Geothermal investment is up, but health tech is down — plus more data-backed VC trend from 2024 so far. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based geothermal company Fervo Energy accounted for more than half of the venture capital raised by Houston-area startups in the first quarter of 2024.

The region’s VC haul in the first quarter totaled $462.4 million, according to the PitchBook-NCVA Venture Monitor. That’s up from $290.4 million during the same period in 2023 and from $285.8 million in the fourth quarter of last year. Click here to see the Q1 rounds as reported by InnovationMap.

Fervo’s latest funding round, announced in February, represented $244 million (52 percent) of the region’s VC total for the first quarter of 2024.

A report released in March by PitchBook indicated that VC funding last year for geothermal power reached $431 million across 21 deals. As of late February 25 — four days ahead of the Fervo announcement — $165.5 million in VC funding had been pumped into the geothermal sector this year, according to PitchBook.

“The recent VC deal activity with the geothermal power sector underscores a vibrant and evolving market, but still one that garners far less VC than other renewables,” says the report.

In all, Houston-area startups made 38 VC deals in this year’s first quarter, the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor says. That’s down from 42 in the fourth quarter of 2023 and 43 in the first quarter of 2023. Nationwide, the deal count fell sharply in the first quarter of 2024 vs. the first and fourth quarters of last year.

The PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor report shows that nationwide, the $36.6 billion in VC investments recorded during the first quarter of 2024 “remained relatively on pace with the past year.”

“However, it would be a mistake to hyperfocus on the results of a single quarter whose results were a bit farther left on the bell curve than usual. The venture capital … business cycle effectively reset in recent years, and as of early 2024, it still appears to be searching for its level,” says the report.

“It is too early to tell where 2024 is going, but the game is on, and America’s VCs are ready for it,” the report adds. “In 2022, our world changed; in 2023, we accepted it was not changing back; and in 2024, we are building what is next.”

In a bit of good news for the Houston area, the report cites cleantech/energy as one of two sectors that venture capitalists should not overlook. The other sector: cybersecurity.

But in a bit of not-so-good news for the region, the report notes a slowdown in VC deals in the healthcare sector over the past two years in the wake of “pandemic-fueled capital exuberance.”

“Yet the healthcare sector differentiates itself from the rest of the market by demonstrating many unmet needs that could have a profound impact on society, particularly around disease diagnosis and treatment,” the report goes on to say. “On top of the immense opportunity set for disruption within healthcare, investor enthusiasm around AI adoption in drug development further speaks to the demand for better solutions in biotech through groundbreaking innovations.”

Houston-based companies, Fervo Energy and Sage Geosystems, have been tapped for a new geothermal exploration efforts. Photo via Getty Images

2 Houston startups selected by US military for geothermal projects

hot new recruits

Two clean energy companies in Houston have been recruited for geothermal projects at U.S. military installations.

Fervo Energy is exploring the potential for a geothermal energy system at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

Meanwhile, Sage Geosystems is working on an exploratory geothermal project for the Army’s Fort Bliss post in Texas. The Bliss project is the third U.S. Department of Defense geothermal initiative in the Lone Star State.

“Energy resilience for the U.S. military is essential in an increasingly digital and electric world, and we are pleased to help the U.S. Army and [the Defense Innovation Unit] to support energy resilience at Fort Bliss,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage, says in a news release.

A spokeswoman for Fervo declined to comment.

Andy Sabin, director of the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office, says in a military news release that previous geothermal exploration efforts indicate the Fallon facility “is ideally suited for enhanced geothermal systems to be deployed onsite.”

As for the Fort Bliss project, Michael Jones, a project director in the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, says it’ll combine geothermal technology with innovations from the oil and gas sector.

“This initiative adds to the momentum of Texas as a leader in the ‘geothermal anywhere’ revolution, leveraging the robust oil and gas industry profile in the state,” says Ken Wisian, associate director of the Environmental Division at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Geology.

The Department of Defense kicked off its geothermal initiative in September 2023. Specifically, the Army, Navy, and Defense Innovation Unit launched four exploratory geothermal projects at three U.S. military installations.

