It's not been the easiest year to raise funding, but Houston startup founders managed to secure over $160 million in VC or grant funding last quarter. Photo via Getty Images

The second quarter of 2023 looked a lot like the first when it came to venture capital funding for Houston companies. The whole country — affected by inflation, geopolitical instability, and other factors — has seen a trying time for investment opportunities.

Houston's performance is far from unique. Globally, VC funding is down — a reported 18 percent from Q1 to Q2, per Crunchbase. Year over year, that's a 49 percent decrease from 2022's Q2.

According to InnovationMap reporting, 10 Houston-based, Houston-founded, or soon-to-be Houston-headquartered companies announced VC or grant funding between April and June. Here's a roundup of these second quarter deals — click on each story to read more.


Houston-founded e-commerce unicorn Cart.com raises $60M series C 

Cart.com has secured its unicorn status at a $1.2B valuation with latest round of venture capital funding. Image via Cart.com

A Houston-founded software company — officially a unicorn company, valued at $1 billion or more — has announced the details of its latest fundraise.

Cart.com, which provides a suite of software solutions for commerce and logistics enablement, closed its $60 million series C equity funding round with a $1.2 billion valuation. Investors in the round included B. Riley Venture Capital, Kingfisher Investment Advisors, Snowflake Ventures, Prosperity7 Ventures, Legacy Knight, and more.

According to a news announcement from the company, Cart.com will use the funding for international expansion, continued product development, and to meet increased client demand. Continue reading.

Houston e-commerce company P97 Networks  raises another $40M round to support growth

P97 Networks has again raised $40 million to support its growth. Photo via Getty Images

For the second time in just over a year, a Houston business that provides mobile commerce and digital marketing to the mobility and fuel industries has raised $40 million.

P97 Networks, which has developed a cloud-based mobile commerce platform that helps brands securely do business with customers, announced that it has closed its series C round at $40 million. The equity financing round was led by Portage and included participation from existing investors. The fresh funding will go to support growth strategy.

"In this highly connected world, retail brands are looking for new ways to increase consumer engagement — the power of network effects in the digital world will be a key contributor to revenue growth and margins," says Donald Frieden, CEO of P97 Networks, in a news release. "With consumers of all ages further adopting mobile payment solutions, we are proud to have built the leading connected commerce and digital marketing platform for the convenience retail, energy marketing, and transportation industry." Continue reading.

Podcast: Houston home tech startup SmartAC.com raises $22M to grow sales

Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com launched in 2020, emerging from stealth with $10 million raised in a series A. Over the past almost three years, the company has firmed up its hardware, developed its software, and pivoted slightly from selling directly to consumers to adopting a B2B approach.

Now, Teekell says he's focused on turbocharging sales to these contractors, and he's going to do that with the funding raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment."

The $22 million SmartAC.com has raised came from local investors. Teekell, who hasn't announced the full list of the round's investors, explains that while traditionally startups might have more opportunity on the coasts for raising money, it's not hard to sell Houstonians on the benefits of SmartAC.com's optimized air conditioning. Continue reading.

Houston fintech startup Brassica raises $8M seed round led by Mercury

A Houston fintech startup is aiming to modernize banking and investing — and has received fresh funding to do it. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston startup has raised millions for its fintech platform — and the company didn't have to go very far to find its lead investor.

Brassica Technologies Inc. closed its seed round at $8 million with Houston-based Mercury Fund leading the round. Valor Equity Partners, Long Journey Ventures, NGC Fund, Neowiz, Broadhaven Ventures, Armyn Capital, VC3DAO, Alpha Asset Management (Korea), and other global FinTech investors participated in the round as well.

The startup's platform has "institutional-grade solutions for the new era of private investing and alternative assets," per the release. Serving the alternative assets industry, Brassica's tools can easily integrate with any operating system to provide proprietary technology and unique regulatory licenses. The technology aims to modernize key banking and investing infrastructure to help enterprises safely grow their business and protect their customer assets. Continue reading.

