Ahmad Atwan founded VC Fuel in Houston to fund the future of the energy transition. Photo courtesy of VC Fuel

When Ahmad Atwan decided he was going to launch a venture capital fund focused on early-stage energy transition startups, Houston was a no brainer. But while there are similar funds on each of the coasts, Atwan learned that VC Fuel's concept was going to be kind of niche for Houston.

"We're the only early stage climate tech or energy transition firm in Houston right now, which is really surprising," Atwan tells InnovationMap, explaining that the Bay Area is home to dozens of these funds and there are even more on the East Coast. "I'm hoping there'll be more (similar funds in Houston), but it's also kind of a nice position to be in."

Atwan shares more about VC Fuel and the $100 million fund, which he's still raising for while also investing in a few startups at the same time, in an interview with InnovationMap. He also discusses how his expertise as a former founder and former private equity investor with Morgan Stanley and BlackRock makes him an opportune value-add investor.

InnovationMap: Why did you decide to start VC fuel?

Ahmad Atwan: I decided to start VC fuel because I've been in the energy industry my entire career. I've been both an entrepreneur — I started two companies in the 2000s that I sold. One was a energy technology firm and one was a Brazilian ethanol company.

After that I was on the buy side buying pretty large private energy companies — anywhere from the size of $500 million to $2 billion. And over that whole time, energy was a very exciting industry and was growing very fast.

But as I saw climate change happening more rapidly and becoming more of a reality, and as I started looking and investing in some renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, I realized that's really where my passion was and what I wanted to do. And at the same time, the world was moving towards that as well, and investors really wanted to have exposure to new energy or energy transition areas.

IM: What are you looking for in potential investment opportunities?

AA: The areas that we focus on are all decarbonized and kind of all across the board, ranging from clean agriculture, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage or carbon capture and usage, to energy efficiency, clean industrial processes, and more. And I think these are areas that they right now comprise less than 2 percent of the global energy mix, but they're going to be north of 10, 15, 20 percent over time. So, these are high growth areas, and they are either lower, zero, or even negative emissions.

We're looking specifically for companies that we call seed stage or series A, generally, sometimes series B. So, they're companies that are relatively early in their development, but have some sort of commercial traction. And ones that are looking for not only a venture capital firm, but someone that can be their partner and help guide them and help them in certain areas, like raising their next round of funding, helping them get introduced to customers.

IM: With your experience, what do you feel like you bring to the table as a hands-on investor?

AA: I think in my decade-plus in private equity, when I was an investor on the boards of a company, I always tended to be one of the most involved in helping guide operations and working with senior management. And I think that's probably because I was a founder in the past, so I really identify with founders and I try to figure out with them what's the gap in their skillset or knowledge base that needs to be filled. Sometimes it's one that I can naturally help fill, which might be on the financial side or on the commercial side. And sometimes it's just bringing in other experts to help the company out.

But I think having been both on the founder and the private equity side, I think I empathize with the founder usually. And I would give this advice to all founders out there: the most important relationship they're going to have is with their lead venture capitalist, because that's going to be the defining relationship that helps them get to legitimacy in terms of the next round of funding. It's something that I kind of learned from friends in Silicon Valley. It's not only building the relationship for VC fuel — it's building a relationship with one of the individuals in our firm, whether it's me or one of my partners, and having them be really invested in the company.

IM: Why did you decide on Houston for VC Fuel's HQ?

AA: First of all, Houston is the undisputed energy capital of the world. So to me, especially when you're looking at energy transition sectors that have to work with the energy industry, it was a no brainer. For a lot of the technologies we deal with — like carbon capture — and the businesses we deal with, it's going to be essential for them to connect with the energy world.

I think a second reason, frankly, and I didn't realize this until we really got deep into the idea is that we're a little bit unique and we have a little bit of a competitive advantage. There are over 30 climate tech firms in the Bay Area, and there are a large number as well in New York and Boston. We're the only early stage climate tech or energy transition firm in Houston right now, which is really surprising. And I'm hoping there'll be more of those, but that's also kind of a nice position to be in because, as we see opportunities come out of the energy companies, and as we try to attract talent and grow, we think we have a pretty unique offering.

IM: What has being located in Greentown Houston meant for you?