One of the three installations is the Air Force’s Joint Base San Antonio. Canada-based geothermal company Eavor is leading the San Antonio project.

Another geothermal company, Atlanta-based Teverra, was tapped for an exploratory geothermal project at the Army’s Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Teverra maintains an office in Houston.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston startups raised a combined $380 million in venture funding last quarter. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what Houston startups have raised in funding so far in 2024

Q1 2024 VC ACTIVITY

Seven Houston startups have started the new year strong with over $380 million in venture funding — most of which from one mega deal for a geothermal company.

According to InnovationMap reporting, Houston's VC activity in the first quarter of 2024 spanned industry and stage — from pre-seed to series E. It's a large chunk of money raised in Houston for one quarter — but not in terms of deals closed, at least compared to the previous quarter, in which startups raised over $170 million but across nine deals.

On the national side, it's not too different of a story. According to a quarterly report from PitchBook, the United State's VC activity for the start of the year "showed to be one of the slowest areas of the venture market during the quarter." Only $9.3 billion in capital was raised in the U.S. last quarter, which is only 11.3 percent of the total raised in the already slowed market of 2023.

"While dry powder remains high, slowed fundraising portends to LP hesitancy toward VC, and should predict a more difficult dealmaking environment down the road," reads an email from PitchBook. "During the past few years, large mega-funds drove fundraising trends, but Q1 VC fundraising shows there may be no appetite for such vehicles in today’s market."

These are the seven startup VC deals closed in Houston so far this year, according to reporting on InnovationMap.

Fervo Energy raises $244M in latest funding round

Fervo Energy scored a $244 million round of funding thanks to existing and new investors. Photo via Fervo Energy

An Oklahoma-based shale oil and gas leader has backed Fervo Energy's latest round of funding, supporting the startup's geothermal technology yet again.

Fervo announced its latest round of funding this week to the tune of $244 million. The round was led by Devon Energy, a company that's previously backed the startup.

“Demand for around-the-clock clean energy has never been higher, and next-generation geothermal is uniquely positioned to meet this demand,” Tim Latimer, Fervo CEO and co-founder, says in a news release. “Our technology is fully derisked, our pricing is already competitive, and our resource pipeline is vast. This investment enables Fervo to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.” Read more about the round.

Procyrion secures $57.7M series E

Procyrion has announced the closing of its series E round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-born and bred medical device company, Procyrion, has completed its series E with a raise of $57.7 million, including the conversion of $10 million of interim financing.

Procyrion is the company behind Aortix, a pump designed to be placed in the descending thoracic aorta of heart failure patients, which has been shown to improve cardiac performance in seriously ill subjects. The money raised will allow the company to proceed with a the DRAIN-HF Study, a pivotal trial that will be used for eventual FDA approval and commercialization.

The Aortix is the brainchild of Houston cardiologist Reynolds Delgado. According to Procyrion’s CSO, Jace Heuring, Delgado, gained some of his experience with devices for the heart working with legendary Texas Heart Institute surgeon O.H. “Bud” Frazier. He filed his first patents related to the Aortix in 2005. Read more about the round.

Welligence Energy Analytics raises $41M series B

Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and CCUS projects. Photo via Getty Images

A group of investors has chipped in $41 million to purchase a minority stake in Houston-based Welligence Energy Analytics, a provider of energy data and intelligence.

Boston-based venture capital firm Elephant Partners led the series B round, with participation from Veriten, a Houston-based, energy-focused research, investing, and strategy firm, and EDG, a Metairie, Louisiana-based energy consulting firm. Several executives from the energy, information services, and software sectors also contributed to the round.

Founded in 2016, Welligence specializes in data and intelligence for the oil and gas markets, greenhouse gas emissions sector, and carbon capture, storage, and utilization (CCUS) projects. Clients include major oil and gas companies, as well as large investment banks. Read more about the round.

Motif Neurotech secures nearly $19M series A

Motif Neurotech, which develops minimally invasive bioelectronics for mental health treatment, closed its series A round with an oversubscribed $18.75 million. Photo via Rice.edu

A health tech startup based out of a newly formed accelerator program at Rice University has raised venture funding.