Houston immunotherapy company 7 Hills Pharma to use $13.5M CPRIT grant to further develop cancer treatments

7 Hills Pharma, an innovative immunotherapy company, was awarded a $13.5 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. Photo via Getty Images

Between Bangalore and Chennai in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, you’ll find the town of Tirupati. It’s home to seven peaks that host a Hindu temple complex devoted to a form of Vishnu, Venkateshvara. It is also the region from which Upendra Marathi originally hails. It’s where his father, and many other family members, attended medical school.

“My father’s first job was to take care of the pilgrims,” recalls Marathi.

It's only natural that his groundbreaking Houston company would be named 7 Hills Pharma.

“That sort of selflessness and giving back, I wanted to embody it in the name of the company,” Marathi says.

Now, 7 Hills Pharma is announcing that last month, it was awarded a $13.5 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). That’s on top of more than $13 million in NIH grants, making the company the second largest recipient of SBIR/STTR grants in Texas. Continue reading.

Seattle biotech co. OncoResponse to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from CPRIT

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release. Continue reading.

Houston biotech startup CellChorus secures $2.3M SBIR grant

CellChorus, a biotech startup operating out of the University of Houston Technology Bridge, has secured fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

They say it’s all in the timing. For CellChorus, it’s all in the TIMING. That’s Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids. TIMING is a visual AI program that evaluates cell activation, killing and movement, which allows scientists to better understand how cells function.

The technology is important to the development of novel therapies in the realms of oncology, infectious diseases, and countless other disorders and diseases. By allowing scientists to observe those maladies at their roots, it will enable them to create, and ultimately deliver new medications and other therapies faster, at lower cost, and with a higher success rate.

CellChorus is a spinoff of the Single Cell Lab at the University of Houston. Part of UH’s Technology Bridge, CEO Daniel Meyer connected with co-founder and leader of Single Cell Lab, Navin Varadarajan, through co-founder Laurence Cooper.

“The company had been established, but there were limited operations,” recalls Meyer during a phone call with InnovationMap.

That was the fall of 2020. Now, the team has just announced a $2.3 million SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Fast-Track grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Continue reading.

Health tech startup Rosarium Health raises $1.7M, plans Houston HQ

Rosarium Health, a member of the Texas Medical Center's 2023 Accelerator for HealthTech cohort, has raised pre-seed funding. Photo courtesy of TMC

A health tech startup that just collected $1.7 million in pre-seed funding aims to eventually plant its headquarters in Houston.

The startup, Rosarium Health, currently has no headquarters; its 10 employees work remotely from various locations. However, co-founder and CEO Cameron Carter — who lives in the Denver area — says the company is eyeing a future headquarters in Houston.

“We believe Houston is the best city to launch a health care startup, given the Texas Medical Center, diverse talent across health and technology, affordable living, and a city with supportive and progressive communities,” Carter tells InnovationMap. “We feel Houston offers meaningful attributes that can enable a high-growth startup to succeed and for its employees to feel safe.” Continue reading.

Houston-based workforce solutions platform Innovapptive closes series B round

A Houston SaaS company has announced a fresh round of funding. Photo via Innovapptive.com

A Houston software-as-a-service company has closed an undisclosed amount of funding in a series B round.

Innovapptive Inc., which has its global headquarters in Greenway Plaza, has announced it's closed a series B investment round led by Austin-based Vista Equity Partners with support from existing investor Tiger Global Management. The fresh funding will be deployed to "accelerate product innovation and reach new regional markets," according to the company.

“We look forward to this next phase of growth as we continue to define the emerging connected worker software category,” says Sundeep Ravande, founder and CEO of Innovapptive, in the news release. “Vista has significant experience scaling enterprise software businesses and emerging technologies." Continue reading.

Venus Aerospace, a Houston startup with hypersonic engine tech, adds new investor

This Houston company is one step closer to enabling high-speed global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A Houston-based company that's developing an engine that'll enable one-hour global transportation has announced its latest investor.

Venus Aerospace released the news that Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Airbus Ventures, has joined its team of investors. The supersonic combustion engine technology — more akin to a rocket's engine than an airplane's — is revolutionary because allows for travel at a higher elevation. Jet engines rely on air outside of the aircraft to combust, and rocket engines work with a system that supplies air internally.

