Houston — known as the Energy Capital of the World — had several trending stories in 2019 focused on energy innovation. Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

Editor's note: With 2020 just days away, InnovationMap is looking back at 2019's top stories in Houston innovation. Within the energy category, top stories included game-changing energy tech companies, the future of oil and gas — as told by the industry's emerging leaders, the results of a reverse pitch competition for ExxonMobil, and more.

Rice Alliance names the 10 most promising startups at Houston's Offshore Technology Conference

Startups from across the world pitched at the Rice Alliance Startup Roundup at the Offshore Technology Conference. Getty Images

Over 50 different startups from across the globe gathered at the Offshore Technology Conference for the fifth annual Rice Alliance Startup Roundup event. The full day of speed pitching and presentations, hosted by Rice Alliance Managing Director Brad Burke, took place at NRG Arena on Monday, May 6.

After interacting with all the various startups, the Rice Alliance's panel of experts voted on the 10 most promising startups. Half of the companies that were recognized are based in Houston — and even more have an office or some sort of operations in town. Here's which technologies the offshore oil and gas industry has its eye on. Click here to read more.

Overheard: Here's the future of oil and gas tech, according to this panel at OTC

Three young professionals took the stage to discuss the future tech of offshore operations in oil and gas. Courtesy photos

The oil and gas industry has a reputation for being a slow adapter when it comes to technology advances, but that's changing — as is the workforce. In the next few years, half of the United States workforce will be millennials, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A panel at the 2019 Offshore Technology Conference discussed the future of oil and gas technology — and the young professionals who are taking over the industry. Click here to read more.

ExxonMobil taps two new technologies in a Houston reverse pitch program

ExxonMobil named two winners in its inaugural reverse pitch competition with BBL Ventures. Courtesy of OctoRD

ExxonMobil and BBL Ventures have teamed up to flip the script on pitch competitions. Rather than have startups pitch themselves, the two companies collaborated on a reverse pitch event where Exxon identifies a few problems and search for companies that can build a solution.

The purpose of the event, says Tim Westhoven, technology scouting and venturing at ExxonMobil at the Baytown refinery, was to get the company out of its day-to-day to spark new ideas and innovation.

"Typically, as an engineer, when we think about how we solve a problem, we start inside the organization," Westhoven says at the event, which took place on Wednesday, June 5, at Station Houston. "Then we think about what problems we want to solve. Sometimes, you don't even think at all about what's available on the outside. This reverse pitch is us thinking about the impact we want to have and what the outside can offer." Click here to read more.

5 emerging energy tech companies in Houston revolutionizing the industry

It might not be surprising to discover that the energy capital of the world is a hub for energy startups. Getty Images

If you thought Houston's wildcatter days were exciting, just you wait. Houston has an emerging ecosystem of tech startups across industries — from facial recognition devices used at event check in to a drone controller that mimics movement in space.

A somewhat obvious space for Houston entrepreneurs is oil and gas. While the energy industry might have a reputation of being slow to adapt new technologies, these five Houston startups are developing the future of the industry — one device at a time. Click here to read more.

Exclusive: Plug and Play announces 15 energy tech companies for inaugural Houston cohort

Plug and Play Technology Center has named its first 15 startups in its Houston Energy and Sustainability cohort. Getty Images

A Silicon Valley accelerator program has announced the companies that will participate in its first Houston cohort just as the program begins to foster energy tech innovation in town.

Plug and Play Technology Center, which announced its entry into the Houston market this summer, named the 15 companies that will complete the program. While there are only two Houston-based companies in the mix this time around, all 15 companies will be operating locally with Houston corporate partners and startup development organizations.

"By being a part of this Plug and Play cohort, our corporate partners have validated that there is an interest in these startups' technology solutions," says Payal Patel, director of corporate partnerships for Plug and Play in Houston. "This will encourage these non-Houston based startups to spend more time in Houston, likely (and hopefully) leading to them doing business with our corporations, raising money from local investors, hiring local talent, and setting up an office in Houston." Click here to read more.

From Rex Tillerson's thoughts on leadership and politics to Houston's role in the low-carbon energy movement, check out these powerful quotes from the 2020 KPMG Global Energy Conference. Getty Images

Overheard: Oil and gas experts weigh in on the future of low-carbon energy and Houston's role in the movement

Eavesdropping in Houston

As the energy capital of the world, Houston can't get complacent. The oil and gas industry is changing — carbon is out and finding clean energy alternatives is in.

At the 2020 KPMG Global Energy Conference on June 5 and 6, hundreds of energy professionals listened to the O&G elite — even including former Secretary of State and former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson — give their two cents about the revolution. Day two of the conference featured the Houston Low Carbon Energy Climate Summit by the Center for Houston's Future.

