Plug and Play Technology Center has named its first 15 startups in its Houston Energy and Sustainability cohort. Getty Images

A Silicon Valley accelerator program has announced the companies that will participate in its first Houston cohort just as the program begins to foster energy tech innovation in town.

Plug and Play Technology Center, which announced its entry into the Houston market this summer, named the 15 companies that will complete the program. While there are only two Houston-based companies in the mix this time around, all 15 companies will be operating locally with Houston corporate partners and startup development organizations.

"By being a part of this Plug and Play cohort, our corporate partners have validated that there is an interest in these startups' technology solutions," says Payal Patel, director of corporate partnerships for Plug and Play in Houston. "This will encourage these non-Houston based startups to spend more time in Houston, likely (and hopefully) leading to them doing business with our corporations, raising money from local investors, hiring local talent, and setting up an office in Houston."

Patel says the selection process was similar to the due diligence done in investor research, since Plug and Play treats its startups like a portfolio of sorts. Plug and Play hosted a pitch night in September as a way to introduce the cohort finalists to the ecosystem before making the final selection.

"We used the technology focus areas of our corporate partners to source 100 startups with commercial viability in Houston," Patel says. "Through consultation with our partners and voting at our Selection Day event in September, we ultimately narrowed the group to 15 startups we believe we can provide value to over the next few months."

The startups are off to Plug and Play's headquarters in California for a Focus Week, Patel says, then will return to Houston for various corporat events, converences, and more as part of the program.

Here are the 15 companies that will participate in the energy and sustainability accelerator from Plug and Play Tech Center.

Alchera Inc.

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $6 million
Employees: 45 full time, 60 part time
Headquarters: South Korea
About: Alchera's technology uses artificial intelligence image to prevent the loss of lives and money in dangerous situations on site.

Ario Technologies Inc.

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $2.3 million
Employees: 8 full time, 1 part time
Headquarters: Norfolk, Virginia
About: Ario has a augmented reality technology that allows its users to search its data in the real world.

Blacksands Inc.

Founded: 2012
Money raised: $1 million
Employees: 5 full time, 7 part time
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, California
About: Blacksands has a secured connection as a service business model for fast-paced cybersecurity.

BlastPoint

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $1.3 million
Employees: 7 full time, 3 part time
Headquarters: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
About: Using internal insights and data, BlastPoint helps make innovative ideas a reality in the workplace.

ForePaas

Founded: 2015
Money raised: $10 million
Employees: 40 full time, 1 part time
Headquarters:
About: The ForePaas platform combines cloud-based technology and data applications to optimize and accelerate industrial internal enterprise data initiatives.

Capella Space

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $50 million
Employees: 50 full time, 0 part time
Headquarters: San Francisco
About: Capella Space is building a large commercial radar satellite constellation to speed up the informed decision making process for industrial workers down on earth.

Cumulus Digital Solutions

Founded: 2018
Money raised: $4.5 million
Employees: 14 full time, 4 part time
Headquarters: Cambridge, Massachusetts
About: Using data collection and cloud-based software, Cumulus is eliminating poor work quality that causes accidents in the field.

Data Gumbo

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $3.2 million
Employees: 19 full time, 4 part time
Headquarters: Houston
About: Data Gumbo has developed a blockchain network for automated contract execution for industrial clients

Latium Technologies

Founded: 2019
Money raised: $1 million (Canadian)
Employees: 8 full time, 0 part time
Headquarters: Edmonton, Canada
About: Latium has developed a better industrial IoT platform for heavy industry.

Indegy

Founded: 2014
Money raised: $18 million
Employees: 53 full-time, 0 part-time
Headquarters: New York
About: Indegy specializes in real-time security for industrial campuses.

Ingu Solutions

Founded: 2014
Money raised: $2.1 million (Canadian)
Employees: 10 full-time, 0 part-time
Headquarters: Calgary, Canada
About: Ingu wants to revolutionize the economics of the pipeline industry with new technology and initiatives.

