OTC has been delayed again due to the pandemic. OTC/Facebook

This year, thousands of visitors from some 100 countries around the world were expected to descend on NRG Center for the annual Offshore Technology Conference. But like so many major in-person happenings, the event has been again postponed due to the pandemic, organizers announced.

Often dubbed the "South by Southwest for offshore" by insiders, the massive expo had initially been postponed to May 3-6, 2021, as CultureMap previously reported. But on November 16, the OTC's board of directors announced a new schedule: August 16-19, 2021. The move is "due to the ongoing challenges presented by COVID-19 and out of the greatest care for the health and safety of our partners, attendees, exhibitors, staff, and community," per a press release.

The OTC board added, in a statement:

In the coming weeks, OTC will be communicating with authors, speakers, exhibitors, and partners to develop new in-person and virtual plans and ensure the conference continues to provide a platform for energy professionals to meet and exchange ideas.

By postponing OTC to the second half of 2021, we aim to preserve the significant work of the program committee and authors, as well as minimize the economic impact this decision has on businesses in Houston and throughout the industry.

A mainstay since 1969, the conference is a significant boon to the local economy, as industry regulars, investors, and entrepreneurs pack our hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The OTC has spawned OTC Brazil, OTC Asia, and even the Arctic Technology Conference.

Two years ago, more than 60,000 attendees and 2,300 exhibitors packed the event.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for May

Where to be online

While some things in Houston are starting to open back up, society hasn't yet established a timeline for when groups of more than 10 people will be allowed to safely gather. But, the programming must go on.

With that in mind, here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

May 4: Post-COVID Fund: Venture Investing in the Post-COVID World

Join Alumni Ventures Group for a webinar that explores how changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic will create profound change—as well as unique opportunities for new ventures that tackle these challenges.

Details: The event is at 3 p.m. on Monday, May 4. Learn more.

May 5 — Sell Your Science: Developing a Non-Confidential Pitch for in Person and Virtual Presentations

Learn tricks in preparing a non-confidential pitch deck along with tips that are aimed to help you sell your science at in person meetings or virtually.

Details: The event is at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, May 5. Learn more.

May 6 — Impacting Public Health: How Can My Idea Be A Part of the Solution?


When a pandemic hits, as a start-up company you may find that your technology can be aligned to help. However, now your timeline is expedited with a global health emergency and you need to get your technology into the market. How do you start to connect with the right players to get your technology into the U.S. market to make an impact on public health safety and security?

Details: The event is at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Virtual Event with Cindy Eckert - Expert Entrepreneur with Over $1B Exits

Cindy Eckert is an expert entrepreneur with over $1B in Exits, CEO of Sprout Pharmaceutical, and Founder of The Pink Ceiling. Attend the virtual fireside chat between Cindy Eckert and Femtech Focus founder Dr. Brittany Barreto.

Details: The event is at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 6 — Curious About Starting a Career in Tech?

One thing we know is that web developers come from different backgrounds. From teaching to consulting, design to accounting, and they're here to tell you about making that transition. Hear from professional developers in the field about how their careers lead them what they're working on now, how they got there, and how their past experiences apply to the work they do currently. Join General Assembly if you are curious about starting a career in tech, but not sure exactly where to begin.

Details: The event is at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 6. Learn more.

May 7 — Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Day

Originally scheduled to be hosted at OTC, Rice Alliance Energy Venture Day will now be a virtual event to allow startups to connect with investors and energy companies. The event will showcase about 40 promising energy technology companies. These companies have initial funding and are seeking their A, B, C, or later rounds with technology validation, field trial experience, and/or initial company revenue. The event offers a great opportunity for viewers to learn more about innovative technologies and provides companies with access to potential partners and investment opportunities.

Details: The event is at 9 a.m. on Thursday, May 7. Learn more.

May 8 — Lunch & Learn: Startup Funding Rounds

Seemingly every company wants to raise venture capital, but few founders are equipped to navigate the tangled mess of rounds, investment types, and investor expectations. At the end of this presentation, you will have a better handle on whether venture capital is right for your business and what it'll take to navigate from angels to exit.

Details: The event is at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, May 8. Learn more.

May 12 — Lunch and Learn with Asian Pacific American Entrepreneurs

According to New American Economy, Asian Pacific American entrepreneurs account for nearly a million of our nation's businesses. Whether it's apps, restaurants, social services, or consumer products, it's obvious that the entrepreneurial spirit is high in our nation. Let's hear it from our AAPI small business owners who will walk us through the triumphs and challenges they've faced while running their business and how they're making it work during a shaky period.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, May 12. Learn more.