In case you missed it, here are a few powerful quotes from both days of the program — from Houston's role in the low-carbon energy movement to Tillerson's leadership expertise.

"Texas is one of those places where you can just get stuff done.”

— Cindy Yeilding, senior vice president at BP, says Texans are willing to collaborate on this. In the "Visions of our Energy Future" panel during the Low Carbon Energy Summit on Thursday, June 6, she predicted Houston will be a net zero carbon city by 2040 or 2035.

“One of the things we need to focus on is being able to attract and retain talent.”

— Mary Anne Brelinsky, CEO of EDF Trading, stressing the importance of talent in the effort to keep Houston the energy capital of the world. Brelinsky advocated for corporations and its execs getting involved with local universities. "We're competing against Silicon Valley," she says in the panel.

"You’ve got the source, and you’ve got the sinks. … Houston is going to be one of our focal points.”

— Charlene Olivia Russell, vice president of Low Carbon Strategies at Oxy, on how Houston is set up for success when it comes to staying as a power player in the global low carbon energy platform, but, during the panel, she emphasizes collaboration needs to continue happening.

“When Shell agreed to sponsor this summit, it was pitched as a climate change summit. It was changed to a low-carbon summit because some people in this room are uncomfortable with the phrase 'climate change.'"

— Jason Klein, vice president of U.S. Energy Transition Strategy at Shell, says at the "Energy Transformations" panel during the Low Carbon Energy Summit on Thursday, June 6.

"If we want to be the leader and the energy capital of the world, we need to attract talent, capital investment, and innovation, and if the people are going to do those things think that we don’t even like to talk about those things, then they aren’t going to come here — they’re going to go to San Francisco.”

— Klein continues. The audience responded with a round of applause.

“I think it is important as Americans to remember that our greatest strength and the most important element to our national security has been that we are a nation that has many allies and friends. Our adversaries — Russia, China, North Korea, Iran — have no allies or friends.”

— Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who served as CEO of ExxonMobil from 2006 to 2016. Tillerson discussed a wide range of topics on Wednesday, June 5, at the 2020 KPMG Global Energy Conference in his fireside chat with Regina Mayor, global sector head and U.S. national sector leader of energy and natural resources at KPMG US. Click here to watch the full interview.

“We’re all a work in progress. You’re never done. I’m not done — I’m still a work in progress. If you have that view and you have that set of values that are never going to change … [then] I can keep developing as a human being.”

— Tillerson says of leadership lessons learned. He's an avid proponent of the Boy Scouts of America organization, and cited many valuable lessons he's learned about himself and about leading people from his involvement in the nonprofit.

Here are five events you have to check out if you're interested in offshore innovation. Zukiman Mohamad/Pexels

6 can't-miss innovation events at the 2019 Houston Offshore Technology Conference

Where to be at OTC

It's the 50th year of the Houston Offshore Technology Conference — and a lot has changed about the program since 1969.

"In 1969 at OTC, you could see the suit we'd put humans in to go under water," Wafik Beydoun, chairman of the OTC board of directors tells InnovationMap. "Now, you can see the robots that explore the seafloor."

OTC, which takes place at NRG Park from May 6 to 9, is separated by a few different tracks. While there's no innovation track specifically, we've identified, with Beydoun's help, five different events to be sure to make if you're looking for startup involvement and innovative discussions.

May 5 — Data Gumbo's Pre-Party

Houston-based blockchain company, Data Gumbo, wants to help you start out OTC week right with a crawfish boil. Network outside of NRG Park — and with a beer in hand.

Details: The event is from 5 to 8 pm on Sunday, May 5, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Rd). Learn more.

May 6 — The Rice Alliance Startup Roundup

Fifty promising energy technology companies will present to potential investors and OTC attendees. All of the startups have initial funding under their belts and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue.

Details: The event is from 2 to 4:30 pm on Monday, May 6, at NRG Arena, level 2 in the Stockman's Club. Learn more.

May 6 — OTC Spotlight on New Technology® Award Program

Check out the latest and greatest from offshore tech at this awards presentation. Hey startups, here's the tech O&G companies care about.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Monday, May 6, at NRG Center, level 1, Rotunda Area. Learn more.

May 6-8 — OTC University R&D Showcase 

The OTC University R&D Showcase provides universities the opportunity to share with attendees their current and planned R&D projects that are relevant to offshore technology and bend the ear of over 60,000 professionals.

Details: The event is from Monday, May 6, to Wednesday, May 8, at NRG Center, level 2, outside room 600. Learn more.

May 8 — Women in the Industry Sharing Experiences (WISE): Diversity Drives Innovation: Start the Conversation

Samina Farid leads the discussion on diversity, inclusion, and innovation.

