The new supercomputer is expected to be one of the world’s most powerful owned by an enterprise. Photo courtesy of HPE

A Houston tech company is building a next-generation supercomputer for one of the world’s largest energy providers.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced its plans to build HPC6 for Italian energy company Eni. Eni will use the system to advance scientific discovery and engineering toward accelerating innovation in energy transition to help aid its goal in getting to net zero. HPC6 is expected to be one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers owned by an enterprise.

HPC6 will be built with the same innovations that power the world’s fastest supercomputer to support data and image-intensive workloads across artificial intelligence, modeling, and simulation. According to a news release from HPE, the system will “augment Eni’s existing research that is focused on studying and identifying new energy sources, including renewable energy.”

Eni’s HPC6 will be installed in the company’s energy Green Data Center in Italy. The center will be upgraded to support HPE’s direct liquid-cooling (DLC) capabilities.

"Businesses are finding themselves balancing the huge business opportunities enabled by their AI investments with the responsibility of mitigating the environmental impact of these powerful systems," Antonio Neri, president and CEO of HPE, says in a news release.

"As the leader in developing energy efficient AI and supercomputing solutions, HPE is uniquely positioned to help organizations minimize power consumption while maximizing business outcomes," he continues. "We are excited to play a role in Eni’s commitment to decarbonization supported by digitalization and innovation."

Originally announced in 2020, HPE moved its headquarters to Houston in 2022.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Meet the Houston innovator who's creating a new market for decarbonizing energy storage

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 225

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things."

Konet says she was bullish on the energy storage side of things when she was an early hire at Key Capture Energy, a private equity-backed energy storage project developer. The issue with energy storage projects, as Konet describes, is they aren't being monetized properly and, in some cases, aren't sustainable and increasing emissions.

"The product we're building is solving these problems. It's a financial product, but what it's doing is solving a market deficiency," she says. "We're sending the right signal to the battery to operate in a way that reduces emissions, and then we're paying them for it because there's a demand to decarbonize."

For over a year, Konet, as co-founder and CTO, has worked on the platform, which is essentially a marketplace for corporates to buy carbon offsets, incentifying and monetizing storage projects.

Tierra Climate is technology agnostic, so while the company is seeing activity in the battery space, they can also work with other types of storage — like hydrogen, pumped water, and more. Konet says her ideal customers are companies with money and interest in playing a role in the energy transition and looking to offset their scope two and three emissions.

"The ultimate vision for our company is for this to be an accessible product that has a high degree of integrity that small to very large companies can execute on, because it's a pay-per-performance mechanism that doesn't lock companies into a really large contract," she says. "It's really scalable."

This year, she says the company, which won fourth place in the 2023 Rice Business Plan Competition, is focused on securing its first big contract and fundraising for its seed round.

After winning CodeLaunch last year, Matt Bonasera, enterprise architect at E360, looks forward to the future of the energy tech company. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Growing Houston energy tech company aims to improve building energy efficiency, air quality

A BREATH OF FRESH AIR

Houston-based energy efficiency company Energy 360 is working to balance what is often viewed as a tradeoff between high quality clean air and energy efficiency within corporate buildings.

E360 is a subsidiary of InTech Energy, a software company that provides a variety of energy efficiency solutions for commercial spaces. The enterprise architect of E360, Matt Bonasera, says the platform functions as an energy management system as it monitors air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and can adjust electricity usage among a host of other outputs.

“We are trying to holistically look at each building instead of just looking at it purely from the energy efficiency perspective or purely from looking at it from a health perspective,” Bonasera says.

Bonasera says E360 is the “last mile” in the energy transition, ensuring companies stick to their cost and energy-saving tactics after implementing them via consistent monitoring. E360 also helps users acquire energy efficiency grants from the U.S. government, using the platform to keep corporations accountable to their energy-saving goals.

“The market is really desperate for energy efficiency and there’s a lot of low hanging fruit out there. Only 10 percent of buildings have any energy efficiency mechanisms whatsoever,” Bonasera shares.

Bonasera says E360 predominantly works with corporations that own their own commercial space, particularly charter schools, churches, and Native American reservations. Though the platform is designed to save building-owners money and can assist commercial subletters, Bonasera says E360’s users tend to have a personal interest in their own air quality and emissions, prompting them to use the system.

Bonasera says E360 has the potential to dramatically improve the learning environment in schools since contracting with Stafford ISD and several charter schools. After implementing E360’s air quality monitoring and purifying system, Bonasera said schools experienced a significant drop in absenteeism.