AA: It's been fantastic. I think Houston did a great job of attracting Greentown here as the second location. Working out of here, we're able to interact in real time with everything from startup companies to major corporations. You get such a diverse set of people who are passionate about energy transition. It's actually already led to some opportunities to invest in, as well as to connect with some of the bigger companies that want to invest with us. It's been just a great coincidence that we launched here when Greentown opened. We'd much rather be here than any other type of working space. So, we're very excited.

IM: What keeps you up at night as it pertains to the energy transition?

AA: I would say the first thing is commercial adoption. All of our companies so far have great management teams — especially founders — and excellent technology, but there's that bridge to actually get the technology adopted by a customer. Sometimes you can have the best technology, and it just never happens. So, I'm keeping my eye on how much progress are we making with commercial customers. A lot of these are big companies — whether it's a waste management or a tech company, like a Microsoft — are getting into energy transition. Customer adoption in that area is a key metric for us.

The second big one — and this one's a little newer to me because I didn't face it as much in the past — is regulation. So many of the areas that we look at are going to have their economics determined by regulations that are literally being written right now. For example, the Cares Act the by the Biden administration is deciding things like what the level of tax credits will be for carbon capture. The carbon capture company we've invested in suddenly sees their projects become a lot more profitable if that figure is on the higher side. It's important to keep our ear to the ground on regulation and try to anticipate where it's going. That's why we have a couple people who are ex-Department of Energy on our advisory board because we like to have that skill set.

IM: What's next for VC Fuel?

AA: Our cadence of investing is that we invest in about one company every couple of months, which is pretty fast for a venture capital firm in energy transition. What's next is for our current companies to get to the next stage of evolution. There is one that I can't talk about specifically, but it might be getting sold to a really exciting buyer — and it's very good to have that kind of exit early on in a fund's life. And for the rest of our portfolio companies it's about continuing to get customers and next rounds of funding.

We've done a really good job of building a portfolio. That's not concentrated in any one area of energy transition. We will continue to look for a diverse set of companies that compliment each other, and that can help each other out. One area we continue to look at is not just the carbon capture, but also the carbon use space where you can turn carbon into something that's actually productive. Another area that we continue to look at is the electric vehicle space, but not just traditional EVs, but the next generation EV technology.

Siloed data, lack of consistency, and confusing regulations are all challenges blockchain can address. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Blockchain is the key to unlocking transparency in the energy industry

guest column

Houston has earned its title as the Energy Transition Capital of the world, and now it has an opportunity to be a global leader of technology innovation when it comes to carbon emissions reporting. The oil and gas industry has set ambitious goals to reduce its carbon footprint, but the need for trustworthy emissions data to demonstrate progress is growing more apparent — and blockchain may hold the keys to enhanced transparency.

Despite oil and gas companies' eagerness to lower carbon dioxide emissions, current means of recording emissions cannot keep pace with goals for the future. Right now, the methods of tracking carbon emissions are inefficient, hugely expensive, and inaccurate. There is a critical need for oil and gas companies to understand and report their emission data, but the complexity of this endeavor presents a huge challenge, driven by several important factors.

Firstly, the supply chain is congested with many different data sources. This puts tracking initiatives into many different silos, making it a challenge for businesses to effectively organize their data. Secondly, the means of calculating, modeling, and measuring carbon emissions varies across the industry. This lack of consistency leaves companies struggling to standardize their outputs, complicating the record-keeping process. Finally, the regional patchwork of regulations and compliance standards is confusing and hard to manage, resulting in potential fines and the headaches associated with being found noncompliant.

Better tracking through blockchain

When it comes to tracking carbon emissions, the potential for blockchain is unmatched. Blockchain is an immutable ledger, that allows multiple parties to securely and transparently share data in near real time across the supply chain. Blockchain solutions could be there at every step of operations, helping businesses report their true emissions numbers in an accurate, secure way.

Oil and gas companies are ready to make these changes. Up to now, they've been using outdated practices, including manually entering data into spreadsheets. With operations spread across the world, there is simply no way to ensure that numbers have been accurately recorded at each and every point of action if everything is done manually. Any errors, even if they're accidental, are subject to pricey fines from regulatory agencies. This forces businesses into the costly position of overestimating their carbon emissions. Instead of risking fines, energy companies choose to deflate their carbon accomplishments, missing out on valuable remediation credits in the process. In addition, executives are forced to make decisions based on this distorted data which leaves projects with great potential to cut carbon emissions either underfunded or abandoned entirely.

