Houston-based Nauticus Robotics has a new CEO and fresh funding. Photo via Nauticus

In the wake of a leadership reshuffling and amid lingering financial troubles, publicly traded Nauticus Robotics, a Webster-based developer of subsea robots and software, has netted more than $12 million in a second tranche of funding.

The more than $12 million in new funding includes a $9.5 million loan package.

Nauticus says the funding will accelerate certification of the company’s flagship Aquanaut robot, which is being prepared for its inaugural mission — inspecting a deep-water production facility in the Gulf of Mexico that’s owned by a major oil and gas company.

The new funding comes several weeks after the company announced a change in leadership, including a new interim CEO, interim chief financial officer, and lead general counsel.

Former Halliburton Energy Services executive John Gibson, the interim CEO, became president of Nauticus last October and subsequently joined the board. Gibson replaced Nauticus founder Nicolaus Radford in the CEO role. Radford’s LinkedIn profile indicates he left Nauticus in January 2024, the same month that Gibson stepped into the interim post.

Radford founded what was known as Houston Mechatronics in 2014.

Victoria Hay, the new interim CFO at Nauticus, and Nicholas Bigney, the new lead general counsel, came aboard in the fourth quarter of 2023.

“We currently have the intellectual property, prototypes, and the talent to deliver robust products and services,” Gibson says in a news release. “Team Nauticus is now laser-focused on converting our intellectual property, including both patents and trade secrets, into differentiated solutions that bring significant value to both commercial and government customers.”

A couple of weeks after the leadership shift, the NASDAQ stock market notified Nauticus that the average closing price of the company’s common stock had fallen below the $1-per-share threshold for 30 consecutive trading days. That threshold must be met to maintain a NASDAQ listing.

Nauticus was given 180 days to lift its average stock price above $1. If that threshold isn’t reached during that 180-day period, the company risks being delisted by NASDAQ. The stock closed February 6 at 32 cents per share.

The stock woes and leadership overhaul came on the heels of a dismal third-quarter 2023 financial report from Nauticus. The company’s fourth-quarter 2023 financial report hasn’t been filed yet.

For the first nine months of 2023, Nauticus reported an operating loss of nearly $20.9 million, up from almost $11.3 million during the same period a year earlier. Meanwhile, revenue sank from $8.2 million during the first nine months of 2022 to $5.5 million in the same period a year later.

Nauticus went public in September 2022 through a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger with New York City-based CleanTech Acquisition Corp., a “blank check” company that went public in July 2021 through a $150 million IPO. The SPAC deal was valued at $560 million when it was announced in December 2021.

Nauticus recently hired investment bank Piper Sandler & Co. to help evaluate “strategic options to maximize shareholder value.”

One of the strategic alternatives involves closing Nauticus’ previously announced merger with Houston-based 3D at Depth, which specializes in subsea laser technology. When it was unveiled last October, the all-stock deal was valued at $34 million.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

The acquisition is valued at $34 million. Photo via Nauticus Robotics

Houston robotics company makes strategic acquisition in $34M deal

M&A Moves

A Houston company that harnesses the power of robotics hardware and programing for underwater use has made an acquisition.

Nauticus Robotics Inc. (NASDAQ: KITT) announced it has acquired 3D at Depth Inc., a Colorado-based company with a subsea light detection and range, LiDAR, technology for inspection and data services. The deal closed for approximately $34 million in stock, before certain purchase price adjustments and the assumption of debt, per the news release.

“The future of subsea services lies in autonomy, data gathering, and analytics,” Nicolaus Radford, Nauticus’ founder and CEO, says in the release. “LiDAR has long since been core to terrestrial autonomy and by adding 3D’s capabilities to the Nauticus Fleet, we enhance autonomous vehicles in the offshore market. This acquisition increases the value of Nauticus’ fleet services and positions the Company to capitalize on data acquisition and analytics for subsea operations.”

The acquisition expands Nauticus' capabilities for its autonomous underwater suite of technology for its customers. With the deal, Nauticus will assume 20 patents secured or pending by acquiring 3D, which generated $9.8 million in revenue last year and is slated to grow revenue by more than 20 percent in 2023, according to the release.

“In addition to the compelling strategic and financial benefits of this deal, the acquisition will add momentum to our commercial growth trajectory,” Radford continues. “By adding 3D’s technology, offshore inspection and data service, and experienced team, Nauticus expands our addressable market and accelerates our customer penetration in the offshore energy and renewables industries.”

