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.

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss hardtech and Houston as an innovative city. Photo via LinkedIn

Hardtech startup adviser on mentorship, Houston's past and future as an innovation hub

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 211

To Wogbe Ofori, the definition of entrepreneurship is simple: "To be more opportunity centric than risk averse." And Houston, as he says, has be entrepreneurial for a very long time — despite it being considered the specialty of a certain coastal region.

"Silicon Valley has hijacked the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship, and this city has been filled with entrepreneurs long before the concept of 'tech entrepreneurs,'" Ofori says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, has developed a keen eye for entrepreneurship and innovation activity in Houston and shares his observations on the show. An adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community.

In fact, on the episode, he explains what makes a good mentor for founders in tech. Ofori says he specializes in helping entrepreneurs see around corners and think things through, make wise decisions, and get things done.

"It starts with an ability to listen," Ofori says of advisers and mentors. "One of the keys to my advisory practice is to not only listen but reframe and ask a lot of questions."

"What differentiates this from therapy — and sometimes the line can be fine," he continues, "is that as a mentor or adviser in the context of commerce, is you're always thinking about it toward a transaction in the marketplace."

As he's spent a lot of time working with hardtech founders, Ofori has observed a momentum within energy transition innovation — specifically Houston's role in it.

"It's difficult for an incumbent to disrupt itself. We’ve been positioning ourselves as moving from the energy capital of the world to the energy transition capital," he says. "Now we are just at the place where we're really going to start to see the difference between those who were caught up in the excitement of the energy transition, and those who really have the faith to see this thing through."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Crain of Intuitive Machines, Chelsea Williams of Northwestern Mutual, and Nicolaus Radford of Nauticus Robotics. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from space tech to robotics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tim Crain, co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines

Tim Crain joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It might surprise many to learn that publicly traded, NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which has emerged as a commercial leader within lunar access technology development, had several pivots before finding its niche within space innovation.

In fact, as Co-Founder and CTO Tim Crain explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, the company was founded as a space-focused think tank. Crain, along with his co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian, came together in 2013 to start Intuitive Machines, which recently moved into a $40 million headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

"At the time, our thought was, 'let's take the best of human space flight engineering processes, disciplines, and know how, and look at how we might commercially deploy that for biomedical, energy, big data, and aerospace,'" Crain says on the show. "We wanted to look at how we use great engineering for some of the hard problems outside of NASA's aerospace sphere." Read more.

Chelsea Williams, financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual

Houston-based financial adviser Chelsea Williams helps clients overcome their unique generational financial uncertainties by equipping them with tips and resources to get them on the path to financial wellness. Photo courtesy

In a guest column for InnovationMap, Chelsea Williams, financial adviser at Northwestern Mutual, shared tips on overcoming financial uncertainty across different generations.

"While the types of financial stressors might vary across generations and cities, the most important step to managing financial uncertainty is initiating a conversation with an adviser," she writes in her column. "Just like going to the doctor regularly, routine financial check-ups are incredibly important to catch financial headaches early on and stay ahead of long-term financial health." Read more.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, celebrated an acquisition for his company. Image via LinkedIn

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.” Read more.

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.

Nauticus Robotics has secured a new customer, taking expanding its services to Brazil. Photo courtesy of Nauticus

Houston robotics company secures deal with Brazilian energy giant

sea change

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics, a developer of autonomous ocean robots, has landed a deal to supply its equipment to one of the world’s largest energy companies — a deal that eventually could blossom into $100 million worth of contracts.

Under the deal, Nauticus will dispatch its Aquanaut autonomous subsea robot to support offshore oil exploration activities carried out by Brazil’s Petrobras. Specifically, Aquanaut — propelled by artificial intelligence-enabled software — will supervise infield inspection services over a two-month span.

The deal with Brazil’s Petrobras represents Nauticus’ entry into the South American market and puts Nauticus in a position to score several Petrobras contracts that could collectively be valued at $100 million. Both companies are publicly traded.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus, says Brazil offers a significant market opportunity for his company, as South America’s largest nation boasts one of the world’s most active offshore energy basins.

“A contract with [a] worldwide leading operator for Nauticus speaks to the state-of-the-art technologies of our autonomous robots as we further penetrate the global markets,” Radford says in a news release.

Petrobras is one of the world’s biggest offshore operators, managing 57 platforms, operating 10,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines, and producing the equivalent of 2.6 million barrels of oil per day. The company generated $124.47 billion in revenue last year.

Founded in 2014, Nauticus posted revenue of $11.4 million in 2022. The company went public last year through a $560 million merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Nauticus recently opened a new office in The Ion, in addition to their Webster office.

“I see Nauticus being the preeminent ocean robotics company. I want Nauticus to be an empire. It starts small but it grows — and it grows in many different ways, and we’re exploring all of those different ways to grow,” Radford told InnovationMap in May. “We’re leading a technology renaissance in the marine space — and that happens only a few times in an industry.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”

Houston HR software startup rolls out platform at local hospital system

tapping into tech

More than 14,000 nurses at one of the largest nonprofit health care providers in Texas have access to a new skills and competency management software.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions has officially deployed its platform at Memorial Hermann Health System, consisting of 17 hospitals and more than 250 care delivery sites. The platform will streamline onboarding processes and increase transparency and accessibility for staff.

“Kahuna will enhance our clinical competency experience and fully aligns with our nursing strategy to optimize our processes, prioritize innovation and safety, and excel as a top provider of care and clinical advancement for clinicians,” Bryan Sisk, senior vice president and chief nursing executive for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

“Memorial Hermann is committed to the Houston community and helping to develop the next generation of nurses,” Sisk continues. “The Kahuna platform will help improve the transparency, autonomy and efficiency of our competency management and development processes for our nurses to better support them in their roles, while also ensuring we provide high-quality care for our patients.”

The rollout comes six months after the software-as-a-service company raised a $21 million series B round of funding.

“We are thrilled to work with Memorial Hermann as they enrich all aspects of their clinical competency management practices with Kahuna’s skills management software,” adds Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions. “This collaboration unites two Houston-based organizations and demonstrates a joint commitment to enhancing the standard of health care through digitized competency management in our Houston community and far beyond.”