In conversations with the super majors, they've reported that they have cut emission reduction estimates by as much as 50% to avoid over-reporting. This is anecdotal, but demonstrates a real problem that results in slower rates to meet targets, missed opportunities, and unnecessary expenditures.

There are so many opportunities to integrate blockchain into the energy industry but tackling the carbon output data crisis should come first. Emissions data is becoming more and more important, and oil and gas companies need effective ways to track their progress to drive success. It's essential to start at the bottom and manage this dilemma at the source. Using blockchain solutions would streamline this process, making data collection more reliable and efficient than ever before.

Houston is on the right track to lead the world in energy innovation — local businesses have made impressive, action-driven efforts to make sure that our community can rightfully be called the Energy Capital of the World. The city is in a great position to drive net-zero carbon initiatives worldwide, especially as sustainability becomes more and more important to our bottom lines. Still, to maintain this command, we need to continue to look forward. Making sure we have the best data is critical as the energy world transitions into the future. If Houston wants to continue to be a leader in energy innovation, we need to look at blockchain solutions to tackle the data problem head on.

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John Chappell is the director of energy business development at BlockApps.

Juliana Garaizar is transitioning her role at Greentown Houston. Courtesy photo

Greentown Houston names local leader as climate tech enters 'perfect storm' for the energy transition

Q&A

When Greentown Labs opened its doors in Houston on Earth Day this year, Launch Director Juliana Garaizar had worked diligently with the Greentown team in Boston and Houston to make that day possible. Now, she's preparing for her next role within the organization.

Garaizar — who has worked in Houston over the past several years at organizations like the Houston Angel Network, TMC Innovation, Portfolia, and more — is transitioning into her new role as head of Greentown Houston and vice president of innovation for Greentown Labs.

Garaizar recently joined InnovationMap for a Q&A on her new role, how Greentown Houston has been since its launch a few months ago, and why now is the time for Houston to take the lead within the energy transition.


InnovationMap: What does the transition look like for you to go from launch director to head of the Houston incubator?

Juliana Garaizar: I think that the transition sends a signal — it means that we have successively launched Greentown Houston. We've got the founding partners and grand opening partners we needed, we hit the fundraising milestone that we had in place, and now it's time to deliver and to make sure we have the team and the resources in place to be able to deliver on our promises. That's why I'm transitioning my role to the head of Houston incubator and that will mean a leadership role for the Houston team.

IM: You’re also assuming a general role for Greentown Labs as vice president of innovation — what does this part of your job entail?

JG: The most important part is being able to be part of the executive team. I think it's very important for the executive team to have a Houston representative so that Houston can have a voice. The launch period, we've been a little bit of a side project, and now we are trying to get into full speed and try to figure out how we ramp up all of the initiatives that are taking place in Boston and make them happen, making them happen in Houston.

We've learned a lot about this expansion and how to make an expansion happen. This was our first ever expansion. So, one of my roles now is to make sure that all the key learnings that we've had during this year and a half — almost two years — make like sort of a book on how to make a new Greentown happen if there's another opportunity for an expansion but also to figure out what the initiatives are there that can add value to our locations.

It's also about making sure that we have a more strategic view on the differences between ecosystems. I think there's more room for growth in Houston. Houston is a little younger of an ecosystem than Boston is. So I think we need to do more in terms of investment activation. And also workforce development in Houston — we have a pretty big workforce that is trying to transition from oil and gas to cleaner ventures. And I really believe that Greentown Houston as a role to play. That's something that might not be that obvious in Boston, because we don't have all this workforce trying to transition.

IM: You have a really thorough background in investment — is this something you’re focusing on with Greentown too?

JG: Yeah, definitely. Greentown doesn't take any equity, but we are very aware that investments and capital access to capital is one of the biggest requirements that our members have. And, uh, we have our own investor program that we launched in Boston, and we're going to continue to apply it to Houston now that we're open.

The access to capital in Houston is not as developed as the access to capital in Boston. So there's several things. First of all, I think quite a lot of partners and investors in the Boston ecosystem are very interested in Houston. So, we're making sure that our Houston members have access to those new investors, and that they are aware of the Houston deal flow. And in some cases also, that means that some of the Houston investors that are knowledgeable in investing in oil and gas and energy can get educated on investing in climate tech. That's something that we've taken on as an extra project for Houston. We actually dedicated one specific Rice fellow for that, and what we've been doing so far for the past year is training events that we did in collaboration with our law firm, Vinson and Elkins and also with some of our Boston partners like Clean Energy Ventures. And out of those trainings that were remote, a lot of opportunities came out — not only in terms of deal flow and connections with our entrepreneurs, but also opportunities to engage syndicates between Boston and Houston investors.