Founded in 2009, 3D will operate as a division of Nauticus when the deal closes sometime before the end of the year. Nauticus will also assume approximately $4.1 million of debt in the transaction.

“The Nauticus Robotics and 3D at Depth combination creates a compelling solution for the subsea market and should help improve our products and services for all our clients,” Carl Embry, founder and CEO of 3D at Depth, says in the release. “We believe the integration of our unique subsea multi-dimensional data collection and processing with an emerging leader in subsea robotics creates a differentiated offering for customers seeking safer, cleaner, lower-cost subsea services.”

Nauticus, founded by Radford in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, went public via a blank check company last year.

Nauticus Robotics has extended a contract with one of its biggest customers. Photo via nauticusrobotics.com

Houston robotics startup secures $2.1M contract extension with engineering tech co.

customer success

A Houston startup has just secured an extended contract with a major customer.

Webster-based Nauticus Robotics, a maker of autonomous oceangoing robots, has bulked up its current contract with Reston, Virginia-based Leidos in a $2.1 million extension.. That brings Leidos’ total financial commitment from $14.5 million to $16.6 million.

In partnership with Leidos, Nauticus is developing next-generation underwater drones for business and military customers. These unmanned underwater vehicles are being designed to carry out tasks that are dangerous or impossible for human divers to do, such as mapping the ocean floor, studying sea creatures, and monitoring water pollution.

“This very important work combines great attributes from each company to deploy a truly novel subsea capability,” says Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus.

Based on Nauticus’ Aquanaut product, these robots will feature the company’s toolKITT software, which supplies artificial intelligence capabilities to undersea vehicles.

“This work is the centerpiece of Nauticus’ excellent collaboration with Leidos,” says Radford, “and I look forward to continuing our mutual progress of advancing the state of the art in undersea vehicles.”

Founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus adopted its current branding in 2021. Last year, Nauticus became a publicly traded company through a merger with a “blank check” company called CleanTech Acquisition Corp.

During the first six months of 2023, Nauticus generated revenue of nearly $4 million, down from a little over $5.2 million in the same period last year. Its operating loss for the first half of 2023 was almost $12.7 million, up from slightly more than $5.2 million during the same time in 2022.

Nauticus attributes some of the revenue drop to delays in authorization of contracts with government agencies.

The company recently lined up a $15 million debt facility to bolster its operations.

“I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of Nauticus. We employ some of the best minds in the industry, and we are positioned with the right product at the right time to disrupt a $30 billion market,” Radford said earlier this month. “Demand from potential customers is high, but constructing our fleet is capital-intensive.”

More good news for Nauticus: It recently signed contracts with energy giants Shell and Petrobras. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

The Shell contract involves a project in the Gulf of Mexico’s Princess oil and gas field that Nauticus says could lead to millions of dollars in additional contracts over the next few years. Shell operates the offshore field, which is around 40 miles southeast of New Orleans, and owns a nearly 50 percent stake in it.

Co-owners of the Princess project are Houston-based ConocoPhillips, Spring-based ExxonMobil, and London-based BP, whose North American headquarters is in Houston. In July, the Reuters news service reported that ConocoPhillips was eyeing a sale of its stake in the Princess field.

Under the contract with Petrobras, whose U.S. arm is based in Houston, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut robot to support the Brazilian energy company’s offshore activities in South America. Nauticus says this deal “opens up a potential market opportunity” in Brazil exceeding $100 million a year.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, an offshore robotics company has rebranded, two startups earned bragging rights, and more. Photo via Getty Images

Houston robotics company rebrands, startups snag​  international spotlights, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston startups have had a busy fourth quarter so far with exciting news from all around the local innovation ecosystem.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a pair of Houston startups receive national and international praise, a local robotics company rebrands, Houston Community College receives funding for BIPOC female founders, and more.

Houston-area robotics company rebrands

Nicolaus Radford is the founder of Nauticus Robotics Inc., neé Houston Mechatronics. Photo courtesy

Houston Mechatronics Inc. based in Webster, Texas, announced that it has rebranded its offshore robotics firm as Nauticus Robotics Inc.

"The name Nauticus Robotics makes clear our commitment to the blue economy," says Nicolaus Radford, the company's founder and CEO, in a news release. "Our mission is to grow that economy through sustainable robotics that deliver value while protecting our planet's most valuable resources. This rebrand aligns us with that goal and positions us as a leader in our space."

The company has also launched a new website, representing an expanded vision of "Green robotics for a blue economy," according to the news release.