“Venus has developed the world’s first liquid-propellant rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) with a double-digit percentage increase in efficiency over standard regular engines, making the hypersonic economy possible,” says Sassie Duggleby, CEO and co-founder of Venus, in a news release. “We’re delighted to bring Airbus Ventures into the Venus family and look forward to growing our collaboration as we harness the future of hypersonic flight.” Continue reading.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Nicolaus Radford of Nauticus Robotics, Josh Teekell of SmartAC.com, and Zhifeng Ren of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. 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 robotics to superconductivity — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics

Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, shares the latest from his company and why we're primed for a hardtech movement. Image via LinkedIn

It's been a busy past year or so for Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics. He's taken his company public at a difficult time for the market, launched new partnerships with the United States Marine Corps, and even welcomed a new family member.

Originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus Robotics has designed a fleet of underwater robots and a software platform for autonomous operations. Radford caught up with InnovationMap about these recent milestones for him and the company in an interview.

"I look back on it and it's, you know, ringing the Nasdaq bell when we listed, and giving that speech at the podium — it was a surreal moment," he tells InnovationMap. "I was excited but cautious at the same time. I mean, the life of a CEO of a public company at large, it's all about the process following a process, the regulations, the administration of the public company, the filings, the reportings — it can feel daunting. I have to rise to the occasion to tackle that in this the next stage of the company." Read more.

​Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com

Josh Teekell joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com's sensors can monitor all aspects of air conditioning units and report back any issues, meaning homeowners have quicker and less costly repairs. Teekell says he's focused on sales, and he's going to do that with the $22 million raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment." Read more.

Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH

A team of researchers out of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston has discovered a faster way of transportation. Photo via UH.edu

Researchers at the University of Houston and in Germany released a proof-of-concept paper this month that uncovers a new, fuel efficient means of transportation that they say could one day make air travel and traditional freight transport obsolete.

"I call it a world-changing technology,” Zhifeng Ren, director of the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH and author of the paper, said in a statement.

Published in the journal APL Energy, the paper demonstrates a new way of using superconductors to move vehicles along existing highways while transporting liquified hydrogen at the same time. Until now, the costs of using superconductivity for transportation has held back innovation in the field. This model also reduces the need for a separate specialized pipeline system to transport liquified hydrogen that's able to keep the fuel source at minus 424 degrees Fahrenheit. Read more.

Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest from his company, which just closed its series B. Photo courtesy

Podcast: Houston home tech startup raises $22M to grow sales

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 184

A Houston startup that combines unique sensor technology with software analysis has raised its next round of funding to — according to Founder and CEO Josh Teekell — turbocharge its sales.

SmartAC.com launched in 2020, emerging from stealth with $10 million raised in a series A. Over the past almost three years, the company has firmed up its hardware, developed its software, and pivoted slightly from selling directly to consumers to adopting a B2B approach.

The company's sensors can monitor all aspects of air conditioning units and report back any issues, meaning homeowners have quicker and less costly repairs. While SmartAC.com started with providing the service and tech to homeowners directly, Teekell says he's had a greater interest in working with plumbers and HVAC companies who then deploy the technology to their customers.

"It became quite evident that homeowners don't care about air conditioning really at all until their system breaks," Teekell says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The technology is really built around giving those contractors as another way to gain a customer relationship and keep it."

Now, Teekell says he's focused on turbocharging sales to these contractors, and he's going to do that with the funding raised in the series B round that closed this month. He says the company will also grow its team that goes out to deploy the technology and train the contractors on the platform.

"This funding really buys us a couple years of runway through the end of next year and allows us to focus on getting to cash flow breakeven, which is right around our wheelhouse of our abilities here in the next 12 months," Teekell says. "In general, we've accomplished everything we'd be able to accomplish on the hardware side, and now it's just about deployment."

The $22 million SmartAC.com has raised came from local investors. Teekell, who hasn't announced the full list of the round's investors, explains that while traditionally startups might have more opportunity on the coasts for raising money, it's not hard to sell Houstonians on the benefits of SmartAC.com's optimized air conditioning.

"We've been very fortunate to get some of the biggest names in Houston on our cap table," Teekell says. "Since we're raising a bunch of money locally, everyone understands what a pain air conditioning can be."

