth Gerbel is CEO of EAG Services and EAG 1Source, which provides business process, technology, and advisory services to the midstream and upstream oil and gas market,

Sean Guerre of Innovate Energy joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how energy startups are especially challenged in the current climate. Photo courtesy of Innovate Energy

Early-stage energy tech startups to be hit hard by COVID-19 and flooded oil market, Houston expert says

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 26

The oil and gas industry has been hit with a double whammy of challenges with COVID-19 and its imminent recession, but the global industry was already facing an oversupply of oil — and now an even smaller demand.

One of this confluence of obstacles' victims is going to be early-stage energy tech startups, Sean Guerre, managing director of Innovate Energy, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"When you think about what's happening in the oil downturn, unfortunately it's just a slice in huge uncertainty sandwich that we're all having to go through right now," Guerre says.

Not only is the pandemic unprecedented, but the cyclical energy industry hasn't faced a situation with so much discrepancy between supply and demand since the 1930s, which is a bit too far back to really take in any lessons learned.

Energy tech startups that are pre-funding and pre-pilots are going to struggle to get a foot in the door at bigger companies and aren't going to find much funding — both venture capital and corporate venture are down, Guerre says. He recommends really focusing on messaging moving forward — startups need to pitch cost-saving and efficient solutions.

"You've got to make sure your message fits the market," Guerre says. "What was working four weeks ago is probably not what you're going forth with now."

Innovate Energy, which produces online content for the advancement of energy tech and innovation, has seen a rise in interest in digital and unmanned solutions like robotics and industrial virtual reality.

"We're seeing a huge interest in autonomous, unmanned solutions," Guerre says. "Anything in that remote, autonomous area that allows people to continue to do inspections, mapping, surveying, and all kinds of work that don't involve more people being involved in the process — we're seeing a real acceleration there."

Startups are also challenged with a lack of events and networking opportunities with the COVID-19 mandates to stay at home and social distance. Guerre, who founded Stone Fort Group to put on virtual and in-person programming, says it's a new burden on event holders to use technology to optimize their events for the happenstance and socialization that happens at in-person events.

"How do we actually help people connect who wouldn't normally would have connected if they hadn't been sitting next to each other in a general session or waiting in line at the coffee line," he says on the show.

Guerre shares his thoughts on the state of energy moving forward, and how key these virtual events are on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.



Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to grow his company. Photo courtesy of Ambyint

Houston energy tech entrepreneur plans for growth following $15M series B raise

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 19

After years of having to educate potential customers about the game-changing technology that artificial intelligence can be, Alex Robart, CEO of Ambyint, says it's a different story nowadays.

"We're seeing our customers spend a little more time understanding AI," Robart says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "More and more boards of mid-sized [exploration and production companies] are challenging their executive teams to do something with AI."

Ambyint, a Calgary-based energy tech startup with its sales and executive teams based in Houston, uses AI to optimize well operations — Robart describes it as a Nest thermostat but for oil rigs. On average, 80 percent of wells aren't optimized — they are either running too fast and not getting enough out of the ground or running too slow and wasting energy, Robart says.

Recently, Ambyint closed its series B investment round at $15 million led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners led the round with contribution from Houston-based Mercury Fund. Robart says these funds will go to growing their technology to work on a greater variety of wells as well as hire people in both the Canada and Houston offices.

Robart runs Ambyint with his twin brother Chris, who serves as president of the company. The pair have long careers as serial entrepreneurs and even run an energy tech investment company, called Unconventional Capital. Between the two shared companies, the brothers have their own niches.

"We've been really thoughtful about ensuring that we take on different portfolios — we don't really own things jointly. That's been really helpful for us to carve out our own spheres that we own," Robart says."Chris has really become our lead customer-facing person on all things new products."


A new energy tech startup accelerator on the East Coast plans to tap into the Houston innovation ecosystem. Getty Images

New energy tech startup accelerator has its eyes on Houston

calling all energy entrepreneurs

Houston is on the radar of a newly formed startup accelerator that concentrates on companies in the energy sector and other commodities markets.

The Stamford, Connecticut-based accelerator, PointForward LLC, is seeking startups for its inaugural 12-week accelerator program, which kicks off in June. While the program will take place in Stamford, PointForward hopes to attract applicants from Houston. Each team accepted by the program will receive up to $100,000 in funding, along with mentoring and access to business resources, in exchange for a 7 percent equity stake.