“If you just improve the air quality in the building, students will do better, they will have better grades and we will have better outcomes,” Bonasera says.

After initially rolling their product out in California, Bonasera says E360 is gaining serious traction in the South, particularly in Texas. Following the devastating Winter Storm Uri, Bonasera says there has been increased interest in systems like E360 as Texans are hyper-aware of the delicate state of the energy grid.

“In Texas people are looking for ways to be more energy efficient and self-sufficient and this is a way that we help them,” Bonasera shares.

E360 won the top prize at CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, in March 2023 and Bonasera says he is excited about what the future holds as they continuously release new updates to the platform.

“I think we’re at an inflection point in the company and I think this is going to be a really pivotal year for us in growth,” Bonasera says.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

An organization based out of Greentown Houston has named its two new leaders. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

New leadership team named to organization advancing climate tech innovation from Texas college students

new hires

A collaborative initiative between several colleges and Greentown Labs has named its inaugural executive director.

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E, which is comprised of partners including Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas. Additionally, Julia Johansson was appointed chief of staff for TEX-E and will oversee operations and administration responsibilities.

“Dave is the ideal leader for TEX-E to build on the great work that’s been done to develop a robust entrepreneurial energy ecosystem across these five impressive universities in Texas and to directly inspire and support university students to pursue entrepreneurial careers that will power our clean energy future,” Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. “Dave’s expertise will have a tremendous impact on the strategy, evolution, and success of this ambitious and important program.”

David Pruner will lead the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, known as TEX-E. Photo via LinkedIn

With over 30 years of experience within the energy, academic, and business worlds, Pruner will take the helm of the organization that launched in 2022 in collaboration with Rice University, Texas A&M University, Prairie View A&M University, University of Houston, and The University of Texas at Austin as its founding institutions.

“I am very excited about helping Houston and the state of Texas navigate the energy transition,” Pruner says in the release. “We are at a crucial pivot point for the industry and it will be essential for us to help create the next generation of energy transition entrepreneurs.

"An ecosystem in this area has been building and it will be our mission to inspire, equip, connect and accelerate these individuals and teams working with the universities to make it robust," he continues. "If we succeed we will assure Texas’s role as the leader in energy globally.”

Before this new role, Pruner held leadership positions at business management consulting firm Heidrick & Struggles and Wood Mackenzie, as well as other energy firms and in financial services companies including Bridgewater Associates and Manufacturers Hanover Trust.

The two new hires are based out of Greentown Labs Houston. The next role TEX-E hopes to fill is director of university engagement, which will lead programming, recruitment, and partner management for TEX-E.

The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?” Photo via Getty Images

Expert: Houston's at a critical inflection point amid energy transition

guest column

In 1914, Winston Churchill faced a difficult decision. Over two decades before his first term as Prime Minister during World War 2, he oversaw the entire Royal Navy as First Lord of the Admiralty. Shipbuilding technology was rapidly evolving in that era and one of the key questions was whether to use coal or oil as fuel for the large ships in the fleet. Coal was the more proven technology at that point and the British had a strong supply chain across the Empire. Oil was lighter and easier to operate, but the worldwide supply and infrastructure were still limited.

Ultimately Churchill was persuaded by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others to convert the entire fleet to oil. To resolve the supply chain issue, the British government bought a majority stake in Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which became BP. The Royal Navy was possibly the largest consumer of fuel worldwide at the time, so this decision had a major effect on the energy transition in that era. Within 30 years, steam engines were no longer used for transportation in most of the world.

In that same decade, Houston emerged as a leading energy hub in the United States: Humble Oil was founded, the Houston Ship Channel was dredged, and the Baytown Refinery was constructed. World War I in Europe, and the mass adoption of cars in the US spurred a major increase in demand for oil. Oil went on to dominate the global energy market, providing cheap and reliable transportation, industrial production, and materials. Houston grew and prospered along with it to become the 5th largest metro area in the country today.

Over a century later, the global energy industry may be at a similar inflection point. According to IEA, the electric vehicle market more than tripled from 4 percent in 2020 to 9 percent in 2021 to 14 percent in 2022. Major automakers like GM, Ford, Volkswagen, Mercedes, and Volvo have pledged to become all-electric by early-to-mid 2030s. Similar commitments are being made in commercial trucking and shipping.