Motif Neurotech closed its series A round with an oversubscribed $18.75 million. The company, which develops minimally invasive bioelectronics for mental health treatment, was formed out of the Rice Biotech Launch Pad that launched last fall.

The round was led by Arboretum Ventures, with participation from new investors KdT Ventures, Satori Neuro, Dolby Family Ventures, re.Mind Capital and existing investors Divergent Capital, TMC Venture Fund, PsyMed Ventures, Empath Ventures and Capital Factory. Read more about the round.

Sage Geosystems closes $17M series A 

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo via sagegeosystems.com

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

The venture is joined by technology investor Arch Meredith, Helium-3 Ventures and will include support from existing investors Virya, LLC, Nabors Industries Ltd., and Ignis Energy Inc.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says in a news release. “The success of our GGS technologies is not only critical to Sage Geosystems becoming post-revenue, but it is an essential step in accelerating the development of this proprietary geothermal baseload approach. Read more about the round.

Ema raises $2M round of bridge funding

Ema, which operates as a health and wellness-focused, AI-based chat for women, has raised additional funding. Screenshot courtesy of Ema

A Houston-based startup that's improving health and wellness for women with its artificial intelligence-backed platform has raised a bridge round of funding.

Ema closed its latest bridge round, bringing its total funding to nearly $2 million. The company received investment from Kubera's Venture Capital and Victorum Capital, which joined existing investors Hearst Labs, Wormhole Capital, Acumen America, and Techstars.

Ema strives to deliver "personalized, empathetic, and evidence-based support" to its users through its generative AI technology. The platform has more than 100,000 users, and has expanded into the B2B sector with $100,000 in contracts within just 30 days after pivoting to this model, according to the company. Read more about the round.

TrueLeap Inc. raises oversubscribed $610,000 pre-seed round

The edtech company offers a comprehensive approach to shrinking the digital divide with a suite of technology including software, hardware, and more. Photo courtesy of TrueLeap

An edtech startup has just secured funding to further its mission of increasing accessibility to education.

TrueLeap Inc., global digital education startup addressing the digital divide in education, has raised $610,000, which is over its target of $500,000. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Maya Investments Limited.

"This oversubscribed funding round, led by Maya Investments Limited, is a testament to the urgent need for innovative educational technologies in emerging markets. Our commitment to providing affordable and integrated solutions is stronger than ever," says Sandip Bordoloi, CEO and Co-Founder of TrueLeap, in a news release. Read more about the round.

Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics were recognized for their energy innovation. Photo via Getty Images

2 Houston cleantech companies named to top 10 ranking of innovative energy

high impact

A pair of Houston energy startups have been named among the 10 most innovative energy companies for 2024.

Fast Company magazine just placed Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics on its energy innovation list. In all, 606 companies and organizations across a variety of industries were recognized for “reshaping industries and culture.”

Fervo produces carbon-free geothermal energy. Its existing geothermal project is in Nevada, and it’s building a geothermal project in Utah. The company recently raised $244 million.

“Solar and wind are cheap, but they don’t provide the kind of always-on dispatchable electricity that hydropower, hydrogen, and nuclear do; even at current high prices, enhanced geothermal is still cheaper than those other sources,” Fast Company notes.

The Fast Company accolade comes shortly after Time and Statista named Fervo one of the top greentech companies for 2024.

By relying on light rather than combustion to generate chemical reactions, Syzygy is taking on the use of fossil fuels in the chemical industry, Fast Company points out. Fossil fuels account for about 18 percent of the world’s industrial CO2 emissions.

Fast Company outlines some of Syzygy’s accomplishments in 2023:

  • Gained an undisclosed amount of funding from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • Completed its Pearland manufacturing facility.
  • Wrapped up 1,000 cumulative hours of testing on its ammonia-splitting reactor cell, capable of producing 200 kilograms of hydrogen per day.
Fervo Energy scored a $244 million round of funding thanks to existing and new investors. Photo via Fervo Energy

Houston geothermal startup secures $244M in funding round led by energy corporate

fresh funding

An Oklahoma-based shale oil and gas leader has backed Fervo Energy's latest round of funding, supporting the startup's geothermal technology yet again.