"We are looking for early stage companies focused on a range of offerings — such as trading, logistics, and technology — related to the energy and commodity markets that can achieve high growth and scale," says Greg Schindler, founder of PointForward. "In particular, we are seeking companies where our network of industry contacts, including potential investors and customers, can provide key leverage."

In April, PointForward plans to choose three to six teams for its first accelerator program. Schindler says PointForward is willing to accommodate logistical challenges posed by a startup's critical people being located in, say, Houston but being asked to spend 12 weeks in Stamford.

"We understand that some companies may be working on physical products and may find it difficult to bring all the founders up to Stamford. That's OK," he says. "However, key members of each team should plan to be on site in Stamford for the full 12 weeks. This helps establish a vibrant founder community. We also understand if founders need to travel between Houston and Stamford."

PointForward plans to host demo days this September in Houston and New York City where startup teams will make pitches to potential investors.

Freepoint Commodities LLC, a commodities merchant based in Stamford, launched PointForward. Freepoint employs about 50 people in Houston, which is the headquarters of its retail energy business, Freepoint Energy Solutions LLC. Freepoint Commodities started that subsidiary in 2017.

"Houston is at the heart of the energy world," Schindler says, "and is extremely important to our efforts."

Freepoint Energy Solutions currently operates in Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Texas. The company entered Texas' commercial and industrial electricity market in July 2018.

Freepoint Commodities recently signed a deal with the Texas GulfLink LLC subsidiary of Sentinel Midstream LLC, based in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Richardson, for construction and operation of a deepwater crude oil export facility near the Brazoria County town of Freeport. Texas GulfLink has an office in Houston.

The Texas GulfLink facility will include an onshore oil storage terminal connected by a 42-inch pipeline to a manned platform about 37 miles off the Texas Gulf Coast. From the platform, crude oil will be transported to two buoys, enabling large vessels to load as many as 85,000 barrels of oil per hour.

The Houston metro area is projected to see a $751.8 million economic lift from construction of Texas GulfLink and related facilities.
Houston-based Corva, an AI-optimized analytics company, is in the process of hiring — a lot. Photo via corva.ai

Growing Houston energy tech company plans to hire 150 new employees this year

growing gains

While the oil and gas industry may be in store for sluggish growth in 2020, that's hardly the case for Houston-based energy tech startup Corva AI LLC.

Corva — which offers a real-time data analytics platform for drilling and completion (the stage when a well is prepared for production) — added 85 employees last year, mostly in Houston. And it's on track to make 150 new hires in 2020, including software developers, researchers, drilling engineers, and data analysts, says Courtney Diezi, the company's general manager. Two-thirds of this year's new hires will work in Houston, she says.

Diezi says the company's headcount currently stands at 120, with 100 employees in Houston and 20 in Ukraine.

Corva has expanded so much and so quickly that it outgrew its previous 11,000-square-foot office and is now at The Cannon, a coworking space and innovation hub in the Energy Corridor. It's set to move later this year to a new 40,000-square-foot space at The Cannon.

Founded in 2014 by CEO Ryan Dawson, Corva has raised just $3 million in outside funding to propel its growth.

"Our business has grown exponentially at the same pace as companies raising hundreds of millions in funding," Dawson says. "While the startup world has chased endless rounds of funding with the notion of either becoming a unicorn — or dying — we have focused on creating a company that cares deeply about our employees and a business that lasts 100 years."

Dawson describes Corva as the "modern brains" of drillings and completions. Oil and gas equipment sends millions of datapoints to Corva to help make complex decisions about drilling operations, she says. About 40 customers use Corva's technology.

In a 2019 news release, Dawson said Corva gauges its success "by the number of days we save on rigs, the costs we can quantifiably cut, and the number of catastrophic events we prevent." Corva's technology has saved millions of dollars for its customers and reduced the length of drilling projects by as many as three days, he said.

"Corva's challenge is to change the behavior of drillers who work for somebody else," the Journal of Petroleum Technology reported in 2019. "The fast-growing company has no shortage of users. Retaining those customers will require convincing oil companies that the real-time drilling data and analysis is creating enough value to justify the cost."

Corva's user-focused approach to developing technology helps attract and retain customers. Executives say they consider Corva a tech company that operates in the oil and gas sector rather than an oil and gas company that happens to develop software.

