3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jason Pesterfield of Optellum, Jane Stricker of HETI, and Michael Lee of Octopus Energy. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to clean energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Jason Pesterfield, CEO of Optellum

Jason Pesterfield joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he plans on getting the company to commercialization right here from Houston. Photo courtesy of Optellum

Last year, Optellum, based in the United Kingdom, opened its United States headquarters in Houston, and shortly after Jason Pesterfield joined to lead the team. On a recent Houston Innovators Podcast episode, Pesterfield explained it's just the start of the company's presence in Houston.

"We're really at the beginning of it," he says. "This is the epicenter of medicine within the United States. There's no bigger or better place for health care than Houston. It's great to be a part of that and to have access to those facilities and those world class physicians and care teams." Read more.

Jane Stricker, executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative at the GHP

These organizations are teaming up to advance development of a regional clean industrial hub. Photo courtesy of GHP

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative and the Center for Houston’s Future have teamed up with the Mission Possible Partnership to lead the city of Houston through the accelerated development of a regional clean industrial hub geared at decarbonization of the industrial sector, including petrochemicals, cement plants, heavy transportation, and more.

The two-year project is focused on development and deployment of clean energy projects — such as "low-carbon hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage, electrification of industrial processes, and the production and use of low carbon fuels," according to a press release.

“There is no geography in the world better positioned to support the transition to and integration of abundant, low-carbon energy solutions than Houston," says Jane Stricker, executive director and senior vice president of HETI, in the release. "As the Energy Transition Capital of the World, Houston is leveraging its energy leadership to accelerate global solutions for a low-carbon future. This partnership with MPP is a critical component in the region’s efforts to develop and deploy technologies, policies and strategies for broad decarbonization." Read more.

Michael Lee, CEO of Octopus Energy US

Now is the time for your tech company to become a climate company, says this Houston expert. Photo via LinkedIn

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Michael Lee, CEO of Octopus Energy, called for tech innovators to change lanes to focus on the climatetech industry.

"We used to say, 'every company will become a tech company.' We’re now moving towards a world where 'every company is a climate company,'" Lee writes. "And that is creating opportunities throughout the economy for people to contribute their skills and support their families while building something that actually matters." Read more.

These organizations are teaming up to advance development of a regional clean industrial hub. Photo by Katya Horner

Houston organizations announce new partner, plans for clean industrial hub

seeing green

Two Houston organizations that are on a mission to make Houston a leader in the energy transition have announced new plans for a hub focused on decarbonization.

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative and the Center for Houston’s Future have teamed up with the Mission Possible Partnership, with support from the Bezos Earth Fund, to lead the city of Houston through the accelerated development of a regional clean industrial hub geared at decarbonization of the industrial sector, including petrochemicals, cement plants, heavy transportation, and more.

The two-year project is focused on development and deployment of clean energy projects — such as "low-carbon hydrogen, carbon capture, use and storage, electrification of industrial processes, and the production and use of low carbon fuels," according to a press release.

“There is no geography in the world better positioned to support the transition to and integration of abundant, low-carbon energy solutions than Houston," says Jane Stricker, executive director and senior vice president of HETI, in the release. "As the Energy Transition Capital of the World, Houston is leveraging its energy leadership to accelerate global solutions for a low-carbon future. This partnership with MPP is a critical component in the region’s efforts to develop and deploy technologies, policies and strategies for broad decarbonization."

MPP, a nonprofit alliance of climate leaders launched in 2020 focused on energizing decarbonization, is supported by RMI, the Bezos Earth Fund, the Energy Transition Commission, World Economic Forum, and We Mean Business.

“The Center for Houston’s Future has been leading HETI’s clean hydrogen initiative with the goal of making Houston a global clean hydrogen leader," says Brett Perlman, CEO of the Center for Houston’s Future. "We’re now pleased to work with Mission Possible Project and leverage the MPP team’s deep subject matter expertise in clean hydrogen and experience in creating hydrogen ecosystems."

In October, HETI released a report calling for the region to aim for $150 billion in capital earmarked for the sector by 2040. The report indicated that about $15 billion in energy transition capital is flowing into the region each year and about $25 billion is flowing out of the region. Of the $25 billion, oil and gas players with headquarters or a significant presence in Houston account for more than 80 percent.

“Increased energy transition capital commitment from energy incumbents raises investor confidence in Houston’s potential for energy transition leadership,” reads the report.

