At Houston event, the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy announced $100 million in cleantech funding. Photos by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Rice University played host to the first-of-its-kind event from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, or ARPA-E, earlier this month in which the governmental agency announced $100 million in funding for its SCALEUP program.

Dubbed “ARPA-E on the Road: Houston,” the event welcomed more than 100 energy innovators to the Hudspeth Auditorium in Rice’s Anderson-Clarke Center on June 8. Evelyn Wang, director of ARPA-E, announced the funding, which represents the third installment from the agency for its program SCALEUP, or Seeding Critical Advances for Leading Energy technologies with Untapped Potential, which supports the commercialization of clean energy technology.

The funding is awarded to previous ARPA-E awardees with a "viable road to market" and "ability to attract private sector investments," according to a statement from the Department of Energy. Previous funding was granted in 2019 and 2021.

"ARPA-E’s SCALEUP program has successfully demonstrated what can happen when technical experts are empowered with the commercialization support to develop a strong pathway to market” Wang said. “I’m excited that we are building on the success of this effort with the third installment of SCALEUP, and I look forward to what the third cohort of teams accomplish.”

Rice Vice President for Research Ramamoorthy Ramesh also spoke at the event on how Rice is working to make Houston a leader in energy innovation. Joe Zhou, CEO of Houston-based Quidnet Energy, also spoke on a panel about how ARPA-E funding benefited his company along with Oregon-based Onboard Dynamics’s CEO Rita Hansen and Massachusetts-based Quaise Energy’s CEO Carlos Araque.

Attendees were able to ask questions to Wang and ARPA-E program directors about the agency’s funding approach and other topics at the event.

Houston energy innovators have benefited from programs like SCALEUP.

Quidnet Energy received $10 million in funding from ARPA-E as part of its SCALEUP program in 2022. The company's technology can store renewable energy for long periods of time in large quantities.

In January, Houston-based Zeta Energy also announced that it has secured funding from ARPA-E. The $4 million in funding came from the agency's Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program. Zeta Energy is known for its lithium sulfur batteries

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Here are two of the latest updates on new appointments from two Houston organizations. Photos courtesy

2 Houston organizations announce strategic appointments across finance and research

short stories

Two Houston innovators have new roles they're excited about this summer. From new academia to bitcoin, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

Rice University names vice president for research

Ramamoorthy Ramesh joins Rice to lead research. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University named Ramamoorthy Ramesh, a condensed matter physicist and materials scientist with more than 25 years of experience, as vice president for research. He most recently chaired energy technology and taught physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He is expected to start his new position on August 15. He follows Yousif Shamoo, who served as in the position for eight years, and Doug Natelson, has acted as interim since June.

“Ramesh comes to Rice with a distinguished research career and a wealth of experience and knowledge in various types of research enterprises,” says newly inducted Rice President Reginald DesRoches. “I am confident he will be a transformational leader who can strengthen Rice’s reputation as a center of increasingly impactful and broad-based interdisciplinary research that retains a deep commitment to pedagogy and the student experience.”

In addition to his extensive leadership at Berkeley, Ramesh was the founding director of the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, deputy director of science and technology at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and associate laboratory director at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, per a news Rice release.

“Building upon its rapidly rising research portfolio, Rice has the potential to further strengthen and expand its engagement with public and private funding agencies and be the science and technology beacon for the world,” he says in the release. “I look forward to helping make that happen and to engaging on behalf of the university at various state, national and international fora of relevance to the Rice research enterprise.”

Bitcoin expert joins Houston financial firm

Lisa Hough has a new title. Image courtesy of LevelField

Houston-based LevelField Financial has named Lisa Hough as the company’s head of business development. The financial services firm focuses on uniting digital assets and traditional banking services onto one platform. Hough, with her background in bitcoin and energy trading, will focus on expanding LevelField's market presence and report to Gene A. Grant, II, founder and CEO of the company.

“Lisa is the perfect addition to LevelField's veteran banking and financial service executive team. Her experience will meet our clients’ wants and needs, which are well-managed and regulated investment products that blend established and emerging digital assets,” says Grant in a news release. "Lisa's ability to connect with clients will enable them to rapidly build a well-informed perspective on digital assets.”

Hough has a decade of experience in natural gas trading and risk management at energy trading organizations, including Vastar Resources, Enron, and PG&E National Energy Group, and is a frequent speaker at global finance and energy conferences.