"Our software platform rivals Netflix and Twitter in terms of giant datasets and real-time processing," Diezi says. "Without a core expertise and founding team in software, we wouldn't be able to provide the amazing technology we do — it's too central to what we do. Corva is the perfect mixture of oil industry veterans and software whiz kids. Our customers love to work with us because we speak their language but provide world-class products solving hard problems."

As it continues to enlarge its workforce, Corva seeks to foster a workplace that embraces both oil industry veterans and software whiz kids.

"We want to be the most admired workplace in Houston, with a Google-like status both for our amazing products and our company culture," Diezi says.

Houston-based The Now Network's last-mile logistics platform is growing its development team. Getty Images

Houston-based energy logistics software prepares to hire, raise funds as it scales up

now hiring

Many startups turn to offshore outsourcing to fuel their growth. The Now Network, a Houston-based energy tech startup, is doing just the opposite — relying on stateside in-sourcing.

The SaaS company is in the midst of building out its in-house development team, including full stack developers and UX/UI designers. This year, The Now Network plans to add another four to six developers, on top of the six who already are on board. Stacey McCroskey, the company's director of product since September 2019, leads the team.

Previously, the development team consisted of more than a dozen contract workers in Ukraine and India, says Mush Khan, president of The Now Network. Khan assumed the president's role in May 2019.

"We believe that having our own in-house team drives a sense of ownership over the product. We have to eat our own cooking, because what we build, we have to support," Khan says.

Compared with the outsourcing model, the in-house team enables the company to more quickly release higher-quality products and more quickly respond to customers' needs, he says.

"Over the years, The Now Network has seen immense growth, consistently advancing its technology framework to drive faster payments, increased driver retention, an expanded 3PL network, and increased business revenue," Sam Simon, the company's founder, chairman, and CEO, says in a release. "The addition of an in-house development team will only amplify this growth, promoting more opportunities for cross-collaboration and customer feedback, to expand upon and refine existing features."

Members of the in-house development team are working on expansion of The Now Network's last-mile logistics platform for wholesalers, third-party logistics (3PL) carriers, drivers, and users of fuel. Khan says the platform offers "complete visibility and accuracy" throughout the fuel delivery process.

Competition for tech talent in Houston industries like energy and manufacturing is ramping up as the region evolves as "a fast-paced, innovative environment," he says.

"We believe companies like ours offer an opportunity to build a product from the ground up," Khan says, "and in an environment that allows them to express themselves creatively."

In June 2019, staffing firm Robert Half Technology put Houston in fourth place for the anticipated volume of IT hiring in U.S. cities during the second half of the year.

"The technology market in Houston remains strong as more companies are investing in systems upgrades, focusing on security, and taking on digital projects," Robert Vaughn, Robert Half Technology's regional vice president in Houston, said in a release. "The candidate market remains tight, and companies that prolong the interview process or don't make competitive offers tend to have the hardest time staffing open roles."

Today, The Now Network employs 15 people, all but one of whom works in Houston. The company expects to grow its workforce to around 30 by the end of 2020, Khan says. To accommodate the larger headcount, The Now Network is moving this month from WeWork at the Galleria to a 6,000-square-foot office in the Upper Kirby neighborhood.

To help finance its growth, The Now Network will soon launch its first-ever fundraising effort. Khan says the company will seek more than $5 million in investment capital.

Founded in 2015, The Now Network strives to simplify the last mile of the "energy ecosystem," which Khan describes as "slow, opaque, and expensive." Its SaaS platform automates delivery functions in the energy supply chain, doing away with manual labor and tedious paperwork, he says.

Since early 2018, the startup has handled more than 180,000 customer transactions involving over 1.8 billion gallons of fuel.

The Now Network is a portfolio company of Simon Group Holdings, a private equity firm based in Birmingham, Michigan. One of its key areas of focus is the energy sector.

In 2017, The Now Network (previously known as FuelNow Network) entered a strategic partnership with Houston-based Motiva Enterprises LLC, a fuel refiner, distributor, and retailer owned by Saudi Refining Inc. Khan says his company is collaborating with Motiva to roll out The Now Network platform to U.S. fuel wholesalers.

"As of now, Motiva doesn't have a stake in our company," he says.

Motiva owns East Texas' 3,600-acre Port Arthur Refinery, the largest oil refinery in North America, with a daily capacity of more than 600,000 barrels. State-controlled Saudi Aramco — which went public last year in an IPO valued at $2 trillion — owns Saudi Refining.

