NanoTech Materials celebrated its move into a new facility — a 43,000-square-foot space in Katy, Texas, this week. Photo courtesy of NanoTech Materials

A Houston startup has moved into a new space that's more than four times larger than its previous setup — a move that's setting the company up to scale its business.

NanoTech Materials celebrated its move into a new facility — a 43,000-square-foot space in Katy, Texas, this week. The materials science company currently distributes a roof coating that features its novel heat-control technology across the company. Originally founded in a garage, the company has now moved from its 10,000-square-foot space at Halliburton Labs into the larger location to support its growth.

“The new facility allows us to not just focus on the roofing, and that’s growing at a pretty rapid pace, but also stand up different production lines for our next iteration of technologies coming-out," Mike Francis, co-founder and CEO of NanoTech tells InnovationMap.

The space allows for a 340 percent increase in the manufacturing and operational capabilities, including producing 55 million square feet a year of roof coating. Francis says the new products he's focused on launching and scaling include a wildfire protectant coating and liquid applied insulation for trucks and containers to control heat for driver and worker safety.

Francis adds that he will be expanding the company's team to support this growth.

“We’re constantly hiring now,” he says. “We have about 25 employees right now. Next year, we’ll probably be double that. We’re kind of in a hypergrowth phase."

Francis likes to credit Houston in part for NanoTech's ability to grow at this pace and to be successful.

Mike Francis is the CEO and co-founder of NanoTech Materials. Photo via LinkedIn

“Houston has a shot at being one of the top startup cities of the world — I think it’s going to take a lot of time and capital, but what makes Houston different is its ability to scale existing technologies,” Francis says.

“I really think that Houston is already the spot to take an existing technology and build a team around it to turn it into a company because you have all of the players — whether it’s the end customer or the incubators and 'scalerators' — and you have all of these pieces coming into place," he continues. "Maybe it’s not the best place to start a company, but it’s definitely the best place to scale a company because of the ecosystem is really willing to participate and raise up startups like ours."

As the first company selected for Halliburton's incubator, Halliburton Labs, when it launched in 2020, NanoTech has worked closely with the company that housed and supported them for years.

“Once you’re in the Halliburton Labs fold, they are always just a phone call away from making something happen," he says. “We’re transferring all that knowledge into a bigger facility — growing up and graduating from what they gave us.”

Last year, NanoTech raised an oversubscribed funding round that brought on a handful of new investors. The details of the round were not disclosed, but NanoTech did release that the round included participation from three institutional investors, two corporate-strategic investors, and seven family offices. The company originally raised its seed round in 2020.

The NanoTech team, including Francis and Carrie Horazeck, chief commercial officer, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last year to discuss how they've rolled out their first line of business.


NanoTech closed an oversubscribed round of funding, the company announced this week. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Houston climate-tech startup adds new investors in oversubscribed funding round

cap table additions

A Houston startup that has developed an innovative coating material that can reduce energy consumption has raised fresh funding for its cross-country expansion.

NanoTech Inc. announced its latest funding news — an oversubscribed funding round that brings onboard a handful of new investors. The details of the round were not disclosed, but NanoTech did release that the round included participation from three institutional investors, two corporate-strategic investors, and seven family offices. These entities join initial investor, Austin-based Ecliptic Capital.

NanoTech's flagship product is a waterproof thermal coating, called the Nano Shield Cool Roof Coat, which began rolling out across the country this year. Not only does the product reduce energy costs for the building owner, but it reduces emissions as well.

"It's crucial to recalibrate the sustainability narrative – environmental responsibility and financial return can go hand in hand," says Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder of NanoTech, in a news release. “We’ve transformed the roof from a cost center to a savings source by reducing energy expenditures while also significantly shrinking the building's carbon footprint.”

"The substantial decline in CO2 emissions and energy costs resulting from reduced reliance on HVAC systems is far more than a fringe benefit — it forms the cornerstone of our long-term strategy to lead the climate-resilient materials market. Beyond corporate objectives, it's a personal source of immense pride to foster a healthier planet for generations to come," Francis continues.

As the first selected company in Houston-based Halliburton Labs, NanoTech continues to benefit from the incubator's industrial scaling resources. Francis and Chief Commercial Officer Carrie Horazeck recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the impact their product is making as they roll out nationwide.

"It's just a coating that can go on top of existing structure — any type of commercial roof," Horazeck says on the show. "We have a pretty good amount of data from 2022 showcasing that we can reduce HVAC consumption within the building by about 30 to 40 percent.

"Our clients really see a immediate benefit in their energy bill, and, of course, if you reduce the HVAC consumption, that automatically translates to a decrease in your scope one emissions," she continues.


The city's top power players within Houston's energy innovation ecosystem joined virtual SXSW to weigh in on hot topics — from ESG to the future of the industry's workforce. Photos courtesy

Overheard: Houston innovators discuss ESG, energy transition, cleantech and more at SXSW

Eavesdropping online

The first day of SXSW 2021 — a virtual edition of the Austin-based conference — is on the books, and Houston innovators were no strangers to attendees' screens thanks to Houston House put on by the Greater Houston Partnership.