The Center for Houston's Future had a report of its own that published earlier this year and makes the argument of how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“It should come as no surprise that Houston, the energy capital of the world, is taking the lead in the emerging low emissions energy ecosystem,” says Bryan Fisher, director of hubs at MPP and managing director of RMI’s Climate-Aligned Industries, in the release. “MPP’s work with HETI and the Center for Houston’s Future will focus on a portfolio of solutions, including low carbon fuels, clean hydrogen, and CCUS to drive sustainability and equitable economic growth for the region.”

A new report from the Houston Energy Transition Initiative finds that the energy transition sector should commit $150 billion in capital by 2040. Photo via Getty Images

New report calls for Houston, energy incumbents to step up to lead energy transition investment

seeing green

In Houston’s quest to become the world’s energy transition capital, the region should aim for $150 billion in capital earmarked for the sector by 2040, a new report says.

The report, released by the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, and supported by consulting giant McKinsey & Co., indicates about $15 billion in energy transition capital is flowing into the region each year and about $25 billion is flowing out of the region. Of the $25 billion, oil and gas players with headquarters or a significant presence in Houston account for more than 80 percent.

“Increased energy transition capital commitment from energy incumbents raises investor confidence in Houston’s potential for energy transition leadership,” according to the report.

The report identifies several primary targets for energy transition capital, such as:

  • Carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS)
  • Hydrogen
  • Renewable fuels
  • Chemicals and plastics
  • Power generation

Such sources would represent $85 billion of the $150 billion in energy transition capital envisioned for 2040, according to the report. The $150 billion in capital would be the equivalent of up to 80 percent of capital expenditures by the U.S. oil and gas sector in 2021.

The $150 billion “would help the diversity of the city’s economy, workforce, and infrastructure,” the report says.

“There is no geography in the world better positioned than Houston to lead the transition to and integration of abundant, low-carbon energy solutions,” Jane Stricker, executive director of HETI, says in a news release from the Greater Houston Partnership.

The report says that to reach the $150 billion mark, the Houston area must step up the amount of investment in local energy transition startups. As it stands now, more energy transition capital (about $25 billion) is going out of the region than is coming into the region (about $15 billion). Much of that capital supports startups.

Funding for energy transition ventures in the region needs to be supplied by players in venture capital, debt capital, and private equity, the report points out.

Aside from the money required to evolve into the world’s energy transition capital, the report notes that the region also needs to:

  • Become a talent and innovation hub. Among other things, this would involve attracting more startup incubators and accelerators, boosting recruitment at area and out-of-state universities, ramping up financial commitments from major energy companies here, and encouraging major energy companies with headquarters outside the region to base their energy transition operations here.
  • Increase marketing of Houston as a hub for financing of energy transition efforts. This would include reaching out to financiers outside Houston (in places such as New York City, the Middle East, and Singapore), holding energy transition events in Houston, and wooing energy transition companies and financiers.

“Houston’s status as the energy capital of the world, based on decades of leadership in energy markets, has fostered an experienced [private equity] and capital markets community,” says Kassia Yanosek, Houston- based partner and global leader in McKinsey’s energy and sustainability practices. “Our city’s financial sector leaders have great appetite to expand focus to the next investment wave — and face a pivotal opportunity in today’s evolving market to grow and scale energy transition-related endeavors.”

There's a lot of clean tech potential in hydrogen — and Houston might be the place to lead the way. Image via Getty Images

New report shows why now is the time for Houston to emerge as a hub for hydrogen innovation

clean energy

Houston, known for being the energy capital of the world, has potential to lead innovation within the hydrogen space, and a new report lays out how.

The report, which was released today by the Center for Houston’s Future, is titled "Houston as the epicenter of a global clean hydrogen hub." The information explains how Houston-based assets can be leveraged to lead a global clean hydrogen innovation.

“The Houston region has the talent, expertise and infrastructure needed to lead the global energy transition to a low-carbon world. Clean hydrogen, alongside carbon capture, use, and storage are among the key technology areas where Houston is set up to succeed and can be an example to other leading energy economies around the world,” says Bobby Tudor, chair of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative, in a news release.

Together, GHP's HETI and over 100 experts representing 70 companies and organizations produced the report, along with McKinsey and Company, which donated significant research and economic analyses. Here are some highlights from the study, according to the release:

  • Clean hydrogen production could grow 5 times over current hydrogen production by 2050.
  • The establishment of a clean hydrogen industry could create 180,000 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) statewide, while adding $100 billion to Texas' GDP growth.
  • Globally, a Houston-led clean hydrogen hub could abate 220 million tons (MT) tons of carbon emissions by 2050.

“This report gives additional weight to the already strong case that Houston is uniquely positioned to lead a transformational clean hydrogen hub with global impact,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We can also deliver economic growth, create jobs and cut emissions across Houston and the Gulf Coast, including in underserved communities.”