The Bay Area and New York regions don't have the same air conditioning problems, Teekell says, so raising funding in those areas was challenging.

"Our overall vision as a company is to perfect the experience of home comfort," Teekell says.

He shares more on how he hopes to accomplish this vision on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


From new board members at Houston Exponential to startups receiving funding, here are the latest short stories of Houston innovation. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston tech company receives corporate investment, HX names new board members, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has been booming with news, and it's likely some might have fallen through the cracks.

For this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a startup snags funding from a new corporate venture group, a blockchain startup gets major kudos, CTV's latest investment, and more.

HX names newest board members

HX has five more members of its board. Photo courtesy

Houston Exponential has announced five new members to its governing board. Joining the group is:

  • Stephanie Campbell, managing director of the Houston Angel Network and general partner at The Artemis Fund
  • Martha Castex-Tatum, Houston City Council member
  • Gordon Daugherty, co-founder and president of Capital Factory
  • Emily Keeton, CFO of Mercato and co-founder of Station Houston
  • Roberto Moctezuma, founder and CEO of Fractal River
The board is chaired by Barbara Burger of Chevron and Chevron Technology Ventures. She will continue on as chair until the end of next year, when Blair Garrou of Mercury Fund will take over.

New corporate venture fund makes first investment

Houston-based SmartAC emerged from stealth mode this summer. Photo courtesy of smartac.com

Pinnacle Ventures, a corporate venture fund created by Pinnacle based just outside of Houston in Pasadena, announced the company has invested in Houston-based SmartAC.com, a member-based technology platform that monitors the health of air conditioning systems.

The deal is Pinnacle Ventures' first investment and will help SmartAC.com expand their service offerings to homeowners and top-level HVAC service providers.

"We are excited to have Pinnacle Ventures invest in our company and to have Ryan Sitton, founder and CEO of Pinnacle, join our board," says Josh Teekell, founder and CEO of SmartAC.com, in a news release. "The capital provided by Pinnacle Ventures will help us accelerate the growth required to meet our customer demand, which has scaled quickly since our launch in June.

"Additionally, this capital will help us power a new residential connected service economy for a $30 billion industry while offering our service partners a way to increase loyalty through improved transparency and customer experience," Teekell continues. "We're very much aligned with Pinnacle Ventures' focus on improving reliability through innovation and are confident that this investment will help us support our end users."

Data Gumbo recognized as an innovative blockchain company

CB Insights ranked 50 blockchain companies and one Houston startup made the cut. Photo via CB Insights

CB Insights released its inaugural Blockchain 50 ranking and named Houston-based Data Gumbo among the top blockchain companies in the world.

"The Blockchain 50, which we've created in conjunction with Blockdata, was born out of a desire to reduce that uncertainty and recognize the pioneering companies using the blockchain," says CB Insights CEO Anand Sanwal in the study. "This inaugural class of the Blockchain 50 is tackling a range of use cases across trade finance, capital markets, exchanges and more and are being used by banks, governments and major retailers."

Combined, the 50 companies included in the ranking have raised over $3 billion across 113 deals since 2017.

"Being named to this CB Insights' list is an honor and testament to the power of Data Gumbo's blockchain network GumboNet," says Andrew Bruce, CEO and Founder, of Data Gumbo in a news release. "Our smart contracts enable companies to leverage blockchain technology across the global business infrastructure to capture critical cost savings and value, forging a new foundation for commercial transactions: one based on trust, transparency, speed and visibility."

Currux Vision is deploying its technology in California

The Houston company's technology has been tested in California. Photo via currux.vision

Houston-based Currux Vision, which uses infra-tech artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions for smart city infrastructure, has conducted testing with the city of San Jose, California, and its department of transportation.

According to the tests, Currux Vision's SmartCity ITS can operate at 99 percent accuracy in the city. Moreover, Currux Vision can achieve high resolution results with older legacy digital and analog camera systems that offer lower resolution. Testing included but was not limited to vehicle detection and classification, turning movement counts, pedestrian counts, bicycle discrimination, stopped vehicles, and speeding, according to a press release.