Day one of the two days of programming focused on all things energy — power storage, corporate venture, ESG, the future of the workforce, and so much more — with interviews hosted by me, Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap. Missed out on the fun? Catch up with a few overheard moments from Houston House or stream the full interviews below.

“Successful entrepreneurs are critical for re-investing in the community, and we’re trying to nurture that base now.” — Kirk Coburn, investment director at Shell Ventures

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

What are the roles of energy corporations when it comes to innovation development? And what else does a successful innovation ecosystem need? At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, panelists Kirk Coburn, investment director of Shell Ventures, and Bill Collins, founder and CEO of LO3 Energy, discuss the role of corporate innovation and venture support and the future of energy security. Click here to watch the full interview.

“If we’re going to improve performance in the energy industry, we are going to have to work better together and collaborate together.” — Al Carnrite, president and CEO of Carnrite Group

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Environmental, social, and governance, aka ESG, has the power to disrupt the energy transition and has already made a huge impact on energy company's short- and long-term goals. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO, of Data Gumbo, and Al Carnrite, president and CEO of Carnrite Group discuss the emergence of ESG and how it's affecting the global energy transition. Click here to watch the full interview.

“While Houston remains the energy capital of the world, Houston is much, much more than oil and gas. Innovators in Houston are leading the charge towards creating a lower carbon future.” — Mayor Sylvester Turner

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

How's business in Houston? At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Mayor Sylvester Turner gives an update on how the innovation ecosystem has developed over his tenure. Click here to watch the full interview.

"Houston is a renewable energy capital that no one knows about — in addition to being the energy capital.” — Emily Reichert, CEO at Greentown Labs

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

In order to maintain its role as the energy capital of the world, Houston needs to advance its role in clean energy innovation. Greentown Labs, which is opening its new Houston facility in just a matter of months, will help move that needle locally. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, shares how Greentown Houston will act as a convener and a place to spark cleantech innovation. Click here to watch the full interview.

“We think material science is the new tech boom. And Houston is the place to be for it.” — Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder of NanoTech

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

Houston's no stranger to engineering and physical science. Over the past several decades, the city has accumulated major hard tech businesses and talent within oil and gas. Now, it's time to lean on that infrastructure to allow for a hard tech and material science revolution. At a virtual SXSW Houston House panel, Dale Winger, managing director at Halliburton Labs, and Mike Francis, CEO and co-founder of Nanotech, discuss how materials science plays a major role in advancing the energy transition. Click here to watch the full interview.

“This isn’t your daddy’s oil patch. This is an opportunity where we can really leverage the people we have in the city to drive us forward.” — Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of Ally

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

What does the future of the energy workforce look like? For one, it looks way different from decades past. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY, weighs in on how diversity — racial, gendered, and even generational — is extremely key moving the industry forward. Click here to watch the full interview.

“We are seeing now this inflection point where there is this next build out of utility. Texas in particular is a great proving ground.” — Doug Moorehead, managing partner and CTO of Broad Reach Power

Video courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

On the heels of the state's worst winter storm power outage, the energy and power industries are rethinking weatherization and power storage for the future. At a virtual SXSW Houston House HOU Talk, Doug Moorehead, managing partner and CTO of Broad Reach Power, discusses the future of energy storage and how profoundly important it is toward preventing another winter storm power outage like Texas experienced in February. Click here to watch the full interview.

Halliburton Labs has announced its inaugural cohort of energy tech companies. Photo courtesy of Halliburton

Houston energy tech incubator names 3 new companies to its program

ready to scale

Halliburton's new in-house incubator program that was announced last year has named three new energy tech startups that are moving in.

Halliburton Labs, which originally launched last summer, was established to promote innovation amidst the energy transition. Member startups will have access to the Halliburton facilities, the company's experts, and its network, and will be located in the company's North Houston headquarters.

"We are excited to welcome a strong group of companies who have demonstrated promising innovation and are working to solve important clean energy challenges," says Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs, in a news release. "We look forward to collaborating with these companies and providing world-class industrial capabilities and expertise to help them achieve further scale."

Three energy tech startups will join Houston-based Nanotech Inc., the first Halliburton Labs startup in the program. Here are the three selected companies:

Enexor BioEnergy

Tennessee-based Enexor BioEnergy is working to address the world's organic and plastic waste problems. The company has developed a patented bioenergy system that can convert almost any organic, plastic, or biomass waste in any combination, into affordable, renewable power and thermal energy.

"We are seeing tremendous inbound customer demand for Enexor's renewable energy solution from across the world," says Lee Jestings, founder and CEO of Enexor BioEnergy, in the release. "We are honored to join Halliburton Labs. Their broad global network and deep manufacturing expertise will assist Enexor in meeting its significant worldwide demand while making a significantly positive environmental impact. This is a major step forward in our worldwide launch."