The Houston region already produces and consumes a third of the nation’s hydrogen, per the release, and has more than 50 percent of the country’s dedicated hydrogen pipelines. These assets can be utilized to accelerate a transition to clean hydrogen, and the report lays out how.

"Using this roadmap as a guide and with Houston’s energy sector at the lead, we are ready to create a new clean hydrogen economy that will help fight climate change as it creates jobs and economic growth,” says Center for Houston’s Future CEO Brett Perlman. “We are more than ready, able and willing to take on these goals, as our record of overwhelming success in energy innovation and new market development shows.”

The former BP executive will lead Houston's role in the energy transition as the executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, a brand new position at the Greater Houston Partnership. Photo courtesy of GHP

Greater Houston Partnership names former BP exec to lead energy transition

seeing green

Jane Stricker, a longtime Houston-based executive at oil and gas giant BP, has been tapped to lead the Greater Houston Partnership's new initiative designed to boost the Bayou City's profile in the shift toward low-carbon energy.

The partnership announced Stricker's hiring November 11. She'll join the organization effective January 1 as executive director of the Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI) and senior vice president of energy transition.

The Greater Houston Partnership unveiled HETI in June. As the partnership explained then, HETI "aims to drive sustainable and equitable economic growth in the Greater Houston region through a portfolio of technology, policy, and market initiatives that scale and export solutions for realizing a low-carbon energy world."

A report from the University of Houston's Gutierrez Energy Management Institute, UH Energy, and the Center for Houston's Future suggests the region is poised to become the "low-carbon energy capital."

In a business-as-usual scenario, Houston's energy-based economy stands to lose anywhere from 270,000 to 650,000 jobs if it fails to act in response to the low-carbon transition, according to a partnership report published in June. But if Houston takes "decisive action" to lead the energy transition, the region could gain as many as 560,000 jobs.

Among other things, HETI says it will:

  • Jumpstart carbon-reduction efforts, such as carbon capture, hydrogen production, and battery technology.
  • Attract companies operating in spaces like wind energy, solar power, and biofuels.
  • Bolster companies involved in projects like development of electric vehicles, decarbonization of oil and natural gas, and production of geothermal energy.

It now will be Stricker's responsibility to oversee the multifaceted initiative, bringing together industry, academic, and community partners to advance the Houston area's role in global energy transition.

"Jane is a thought leader in the energy industry who brings an extensive knowledge of the global energy ecosystem and the pathways to a low-carbon future," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the partnership, says in a news release. "She understands the importance of collaboration across the ecosystem to get results, and I am confident the work she will facilitate will position Houston as the global hub of the energy transition, driving our region's long-term economic success."

Stricker has spent more than 20 years at BP, most recently as a senior relationship manager working with an array of organizations on issues such as carbon capture and energy decarbonization. While at BP, she spearheaded the National Petroleum Council's 2019 study on carbon capture, use, and sequestration.

"This is an exciting time for Houston and our energy ecosystem as we focus our efforts on leading the global energy transition," Stricker says. "The challenge of our lifetime is addressing this dual challenge of meeting increased global energy demand while confronting global climate change. Houston is known for solving problems that matter. I believe through innovation, collaboration, and focus, our region can lead the way and deliver solutions that change the world."

Aside from her previous role at BP, Stricker is a contributing faculty member for the University of Houston's Sustainable Energy Development Program, an advisory board member of the Energy Industries Council Connect Energy USA, and a graduate of the Center for Houston's 2020 Future Leadership Forum.

Stricker takes the helm of the energy initiative at a critical time.

The International Energy Agency predicts energy-related carbon emissions will soar by more than 1.65 billion tons this year, or nearly 5 percent, driven in large part by coal-fueled generation of electricity. That would be the second largest rise in annual carbon missions in history.

In a report released earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund noted that additional public investments in infrastructure to support the move to net-zero emissions will need to equal roughly 2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade. That would easily amount to billions of dollars in global spending.

Taken together — the jump in carbon emissions and the need for more spending to combat them — the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate conservatively estimated in 2018 that the low-carbon economy could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits through 2030. Lux Research forecasts the global market solely for carbon capture and recycling could reach $70 billion by 2030.

Looking farther down the road, the United Nations Development Programme says a heightened commitment to green energy — propelled largely by low-carbon strategies — could boost global GDP by $98 trillion by 2050.

"The investments needed for low-carbon infrastructure are substantial but manageable, and economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis presents an opportunity to speed up the low-carbon transition," the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate observes.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

greentown updates

The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

open for biz

Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.