Details: The event is from 7:30 to 9 am on Wednesday, May 8. Location not indicated. Learn more.

May 8 — Young Professionals: The Tech Young Professionals Need to Know About

This young professional event is inclusive, information-rich, and inspirational. The event consists of a panel discussion where you have the opportunity to learn from successful industry leaders about the future of oil and gas technology and networking where you can enjoy a game of networking Bingo and find your future business partner, new best friend, or both.

Details: The event is from 4 to 6 pm on Wednesday, May 8, in room 202. Learn more.

Bonus — Week-long exhibition 

Stop by the exhibit all week long to see examples of new offshore technology from leading companies. Learn more.

Houston-based Pason Power just inked a major deal that's giving it an edge in the industry. Getty Images

Houston energy storage software company inks major deal with Canadian tech co.

Energizing plans

Houston-based Pason Power, which provides Internet of Things services to energy storage and solar providers, has been quietly innovating in the energy industry for years. And earlier this year, Pason Power inked a partnership with a multimillion-dollar energy tech company that's quickly expanding its US footprint.

Since it launched as a wholly owned subsidiary of Calgary-based Pason Systems Inc. in 2016, Pason Power offers an array of technologies — including AI, IoT, real-time automation — that support energy storage systems throughout a project's lifecycle. Energy storage systems is a wide umbrella that includes everything from the massive systems used to store renewable energy and biofuels, to household batteries, which store electricity.

"We have intelligent energy management system, which is an intelligent brain that sits inside an energy storage system," says Enrico Ladendorf, founder and managing partner of Pason Power. "We have this intelligent, fully-autonomous system that knows the physical operation of (energy storage), and it makes it brain-dead simple."

Pason's latest deal is one that'll help it continue to expand into the U.S. and Canadian markets. The company's iEMS, or intelligent energy management system, was chosen to service Eguana Technologies, a large Canadian energy storage company that reported $2.8 million in 2018 revenue, per the company's public filings, and $7 million in sales in 2018.

The deal arose from Pason Power's history with Eguana Technologies. A member of Pason Systems' leadership team has known one of Eguana's founders, Brent Harris, for more than 20 years.

"When (Pason Power) got into new ventures, and we were looking into renewables, we talked to Brent," Ladendorf says. Ladendorf adds that the companies Eguana was working with were "not very good," and that there weren't a lot of alternatives in the space.

Ladendorf declined to provide financial details associated with the deal, but said Pason Power is continuing to growing its footprint in the commercial energy sector.

"The opportunity is quite large," Ladendorf says.

Ninety five percent of the drilling rigs that Pason Systems services are in Canada, Ladendorf says, but its U.S. business is its most profitable.

"We have a huge presence (in Canada)," Ladendorf says of Pason Systems. "We are the highest market-cap oilfield services company on the Toronto stock exchange."

As of press time, shares of Pason Systems Inc. were trading at $19.97, down $0.34 from the market's opening.

Enrico Ladendorf is the founder and managing partner of Houston-based Pason Power.Courtesy of Pason Power

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Innovative company with ownable multi-use concept shares details on Houston facility opening

coming soon

To some, Houston’s lack of zoning laws is a beautiful thing. The first time Byron Smith visited the city, he remarked on seeing a church, school, office building, and strip club all in startlingly close proximity.

At the time, the Sydney-born entrepreneur, whose previous experience was primarily in the automotive industry, was living in New York. But he fell in love with Space City.

“I was like, ‘We need to be in Texas,” he recalls, referring to expanding his next venture, XSpace, to the Lone Star State.

XSpace is a multi-use commercial condo building that allows entrepreneurs to own a home for their business.

“We’re a cool warehouse space that you own,” Smith explains, calling it “evolutionary space” where a business can grow from the roots up.

Though his family business was commercial real estate, Smith first dipped his toe into working with buildings with last year’s opening of the first XSpace in Austin. The city became “a natural fit” for the first project because Smith identified it as “a little bit more receptive to new things.” But Houston was part of the plan from the very beginning.

Located at 7022 Old Katy Road — close to both an escape room and an Aston-Martin dealership, among other diverse businesses — the Houston XSpace’s 86 units are already between 20- and 30-percent pre-sold, says Smith.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

Confirmed owners of the spaces include “car guys,” such as a car-wrapping business; media companies that plan to podcast from XSpace; and an interior design company. Smith says that he’s been impressed with Houston’s depth of market.

“We’re trying really hard not to be rich-guy car condo stuff,” explains Smith. “It’s about cool, interesting people who are successful or are going to be successful.”