May 13-14 — 2020 Texas A&M New Ventures Competition

TNVC 2020 will be entirely virtual this year. This event is the culmination of a yearlong effort to identify and provide support to Texas-best technology ventures. There will be several private semi-finals judging rounds on May 13, with an Entrepreneurial Perspectives panel and Q&A with past winners and successful entrepreneurs. The finals will be on the 14th, followed by elevator pitches and an awards ceremony, all of which are open to the entire audience.

Details: The event is on Wednesday, May 14, and Thursday, May15. Learn more.

May 15 — How to Land a Job at a Tech Startup

Join General Assembly for this online event where a panel of tech startup talent acquisition professionals will take you through what types of opportunities exist in today's talent market, how the experience at a startup will make you more marketable in the long run, what talent acquisition professionals are actually thinking while reading resumes, advice for remote interviewing, and more.

Details: The event is at noon on Friday, May 15. Learn more.

May 29 — Mothers in Tech Breakfast

In celebration of Mother's Day, join General Assembly for a virtual breakfast featuring hard-working mothers that are also succeeding in their respective industries. A few incredible mothers will share their insights on how they reached their level of success, advice on navigating the workplace as a working mom, and how we can help the next generation of mothers in tech. Get ready for an honest, vulnerable, and insightful conversation.

    Details: The event is at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 29. Learn more.

    OTC Houston 2020 has been canceled. OTC/Facebook

    Another major Houston conference cancels due to COVID-19

    OTC offline

    First, CERAWeek announced it would not take place in early March — and SWSW followed suit, as did Rodeo Houston. The spiral of canceled events and conferences continues as the annual Offshore Technology Conference has been canceled.

    Every year in Houston, thousands of visitors from some 100 countries around the world descend on NRG Park for the massive expo, which has been a mainstay since 1969, attracted more than 60,000 attendees two years ago, along with more than 2,300 exhibitors — all who come to celebrate the oil and gas industry and its impact on the local economy.

    The annual oil and gas event is a significant boon to the local economy, as industry regulars, investors, and entrepreneurs pack our hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The OTC has spawned OTC Brazil, OTC Asia, and even the Arctic Technology Conference. The event has been dubbed the "South by Southwest for offshore" by local insiders.

    But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at OTC announced that the 2020 conference — initially postponed until August or September — is canceled. Organizers, already looking ahead, have announced that plans will commence for OTC 2021 in Houston from May 3-6, 2021.

    "Amid continued health and travel concerns during this uncertain time, the OTC Board of Directors felt this decision was the most feasible and responsible for staff, exhibitors, partners, attendees, and the Houston community," organizers said, in a release.

    "As we navigate these difficult and uncertain times, it is with a heavy heart that the OTC Board of Directors has determined that it is in our best interest to cancel OTC 2020. Our priority is the health and safety of our attendees and exhibitors, and we have taken federal, state, and local guidelines into account in making our decision," said Cindy Yeilding, OTC chairperson, in a statement.

    For those involved in the conference, a call for papers will be open on May 28. Event updates will be posted on the official website.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.

    A Houston real estate expert suggests that the icon that is the Astrodome should be restored to be used for energy conferences and other business needs. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

    Houston expert: The Astrodome should be reimagined for the future of the energy industry

    guest column

    Over the past several years, there's been a continuous conversation about the iconic Astrodome and what should be done with it. Dubbed the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Houstonians certainly don't want to see the Astrodome go, as it is a landmark deeply embedded into the hearts and minds of our beloved city.

    Ideas have been thrown around, yet none of them seem to stick. The $105 million county-approved plan to renovate and build a multi-story parking garage that was approved under Judge Ed Emmett's court in 2018 has been placed on hold until further notice.

    For the betterment of business

    Houston is famously known as the world capital of the international energy industry, petroleum exploration, space exploration, medical communities and vast port systems across the Gulf. Our city hosts the annual Offshore Technology Conference, one of the largest oil and gas trade shows in the world, which features the industry's latest technology, products, networking opportunities, and more.

    On average, more than 59,000 people attend OTC annually, with more than 15,000 attendees visiting from outside the U.S. In addition, Houston is also headquarters to more than 500 oil and gas exploration and production companies and has 10 refineries producing over 2.6 million barrels of crude oil daily.

    Houston is a prime location to become a candidate for a new commodity exchange center housed inside the Astrodome. The current New York Mercantile Exchange, a commodity futures exchange owned and operated by CME Group of Chicago, is located in Manhattan, New York City. There are additional offices located in Boston, Washington, Atlanta, San Francisco, Dubai, London, and Tokyo. Surprisingly, Houston is not on that list. The NYMEX division handles billions of dollars' worth of futures and options contracts for energy products such as oil and natural gas.

