Here's what startups took home wins at CERAWeek. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Over 200 startups participated in CERAWeek this year, and 18 of those companies pitched at a Greater Houston Partnership event.

The Houston Energy Transition Initiative, an initiative to promote Houston's work within the energy transition, hosted its second annual HETI Energy Ventures Competition at CERAWeek Innovation Agora. The competition was divided into four categories. The first batch of startups consisted of five companies from the Texas Entrepreneurship Exchange for Energy, or TEX-E, a collaboration with Greentown Labs, MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, and universities across Texas.

The winning startups shared $50,000 of prizes, sponsored by TEX-E. Houston-based Helix Earth Technologies — which has developed high-speed, high-efficiency filter systems derived from technology originating at NASA — won both the first place prize and fan favorite for the category. Helix's co-founders, Rawand Rasheed and Brad Husick from Rice University, walked away with $25,000 in prizes

Founded by Bryon Praslicka, Daniel Zamarron, and Craig Newman from Texas A&M University, Flux Works LLC, and its magnetic gear technology, took second place and $15,000 home. Tierra Climate, a two-sided marketplace for carbon offsets and other sustainability efforts founded by Emma Konet and Jacob Mansfield from Rice University, won third place and $10,000.

Helix Earth Technologies walked away with the top prize of the TEX-E category. Photo via greentownlabs.com

The next sets of startup pitches we broken down by funding stages — pre-seed and seed, series A, and series B and beyond.

Red Shift Energy, uses plasma energy to produce hydrogen from hydrogen sulfide, won fan favorite in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by HX Venture Fund. A member of Halliburton Labs, the company also was recognized as Chevron favorite.

Per the judging panel, CanaGas won the title of most promising in the pre-seed and seed category sponsored by Alchemy Industrial. The Canadian company liquifies natural gas without costly cryogenics or stripping of the gas.

Houston-based Criterion Energy Partners won both the most-promising series A company category sponsored by SLB, but also the fan favorite series A category sponsored by Guerrella LLC. A geothermal energy tech company, Criterion was also a member of Rice's inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator cohort.

OptiSeis Solutions also won in both categories for the series B track. The company, a geophysical acquisition design and software company, won the title of most promising in the series B category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments and the series B fan favorite category sponsored by Halliburton Labs.

Lastly, the competition named the Most Impactful DEI, a category sponsored by Pana LCE Investments. Austin-based Gazelle Ecosystems, a social innovation startup with eco-solutions for corporations, won that category.

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Houston-based clean energy site developer raises $300M to decarbonize big tech projects

fresh funding

Houston energy executives have started a new company dedicated to developing clean-powered infrastructure for the large electric loads.

Cloverleaf Infrastructure, dually headquartered in Houston and Seattle, Washington, announced its launch and $300 million raised from NGP and Sandbrook Capital, two private equity firms. The company's management team also invested in the company.

As emerging technology continues to grow electricity load demand, Cloverleaf has identified an opportunity to develop large-scale digital infrastructure sites powered by low-carbon electricity.

"The rapid growth in demand for electricity to power cloud computing and artificial intelligence poses a major climate risk if fueled by high-emission fossil fuels," David Berry, Cloverleaf's CEO, says in a news release. "However, it's also a major opportunity to catalyze the modernization of the US grid and the transition to a smarter and more sustainable electricity system through a novel approach to development.

"Cloverleaf is committed to making this vision a reality with the support of leading climate investors like Sandbrook and NGP."

Berry, who's based in Houston, previously co-founded and served as CFO at ConnectGen and Clean Line Energy Partners, clean energy and transmission developers. Last year, he co-founded Cloverleaf with Seattle-based Brian Janous and CTO Jonathan Abebe, who most recently held a senior role at the United States Department of Energy. Nur Bernhardt, director of Energy Strategy at Microsoft who's also based in Seattle, rounds out the executive team as vice president.

"The large tech companies have become dominant players in the electricity sector, and they are genuinely determined to power their growth with the lowest possible emissions," Janous, who serves as chief commercial officer, says in the release. "Achieving this objective doesn't depend on disruptive new technologies as much as it does on dedicated teams working hand in hand with utility partners to maximize the use of the clean generation, storage, and other technologies we already have."

Cloverleaf will work with regional U.S. utilities and data center operators to provide clean electricity at scale through strategic investments in transmission, grid interconnection, land, onsite power generation, and electricity storage, per the release.

"The sustainable development of digital infrastructure at scale is fundamentally a technical power problem," Alfredo Marti, partner at Sandbrook, adds. "We have witnessed members of the Cloverleaf team effectively address this challenge for many years through a blend of creativity, specialized engineering, a partnership mindset, and astute capital deployment."