Cemvita Factory

Founded: 2017
Money raised: None disclosed.
Employees: 8 full time, 10 part time
Headquarters: Houston
About: Cemvita has patented technology that can mimic photosynthesis to lower carbon emissions.

KX

Founded: 1999
Money raised: None disclosed.
Employees: 2,500 full-time and 0 part-time
Headquarters: Northern Ireland
About: KX is a data company that uses its global technology in the finance, retail, pharma, manufacturing, and energy industries.

Ondaka Inc.

Founded: 2017
Money raised: $1.6 million
Employees: 8 full time, 2 part time
Headquarters: Palo Alto, California (has a local office at Station Houston)
About: Ondaka uses an alphabet soup of buzzword technologies — IoT, AI, VR — and allows oil and gas companies to really visualize their infrastructure.

Terrapin

Founded: 2016
Money raised: $3 million
Employees: 10 full time, 5 part time
Headquarters: Edmonton, Canada
About: Terrapin is a designer and developer of industrial heat recovery projects.

Startups from across the world pitched at the Rice Alliance Startup Roundup at the Offshore Technology Conference. Getty Images

Rice Alliance names the 10 most promising startups at Houston's Offshore Technology Conference

Best of the rest

Over 50 different startups from across the globe gathered at the Offshore Technology Conference for the fifth annual Rice Alliance Startup Roundup event. The full day of speed pitching and presentations, hosted by Rice Alliance Managing Director Brad Burke, took place at NRG Arena on Monday, May 6.

After interacting with all the various startups, the Rice Alliance's panel of experts voted on the 10 most promising startups. Half of the companies that were recognized are based in Houston — and even more have an office or some sort of operations in town. Here's which technologies the offshore oil and gas industry has its eye on.

Oliasoft AS

Oliasoft provides solutions for digitizing well planning operations. Photo via oliasoft.com

Oslo, Norway-based Oliasoft kicked off the presentations at OTC and walked away with an award 2.5 hours later. The cloud-based technology allows for enhanced well planning, casing and other drilling engineering processes.

Syzygy Plasmonics

Syzygy Plasmonics is a chemicals company in Houston lead by Trevor Best. Best presented his company's hydrogen as a fuel alternative technology. According to best, Syzegy's technology is a lower cost solution to gasoline that doesn't put out any chemical waste.

Toku Systems Inc.

Canadian IIoT company, Toku Systems Inc., has a inexpensive monitoring device. Photo via tokuindustry.com

When it comes to monitoring operations, it can be pricey and inaccurate. Edmonton, Alberta-based Toku Systems Inc. has designed a solution. Toku's device is durable and uses IIoT technology to allow for oil and gas companies to monitor their operations remotely.

Ingu Solutions

Ingu Solutions' Pipers technology might look small — but it's able to save a whole lot of cash for oil companies and prevent leaks. Photo via ingu.co

Another Canadian company, Ingu Solutions from Calgary, Alberta, took home an award from Rice. The company's pipeline detection technology can access pipes' conditions and prevent leaks and damage from causing major, costly events. Ingu's Pipers technology works off a subscription model, so clients have access to support and supplies with their monthly fees to the company.

LaserStream

LaserStream uses its imaging technology to track the wear and tear on pipes. Photo via laserstreamlp.com

Humble-based LaserStream provides laser-based scans of pipeline. The technology can evaluate damage and corrosion as well as calculate measurements of various equipment. The company has inspected over 350,000 feet of materials , including tubing, casing, drilling risers, production risers, and more, according to the website.

Ondaka

Ondaka's technology allows you to visualize your infrastructure before you act. Photo via ondaka.com

Ondaka isn't your typical Bay Area startup. The company uses an alphabet soup of buzzword technologies — IoT, AI, VR — and allows oil and gas companies to really visualize their infrastructure. The Palo Alto-based startup is a StartX company and a member at Station Houston for its local office.

Dark Vision Technologies Inc.

Canada-based Dark Vision has created a tool that can take ultrasound images of wells. Photo via darkvisiontech.com

North Vancouver, British Columbia-based Dark Vision has spent years developing its ultrasound technology that can get a 360-degree view of oil wells. According to the website, Dark Vision can find a number of downhole issues, such as tubing defects, casing corrosion, obstructions, and more.

