Here's what student-founded startups are leaving CERAWeek with fresh funding. Photo courtesy of HETI

For the third year, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Institute hosted its startup pitch competition at CERAWeek by S&P Global. A dozen startups walked away with recognition — and three some with cash prizes.

HETI joined partners Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and TEX-E for the 2024 Energy Venture Day and Pitch Competition at CERAWeek on Wednesday, March 20. Forty-two companies, which have collectively raised over $265 million in investment funding already, pitched to judges. Nine startups won awards across three tracks.

TEX-E, a Texas nonprofit that supports student-founded upstarts, had five of its companies pitch and three winners walked away with monetary prizes. Teams that competed in the TEX-E Prize track, many of which come from Houston universities, include:

  • AirMax, University of Texas at Austin
  • BeadBlocker, University of Houston
  • Carvis Energy Solutions, Texas A&M University
  • Coflux Purification, Rice University
  • Solidec, Rice University

Solidec, which is working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, won first place and $25,000. The company also recently scored a $100,000 grant from Rice's One Small Step Grant program, as well as a voucher from the DOE. Coflux Purification, which has a technology that destroys PFAS in filtration, won second place and$15,000. The company also secured a One Small Step Grant to the tune of $80,000. AirMax, which focuses on optimizing sustainability for air conditioning equipment, won third place and $10,000.

Last year, Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies took home the top TEX-E price and $25,000 cash awards. The venture, founded by Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA.

The rest of the companies that pitched competed for non-monetary awards. Here's what companies won:

  • Group A (CCUS, oilfield solutions, analytics and minerals):
    • First place: Ardent
    • Second place: Vaulted Deep
    • Third place: Mitico
  • Group B (batteries, renewables, water, and grid technology):
    • First place: SungreenH2
    • Second place: FeX Energy
    • Third place: Mercurius Biorefining
  • Group C (Mobility, Materials, and hydrogen solutions)
    • First place: Thiozen
    • Second place: Power2Hydrogen
    • Third place: Arolytics
HETI, Rice Alliance, and TEX-E celebrated the winners at a private reception on Wednesday evening.
The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship identified eight startups that are best suited for disrupting energy tech and innovation. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

Rice Alliance pitch event identifies 8 most-promising energy tech startups

ones to watch

In honor of CERAWeek, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted its annual Energy Venture Day.

After over 50 startup pitches and more than 300 meetings, venture investors identified eight startups that are the most-promising companies on a path to innovate and disrupt the energy ecosystem.

The 2023 Energy Venture Day's Most-Promising Startup winners were:

AeroShield Materials

Graphic via aeroshield.tech

Hyde Park, Massachusetts-based AeroShield Materials is creating thermally insulating transparent inserts. The inserts are only four millimeters of AeroShield's material and, when placed inside a double-pane window, provides 65 percent more energy efficiency.

Columbia Power Technologies (C-Power)

Image via cpower.co

C-Power, based in Charlottesville, Virgina, has a technology that harnesses the power of the ocean.

"C-Power delivers this renewable energy resource to the world, both through low-power solutions that bring energy and the cloud to the sea and large-scale solutions that help decarbonize terrestrial grids," the company's website reads.

EarthEn

Graphic via earthen.energy

Chandler, Arizona-based EarthEn is focused on long duration energy storage solutions that use CO2 in a closed loop to store 4 to 100 hours of energy at a low cost. The SaaS tools — with artificial intelligence and machine learning — optimize peak demand pricing and use predictive analysis to enable grid resiliency.

Group1

Photo via Twitter

Group 1, based in Austin, is focused on the commercialization of potassium-ion batteries. The core technology originates from the labs of University of Texas at Austin professor JB Goodenough, co-inventor of the lithium-ion battery.

Ionada Carbon Solutions

Photo via ionada.com

Houston-based Ionada, a member of Halliburton Labs, has created a technology that can remove up to 99 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions for the energy, marine, and e-fuels, according to the company.

"Our engineers have more than a century of combined expertise in reducing emissions for the power generation, chemical, road, rail, air and marine industries. We are here to help you find the best sustainable solution to reduce your emissions," reads the website.

H Quest Vanguard

Photo courtesy of Halliburton

Another Halliburton Labs member H Quest Vanguard, headquartered in Pittsburgh, has developed an electrically powered chemical conversion platform that leverages Microwave Plasma Pyrolysis to liberate zero-CO2 hydrogen from natural gas using only a quarter of energy required by electrolysis, while coproducing a high-value carbon or petrochemical coproduct.

Pressure Corp

Photo by Anton Petrus/Getty

Houston-based Pressure Corp is developing waste pressure power systems to help midstream gas companies solve how they reduce emissions by providing the technology, capital and expertise required to achieve their environmental, social and governance goals.