    Renovating and repurposing

    Scalability is important to consider when discussing the repurposing of the Astrodome. Oil and gas is the only industry that could support the Astrodome's expenses and generate a profit. Other options such as turning it into a parking garage or a hike and bike trail would not be sufficient. Moving something as significant as the oil and gas futures exchange to Houston would provide NRG with the necessary monthly residual income to sustain the beloved Astrodome.

    Another viable option would be to host the annual Offshore Technology Conference at the Astrodome. Oil and gas companies would set-up year-round exhibits on the floor of the Astrodome for convenience, providing an opportunity to showcase their equipment and product to potential clients.

    To further capitalize on this concept, the Astrodome would offer corporate suite rentals for oil and gas companies to lease in order to provide a meeting space for people flying in and out of town. While the equipment and product would be on the floor for people to look at, NRG could bring in additional rental income from the suites.

    To maintain the iconic nature of the building, signage would hang on the outside of the Astrodome, featuring the top oil and gas company's logos and placing a pump jack on top of it to emulate an oil rig.

    The beauty of all of this is the simplicity of it. The hard part is done. Houston has become the oil and gas capital of the world over the last 100 years. The easy part is ahead; filling the Astrodome with oil and gas companies that want to do business.

    Your move, Houston.

    The first step toward making an endeavor like this possible is simply suggesting that it is. There's no need to fix what's already working in New York. We can use the same business model, bring it down to our great city, put the Astrodome back to good use, and truly become the petrochemical exchange capital of the world.

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    Frank Blackwood is the senior director of Lee & Associates - Houston.

    A top story this week was Station Houston launching a partnership with Houston universities to combine forces for a summer program. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

    5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

    What's trending

    This week's top news includes a few stories highlighting the people behind innovation — from overheard at OTC to a Q&A with a private equity CEO. Plus, Station Houston launches a new program combining forces with Houston universities.

    Need more than just trending news on Fridays? Subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

    Overheard: Here's the future of oil and gas tech, according to this panel at OTC

    Three young professionals took the stage to discuss the future tech of offshore operations in oil and gas. Courtesy photos

    The oil and gas industry has a reputation for being a slow adapter when it comes to technology advances, but that's changing — as is the workforce. In the next few years, half of the United States workforce will be millennials, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Continue reading the story.

    Finding lab space for startups and independent researchers in Houston needs to be easier, according to this expert

    Rentable lab space is hard to come by. Getty Images

    Finding coworking space is getting easier and easier for startups, but the same can't be said for startups looking for lab space. If Houston wants to continue to grow and develop its innovation ecosystem — specifically within research and development in the health sciences industry — the city needs more opportunities for small lab space real estate. Continue reading the story.

    Station Houston partners with universities to launch new accelerator program

    This summer, Station Houston is connecting the dots for student and alumni entrepreneurs within Houston's innovation ecosystem. Station Houston/Facebook

    Houston universities — namely the University of Houston and Rice University — have been providing student and alumni entrepreneurs with acceleration programming for some time now through RED Labs and OwlSpark, respectively. But nonprofit acceleration hub Station Houston is connecting the dots with these programs — and inviting more schools to join in — through a new summer acceleration program.

    "One of the things we haven't historically had in Houston that other cities have are broad collaborations between our universities to help build on one another's resources and really demonstrate for our young people — the talent that we want to keep here — exactly how deep and strong the opportunity to be in Houston is," Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station, tells InnovationMap. Continue reading the story.

    Private equity executive talks diversifying and Houston's investment ecosystem

    Taseer Badar is in the business of making money. Courtesy of ZT Corporate

    It's Taseer Badar's job to keep 1,000 investors happy. As CEO and founder of ZT Corporate, that's just a day in the life for him.

    Badar has been in the business for over 20 years, and before that, he was on Wall Street as a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley. He realized the dollar went further in his hometown of Houston, so he came back. He started advising on business plans for people he knew, and earned a lot of loyalty from these early entrepreneurs, and grew ZT from there. He found his way into health care, which made up a good majority of his holdings, until about four years ago when he diversified his company and got into the automotive industry. Continue reading the story.

    3 Houston innovators to know this week

    From rethinking dry cleaning or marketing to flipping the script on pop culture events, here's who to know this week in Houston innovation. Courtesy Photos

    This week's batch of Houston innovators to know are all rethinking the way things are being done, from dry cleaning and marketing to pop culture events. Continue reading the story.