Cemvita Factory

The Karimi siblings have created a way to synthetically convert CO2 into glucose, and they are targeting the energy and aerospace industries for their technology. Courtesy of Cemvita Factory

Houston-based Cemvita Factory didn't present its CO2-to-glucose conversion technology at the roundup, but the company's presence earlier in the day was enough for the judges. Co-founder Moji Karimi tells InnovationMap in a previous story about how the technology has many applications in oil and gas, but also in space operations,

Lift Etc.

Even though Lift ETC didn't present in the roundup, the Houston-based company walked away with an award for its artificial lift technology that is more efficient and cheaper for companies to use. According to the website, Lift ETC has a technology that's proven to lower the surface compressor requirements up to 75 percent and increase production.

SensorField

Houston-based SensorField didn't present, but still walked away with recognition from Rice. Photo via sensorfield.com

When it comes to using IoT for remote oilfield site monitoring, Houston-based SensorField is ahead of the curve. The company's device — so small it can fit in the palm of your hand — is powerful enough to provide complete monitoring capabilities from fluid level and pressure to rotating machinery health and location security, according to the website.

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Houston experts give advice for startups seeking financial aid from the CARES Act

from the profesisonals

The United States Congress recently passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act, and it includes several initiatives that provide financial relief for startups and small businesses — but there are a few things these companies should know about the programs.

Houston Exponential hosted a virtual panel with Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Hello Alice, and Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund. They broke down some of the concerns with some of the most popular programs.

The Payroll Tax Deferral stipulation allows you to push back paying your payroll tax, which is 6.2 percent of payroll, Gilani says in the livestream. Companies will be required to pay back half that tax in a year's time and the other half in two year's time.

Small businesses can also apply for emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans, or EIDL loans, that won't require the first payment for a full year. The interest rate is 3.75 percent for for-profit businesses and 2.75 percent for nonprofits with up to a 30-year term. Businesses could even submit to receive a $10,000 grant on their application.

Then, there's the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP.

"The PPP program is probably the most lucrative of the three programs for startups," says Gilani, "It's the one that has the largest financial impact."

To submit for PPP, business owners look at their last year's worth of payroll and utility expenses, then average out their monthly expenses, and multiply that by 2.5. Small businesses can submit for that amount or up to $10 million. If the loan is spent on their employees and utilities, it's turned into a grant and not required to be paid back. Gilani recommends checking with the SBA for the specific details, but notes that contract workers can't benefit from PPP and must submit individually for aid.

Regarding these programs, Rodz and Gilani shared some other advice as it pertains to Houston's small businesses and tech startups.

Apply ASAP

Banks are already overwhelmed with applications, and some have paused accepting new applications from some entities. Plus, you have no excuse, Rodz says, since the application is simple and can be completed in one sitting.

"Compared to what a normal government loan application looks like, it is light years better in terms of simplicity," says Rodz.

Go to your own bank

Banks are giving priority to existing customers, Rodz explains.

"Go talk to your banker, and really take the time," Rodz says. "They are prioritizing the clients they have relationships with."

There's a technical reason too, Gilani adds. It's easier for banks to submit for a pre-existing customer, and new customers require more paperwork.

Document everything

Currently, Gilani says, the way the program is working right now is it relies on good-faith self-certification of the business owner. The banks, based on approval, will just put the federal money into your bank account. However, there are people put in roles for this act that will come back to verify that everything was honest.

"Lying to the federal government about money they grant you is a felony that comes with jail time," Gilani says. "It's very important that — after all this craziness passes by and the government comes back to audit what happened — you have a lot of documentation in place in order to show that you were fulfilling your good-faith requirement of answering these questions honestly."

Gilani recommends keeping track of how you calculated your payroll, as well as being able to show the effect of the crisis is key. Then, after you receive the funds, you need to be able to show that you used the funds on your employees.

Consult a lawyer if you have questions on eligibility

There's been a lot of discussion on whether or not venture-backed startups qualify for PPP.