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Houston nonprofits can receive free tech help from big bank's batch of experts

Tech Support

Though it's been around since 2012, JPMorgan Chase's Force for Good program feels especially vital right now. The project connects Chase employee volunteers with hundreds of nonprofits around the world to build sustainable tech solutions that help advance their missions.

Even better, Houston and Dallas nonprofits have a leg up in the selection process. Organizations located in or near one of Chase's tech centers get priority, and that includes H-Town and Big D.

The government-registered nonprofits, foundations, and social enterprises (we're talking everything from food banks to theater companies) selected to participate will have access to a team of up to 10 highly skilled technologists, who will spend approximately four hours per week advising over an eight month period.

Each nonprofit is asked to propose the specific project that would benefit from technology guidance, and it needs to be something the organization can maintain when the project period is over.

"We have more than 50,000 technologists at JPMorgan Chase around the world and they're passionate about giving back," says Ed Boden, global lead of Technology for Social Good programs. "Force for Good gives our employees the opportunity to utilize their unique skills while also learning new ones, to build technology solutions for the organizations that need it most."

If you're the director, CEO, or other person in charge at a nonprofit and you still have questions about Force for Good, Chase has put together a free webinar to help explain further.

These webinars cover the overall program experience and application process, and it's highly recommended that nonprofits watch before applying. The live webinar dates (with Texas times) are June 2 from 1:30-2:30 pm and June 8 from 10:30-11:30 am.

A pre-recorded webinar will also be available for nonprofits to review after the live webinar dates.

Since 2012, Force for Good has worked with over 320 organizations in 22 cities, contributing over 190,500 hours of knowledge and skills.

"It is a great program that can provide strong impact for nonprofit organizations that need technology help," says Chris Rapp, a Dallas-based Chase executive. "As a father and husband of two Dallas artists, I am a huge believer in helping the arts grow and hopefully we can help do this through Force For Good."

The application process opened on May 28, with a deadline to submit by July 10.

2 corporations write checks to go toward Houston hospital's COVID-19 efforts

money moves

Two Houston companies have doled out cash to a Houston hospital's efforts in driving innovation during the pandemic as well as moving forward in a post-COVID-19 world.

Houston Methodist received $500,000 from Houston-based Aramco Americas and $130,000 from Houston-based Reliant. Aramco's gift will go toward funding ongoing research on convalescent plasma therapy as a treatment for COVID-19 and Reliant's donation will create the Reliant Innovation Fund.

"The challenges that we have and will continue to face with the COVID-19 pandemic amplifies the need for fresh ideas to combat this disease and treat those who have been affected," says Dr. Faisal Masud, medical director of the Center for Critical Care at Houston Methodist Hospital, in a news release from Reliant. "Innovating is at the core of what we do at Houston Methodist, and this generous gift from Reliant will make a difference for patients both now and for years to come."

According to the release, $100,000 will go toward supporting students in the Texas A&M University's Engineering Medicine program, which combines engineering and medical courses to allow for students to receive a master's in engineering and a medical degree in four years. Currently, A&M is renovating a building in the Texas Medical Center that will be the future home of the program.

"The EnMed program is educating a new type of physician — one with an engineering background and a forward-thinking, innovative medical mindset. Reliant's partnership and donation will allow our students to innovate for the dynamic needs on today's clinical front lines," says Dr. Timothy Boone, director of the Houston Methodist Education Institute and Associate Texas A&M Dean, in the release.

The other $30,000 of Reliant's gift will go towards expanding the hospital's patient-centric mobile app, CareSense, which Houston Methodist has used to connect with COVID-19 patients after they have left the hospital.

Aramco's donation will be used to support Houston Methodist's plasma research on COVID-19 treatment. The hospital was the first academic medical center in the United States to get FDA approval for this type of treatment on COVID-19 patients.

"Convalescent plasma therapy has been effective in other infectious diseases and our physician-scientists are working to develop it into a first-line treatment for COVID-19," says Dr. Dirk Sostman, president at the Houston Methodist Academic Institute, in a news release from Aramco.

The treatment collects blood from recovered COVID-19 patients and infuses the plasma into currently ill COVID-19 patients in hopes that the recovered patient's plasma can provide the antibodies for the ill patient to fight off the disease.

"Houston Methodist Hospital is a world-leader in healthcare as well as research and development," says Mohammad S. Alshammari, president and CEO of Aramco Americas in the release. "Our donation is an opportunity to support the innovative work occurring there in support of the Houston community and to contribute to long-term medical solutions for this global health crisis."