Though multiple businesses will all operate in XSpace, don’t think of it as a coworking space. In fact, coworking space is just a component included in the package of what owners get when they purchase part of XSpace. That’s inside the Owner’s Lounge, a flexible 4,000-square-foot area.

Each unit has natural light, but also metered electric and hot and cold running water. The whole facility is air-conditioned and well-ventilated and offers 24/7 access. The building is triple-gated for optimum security and includes a backup generator to ensure that owners will be able to work even in the case of another power grid failure.

Smith says that groundbreaking for XSpace will take place in seven weeks. Likely, owners will be able to start moving into the building in the summer of 2024. Until then, Smith says to expect some “sexy announcements” about upcoming partnerships and additional XSpace sites.

Though Smith says that global expansion isn’t yet in the plans for XSpace, “North American domination” is.

“All the cool cities, we’re going to be there,” he says. And it was all inspired by the coolest city of all and its eclectic business landscape.

Rendering courtesy of XSpace

Houston maintains its top 3 position on ranking of cities that best attract biz

by the numbers

According to a recent report, Houston is still one of the top city in the United States for attracting new companies.

The ranking, which was researched and published by Site Selection Magazine, found that the Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land region attracted 255 business projects last year. This put the metro in the third place of the list that analyzed larger regions.

It's the third year in third place for Houston, and the city had a year over year improvement in number of deals; 2021 reported 213 new business projects in Houston. In fact, the top three cities – Chicago, Dallas, and Houston, respectively — has remained the same for all three years. For 2022, the Chicago metro garnered 448 projects, while Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington reportedly had 426 projects.

The report also called out a recent statistic from Kastle Systems, which was based on building access control data. The stat found that among 10 major cities analyzed based on t week of February, Houston was one of three metros that had a returned-worker percentages higher than 50 percent.

According to the Greater Houston Partnership data, new business accounted for more than 50 percent of business announcements in 2022. GHP's data varied from Site Selection's due to a difference in reporting methods, but the organization's research identified 199 new business announcements in the Houston area in 2022.

The NBAs included new businesses, HQ announcements, and expansions. The GHP data included information about these deals' industry verticals — and the manufacturing sector accounted for almost a third of the total NBAs in 2022.

Chart via houston.org

The GHP also rounded up a few of the most prominate deals reported in their data. According to the Partnership, here were more details about these NBAs:

  • Orsted — an offshore wind developer from Denmark is expanding its presence in Texas by establishing a new office in the Woodlands. The move is expected to create up to 100 jobs in the region.
  • Syzygy Plasmonics — a Houston-based energy 2.0 company is expanding its operations to Pearland. The new location will serve as HQ, R&D, and manufacturing for its deep-decarbonization platform, creating up to 120 jobs.
  • Alfred Talke Logistic Services — a German logistics firm is establishing a new facility in the region, serving as its U.S. headquarters. This project represents a $25 million investment and will create 240 jobs.

Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy, first discussed the company's expansion last year on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"What we're seeing is the market's appetite for our kind of technology — deep tech for decarbonization in energy and chemicals — is really high. If we want to meet global demand for our product, we need to get ready to scale," he says on the show.


3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from synthetic biology to venture capital — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen

Gaurab Chakrabarti shared his entrepreneurial journey on the SXSW stage this year. Photo courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston doesn't have too many unicorns — startups valued at $1 billion or more — in its innovation ecosystem, but Solugen, a sustainable chemicals company, is among the elite group. Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of the company, joined Houston House by the Greater Houston Partnership, to share his story on the SXSW stage.

“You do make your own luck, but you have to be putting in the work to do it," Chakrabarti says, adding that it's not an easy thing to accomplish. “There are things you can be doing to increase your luck surface area."

He shared several lessons he learned on his founder journey in the discussion. Read more.

Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar shares some lessons learned from the fallout of Silicon Valley Bank. Photo via HXVF

Following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank, there's one thing Sandy Guitar can say has changed for Houston innovators: Bank diversification is going to be a must.

“We didn't think we needed one last week, but this week we know we need a resilience plan," she says, explaining that bank diversification is going to be added to "the operational due diligence playbook." Read more.

Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO

San Diego-based rBIO moved to Houston to take advantage of the growing ecosystem of biomanufacturing and synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of rBIO

Founded in San Diego, rBIO recently relocated to Houston and has big plans for settling in the city, says Cameron Owen, the company's co-founder and CEO.

“Companies from California like us and the coastal areas were converging here in Houston and creating this new type of bioeconomy,” he tells InnovationMap.

He shares that Houston wasn't originally on his radar, until it was. A visit turned into a relocation, and it's just the beginning for the biotech startup that's focused on using synthetic biology for pharmaceuticals. Read more.