"Increasing urbanization, traffic, mode shift, and increasing focus on safety drive the urgent need for a next-generation traffic management solution like our SmartCity ITS," says Alex Colosivschi, founder and CEO of Currux Vision, in the release. "We believe that efficient mobility and being able to do more with less creates economic opportunities, enables trade, improves quality of life, and facilitates access to markets and services effectively leveraging resources. ... We are happy to have worked with a great partner like San José's Department of Transportation to prove these transportation solutions."

Chevron Technology Ventures invests in software company

Chevron Technology Ventures, led by Barbara Burger, has announced its latest investment. Courtesy of CTV

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has invested in a Denver-based container platform company's latest round. Nubix today announced it has closed $2.7 million in seed financing led by Tuscan Management with strategic investment from Chevron Technology Ventures, in addition to participation from other new investors.

"Businesses worldwide are investing in digital transformation initiatives with IoT-based solutions," says Rachel Taylor, Nubix co-founder and CEO, in a news release. "Our unique innovation in container and services technology enables unprecedented agility and safety when building, deploying and managing applications at the edge.

"We're delivering on digital transformation's requirements for agile compute at the edge, empowering organizations to analyze data in real-time where the data is actually created. This is a massive market opportunity for Nubix and we look forward to working hand-in-hand with our new investors as we drive agility and intelligence to the edge."

Golden Section Ventures invests in Austin startup

GSV has invested in Accelerist's impact-driven software. Image via accelerist.com

Austin-based Accelerist Inc. raised a $1 million investment round led by Houston-based Golden Section Ventures to catalyze the company's growth plans. Accelerist specializes in social impact partnership technology that nonprofits use to prospect, screen, access and measure the efficacy of their relationships with each other.

"We are very impressed with what Brittany (Hill, CEO and founder) and her team have built and are excited to join the journey," says Dougal Cameron, General Partner at GSV. "We are confident that Accelerist can be the standard of excellence for social impact partnership technology. This solution is more needed than ever."

A Houston startup has launched to keep an eye on your AC to predict and prevent outages and issues. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

Houston home tech startup emerges from stealth with $10M series A round

smart home

It can get hot as Hades in Houston during the summer, and a new Houston startup is using machine learning and technology to ensure that users can count on their air conditioning units to stay up and running during the heat.

Houston-based SmartAC.com has emerged from stealth mode with $10 million in funding from a series A investment round. The company's technology focuses on maintaining air conditioning and heating (HVAC) health before a major service issue occurs.

"Over 70 million homes have central air in the U.S., making indoor comfort a regular way of life. People don't often think about their HVAC systems, taking it for granted, until the day the AC or heat goes out," says Josh Teekell, CEO and founder of SmartAC.com, in a news release. "These systems require regular upkeep, and when they aren't maintained, costs can get out of hand. SmartAC.com's offer is simple; we care about your AC so you don't have to."

The company's technology combines three hardware sensors — which users can install themselves — and machine learning software to analyze data to predict service issues. The comfort sensor monitors the temperature of the air coming out of the unit, the filter sensor tracks the lifespan of air filters by tracking pressure and airflow, and the water sensor protects against leaks and clogs.


The three SmartAC.com sensors are magnetic and easy to install. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

All three sensors are linked by SmartAC.com Hub, which sends data from the sensors to the cloud and the SmartAC.com app to translate the data into recommendations to help users reduce costs and get ahead of issues.

"The average AC replacement cost is $7,500 — an expense that can be a huge burden on homeowners. Caring for these assets is inconvenient and oftentimes confusing, resulting in 80 percent of homeowners skipping the recommended maintenance on their AC systems," says Andrew Fuselier, SmartAC.com's COO, in a news release. "It's time to digitize the AC ownership experience to solve a decades old problem. SmartAC.com was formed in stealth mode with feedback from thousands of homeowners, so we're thrilled to finally show the world what we've built."

In addition to working directly with consumers, SmartAC.com has teamed up with HVAC service providers.

"SmartAC.com is a total game-changer," says David Lewis of Mission AC in a news release. "Our clients love the additional transparency and the technology allows us to improve our service speed and quality because, for the first time, we have real-time data on the systems we service."

The data from the sensors is analyzed and sent to users via the smart phone app. Photo courtesy of SmartAC.com

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.