IM: I got to attend the launch of Greentown Houston a few months ago. How has it been since launch and what’s the reception been like?

JG: It's been much bigger and better than we expected. I mean, the reception has been overwhelming. Every day, we have people just popping in unannounced because they want to see Greentown. And I think that's the way it should be. People are excited, they see the new building — they've seen it on TV — and they're curious to see how things are going.

We've been very surprised by how many of our early access members — we had the 30 that we announced — and out of those 30, I think we already have around 23 that have moved in. We onboard five new people every week, so the community is really growing. We're also surprised that there's quite a lot of interest in corporate desks — those are partners and investors who want to mingle with our community.

We've had members who were based out of Boston that decided to move to Houston permanently, and we've had entrepreneurs who were in Memphis who decided to move to Houston too. So, we're already attracting quite a lot of climate tech entrepreneurs from all over the U.S., and I would say all over the world, because we also have international, um, members who want to also be part of Greentown Houston.

IM: Why is now the time for Houston to lead the energy transition?

JG: I think we already knew that the time it was was now. I think that if Greentown had happened one year before or even one year later, it wouldn't be the right time. I really believe that our main partners are transitioning themselves — Shell, Chevron, and many others are announcing how they are transitioning. And now they look at Greentown as an execution partner more than anything. Before, it was a nice initiative for them to get involved in. Now, they are really thinking about us much more strategically.

We really believe that the energy transition can happen in Houston because we're there to be a convener. I think we have all the elements to make the energy transition happen in Houston. We have the capital, we have the assets, we have the talent, we have the corporate partners, we have the universities, we have the SDOs in place — but everything has been pretty siloed. And I think having a building and a physical space where all of these people can collide and talk about what's next. And even the partners can talk about open innovation without feeling like they have to compete so that we can rise the tide to all boats is pretty important.

So I think we are at this perfect storm, no pun intended, where finally all of these elements that were somehow siloed are happening, and we're having also the right and policy framework with the Biden Administration pushing for all these new initiatives and also highlighting our work. I think those things make the energy transition in Houston more than possible.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Photo via Getty Images

Experts: Houston can win in the energy transition — here's how

Guest column

President Joe Biden recently announced his 2030 goal for the United States to achieve a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from its 2005 levels. This announcement comes on the heels of the American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion infrastructure and climate-response program which offers a host of energy- and climate change-related initiatives, including a plan to speed up the conversion of the country to carbon-free electricity generation by 2035.

To reach these goals, companies of all industries are looking to implement clean energy investments and practices and do so quickly. Perhaps more than any major city in America, Houston faces fundamental questions about its economy and its future in the global Energy Transition. Some 4,600 energy companies, including more than a dozen Fortune 500 companies, serve as the foundation of the city's economy.

While many of these are working in the renewables space, the vast majority are rooted in fossil fuels. Many in Houston have long been anticipating this move towards renewables, but the new executive position on emissions has brought renewed pressure on Houston to take action and put investments behind securing its position as the Energy Capital of the World.

Houston's energy transition status

There has been an uptick in Energy Transition activity in Houston over the past several years. Currently, Houston boasts at least 100 solar energy-related companies and 30 wind energy-related companies. Environmental Entrepreneurs ranked Houston seventh among the top 50 U.S. metro areas for clean energy employment in the fourth quarter of 2019, with 1.9 percent of all clean energy jobs in the U.S. In 2019, Houston had 56,155 clean energy jobs, up nearly 4 percent from 2018, according to E2. However, by comparison, there are roughly 250,000 fossil fuel jobs in the area. (S&P Global)


Many traditional oil and gas companies have embraced this change, pivoting to more sustainable and resilient energy solutions. Companies working in tangentially related industries, like finance, infrastructure and services, are beginning to understand their role in the Energy Transition as well.

The challenge

While the Bayou City's proximity to the bay and natural oil supply may have set the scene for Houston's Energy Capital Status, the same geographic advantages do not exist in this new renewable space. As many have already begun to realize – Houston companies must make a concerted and timely effort to expend their focus to include renewables.