"One of the challenges of the program is that it is being administered by the Small Business Administration, which traditionally hasn't worked with venture-backed and angel-backed companies," Gilani says.

Usually, the SBA requires startups to indicate their employee count, which is not to exceed 500. However, if the company is venture-backed, the SBA requires the inclusion of all the employees of all the portfolio companies. Certain legislators have expressed that this wasn't the intention of the program and are working to provide solutions, Gilani explains, and he and Mercury Fund have been working with a legal team to find immediate work arounds.

"There have been lots of lawyers who have been working really hard on trying to solve this problem," Aziz "If anything, we've now created the lawyer stimulus act in the amount of billable hours we've had trying to figure out this problem."

Gilani also recommends getting your lawyer to sign a document confirming that, especially if you are a venture-backed company, that you intended to adhere to the rules of the program.

Now is the time for Houstonians to invest in solar energy, says expert

Guest column

Largely due to the growing popularity and falling prices of solar energy in Texas, including incentives at the federal, state, and local level, the number of solar panel installations continues to trend upward throughout the state and especially in Houston.

For the third year in a row, Houston was named the top municipal user of green energy in the nation by the United States EPA, using more than 1 billion kilowatt hours (kWh) of solar and wind power. With 92 percent of the city of Houston's energy coming from green power, solar has solidified its place in the Houston energy market.

With solar panel system prices dropping 38 percent over the past five years, solar power is also growing in popularity among individual homeowners and business owners who want to take control of their energy costs and become more self-sufficient.

As the recent COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake industries across the nation, Freedom Solar is working tirelessly to keep our team safe, healthy, and employed. Solar installers provide critical electric generation infrastructure that helps us reduce the strain on the ERCOT grid, especially with higher electricity usage as people stay at home under local shelter in place orders and as we head into the warmer spring and summer months.

The health and safety of our customers and employees is our top priority, and as an essential business we are following strict operating protocols that are in line with the guidance provided by local, state, and federal authorities. Although these challenging times often result in a pause in investments, I argue that for customers who have been considering investing in solar, now is still the time to do so.

During these tumultuous times, for many home and business owners, investing in solar energy remains appealing as a smart and stable financial decision. A solar power system is an income-producing asset that will generate a stable return for 25 or more years. The ability to finance that investment without putting cash down upfront allows customers to get the financial benefits of solar now while keeping their money in the securities markets until they recover from the current economic downturn.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, overseas manufacturing has been disrupted for months, resulting in shortages in the global supply chain across many industries. These shortages could increase the price of solar panels, inverters and related equipment if US warehouses run low on inventory. For customers who have long been on the fence about investing in solar, I would urge them to reevaluate the numbers now in anticipation of potential price increases in the coming months in the wake of COVID-19.

Additional macro trends and current events continue to demonstrate the value of home solar power. According to a 2020 study by the financial institution Fundera, the number of regular telecommuting employees has grown by 115% since 2005. As more and more people are required to work remotely, especially during the current and indefinite "Stay in Place" orders, electricity usage and utilities have inevitably increased for many households.

Investing in solar for your home can help offset increased utility costs, especially while working remotely and in the rapidly approaching summer months. Current events may be accelerating the long-term trend, and even when the immediate crisis is over, the way many people work could be transformed.

As the energy industry continues to evolve, the reasons why Houston customers choose to invest in solar power evolve and grow. Going solar is no longer solely a testament to your sustainability practices but also a sound long-term investment. The federal solar tax credit — also known as the investment tax credit (ITC) — allows homeowners and businesses to deduct a significant percentage of the cost of installing solar from their federal income taxes.

The credit remains at 26 percent for the remainder of 2020 but will decrease to 22 percent in 2021 and then in 2022 will drop to 10 percent for businesses and will go away entirely for homeowners. With more than 90 percent of Houston's energy consumption deriving from green power, it is clear that solar is here to stay.

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Bret Biggart is the CEO of Texas-based Freedom Solar.