Momentum Technologies

Dallas-based Momentum Technologies has created an innovative way to recycle lithium battery by working with recyclers and manufacturers to recover critical materials from waste for reuse. The company was formed through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, and Momentum's patented MSX technology has the ability to recover pure critical materials from spent lithium batteries, rare earth permanent magnets and other valuable waste products.

"Halliburton Labs is the ideal environment to scale our cutting-edge lithium battery recycling technology. We are excited to tap into Halliburton's Labs engineering and supply chain expertise and global business network to accelerate Momentum to the forefront," says Preston Bryant, CEO of Momentum Technologies, in the release.

OCO Inc.

Based in Oregon, OCO Inc.'s technology can transform carbon dioxide, water, and zero carbon electricity into a hydrogen-rich platform chemical that can be used to make a wide variety of zero-carbon chemicals, materials, and fuels. OCO's process is highly carbon negative and much less expensive than existing fossil-based processes and feedstocks.

"The valuable industrial expertise and network of Halliburton Labs will support our build, deployment, and demonstration of a full-size commercial grade system, the next step on our commercialization journey towards an industrial scale plant," says Todd Brix, founder and CEO of OCO Inc., in the release.

This week's innovators to know roundup includes Kirsten Siebach of Rice University, Mike Francis of NanoTech Inc., and Kim Raath of Topl. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In today's Monday roundup of Houston innovators, I'm introducing you to three innovators across industries — from space exploration to materials science.

Kirsten Siebach, assistant professor at Rice University

It's Kirsten Siebach's second Mars rover mission to work on. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Kirsten Siebach is getting ready for her Mars mission — one that keeps her firmly planted on Earth, but will allow her to search for ancient microbial life on the Red Planet nonetheless. The Rice University professor has again been selected by NASA to join a research team overseeing a rover that is currently en route to Mars.

"Because there is only one rover, the whole team at NASA has to agree about what to look at, or analyze, or where to drive on any given day," Siebach says in the release. "None of the rovers' actions are unilateral decisions. But it is a privilege to be part of the discussion and to get to argue for observations of rocks that will be important to our understanding of Mars for decades." Read more.

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech Inc.

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

Mike Francis wants to fireproof the state of California. It's a lofty goal, but he has the means. His company, NanoTech Inc., has an innovative product that can insulate and fireproof materials, and, buoyed by a $5 million seed round, he's well on his way to being able to slowly but surely fireproof existing infrastructure in the West Coast.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen." Read more and listen to the podcast.

Kim Raath, CEO of Topl

More and more consumers are expecting transparency from companies, and this Houston startup is on a mission to use blockchain to make businesses more transparent. Courtesy of Topl

Nowadays, consumers care about where their products come from — and if they exist due to a humanitarian or sustainable supply chain — and the onus is on businesses to increase transparency. That's where Topl, a Houston-based blockchain company, and its new partner Trackz, a Denver-based supply chain software company, come in.

"Topl and TrackX's solution will be a great option for companies having to comply with new regulations and compliance mandates," says Kim Raath, CEO of Topl. "Further, our joint solution allows users to visualize their supply chain data, monitor suppliers, and easily report the progress of ESG initiatives to all stakeholders."

Mike Francis, co-founder of NanoTech, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his plans to fireproof California. Photo courtesy of NanoTech

With fresh funds, Houston startup plans to represent the future of fireproofing

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 60

A few years ago, Mike Francis caught a video of a man's hand coated in some sort of material and placed over a fire. Nothing was happening to the man's hand — the coating completely protected it — but something was happening in Francis's brain, and a year ago he founded Nanotech Inc.

Based in Houston, NanoTech' is focused on reducing energy waste by proper insulation within the construction industry — a half inch of NanoTech's material is the equivalent of 30 inches of fiberglass. However, perhaps more important to Francis is the life-saving capability the product provides in terms of fireproofing.

"We're working with all of the major players in the state of California to not only fireproof the utility infrastructure, but eventually homes and businesses," Francis says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Our goal, if we're looking into the future, is to fireproof that state — and we're working with the right people and companies to make it happen."

To the best of his knowledge, Francis says NanoTech is the only company this far along working on this goal. Millions of utility poles go up in flames as the forest fires sweep through the state, and coating them with NanoTech could help prevent this damage.

Of course, as the company grows, Francis is lucky to have the support and the funds behind him and his team. Earlier this year, Halliburton selected NanoTech as the inaugural member of Halliburton Labs. For the past few months, NanoTech has been based in the labs, receiving hands-on support, and NanoTech will join the year-long inaugural cohort of 15 or so companies in 2021.

NanoTech also has a new member to its support system — and $5 million — following the close of its seed round led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital. Francis says he was looking for an investor to bring new expertise the company doesn't have yet, and Ecliptic will be crucial to growing globally.

"Those first investors, especially in your seed round, are critical to your growth," says Francis. "We're so excited to be partnering with Ecliptic — we just trusted them."

Francis shares more about fundraising during a pandemic and what being based at Halliburton has meant for his company's growth. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.