Greater Houston Partnership recently launched a new initiative aimed at accelerating Houston's activity around energy transition, while existing committees will continue efforts to bring energy tech and renewable energy companies to Houston. This initiative will bolster Houston's smart city efforts, explore the policy dimensions of carbon capture, use, and storage, and advocate for legislation that helps ensure the Texas Gulf Coast is positioned as a leader in that technology.

The Partnership estimates the city has seen $3.7 billion dollars of cleantech venture funding in recent years. Still, the infrastructure and services sector of the Energy Transition is vastly underinvested in, especially when compared to the tens of billions in the more traditional sector.

The opportunity

Houston, and the energy markets specifically, have always been great at raising capital and deploying it. The energy companies and capital needed to support them will continue to be in Houston as the energy markets transition to renewable sources in addition to fossil fuels.

The job opportunities in Houston and new energy are going to be significant. Texas is well suited to fit these needs as the technical skillset from fossil fuels to renewables is highly transferable. Given the technical expertise needed to manage energy—whether it's oil, gas or renewables—Houston and Texas will always have the universities here that feed the technical skills needed in energy.

Houston has always done a great job at attracting energy companies and related businesses to move their headquarters here or open and office in the area. Additionally, offering proper training opportunities for both oil and gas and renewable energy jobs has a proven track record of spurring growth and attracting talent to our area.

All of this, combined with a concerted effort from investors willing to double down on the sectors of solar, storage, electric vehicles and energy management sectors are critical. With swifter growth for jobs in the renewable space and incentivization of the next generation of energy companies, Houston can forge a clear path towards the "New Energy Capital of the World."

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Eric Danziger and Jordan Frugé are managing directors at Houston-based Riverbend Energy Group.

Molecule has closed new funding in order to focus on the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Craig Lawrence and Neal Dikeman co-founded a new venture capital firm focused on funding technology as a part of the energy transition. Photos courtesy

New Houston-based venture capital firm emerges to focus on energy transition

money moves

Two Texas entrepreneurs recently announced what they say is the first venture fund in Texas exclusively dedicated to investing in energy transition technologies.

Houston-based Energy Transition Ventures — led by Craig Lawrence and Neal Dikeman — officially emerged from stealth mode with anchor investment from two operating companies from the GS Group of Korea. The fund closed its first capital in February this, completed its first investment in March, and looks to close new investors for a total fund size of $75 million, according to a press release.

"In the near future, energy is going to be delivered and used completely differently. Marginal and average energy and CO2e prices are now on a long term deflationary trend," says Dikeman in the release. "There are 500 multi-billion dollar energy companies globally, and massive portions of global GDP, that are going to get disrupted in the energy transition, from energy & power, transport, real estate, industrial to consumer to agriculture."

Dikeman, who is the managing partner at Old Growth Ventures, a family office investor, also chairs the board at nonprofit cleantech accelerator Cleantech.org, virtual research institute. In 2001, he co-founded San Francisco based cleantech investment firm Jane Capital in 2001.

"We've been successful being highly selective as investors, and using our deep networks and understanding of energy and technology to avoid pitfalls other investors faced. It is exciting to be off the bench to do it again," he continues.

Lawrence, who's also been a part of the cleantech revolution for a chunk of his career, previously started and led the cleantech investing effort at Accel Partners and was previously vice president of product at software company Treverity. The duo chose the Energy Capital of the World to headquarter ETV.

"Texas is the energy capital of the world, and outside of corporate venture capital, there are not many venture funds in the state," says Lawrence. "So it makes sense to start an energy transition focused fund here as the latest wave of clean technology investing accelerates."

ETV will fund from seed to series B with select late-stage opportunities, according to the release, and will colocate a Silicon Valley office with GS Futures, the Silicon Valley-based corporate venture capital arm of energy, construction, and retail conglomerate GS Group of Korea.

"We're excited to be investing in ETV and in the future of energy," says Tae Huh, managing director of GS Futures, in the release. "Energy Transition Ventures is our first investment from the new GS Futures fund, and we've already run successful pilots in Korea with three US startups even before this fund closed an investment – we are working to accelerate the old model of corporate venture dramatically."

Jon Wellinghoff, former chair of FERC, and Deb Merril, president of EDF Retail and co-founder and former co-CEO of Just Energy, have also joined ETV as advisors. GS Energy executive Q Song moves from Seoul, Korea, to join the Houston ETV investment team, according to the release.

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City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.