At the same time, the electric power grids in the United States and many other nations are undergoing a rapid shift to renewable energy. Lazard’s annual Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE) report showed that by 2015, wind and utility-scale solar power in the US were cheaper than all other technologies on a $/MWh basis; the gap has only grown wider since. EIA data on new power generation capacity in the US for 2020-2023 shows that solar, wind, and energy storage combined have ranged from 74 percent to 81 percent while natural gas has ranged from 14 percent to 22 percent and other fuels less than 5 percent.

All of these figures show market trends that are already happening, not projections of what may happen if the technologies improve. This leads to a natural question: will the growth of EVs and renewable energy reach a limit and tail off? Or will this trend continue until the internal combustion engine and fossil fuel power are replaced like steam engines were before? Both EVs and renewable energy are experiencing insatiable market demand in developed markets but have hit other barriers such as supply chain and infrastructure. However, just as the oil industry itself demonstrated in the past, those constraints can be overcome if the push is strong enough.

The year 2035, only 12 years away, is a major deadline for the transition. The US government and the EU have both set it as a target to complete the transition to EVs. In the US electric power industry, BloombergNEF projects that 126 GW of US coal power will retire before then. S&P also forecasts 85 GW of new energy storage will be online, which will help resolve intermittency and transmission issues that have limited the role of renewable energy up to now. That paints a picture of a radically different energy industry from the one we see today; one with oil demand at a fraction of its current levels and natural gas demand in rapid decline as well.

These market trends have drawn a variety of responses in Houston and other energy hubs, ranging from enthusiastic adoption to cautious skepticism to firm denial. Two recent examples of this range are BP CEO Bernard Looney advocating for continued investment in renewable energy and Shell CEO Wael Sawan emphasizing a move away from them due to lower returns. Business leaders should always be aware of threats to their long-term operations, regardless of their personal opinions on an issue. While demand for oil generally remains strong, every business in the energy industry should be prepared for the scenario that all new cars sold in a decade are electric. There is a graveyard of companies like Kodak, Sears, and Blockbuster Video that failed to act on an existential market threat until it was too late.

Plans for the transition can look different from company to company, but Houston is full of resources that can help with planning and deployment. The workforce, financial sector, and professional services can adapt to new energy technologies from their existing oil and gas expertise. Industry organizations like the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and the energy policy centers at Rice University and the University of Houston can help leaders make connections and discuss new technologies.

The burden is on every business leader to make use of the time remaining, not only to make plans for the changes coming in the energy industry, but to implement those plans. The question the Houston business community must be able to answer today is “Are we going to be ready for 2035?”

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Drew Philpot is president of Blended Power, a renewable energy consulting practice based in Houston. This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The newest tenant at the Ion is a West Texas-based oilfield equipment provider. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Another energy co. opens new office in the Ion Houston

moving in

The Ion's latest tenant is a Texas oilfield equipment provider that's recently seen an uptick in business amid the energy transition.

SCS Technologies, based in Big Spring, Texas, has opened a new office in the Ion, a 266,000-square-foot innovation hub in Midtown, to focus on strategy and innovation. SCS provides CO2 capture measurement and methane vapor recovery equipment for the energy, industrial, and environmental sectors.

“Embracing Houston's pivotal role in the energy transition, the Ion has swiftly become the epicenter of innovative collaborations. For SCS Technologies, this marks an exciting opportunity to align our capabilities and technology with a diverse consortium of organizations working toward ambitious carbon-neutral goals,” says Cody Johnson, CEO of SCS Technologies, in a news release. “Looking ahead, we are invigorated by the boundless possibilities at the Ion, envisioning groundbreaking solutions and technologies that will unfold there.”

The Ion has seen a flurry of activity when it comes to energy tenants. In March, United Kingdom-based Carbon Clean, opened its US headquarters in the Ion as it expands nationally. In April, the Ion named several other new tenants, which included industrial software company Cognite, robotics tech provider Nauticus, and more. These companies join Chevron, which officially opened its new outpost in 2022 after being announced as a founding partner in 2020. ExxonMobil is also a founding partner.

SCS also announced a new executive on its team. On July 20, SCS announced René Vandersalm as COO. Johnson says in a July 20 statement that the appointment comes at a time when "energy and industrial sectors are undergoing a considerable transformation of their processes and infrastructure to align with carbon-neutral goals."

Vandersalm previously worked for over 20 years at Thermon Manufacturing leading the company's heating solutions. In his new role, he says he will work within SCS "to design and produce the innovative compression and measurement systems our customers need to achieve emissions goals."