Fervo announced its latest round of funding this week to the tune of $244 million. The round was led by Devon Energy, a company that's previously backed the startup.

“Demand for around-the-clock clean energy has never been higher, and next-generation geothermal is uniquely positioned to meet this demand,” Tim Latimer, Fervo CEO and co-founder, says in a news release. “Our technology is fully derisked, our pricing is already competitive, and our resource pipeline is vast. This investment enables Fervo to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Founded in 2017, Fervo provides carbon-free energy through development of next-generation geothermal power. The company has recently reported its success at its Cape Station project, a400 MW project in Beaver County, Utah, as well as at its full-scale commercial pilot, Project Red, in northern Nevada and made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google.

Galvanize Climate Solutions, John Arnold, Liberty Mutual Investments, Marunouchi Innovation Partners, Mercuria, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries also contributed to the round with existing investors Capricorn’s Technology Impact Fund, Congruent Ventures, DCVC, Elemental Excelerator, Helmerich & Payne, and Impact Science Ventures.

“The energy trilemma is one of the defining global challenges of our time; how can we generate power that is affordable, reliable, and clean,” Houstonian John Arnold, founder of Centaurus Capital and co-chair of Arnold Ventures, says in the release. “Fervo has transformed geothermal into a scalable carbon-free resource ready to meet the moment.”

The fresh funding, according to the company, will go toward Fervo’s work in Cape Station, that is slated to begin delivering clean electricity to the grid in 2026.

“Fervo’s approach to geothermal development leverages leading-edge subsurface, drilling, and completions expertise and techniques Devon has been honing for decades,” David Harris, chief corporate development officer and executive vice president at Devon, says in the release. “We look forward to deepening our partnership with Fervo to capture the full value of Fervo’s first-mover advantage in geothermal and the adjacencies to Devon’s core business.”

In 2022, Fervo raised a $138 million series C round to support the completion of power plants in Nevada and Utah and evaluate new projects in California, Idaho, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico, as well as in other countries. This latest investment brings the company's total funds raised to $431 million since its inception in 2017, according to Crunchbase.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Tim Latimer, CEO and co-founder of Fervo Energy, is seeing success at his company's Utah geothermal site. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston energy startup reports 'dramatic acceleration' of drilling operations at geothermal project

big win

Early drilling results indicate a geothermal energy project operated in Utah by Houston-based startup Fervo Energy is performing better than expected.

Fervo says its drilling operations Utah’s Cape Station show a 70 percent reduction in drilling times, paving the way for advancement of its geothermal energy system. Fervo began construction last year on Cape Station, which is set to deliver clean power to the grid in 2026 and be fully operating by 2028.

The company recently published early drilling results from Cape Station that it says exceed the U.S. Department of Energy’s expectations for enhanced geothermal systems. Fervo says these results “substantiate the rapid learning underway in the geothermal industry and signal readiness for continued commercialization.”

Founded in 2017, Fervo provides carbon-free energy through development of next-generation geothermal power.

Fervo began drilling at Cape Station, a 400-megawatt project in southwest Utah, in June 2023. Over the past six months, the company has drilled one vertical well and six horizontal wells there. The company reports that costs for the first four horizontal wells at Cape Station fell from $9.4 million to $4.8 million per well.

“Since its inception, Fervo has looked to bring a manufacturing mentality to enhanced geothermal development, building a highly repeatable drilling process that allows for continuous improvement and, as a result, lower costs,” Tim Latimer, Fervo’s co-founder and CEO, says in a news release. “In just six months, we have proven that our technology solutions have led to a dramatic acceleration in forecasted drilling performance.”

Trey Lowe, chief technology officer of Oklahoma City-based oil and gas producer Devon Energy, likens Fervo’s drilling results to “the early days of the shale revolution.” Last year, Devon invested $10 million in Fervo.

“When you operate continually and understand the resource, you dramatically streamline operations. That’s the unique value of Fervo’s approach to enhanced geothermal,” says Lowe.

Last summer, Fervo reported the results of another one of its projects, Project Red, which is in northern Nevada and made possible through a 2021 partnership with Google. That site officially went online for the tech company in December.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.