Here's what to attend at CERAWeek if you're interested in hearing from Houston innovators. CERAWeek/Facebook

With the return of in-person programming, hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more are descending upon Houston for the 2022 CERAWeek by IHS Markit taking place in downtown March 7 to 11. The conference is bringing back its Agora track, focused on innovation within the energy sector.

Agora's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and more — will take place alongside the main conference at The Hilton Americas-Houston. A note to attendees that masks, proof of vaccination, and a negative COVID test are all required at registration.

As one might expect, Houston innovators will be attending and speaking at this energy industry mainstay. Here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday, March 7 — Innovations in Clean Tech Financing: Are investors ready & willing?

Investor demand for clean tech assets has been a leading indicator for company-level action on energy transition strategies. With higher commodity prices attracting renewed interest in the role of oil and gas companies as energy transition drivers, investors have once again reengaged with elements of the industry that were difficult to fund only months ago. What is the balance for clean tech plays versus progress on net-zero approaches at existing firms? How do legacy business models need to change to adapt to investor concerns about the pace of the energy transition? How can companies better communicate with investors on clean tech deployment strategies, and how can investors speak the language of industry operators?

Session Speakers

  • Peter Gardett, IHS Markit
  • Juliana Garaizar, Greentown Labs
  • Brent Newcomb, Ecofin
  • Deepa Poduval, Black & Veatch

The panel takes place at 2 pm in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

Monday, March 7 — AI in the Energy Production Process: Unlocking energy transition opportunities

The world is pursuing a lower-carbon energy mix with great intent and energy companies are grasping new opportunities that encompass much more of the energy value chain than old business models, including closer engagement with end-use customers. Headwinds exist in the form of high costs, the pace of change and ever-changing regulatory burdens. All companies are embracing digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) seems set to have a significant role in a rapidly changing, data-intense energy value chain. How might AI help unlock new and enhanced opportunities? What methods can help manage the mix of weather-dependent renewable energy and traditional energy sources to ensure low-carbon reliable supplies? How can we navigate and derive advantages from the new proximity between producers and end-users to drive efficiency and reduce cost? What risks or challenges remain to be mitigated or solved in applying AI to energy production? How quickly can we overcome them?

Session Speakers:

  • Michael Wynn, IHS Markit
  • Jon Guidroz, Microsoft
  • Francois Laborie, Cognite
  • Amish Sabharwal, AVEVA

The panel takes place at 4 pm in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

Tuesday, March 8 — New Business Models for Bringing Climate Tech Solutions to Scale

As the energy system decarbonizes, it is becoming more complex and more interconnected. Today’s emerging energy system is fundamentally different, forcing companies to compete globally. New technologies will have to be developed to meet climate ambitions, evolving energy uses, and emerging new supply chains. How will corporate structures and business models change as new opportunities, but also new threats, emerge? What new business models can scale new technologies to support decarbonization efforts? What opportunities and challenges will companies face?

Session speakers:

  • Eduard Sala de Vedruna, IHS Markit
  • Barbara Burger, Chevron Corporation
  • Matt Kanan, Stanford University
  • Ernesto Gutiérrez de Piñeres, Ecopetrol

The panel takes place at 10:30 am in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

Wednesday, March 9 — Energy Cities: From oil capitals to energy transition capitals

Cities are the source of significant climate-changing activity and mobility challenges and need to cooperate globally for solutions. What steps are the cities taking to tackle climate change and where are the leaders globally?

Session speakers:

  • Lyn Tattum, IHS Markit
  • Hon. Fahad Al-Jubair, Eastern Province Municipality
  • Hon. Barney Crockett, Aberdeen City Council
  • His Worship Michael Savage, Halifax Regional Municipality
  • Hon. Sylvester Turner, City of Houston

The panel takes place at 2:30 pm in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

Thursday, March 10 — Advancing Energy Innovation: Growth of the ecosystem

Originating in the Silicon Valley, the term “Innovation Ecosystem is the evolving set of actors, activities, and artifacts, and the institutions and relations, including complementary and substitute relations, that are important for the innovative performance of an actor or a population of actors.” Creating energy sector innovation ecosystems has been challenging due to a multitude of participants, access to capital, role of governments, and challenges scaling promising technologies. With the need to develop and scale new technologies to achieve net zero by 2050, energy innovation will be the linchpin. What are critical factors for creating successful clean energy/tech innovation centers? Where are the most successful cleantech innovation ecosystems, and what makes them successful? Does the nature of the energy system make it less receptive to new ideas and innovations? How could governments incentivize these ecosystems? How could the pace of knowledge transfer be accelerated from innovation to deployment? With future growth in energy demand and investments centered in developing countries, how can new ecosystems be created in these countries?