“It’s an exciting time as energy and industrial companies strive towards sustainable operations, all while delivering the energy and products that customers worldwide rely on,” Vandersalm continues in the release. “I am both excited and honored to collaborate with the talented and motivated SCS Technologies team as we make a significant impact in this industry-wide transition.”

SCS is partnered with New Orleans-based Black Bay Energy Capital, an energy-focused private equity fund.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Annual student startup competition in Houston names teams for 2024

ready to pitch

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship announced the 42 student-led teams worldwide that will compete in the highly competitive Rice Business Plan Competition this spring.

The annual competition, known as one of the world’s largest and richest intercollegiate student startup competitions, will take place April 4 to 6 in Houston. Teams in this year's competition represent 35 universities from four countries, including two teams from Houston and four others from Texas.

Teams, made up of graduate students from a college or university anywhere in the world, will present their plans before 350 angel, venture capital, and corporate investors to compete for more than $1 million in prizes. Last year, teams were awarded $3.4 million in investment and in-kind prizes, the largest total awarded thus far in the decades-old competition after some investors doubled — or even tripled — down on investment awards.

The 2024 RBPC will focus on five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

Invitees include:

  • AIRS ML, Imperial College London (United Kingdom)
  • Blaze Power, UCLA
  • ChiChi Foods, Washington University in St. Louis
  • CureWave Sciences, Rutgers University
  • CurveAssure, Johns Hopkins University
  • D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Dendritic Health AI, Northwestern University
  • Dialysis Innovations, University of Michigan
  • FlowCellutions, University of Pittsburgh
  • HEXAspec, Rice University
  • HydroPhos Solutions, University of New Hampshire
  • Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas
  • Informuta, Tulane University
  • Kiwi Charge, York University (Canada)
  • Korion Health, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Limitless Aeronautics, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University
  • LiQuidium, University of Houston
  • Malleous, University of Pittsburgh
  • MesaQuantum, Harvard University
  • MineMe, University of Pennsylvania
  • NaviAI, Cornell University
  • NutriAI, Tufts University
  • OSPHIM, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • Overture Games, Northwestern University
  • OX SOX, University of Georgia
  • Oxylus Energy, Yale University
  • Palanquin Power, University of Texas at Austin
  • Paradigm Robotics, University of Texas at Austin
  • Particle-N, University of Connecticut
  • Poka Labs, Harvard University
  • Power2Polymer, RWTH Aachen University (Germany)
  • ProPika, University of Arkansas
  • Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • Samtracs, Oklahoma State University
  • Sancorda Medical, University of Texas at Dallas
  • Side Coach Sports, Baylor University
  • Socian AI, Rochester Institute of Technology
  • Somnair, Johns Hopkins University
  • TouchStone, University of California, Berkeley
  • Vita Innovations, Stanford University
  • WattShift, University of Chicago
  • ZebraMD, UCLA

The companies join more than 700 RBPC alumns that have collectively raised more than $5.5 billion in funding. More than 269 RBPC companies are in business or have made successful exits, according to the Rice Alliance's website.

Last year, Texas A&M-based team FluxWorks took home $350,000 and won the competition based on judges scores. The company's technology includes magnetic gears that are four times quieter than standard with 99 percent efficiency.

Sygne Solutions and TierraClimate, two Rice-led teams, won second and fourth places, respectively. Zaymo, from Brigham Young University, took home the most in investment dollars. Click here to see the full list of 2023 teams.

Texas is the No. 1 destination for Gen Zers on the move, study says

by the numbers

A new population analysis by real estate marketplace Zillow has pegged the Lone Star State as the No. 1 destination for adults born between 1996 and 2004 – also known as Gen Z.

Using data from the 2022 U.S. Census Bureau, the report identifies the Top 10 states to which Gen Zers are moving, and Texas was the runaway winner – far outranking No. 2 destination, California, with 76,805 Gen Z movers, versus California's 43,913.

Reasons for moving vary, but the report says young adults from 18 to 24 years old may prefer to live in states with high performing job markets, especially in a place like San Antonio where one of the nation's top employers resides. San Antonio is also a great place for remote work, according to estimations by Forbes.

Favorable weather also may play a factor in the high migration of Gen Z'ers, the report suggests. Texas' mostly year-round sunshine makes it more attractive to younger crowds who are looking for fun activities around the state, not to mention the advantageous impact on dating opportunities.