    Three young professionals took the stage to discuss the future tech of offshore operations in oil and gas. Courtesy photos

    Overheard: Here's the future of oil and gas tech, according to this panel at OTC

    Eavesdropping in Houston

    The oil and gas industry has a reputation for being a slow adapter when it comes to technology advances, but that's changing — as is the workforce. In the next few years, half of the United States workforce will be millennials, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    A panel at the 2019 Offshore Technology Conference discussed the future of oil and gas technology — and the young professionals who are taking over the industry.

    "It is just exhausting to be continuously interrupted in meetings — day in and day out — for your full career. What makes it worse, is no one seems to notice but you, unless you're lucky and have another woman in the year." 

    — Allison Lami Sawyer, partner at the League of Worthwhile Ventures, when asked about being a young, female leader in industry. She adds that what's even worse is when you internalize it yourself and stop noticing.

    “There’s a whole population of frustrated visionaries in oil and gas who are really excited to work with new tech.”

    — Sawyer says the challenge is less getting a foot in the door at large companies and more going from pilot to mid- to widespread use.

    “Oil and gas is essentially banking. Did you know you’re all bankers?”

    — There's more labor to it, Sawyer says, but the C-suite at oil and gas companies are approaching it like banking. And in banking, there's a lot of AI-based fintech that goes into that decision making process and that might, down the road, come to oil and gas when the data is there.

    “It’s happening. New technologies are being added, but it’s about finding the right value proposition for the company. That needs to resonate.”

    — Sidd Gupta, founder and CEO of Nesh, says, adding that maybe it's not happening at as fast a rate as people wished.

    “There’s been an increased demand for people internally who can take 3D models and put them into an AR environment. … Maybe four years ago, I would never have said that oil and gas companies would have internal AR/VR experts.”

    — Lori-Lee Emshey, co-founder of Future Sight AR, on the rising need for professionals with augmented and virtual reality skills.

    “Anything that can positively impact safety has been a big winner — especially on the contractor side.”

    — Emshey, when asked about what sort of technology is attractive to big oil and gas companies.

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    Unique Houston-based venture studio looks to double portfolio in 2021

    startup support

    Lauren Bahorich is in the business of supporting businesses. In February 2020, she launched Cloudbreak Enterprises — B-to-B SaaS-focused, early-stage venture studio — with plans to onboard, invest in, and support around three new scalable companies a year. And, despite launching right ahead of a global pandemic, that's exactly what she did.

    Bahorich, who previously worked at Golden Section Ventures, wanted to branch off on her own to create a venture studio to get in on the ground level of startups — to be a co-founder to entrepreneurs and provide a slew of in-house resources and support from development and sales to marketing and administration.

    "We start at zero with just an idea, and we partner with out co-founders to build the idea they have and the domain expertise and the industry connections to take that idea and built a product and a company," Bahorich says.

    Bahorich adds that there aren't a lot of venture studios in the United States — especially in Houston. While people might be more familiar with the incubator or accelerator-style of support for startups, the venture studio set up is much more intimate.

    "We truly see ourselves as co-founders, so our deals are structured with co-founder equity," Bahorich says, explaining that Cloudbreak is closer to a zero-stage venture capital fund than to any incubator. "We are equally as incentivized as our co-founders to de-risk this riskiest stage of startups because we are so heavily invested and involved with our companies."

    Cloudbreak now has three portfolio companies, and is looking to onboard another three more throughout the rest of the year. Bahorich runs a team of 15 professionals, all focused on supporting the portfolio. While creating the studio amid the chaos of 2020 wasn't the plan, there were some silver linings including being able to start with part-time developers and transition them to full-time employees as the companies grew.

    "Within the first month, we were in shutdown here in Houston," Bahorich says. "But it's been a great opportunity for us. Where a lot of companies were pivoting and reassessing, we were actually able to grow because we were just starting at zero ourselves."

    Cloudbreak's inaugural companies are in various stages and industries, but the first company to be onboarded a year ago — Relay Construction Solutions, a bid leveling software for the construction industry — joined the venture studio as just an idea and is already close to first revenue and potentially new investors. Cloudgate is also creating a commercial real estate data management software and an offshore logistics platform. All three fall into a SaaS sweet spot that Bahorich hopes to continue to grow.

    "We are looking to replace legacy workflows that are still performed in Excel or by email or phone," Bahorich says. "It's amazing how many opportunities there are that fit into that bucket — these high-dollar, error-prone workflows that are still done like it's 1985."

    Given the hands-on support, Bahorich assumed she'd attract mostly first-time entrepreneurs who don't have experience with all the steps needed to launch the business. However, she says she's gotten interest from serial entrepreneurs who recognized how valuable the in-house support can be for expediting the early-stage startup process.