“My passion is to educate and connect all people to bitcoin because it is the only form of property that can be held by every human on earth, regardless of property rights,” she says in the release.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

Houston innovators podcast episode 230

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."

An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

"While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

"We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.

Houston startup scores $12M grant to support clinical evaluation of cancer-fighting drug

fresh funding

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.”

The antibody, called 4A10, was invented by Scott Durum PhD and his team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Licensed exclusively by Allterum, a company launched by Fannin, 4A10 is a novel immunotherapy that utilizes a patient’s own immune system to locate and kill cancer cells.

Varadhachary explained that while about 80 percent of patients afflicted with ALL have the B-cell version, the other 20 percent suffer from T-cell ALL.

“Because the TLL population is so small, there are really no approved, effective drugs for it. The last drug that was approved was 18 or 19 years ago,” the CEO-scientist said. 4A10 addresses this unmet need, but also goes beyond it.

Because 4A10 targets CD127, also known as the interleukin-7 receptor, it could be useful in the treatment of myriad cancers. In fact, the receptor is expressed not just in hematological cancers like ALL, but also solid tumors like breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. There’s also “robust data,” according to Varadhachary for the antibody’s success against B-cell ALL, as well as many other cancers.

“Now what we're doing in parallel with doing the development for ALL is that we're continuing to do additional preclinical work in these other indications, and then at some point, we will raise a series A financing that will allow us to expand markets into things which are much more commercially attractive,” Varadhachary explains.

Why did they go for the less commercially viable application first? As Varadhachary put it, “The Fannin model is to allow us to go after areas which are major unmet medical needs, even if they are not necessarily as attractive on a commercial basis.”

But betting on a less common malady could have a bigger payoff than the Allterum team originally expected.

Before the new CPRIT grant, Allterum’s funding included a previous seed grant from CPRIT of $3 million. Other funds included an SBIR grant from NCI, as well as another NCI program called NExT, which deals specifically with experimental therapies.

“To get an antibody from research into clinical testing takes about $10 million,” Varadhachary says. “It's an expensive proposition.”

With this, and other nontraditional financing, the company was able to take what Varadhachary called “a huge unmet medical need but a really tiny commercial market” and potentially help combat a raft of other childhood cancers.

“That's our vision. It's not economically hugely attractive, but we think it's important,” says Varadhachary.

Atul Varadhachary is the managing director of Fannin Innovation. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston researcher scores prestigious NSF award for machine learning, power grid tech

grant funding

An associate professor at the University of Houston received the highly competitive National Science Foundation CAREER Award earlier this month for a proposal focused on integrating renewable resources to improve power grids.

The award grants more than $500,000 to Xingpeng Li, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering and leader of the Renewable Power Grid Lab at UH, to continue his work on developing ways to use machine learning to ensure that power systems can continue to run efficiently when pulling their energy from wind and solar sources, according to a statement from UH. This work has applications in the events of large disturbances to the grid.

Li explains that currently, power grids run off of converted, stored kinetic energy during grid disturbances.

"For example, when the grid experiences sudden large generation losses or increased electrical loads, the stored kinetic energy immediately converted to electrical energy and addressed the temporary shortfall in generation,” Li said in a statement. “However, as the proportion of wind and solar power increases in the grid, we want to maximize their use since their marginal costs are zero and they provide clean energy. Since we reduce the use of those traditional generators, we also reduce the power system inertia (or stored kinetic energy) substantially.”

Li plans to use machine learning to create more streamlined models that can be implemented into day-ahead scheduling applications that grid operators currently use.

“With the proposed new modeling and computational approaches, we can better manage grids and ensure it can supply continuous quality power to all the consumers," he said.

In addition to supporting Li's research and model creations, the funds will also go toward Li and his team's creation of a free, open-source tool for students from kindergarten up through their graduate studies. They are also developing an “Applied Machine Learning in Power Systems” course. Li says the course will help meet workforce needs.

The CAREER Award recognizes early-career faculty members who “have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” according to the NSF. It's given to about 500 researchers each year.

Earlier this year, Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel was also

granted an NSF CAREER Award to continue her research in designing branch elastomers that return to their original shape after being stretched. The research has applications in stretchable electronics and biomimetic tissues.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.