Other top states with high influx of Gen Z movers include Washington (No. 5), which added over 33,500 Gen Z movers in 2022, and Colorado (No. 6) with less than 31,000 new Gen Z residents.

Their least favorite destination was Michigan, and the Northeast also ranked poorly, with four New England states – Vermont, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine – all in the bottom 10.

State with a high cost-of-living like Washington, Colorado, and Virginia (No. 7) are places where young adults are more likely to have a bachelor's degree, work in tech, or serve in the military, according to Zillow principal population scientist Edward Berchick.

However, becoming a homeowner is much more difficult, as the report found 77 percent of the Gen Z workers in these states are renters.

"Gen Z movers are likely drawn to the job opportunities in these states, despite the higher costs of housing," Berchick explains. "They may also be in a stage of life where they're willing and able to be flexible in their standards of living while starting their careers."

The top 10 states for Gen Z movers are:

  • No. 1 – Texas
  • No. 2 – California
  • No. 3 – Florida
  • No. 4 – North Carolina
  • No. 5 – Washington
  • No. 6 – Colorado
  • No. 7 – Virginia
  • No. 8 – Illinois
  • No. 9 – Georgia
  • No. 10 – Arizona

The full report can be found on zillow.mediaroom.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Op-Ed: Black-owned businesses are making history in Texas, across America

guest column

In recent years, our small business community has weathered a global pandemic, persistent supply chain issues, sometimes volatile prices, and a tight labor market—and Black-owned businesses in our state have faced disproportionate impacts from these pandemic challenges.

Despite those headwinds, Black-owned businesses across Texas are fueling one of the largest and most diverse waves of new business creation America has ever seen—what President Biden calls America’s Small Business Boom.

As we mark America’s 48th national celebration of Black History Month, the SBA is highlighting Black-owned businesses’ achievements here in Texas and throughout the nation. The past three years have been the three strongest years of new business formation in American history.

The 16 million new business applications filed during this period show Americans starting businesses at nearly twice the rate—86 percent faster—compared to the pre-2021 average. During that time, U.S. small businesses have created more than 7.2 million net new jobs. And Black-owned businesses are responsible for some of the most significant gains.

The Invest in America agenda is powering the Biden Small Business Boom, and unlike many economic recoveries of the past, this one includes entrepreneurs of color. One of the reasons for that is the SBA’s Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP). This innovative hub-and-spoke partnership connected hundreds of community organizations around the country - like the U.S. Black Chambers of Commerce and the National Urban League - with entrepreneurs, helping them make the most of SBA resources. “The SBA CNPP allowed the

Houston Area Urban League Entrepreneurship Center to leverage existing partnerships with organizations that offered services to socially and economically disadvantaged business owners and women-owned businesses,” states Eric Goodie, Executive Vice President of the Houston Area Urban League. “Through the CNPP we provided comprehensive business planning and support, e-commerce technical assistance, financial and credit education, opportunities for business networking, access to capital and procurement opportunities,while providing assistance with obtaining various business certifications. We also found theSBA Lender match portal to be a critical resource in the capital acquisition process."

Under Administrator Isabel Guzman, the SBA has also delivered record-breaking government contracting for small businesses—including the most federal contracting dollars going to Black-owned businesses in history. And we’re addressing longstanding gaps in access to capital for Black entrepreneurs, more than doubling our small business loans toBlack-owned businesses since 2020.

These investments are making a big impact. Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. The share of Black households owning a business doubled between 2019 and 2022. In 2023 alone, Census data showed Americans filed 5.5 million new business applications across the country, including over 500,000 here in Texas. That success is creating a rising tide. Black wealth is up a record 60 percent from before the pandemic, and Black unemployment has reached historic lows since 2021.

The SBA also understands that the work must continue. Black entrepreneurs and other historically underserved communities still face obstacles accessing capital. That's why President Biden and the SBA are committed to ensuring that anyone with a good idea can pursue that opportunity, and the Small Business Boom speaks to that success. We're helping more Americans than ever access the funds they need to realize their dreams of small business ownership – and that means more jobs, more goods and services, and more resilient communities, no matter the zip code.

To learn more about SBA resources, entrepreneurs are invited to join the SBA Houston District Office as it teams up with the Emancipation Economic Development Council and dynamic community organizations to celebrate Black History Month. The organizations will host the Resources to Empower Entrepreneurs event at the Emancipation Cultural Center on Wednesday, February 28, and will feature discussions surrounding resources, funding, and training available for small business owners.

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Mark Winchester is the SBA Houston District Office's acting district director.