Session Speakers:

  • Atul Arya, IHS Markit
  • Barbara Burger, Chevron Corporation
  • Robin Millican, Breakthrough Energy
  • Emily Reichert, Greentown Labs

The panel takes place at 12:30 pm in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

Thursday, March 10 — “NextGen” Future Energy Leaders Town Hall

The race is on for innovative, fresh approaches to solve the world’s greatest energy and climate challenges. The emerging generation of future energy leaders, technologists, and entrepreneurs have unprecedented opportunity for impact and to create real change. The energy world is hungry and open to disruptive ideas. There never has been a more exciting—or urgent—time to be part of the energy industry. Join this special interactive “Next Gen” dynamic session, featuring rapid-fire insights by leading minds on energy innovation, along with CERAWeek Future Energy Leaders. How can we achieve net zero ambitions by 2050? How can we tackle climate change while meeting the planet’s need for more energy? What are the promising and scalable technologies? What are the challenges and most exciting opportunities?

Session Speakers:

  • Louis Carranza, MIT Energy Initiative
  • Ali Al Rawahi, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)
  • Dr. Douglas J. Arent, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
  • Juliana Garaizar, Greentown Labs
  • Sunita Narain, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE)
  • Jigar Shah, United States Department of Energy
  • Anish Simon, Equinor
  • Vijay Swarup, ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Company
  • Jordan Watson, Korn Ferry
  • Darryl Willis, Microsoft Corporation

The panel takes place at 5 pm in the Agora Pod. Click here to learn more.

At a panel at virtually hosted CERAWeek, energy innovation stakeholders discussed the future of cleantech. Photo via Getty Images

Overheard: How the energy tech ecosystem will evolve and the role of Houston innovators

eavesdropping in Houston

The energy technology and innovation ecosystem is comprised of stakeholders across the industry — from the academic institutions that house researchers in the field and the entrepreneurs with the big ideas to the venture backers who fund the scaling of these ideas and the corporations who put these new technologies into their supply chain.

A recent panel at CERAWeek by IHS Markit explored where the energy tech ecosystem is headed — and what all needs to be done to advance innovation. Missed the discussion or just want a refresher on on the highlights? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual panel.

“We need more energy innovation, and when we think about the energy system of the future there are key areas where we need more technology developed. We all need to encourage and support that early innovation.”

— Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures. Burger mentions that it's about collaboration. "All of us play a role in a critical part of the development."

“Not only do we have to have the innovation pipeline, but then we’ve got to really move quickly to work with governments, corporations, public-private partnerships that can be formed around these technologies.”

— Ashley Grosh, vice president of Breakthrough Energy. Grosh echoes the need for collaborative efforts. No one part of the equation — such as corporates, scientists, academics, etc. — can move the needle by itself.

“We face a need to run the current energy system extremely well … while also envisioning a new energy system.”

— Burger says. Burger, who alludes to the state's recent power grid failure as an example, says this balancing act is a challenge across the board for energy companies.

“Government is going to have to play aggressively to solve the climate problem.”

— Ilan Gur, CEO of Activate Global Inc., a nonprofit organization that WORKS with U.S.-based funders and research institutions to support a group of fellows. Gur says there needs to be some aspect of incentivization somewhere in the innovation process to drive results.

“Where the market works, let it work. And where it needs help, let’s double down.”

— Burger says, adding that it will take the public, corporations, innovators, and capital to make a difference. "If you can align those all toward derisking then scaling that technology, we will all benefit from the fruits of that labor.

Here's what not to miss at the first all-virtual CERAWeek by IHS Markit. Screenshot via virtual.ceraweek.com

5 can't-miss innovation events at CERAWeek featuring Houston speakers

where to be online

While usually hundreds of energy experts, C-level executives, diplomats, members of royal families, and more descend upon Houston for the the annual CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference, this year will be a little different. Canceled last year due to COVID-19, CERAWeek is returning — completely virtually.