"Our new website will really lead the charge for us on the sales side," says Todd Newell, senior vice president of business development at Nauticus Robotics, in the release. "Prospective customers can get an overview of our robotics and their capabilities. If they desire, they can download detailed specifications to see how a product might fit into their operations. And we've made it very easy for those interested in a demo or a call to quickly get in touch with our team."

Houston IT company forms new partnership

Joe Alapat is the CEO of Houston-based Liongard. Courtesy of Liongard

Liongard has formed a new partnership with email defense solution Vade to release a new tool for its users. The feature automatically surfaces critical account data, streamlining user management, and billing for M365 users, according to a news release.

"I'm very pleased that Vade for M365 is now integrated with Liongard's leading IT automation platform," says Adrien Gendre, chief technology and product officer at Vade, in the release. "MSPs who offer managed cybersecurity can now combine the threat detection and remediation capabilities of Vade for M365 with the automation and unified visibility of Liongard. Together, Liongard and Vade for M365 give MSPs the tools they need to save time, improve efficiencies, and grow their businesses."

The tool is already included in Liongard’s latest release and users can leverage licensing, billing, and security data to simplify security management, accounting, and reporting.

“We’re very excited about our new Vade Inspector and the value it brings to the MSP community,” says Matt Miller, vice president of product for Liongard. “Both Vade and Liongard are committed to helping the managed services community stay security-focused. This Inspector enables MSPs to maintain a strong security posture through automation, with the added benefit of saving time and effort across the organization.”

Houston startup snags national spotlight

Cobalt's founders wanted to avoid harsh alcoholic smells and opted for calming and fun scents. Photo courtesy of Cobalt

Southern Living magazine's December issue features the annual holiday gift guide, and making the list this year is Houston-based small business Cobalt's Crisp Peppermint Hand Sanitizer.

“We are beyond thrilled to be included in Southern Living magazine with the best company,” says Christina Milligan, co-founder of Cobalt, in a news release. “It’s so exciting to see how much Cobalt has grown in the past 12 months. The idea has surpassed the pandemic and become an everyday necessity for healthy lifestyles. What started out as blending and filling each bottle from our kitchen tables has evolved into corporate partnerships, multiple scents, and new product lines. We are so grateful for all of our customers across the country and look forward to the next phase of Cobalt.”

Milligan and Molly Voorhees launched Cobalt in November 2020 with a line of personal-sized surface cleaners, hand sanitizers, and travel kits.

Cobalt is the only Houston-based company in the 2021 guide, according to the release. The issue is on newsstands now.

Houston blockchain company wins startup of the year

Data Gumbo's team was recognized internationally for its impact. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, which has created an industrial smart contract network company, announced last month that it has been named the Oil and Gas Start Up Company of the Year at the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference Awards Gala — the largest annual oil and gas awards event in the Middle East.

According to a news release from the company, "Data Gumbo was recognized for its potential to reshape the energy industry based on its continued innovation, strong business model and the impressive impact of its global industrial smart contract network."

“Our industrial smart contract network, GumboNet, offers the new gold standard for organizations to execute business better through guaranteed transactional certainty across commercial relationships,” says Andrew Bruce, CEO and founder of Data Gumbo. “It’s an honor to be recognized by ADIPEC for our work and commitment to expanding our network across the global energy industry, allowing companies to eliminate the lack of trust in industrial sectors, streamline contract execution and capture significant cost savings.”

The 11th annual ADIPEC Awards' judges reviewed more than 700 entries from over 50 countries across digitalization, sustainability, research, innovation and more. For more info on the ADIPEC Awards, click here.

Houston university system receives $750,000 grant to drive women-owned business success

HCC has fresh funds to support female entrepreneurs. Photo via Getty Images

Wells Fargo granted $750,000 to Houston Community College to support the new Open for Business program aimed at empowering women-owned businesses in the Houston region. The grant is part of a $420 million small business recovery effort by Wells Fargo to support nonprofit and educational organizations assisting women of color in overcoming longstanding obstacles to entrepreneurship.

“We are delighted to broaden our programs to help women succeed in owning and operating businesses,” says Maya Durnovo, HCC’s chief entrepreneurial officer, in a news release, adding that the program has a particular focus on African American, Indo-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American women.

The Open for Business Program – led by Director Tamala Austin – is already staffed with more than 165 women registered in the program.

“We can only imagine what kinds of businesses might have taken off, what products consumers might have enjoyed and what returns might have been realized had women and people of color enjoyed equal access to capital and opportunity,” Durnovo says in the release.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

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

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 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. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.