STARS Technology

Photo via starsh2.com

Based in Richland, Washington, STARS Technology Corp. is commercializing advanced micro-channel chemical process technology that originally was designed for NASA and the Department of Energy. The company's reactors and heat exchangers are compact, energy-efficient, and more.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for May

Where to be online

While some things in Houston are starting to open back up, society hasn't yet established a timeline for when groups of more than 10 people will be allowed to safely gather. But, the programming must go on.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

May 4: Post-COVID Fund: Venture Investing in the Post-COVID World

Join Alumni Ventures Group for a webinar that explores how changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will create profound change—as well as unique opportunities for new ventures that tackle these challenges.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 4. Learn more.

May 5 — Sell Your Science: Developing a Non-Confidential Pitch for in Person and Virtual Presentations

Learn tricks in preparing a non-confidential pitch deck along with tips that are aimed to help you sell your science at in person meetings or virtually.

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5. Learn more.

May 6 — Impacting Public Health: How Can My Idea Be A Part of the Solution?


When a pandemic hits, as a start-up company you may find that your technology can be aligned to help. However, now your timeline is expedited with a global health emergency and you need to get your technology into the market. How do you start to connect with the right players to get your technology into the U.S. market to make an impact on public health safety and security?

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Virtual Event with Cindy Eckert - Expert Entrepreneur with Over $1B Exits

Cindy Eckert is an expert entrepreneur with over $1B in Exits, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceutical, and Founder of The Pink Ceiling. Attend the virtual fireside chat between Cindy Eckert and Femtech Focus founder Dr. Brittany Barreto.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Curious About Starting a Career in Tech?

One thing we know is that web developers come from different backgrounds. From teaching to consulting, design to accounting, and they're here to tell you about making that transition. Hear from professional developers in the field about how their careers lead them what they're working on now, how they got there, and how their past experiences apply to the work they do currently. Join General Assembly if you are curious about starting a career in tech, but not sure exactly where to begin.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 7 — Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day

Originally scheduled to be hosted at OTC, Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will now be a virtual event to allow startups to connect with investors and energy companies. The event will showcase about 40 promising energy technology companies. These companies have initial funding and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue. The event offers a great opportunity for viewers to learn more about innovative technologies and provides companies with access to potential partners and investment opportunities.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 7. Learn more.

May 8 — Lunch & Learn: Startup Funding Rounds

Seemingly every company wants to raise venture capital, but few founders are equipped to navigate the tangled mess of rounds, investment types, and investor expectations. At the end of this presentation, you will have a better handle on whether venture capital is right for your business and what it'll take to navigate from angels to exit.

Details: The event is at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 8. Learn more.

May 12 — Lunch and Learn with Asian Pacific American Entrepreneurs

According to New American Economy, Asian Pacific American entrepreneurs account for nearly a million of our nation's businesses. Whether it's apps, restaurants, social services, or consumer products, it's obvious that the entrepreneurial spirit is high in our nation. Let's hear it from our AAPI small business owners who will walk us through the triumphs and challenges they've faced while running their business and how they're making it work during a shaky period.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, May 12. Learn more.

May 13-14 — 2020 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

TNVC 2020 will be entirely virtual this year. This event is the culmination of a yearlong effort to identify and provide support to Texas-best technology ventures. There will be several private semi-finals judging rounds on May 13, with an Entrepreneurial Perspectives panel and Q&A with past winners and successful entrepreneurs. The finals will be on the 14th, followed by elevator pitches and an awards ceremony, all of which are open to the entire audience.

Details: The event is on Wednesday, May 14, and Thursday, May15. Learn more.

May 15 — How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup

Join General Assembly for this online event where a panel of tech startup talent acquisition professionals will take you through what types of opportunities exist in today's talent market, how the experience at a startup will make you more marketable in the long run, what talent acquisition professionals are actually thinking while reading resumes, advice for remote interviewing, and more.

Details: The event is at noon on Friday, May 15. Learn more.

May 29 — Mothers in Tech Breakfast

In celebration of Mother's Day, join General Assembly for a virtual breakfast featuring hard-working mothers that are also succeeding in their respective industries. A few incredible mothers will share their insights on how they reached their level of success, advice on navigating the workplace as a working mom, and how we can help the next generation of mothers in tech. Get ready for an honest, vulnerable, and insightful conversation.

    Details: The event is at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 29. Learn more.

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    Houston engineers develop breakthrough device to advance spinal cord treatment

    future of health

    A team of Rice University engineers has developed an implantable probe over a hundred times smaller than the width of a hair that aims to help develop better treatments for spinal cord disease and injury.

    Detailed in a recent study published in Cell Reports, the probe or sensor, known as spinalNET, is used to explore how neurons in the spinal cord process sensation and control movement, according to a statement from Rice. The research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, Rice, the California-based Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and the philanthropic Mary K. Chapman Foundation based in Oklahoma.