The Agora track is back and focused on innovation within the energy sector. The Agora track's events — thought-provoking panels, intimate pods, and corporate-hosted "houses" — can be accessed through a virtual atrium.

Undoubtedly, many of the panels will have Houston representatives considering Houston's dominance in the industry, but here are five innovation-focused events you can't miss during CERAWeek that feature Houstonians.

Monday — New Horizons for Energy & Climate Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has made vivid and real the risks of an uncontrolled virus. Risks posed by climate change are also becoming more palpable every day. At the forefront of understanding these risks, universities are developing solutions by connecting science, engineering, business, and public policy disciplines. Along with industry and governments, universities are critical to developing affordable and sustainable solutions to meet the world's energy needs and achieve net-zero emission goals. Can the dual challenge of more energy and lower emissions be met? What is some of the most promising energy and climate research at universities? Beyond research, what are the roles and responsibilities of universities in the energy transition?

Featuring: Kenneth B. Medlock, III, James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker Fellow In Energy And Resource Economics, Baker Institute and Senior Director, Center For Energy Studies at Rice University

Catch the panel at 1 pm on Monday, March 1. Learn more.

Tuesday — Conversations in Cleantech: Powering the energy transition

With renewables investment outperforming oil and gas investment for the first time ever in the middle of a pandemic, 2020 was a tipping point in the Energy Transition. Low oil prices intensified energy majors' attention on diversification and expansion into mature and emerging clean technologies such as battery storage, low-carbon hydrogen, and carbon removal technologies. Yet, the magnitude of the Energy Transition challenge requires an acceleration of strategic decisions on the technologies needed to make it happen, policy frameworks to promote public-private partnerships, and innovative investment schemes.

Three Cleantech leaders share their challenges, successes, and lessons learned at the forefront of the Energy Transition. What is their vision and strategy to accelerate lowering emissions and confronting climate change? Can companies develop clear strategies for cleantech investments that balance sustainability goals and corporate returns? What is the value of increasing leadership diversity for energy corporations? Can the Energy Transition be truly transformational without an inclusive workforce and a diverse leadership?

Featuring: Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, which is opening a location in Houston this year.

The event takes place at 11:30 am on Tuesday, March 2. Learn more.

Wednesday — Rice Alliance Venture Day at CERAWeek

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship pitch event will showcase 20 technology companies with new solutions for the energy industry. Each presentation will be followed by questions from a panel of industry experts.

Presenting Companies: Acoustic Wells, ALLY ENERGY, Bluefield Technologies, Cemvita Factory, Connectus Global, Damorphe, Ovopod Ltd., DrillDocs, GreenFire Energy, inerG, Locus Bio-Energy Solutions, Nesh, Pythias Analytics, REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies, Revterra, ROCSOLE, Senslytics, Subsea Micropiles, Syzygy Plasmonics, Transitional Energy, and Universal Subsea.

The event takes place at 9 am on Wednesday, March 3. Learn more.

Thursday — How Will the Energy Innovation Ecosystem Evolve?

Although the cleantech innovation ecosystem—research institutions, entrepreneurs, financiers, and support institutions—is diverse and productive, converting cleantech discoveries and research breakthroughs into commercially viable, transformative energy systems has proven difficult. With incumbent energy systems economically efficient and deeply entrenched, cleantech innovation faces a fundamental dilemma—the scale economies necessary to compete require a large customer base that does not yet exist. How is our clean energy innovation ecosystem equipped to be transformative? What needs to be strengthened? Is it profitable to focus on individual elements, or should we consider the system holistically, and reframe our expectations?

Featuring: Barbara Burger, vice president of innovation at Chevron and president at Chevron Technology Ventures

The event takes place at 7:30 am on Thursday, March 4. Learn more.

Friday — Cities: Managing crises & the future of energy

Houston is the capital of global energy and for the past four decades the home of CERAWeek. Mayor Sylvester Turner will share lessons from the city's experience with the pandemic, discuss leadership strategies during times of crisis, and explore Houston's evolving role in the new map of energy.

The event takes place at 8 am on Friday, March 5. Learn more.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.