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston resilience tech innovator proves out platform amid Hurricane Beryl

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 245

Earlier this month, Ali Mostafavi got an unexpected chance to pilot his company's data-backed and artificial intelligence-powered platform — all while weathering one of Houston's most impactful storms.

Mostafavi, a civil and environmental engineering professor at Texas A&M University, founded Resilitix.AI two years ago, and with the help of his lab at A&M, has created a platform that brings publicly available data into AI algorithms to provide its partners near-real time information in storm settings.

As Hurricane Beryl came ashore with Houston on its path, Mostafavi says he had the opportunity to both test his technology and provide valuable information to his community during the storm.

"We were in the process of fine tuning some of our methods and algorithms behind our technology," Mostafavi says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "When disasters happen, you go to activation mode. We put our technology development and R&D efforts on hold and try to test our technology in an operational setting."

The platform provides its partners — right now, those include local and state organizations and emergency response teams — information on evacuation reports, street flooding, and even damage sustained based on satellite imagery. Mostafavi says that during Beryl, users were wondering how citizens were faring amid rising temperatures and power outages. The Resilitix team quickly pivoted to apply algorithms to hospital data to see which neighborhoods were experiencing high volumes of patients.

"We had the ability to innovate on the spot," Mostafavi says, adding that his own lack of power and internet was an additional challenge for the company. "When an event happens, we start receiving requests and questions. ... We had to be agile and adapt our methods to be responsive. Then at the same time, because we haven't tested it, we have to verify that we are confident (in the information we provide)."

On the episode, Mostafavi shares how Hurricane Harvey — which occurred shortly after Mostafavi moved to Houston — inspired the foundation of Resilitix and how Houston is the ideal spot to grow the company.

"We are very excited that our company is Houston based," he says. "We should not be just ground zero of disasters. We have to also be ground zero for solutions as well. I believe Houston should be the hub for resilience tech innovation as it is for energy transition.

"I think energy transition, climatetech, energy tech, and disaster tech go hand in hand," Mostafavi continues. "I feel that we are in the right place."

Houston-based equitable entrepreneurship tech platform expands programs

coming soon

Fresh off of celebrating the dismissal of a lawsuit from former Trump Administration officials, Hello Alice is expanding some of its offerings for entrepreneurs.

In partnership with top organizations — like Progressive, Antares Capital, Wells Fargo, and FedEx — Hello Alice has added new offerings for its 2024 Boost Camp programs, a mix of skill-building support and grant opportunities.

“We are fortunate to continue working with great enterprise partners who share our commitment to supporting Main Street through crucial grants and mentorship programs,” Carolyn Rodz, CEO and co-founder of Hello Alice, says in a news release. “Small businesses drive our economy, yet often lack the necessary financing and resources. By partnering with major companies, Hello Alice is ensuring that small businesses have access to the tools and opportunities they need to thrive and create jobs in their local communities. Together, we are building a robust support system that fosters innovation and growth for small businesses across the country.”

This year's programs, according to Hello Alice, are as follows:

  • Antares Capital REACH Cohort: The Antares REACH Grant Program provides $20,000 grants to small businesses. Grant recipients will also take part in Antares’ Growth Track Boost Camp program, a digital community which will be home to monthly business coaching workshops, mentorship, networking, and more. Applications are open until June 28, and the program begins August 8.
  • Progressive Driving Small Business Forward Grant & Booster Camp Program: Progressive is dedicating $1 million to award 20 deserving businesses with a $50,000 grant each. Grant recipients will be invited to attend an exclusive 12-week virtual Boost Camp coaching program. Applications have closed for the program beginning September 10.
  • Wells Fargo: Wells Fargo is supporting four virtual accelerator programs over the next 18 months, designed to support up to 500 participants for each program, with a focus on business health and credit-building practices. Applications will be announced this summer for the program, which will begin in early fall.
  • FedEx: The FedEx Entrepreneur Fund supports entrepreneurs in the United States by providing them with the necessary funding, resources, and networks to enhance the success of their businesses, including the Boost Camp coaching program.
  • Applications will be announced this fall for the program, which will begin in the winter.

More information and application access is available online.

Last year's Boost programs benefitted 100 small businesses, according to Hello Alice, which reported that the 2023 Antares REACH Cohort resulted in 60 percent of participants seeing an increase in their Business Health Score and 93 percent felt better equipped to confront challenges and capitalize on opportunities. In the end, 85 percent of participants feeling more optimistic about their business growth prospects.

"Hello Alice is proud to partner with high-level enterprise companies to empower small businesses and foster their success," Natalie Diamond, vice president of business development at Hello Alice, adds. "Together, we are creating unparalleled opportunities for entrepreneurs to achieve brand success, drive financial fitness, and thrive in today's competitive market. Our joint endeavors not only offer access to capital and resources but also provide tailored guidance and mentorship, arming small business owners with the insights and support necessary to navigate challenges and seize growth opportunities.”