    The soft and flexible sensor was used to record neuronal activity in freely moving mice with high resolution for multiple days. Historically, tracking this level of activity has been difficult for researchers because the spinal cord and its neurons move so much during normal activity, according to the team.

    “We developed a tiny sensor, spinalNET, that records the electrical activity of spinal neurons as the subject performs normal activity without any restraint,” Yu Wu, a research scientist at Rice and lead author of the study said in a statement. “Being able to extract such knowledge is a first but important step to develop cures for millions of people suffering from spinal cord diseases.”

    The team says that before now the spinal cord has been considered a "black box." But the device has already helped the team uncover new findings about the body's rhythmic motor patterns, which drive walking, breathing and chewing.

    Lan Luan (from left), Yu Wu, and Chong Xie are working on the breakthrough device. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

    "Some (spinal neurons) are strongly correlated with leg movement, but surprisingly, a lot of neurons have no obvious correlation with movement,” Wu said in the statement. “This indicates that the spinal circuit controlling rhythmic movement is more complicated than we thought.”

    The team said they hope to explore these findings further and aim to use the technology for additional medical purposes.

    “In addition to scientific insight, we believe that as the technology evolves, it has great potential as a medical device for people with spinal cord neurological disorders and injury,” Lan Luan, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice and a corresponding author on the study, added in the statement.

    Rice researchers have developed several implantable, minimally invasive devices to address health and mental health issues.

    In the spring, the university announced that the United States Department of Defense had awarded a four-year, $7.8 million grant to the Texas Heart Institute and a Rice team led by co-investigator Yaxin Wang to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation.

    That same month, the university shared news that Professor Jacob Robinson had published findings on minimally invasive bioelectronics for treating psychiatric conditions. The 9-millimeter device can deliver precise and programmable stimulation to the brain to help treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Houston clean hydrogen startup to pilot tech with O&G co.

    stay gold

    Gold H2, a Houston-based producer of clean hydrogen, is teaming up with a major U.S.-based oil and gas company as the first step in launching a 12-month series of pilot projects.

    The tentative agreement with the unnamed oil and gas company kicks off the availability of the startup’s Black 2 Gold microbial technology. The technology underpins the startup’s biotech process for converting crude oil into proprietary Gold Hydrogen.

    The cleantech startup plans to sign up several oil and gas companies for the pilot program. Gold H2 says it’s been in discussions with companies in North America, Latin America, India, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

    The pilot program is aimed at demonstrating how Gold H2’s technology can transform old oil wells into hydrogen-generating assets. Gold H2, a spinout of Houston-based biotech company Cemvita, says the technology is capable of producing hydrogen that’s cheaper and cleaner than ever before.

    “This business model will reshape the traditional oil and gas industry landscape by further accelerating the clean energy transition and creating new economic opportunities in areas that were previously dismissed as unviable,” Gold H2 says in a news release.

    The start of the Black 2 Gold demonstrations follows the recent hiring of oil and gas industry veteran Prabhdeep Singh Sekhon as CEO.

    “With the proliferation of AI, growth of data centers, and a national boom in industrial manufacturing underway, affordable … carbon-free energy is more paramount than ever,” says Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner at venture capital firm 8090 Industries, an investor in Gold H2. “We’re investing in Gold H2, as we know they’ll play a pivotal role in unleashing a new dawn for energy abundance in partnership with the oil industry.”

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    This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    who's who

    Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes an e-commerce startup founder, an industrial biologist, and a cellular scientist.

    Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com

    Omair Tariq of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his confidence in Houston as the right place to scale his unicorn. Photo via Cart.com

    Houston-based Cart.com, which operates a multichannel commerce platform, has secured $105 million in debt refinancing from investment manager BlackRock.

    The debt refinancing follows a recent $25 million series C extension round, bringing Cart.com’s series C total to $85 million. The scaleup’s valuation now stands at $1.2 billion, making it one of the few $1 billion-plus “unicorns” in the Houston area.

    Cart.com was co-founded by CEO Omair Tariq in October 2020. Read more.

    Nádia Skorupa Parachin, vice president of industrial biotechnology at Cemvita

    Nádia Skorupa Parachin joined Cemvita as vice president of industrial biotechnology. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

    Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

    Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

    Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos. Read more.

    Han Xiao, associate professor of chemistry at Rice University

    The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, a chemist at Rice University.

    A Rice University chemist has landed a $2 million grant from the National Institute of Health for his work that aims to reprogram the genetic code and explore the role certain cells play in causing diseases like cancer and neurological disorders.

    The funds were awarded to Han Xiao, the Norman Hackerman-Welch Young Investigator, associate professor of chemistry, from the NIH's Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program, which supports medically focused laboratories. Xiao will use the five-year grant to advance his work on noncanonical amino acids.

    “This innovative approach could revolutionize how we understand and control cellular functions,” Xiao said in the statement. Read more.