Economists dive into the economic impact of COVID-19, low oil prices on Houston

double teamed

Houston's economy continues to suffer as a result of the coronavirus-fueled economic slide and the collapse in oil prices. But just how much are these twin crises injuring Bayou City?

Economic data and forecasts present an increasingly grim outlook for Houston.

A new Moody's Analytics analysis commissioned by the Wall Street Journal provides one measurement of the economic damage being inflicted on Houston. The analysis, published April 2, indicates business closures in Harris County — which represents two-thirds of the region's population — have caused a 27 percent drop in the county's daily economic output.

Ed Hirs, an economics lecturer at the University of Houston, says the 27 percent figure is likely lower than the actual number. He thinks it's closer to 50 percent.

"The reason is that we are talking about output — actual work getting done — and not including monetary transfers from the bailout bill or unemployment insurance," Hirs says.

The lingering daily decline undoubtedly will bring down the Houston area's total economic output for 2020. In 2018, the region's economic output (GDP) added up to nearly $478.8 billion. By comparison, the 2018 economic output for the nation of Austria totaled $455.3 billion, according to the World Bank.

Harris County ranks as the third largest county in the U.S., as measured by population. The Moody's Analytics study shows the country's two largest counties — Los Angeles County in California and Cook County in Illinois — have been hit with even bigger decreases in daily economic output. Los Angeles County's loss sits at 35 percent, with Cook County's at 30 percent.

Patrick Jankowski, senior vice president of research at the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a podcast interview published April 2 that it's difficult to accurately gauge how the economic climate is hurting Houston right now. That's because economic data lags present-day economic reality.

"The situation is changing daily," Jankowski says. "There's so many unknowns out there. This is unprecedented."

Economists predict the Houston area's workforce will see massive losses as a result of the coronavirus and energy downturns.

Economist Bill Gilmer, director of the Institute for Regional Forecasting at the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business, says a moderate recession could siphon as many as 44,000 jobs from the region's economy by the end of this year. A more dire forecast from The Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic analysis firm, envisions the Houston area losing nearly 256,000 jobs due to the COVID-19 shutdown and racking up $27 billion in coronavirus-related economic losses.

Jankowski anticipates the Houston area tallying job losses of at least 200,000, meaning losses would be less severe than the 1980s energy bust but more severe than the Great Recession.

"If we're still working from home after May, everyone's job is at risk," says Jankowski, adding that this would trigger more furloughs, layoffs, and pay cuts.

Aggravating Houston's situation is the coronavirus clampdown on restaurants and hotels.

According to survey data released March 30 by the Texas Restaurant Association, 2 percent of the state's more than 50,000 restaurants already had closed permanently, and another 32 percent had closed temporarily. An additional 12 percent of Texas restaurants anticipated shutting down within the next 30 days.

If you add the 2 percent of restaurants that have closed to the 12 percent that expect to close, that would equal roughly 7,000 shuttered restaurants.

"Restaurants are in a fight for survival. The statistics from this survey provide a mere snapshot of the extreme economic impact the COVID-19 crisis is having on one of the most important industries in Texas," Emily Williams Knight, president and CEO of the Texas Restaurant Association, says in a release.

In the lodging sector, Texas is projected to lose 44 percent of its jobs, or more than 64,000 positions, according to a mid-March forecast from the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Experts predict some Texas hotels won't survive the coronavirus crisis.

"COVID-19 has been especially devastating for the hotel industry. Every day, more hotels are closing, and more employees are out of a job," Chip Rogers, president and CEO of the hotel association, says in a March 26 release.

While the restaurant and hotel sectors face a shaky future, the energy industry is grappling with the oil war between Russia and Saudi Arabia as well as depressed demand for crude oil and gasoline. Jankowski says gas prices could stay low through mid-2020 or even the end of 2020 as the energy industry copes with a prolonged oil glut.

Relief funds coming from Washington, D.C., will help stabilize the energy sector and other industries, Jankowski says, but will not "juice" the economy and spark growth.

"We're going to need to move beyond the pandemic," he says, "and we're going to need for some consumer confidence and business confidence to come back before we start to see growth returning again."