Nicolaus Radford, who founded Nauticus Robotics and took it all the way to IPO, shares details of his new company, PersonaAI. Image via LinkedIn

For his next act, Houston entrepreneur Nicolaus Radford has started — in what he describes as an "anti-stealth" capacity — a new company that hopes to bring humanoid robotics out of science fiction novels and into manufacturing floors.

Radford, who saw his last company, Nauticus Robotics, from founding to IPO, left the company in January. He tells InnovationMap that he started receiving some compelling offers at other robotics companies, but none of them felt like a fit. However, he just couldn't get the idea of advancing humanoid robotics out of his head.

"Humanoids are the holy grail of all of robotics," Radford says. "It's what every science fiction writer's always dreamed about.

"It is the future," he continues. "And now with this generative AI moment of 2022 where these machines look a lot more capable, flexible, reprogrammable — they can reason in real time. That's a huge deal."

Radford says he got a call from his friend, Jerry Pratt, who was the CTO at humanoid robotics company Figure AI. Pratt and Radford both worked in robotics at NASA and each have decades of experience in the tech world. The conversation really sealed the deal for Radford, and the two officially launched Persona AI in a LinkedIn post that Radford says shocked him with how much interest the community had.

Radford says that with all this interest, he wants to open up the company to more co-founders than just himself and Pratt, who's based in Florida.

"We're going to give a significant amount of the company out to the early joiners, more so than is probably typical," Radford says. "And it's because we know it takes a village, and we want to highlight that to everybody."

"We're trying to crowdsource the company," he continues. "We've coined that we're anti stealth."

Specifically, Radford says he's looking at growing the team to about 25 people in the next year, alongside raising early funding. He's looking for people with a diverse tech background with well-rounded experience.

"Robotics and humanoids in particular are just so multidisciplinary," Radford says. "Humanoids are a hundred-thousand-piece puzzle, and you're trying to put this puzzle together."

And for Radford, assembling that puzzle in Houston is of utmost importance. The company is headquartered here, and Radford is currently working with The Ion to set up an office there.

"We're exceptionally excited to put (the company) in Houston," he says. "It would be incredible for the city — there's a lot of industrial manufacturing here and a lot of warehousing. ... I still have this desire to shine a light on Houston's tech scene because I believe it is unsung, underappreciated, and quite capable."

The potential for this technology is huge — Radford estimates it as a $3 trillion market — but the first industry he plans on tackling is automotive, but he also sees promise in the medical, energy, and home industries.

"We think automotive is going to be a first-mover market. There's a lot of publicly announced partnerships between advanced robotics companies and humanoid companies and automotive," he says. "These folks are showing a willingness to put something out in the press that says they're developing a humanoid or piloting a humanoid. That's huge.

With this expressed interest, technology advancement, and large labor shortage, Radford is convinced now is the time for humanoid robotics — and for Persona AI.

"We're at a technology tipping point where it makes sense that these machines can do this, and there's an investment community willing to finance it," Radford says. "I think the first time in all of robotic history we're closer than we've ever been to making this a reality."

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics has a new CEO and fresh funding. Photo via Nauticus

Houston offshore robotics company secures $12M, names new CEO

big moves

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.

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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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.

Report: Amid difficult market, Houston sees uptick in VC funding

seeing green

Houston-area startups saw a healthy increase in venture capital funding during the first half of 2024 compared with the same period last year, new data shows.

In the first six months of this year, Houston-area startups attracted $760.55 million in VC funding, according to the latest PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor. That’s up 17.7 percent from the $645.99 million collected in the first six months of 2023.

Keep in mind that these figures might not match previously reported numbers. That’s because PitchBook regularly adjusts data as new information becomes available.

In light of various factors, such as the ongoing hype over artificial intelligence, fundraising will likely continue to be challenging for U.S. startups as a whole, according to Nizar Tarhuni, vice president of institutional research and editorial at PitchBook, a provider of VC data.

Nonetheless, Bobby Franklin, president and CEO of the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA), points out that American venture capital “is finding its footing in 2024.”

Across the country, VC funding for startups in the first half of 2024 totaled $93.4 billion, up 6.5 percent from the $87.7 billion raised during the same period last year, according to the PitchBook-NVCA Venture Monitor.

“With steadily increasing deal values, especially across early-stage investments, more first-time financings, and increased crossover investor participation, [the second quarter of 2024] was a good one for VC,” says Franklin. “Now it’s up to founders, investors, and regulators to support, rather than stifle, these green shoots as the market heads toward a recovery.”

In the second quarter alone, VC funding in the U.S. jumped from $35.4 billion in 2023 to $55.6 billion in 2024. That’s an increase of 57 percent.

By contrast, the Houston area’s VC funding went in the opposite direction. Startups in the region scored $231.79 million in VC during the second quarter of 2024 vs. $333.17 million during the same period a year earlier. That’s a drop of 30 percent.

So far in 2024, Houston-based Fervo Energy dominates VC hauls for startups in the metro area. In March, the provider of geothermal power announced it had secured $244 million in funding, with Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company Devon Energy leading the round.

Fervo’s latest pot of VC represents more than 30 percent of all Houston-area VC funding during the first six months of 2024.

Tim Latimer, co-founder and CEO of Fervo, says the $244 million investment enables his company “to continue to position geothermal at the heart of 24/7 carbon-free energy production.”

Fervo says the latest VC round will support development of its 400-megawatt geothermal project in Beaver County, Utah. The Cape Station facility is expected to start generating power for the grid in 2026.