Overheard: Why these 3 startups relocated to Houston

eavesdropping at the houston innovation awards gala

Here's why three New to Hou finalists from the Houston Innovation Awards have committed to Houston. Photo via Getty Images

Houston is attracting more and more businesses big and small, old and new. So much that it seemed worthy of an award for the Houston Innovation Awards Gala.

The awards event, which is on November 9 and hosted by InnovationMap and Houston Exponential at the Ion, is honoring five finalists selected by judges — and naming one winner — who have recently relocated or significantly expanded to Houston.

Here's why three of these New to Hou finalists have committed to Houston.

"The move to the Houston area allowed us to be much closer to our strategic partners, customers and suppliers. We are also impressed by the vast talent pool in the area. Houston has a highly skilled workforce with diverse experiences, particularly in oil and gas, petrochemicals, and a broad range of technical areas."

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Jay Manouchehri, CEO of Fluence Analytics, which relocated from Louisiana to Stafford last year, just outside of Houston. "We have been able to engage very actively with many customers since the move and also have developed valuable supplier relationships."

"In 2019, Chevron and EIC (both Houston based) became investors and we already had a lot of US clients, so we wanted to create a Houston footprint."

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John van Pol, co-founder and CEO of INGU, which opened its new Houston office in 2021. Van Pol adds that the pandemic delayed their expansion initially.

"Houston has a quickly-growing biotechnology sector and already has existing oil and gas talent, making it an ideal place to find the people we need to grow our business."

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Zimri T. Hinshaw, founder and CEO of BUCHA BIO, which relocated to Houston from New York in January 2022. "Our most prominent investor is Houston-based New Climate Ventures," he adds.

INGU Solutions has established its U.S. office in Houston — and is ready to tap into the city's energy industry with its revolutionary pipeline inspection-as-a-service model. Photo via ingu.com

Innovative Canadian company taps into Houston market to better serve energy customers

in the pipeline

On average, oil and gas pipelines are inspected every five years, which, considering pipelines in the United States are more than 60 years old, just isn't cutting it. Operators face costly and damaging leaks on cracks and incidences that are totally avoidable with more regular inspection. The issue is inspection isn't an easy process — unless INGU Solutions is involved.

The Alberta, Canada-based company has created a hardware component — called a Piper — that's about the size of a baseball. The device can be run through pipes of any size to inspect and detect internal issues. INGU has an inspection-as-a-service model so that whatever data is collected by the Pipers is analyzed and provided to clients without any more steps from them.

The idea for the device came to John van Pol, founder and CEO, who has a background in nuclear physics and founded the company in 2015. Now, he runs the company with his daughter, Anouk van Pol, who started as an analyst and working in the field for INGU and now serves the company as co-founder and COO.

The Piper is smaller than a baseball and can flow through any sized pipe used in the oil and gas industry. Photo via ingu.com

In 2017, INGU was selected to be a part of Chevron's inaugural Catalyst Program cohort and Chevron Technology Ventures — along with two other U.S. investors — contributed to the company's series A round in 2019. This led to INGU establishing its U.S. operations in Houston in order to grow their American team and to be closer to customers. Then, the pandemic hit.

“The idea was to be closer to our customers,” Anouk tells InnovationMap. “Houston is the oil and gas hub, and just being able to be in [our clients'] offices and be there in person it just helps. I hope at one point COVID passes and that we can make use out of it a bit more.

"The other thing is you open up your market on the hiring side," she says, adding that the company has two U.S. employees now.

INGU first had an office in The Cannon, but now operates locally at The Ion in the Common Desk coworking space with an office suite to support its local team. In 2019, the company was named to Plug and Play's inaugural Houston cohort and as a most-promising business by Rice Alliance at OTC.

Anouk, who was selected for Forbes 30 Under 30 in energy in 2020, and her father both split their time between Houston and Alberta, usually alternating so that the van Pols have a presence in each office at all times, but both are currently in town for the 34th annual Pipeline Pigging and Integrity Management conference, or PPIM. It's the OTC for the pipeline industry, Anouk says.

Ahead of the conference and despite the challenges the pandemic has posed for INGU, Anouk says the company has seen significant growth over the past two years.

"We grew 60 percent last year," she says. "which is pretty good for what's been happening over the past two years."

From a hardware perspective, the pandemic's impact has been relatively small. The Pipers are designed with off-the-shelf materials, which INGU stocked up on — avoiding any supply chain shortages. Additionally, INGU can send the devices to pipeline operators, who can deploy them while the devices send the collected data directly to INGU.

Anouk van Pol is the company's COO. Photo via LinkedIn

The company, which anticipates a secondary series A round this year in addition to tripling its annual revenue, has an environmental, social, and governance, or ESG, component to its business. While half of INGU's clients are in the energy industry and Pipers contribute to reducing waste within oilfield operations, the other half of customers are within the water industry. Water infrastructure is 100 years old, and Anouk says about 6 billion gallons of water are wasted each day.

"That's 40 percent of all water, and because so much water is lost, you need more power and energy," Anouk says. "Where we see oil and gas is aimed at prevention in well condition, etc., the water market is doing a lot of leak protection."

In both industries, Pipers are preventing waste and allowing companies to make positive moves in their ESG plans.

INGU has clients all over the world and servicing these various types of pipes and businesses is growing INGU's database, which better benefits their inspection-as-a-service capabilities.

"The more we grow, the more we can and will learn, and then go in this self-fulfilling cycle," Anouk says.

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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.