    "What I'm realizing is a selling point is our in-house expertise. These founders are looking for technical co-founders," Bahorich says. "We can both provide that role and be capital partners."

    Expert: Texas must grow its solar infrastructure to prevent more weather-related power outages

    guest column

    As Texans begin to recover from last month's once-in-a-century winter storm, many wonder how the state — an icon of the oil and gas industry and home to Houston, "the energy capital of the world" — was thrust into darkness for days on end.

    When the Texas power grid began failing in communities statewide, many in positions of power quickly laid the blame at the feet of the renewables industry. But with solar and wind power accounting for only 28.6 percent of the state's energy supply, clearly, renewables were not the sole, or even primary, culprits responsible for the massive outages. The facts point to a much more complex set of circumstances — a series of extreme weather events, one after the other; a burgeoning population; and a grossly unprepared system — all of which combined to cause an increasingly strained, aging grid to fail spectacularly.

    The events of last month were a not-so-subtle demonstration of the inadequacy of our current power structure, but what does that mean for the future of Texas energy? Obviously, Texas leaders and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) must begin updating the state's grid with the resources necessary to sustain the rapidly increasing demand for reliable power. Undoubtedly, that will cause a hike in consumer energy costs, especially in deregulated markets like Houston, where profitability and demand drive prices.

    Widespread distributed generation of solar energy—rather than the state's current emphasis on utility-scale solar generation — would provide a highly effective, long-term solution to minimizing strain on Texas' power grid. This means dramatically increasing the number of local solar installations on residential and commercial properties statewide. Think about it: The distance and infrastructure required to bring power from West Texas solar farms to the state's urban centers leaves too much room for vulnerabilities. Solar makes more sense on-site, behind the meter, and paired with storage for backup power.

    Simply stated, the more businesses and residences who have solar power, the less burden on the grid and the more insulated the grid is against failure. Further, by installing batteries such as the Tesla Powerwall for backup power, solar customers control their own power supply and ensure its reliability, even during extreme weather events like the one we just experienced. These batteries are mass market-ready, reliable and cost-efficient today.

    With the increasing volatility of the Texas energy market, home and business owners are finding solar is a more appealing investment than ever before.

    The amount of solar power required to power a home or business depends on the amount of energy the owner seeks to offset. For example, a solar array geared toward reducing an energy bill will be significantly smaller than a system designed to take the customer off the grid entirely. Backup power solutions are similarly dependent, with options ranging from a single battery capable of powering small household appliances to a bank of several batteries or a generator able to power a whole household or commercial space. Either way, the combination of solar power and backup provides reliability many Texans wished they had during the record freeze we just endured.

    The public outcry over the massive power outages has laid a mandate at the feet of state leaders: Do what is necessary to make the power grid sustainable. At the same time, utilities statewide are looking at what they can do to increase reliability in their own communities. Deregulated energy prices will only rise because of continuing population growth and the need to update grid infrastructure.

    No matter how you look at it, enlarging the state's independent solar infrastructure is a reliable way to protect businesses and homeowners alike against surging energy costs and weather-related power outages.

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

    New app gives good shot at finding COVID-19 vaccination in Houston

    HELP WITH HEALTHCARE

    Are you frustrated by the hoops you're jumping through to get a COVID-19 vaccination? The GoodRx drug-price-comparison app has stepped in to help.

    GoodRx just rolled out a guide so you can learn about the COVID-19 vaccine, track its availability, and set up a vaccination appointment in Houston or elsewhere in Texas.

    "Vaccine information has been fragmented and availability unclear, so GoodRx has built the go-to destination for all Americans to track the vaccine rollout locally," the company says in a statement.

    GoodRx is collecting data from more than 15,000 vaccination sites and is monitoring the country's 70,000 pharmacies as well as state-specific sites to update appointment availability. New information is added as it becomes available.

    Among other things, the GoodRx guide tells you who's eligible for vaccinations where you live, who's next in line, and how you can make a vaccination appointment. You can even sign up to receive text messages that alert you when vaccination eligibility changes in your area.

    This news comes as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has reopened the state and lifted the mask mandate — which could put Houstonians at even greater risk.

    Meanwhile, throughout Texas, the recent winter storm, power outages, and water shortages hampered the ability to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. As of March 3, Harris County shows some 351,063 confirmed COVD cases, according to most-recent data, and 2,297,878 cases statewide. Information about the Texas vaccination plan is available on the Department of State Health Services website.

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    This article originally ran on CultureMap.