New to town

Two companies expand into the Houston market by way of UH's Technology Bridge

The University of Houston has transformed its Energy Research Park into the Technology Bridge to better connect research-based startups to the market. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

A few years ago, the University of Houston renamed its Energy Research Park to the Technology Bridge. They wanted to create a program and workspace for companies inside the university to enter into the Houston innovation ecosystem. Turns out, the program also created a bridge for innovative companies entering the Houston market.

Two companies announced that they will open operations in the Technology Bridge — the first Houston offices for both, according to a news release.

Chemicals company Oleon is a subsidiary of France-based Avril, a financial and industrial company. Before the UH location, Oleon's only United States operation was a sales office in South Carolina. The other company is California-based Saratech, an engineering, software, services, and 3D printer sales company. Saratech has offices across the country, including an Austin office. The Houston office will focus on 3D printing.

According to Tom Campbell, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation, choosing a university to open a new office in a new market makes a lot of sense. There's a ready-made network of professors and students ripe with talent for internships and new and developing research.

Saratech's senior vice president, Rick Murphy, agrees that the new office can be mutually beneficial to UH and his company. Saratech already has a relationship similar to this with the University of California-Irvine.

"We are looking at universities to help with that, so industry can start educating their engineers to take advantage of this technology," Murphy says in the release.

Oleon also has previous relationships with universities in Europe and Asia. The company, which specializes in natural chemistry — specifically using fats and oils in various applications from cosmetics to automotive, plans on sustaining a lot of growth in Houston. The move represents the first of many instances of growth in the market.

"It is baby steps here, but the U.S. is a huge market," Dave Jacobs, general manager of operations for Oleon Americas, says in the release. "About 50 percent of the oil and gas market is here."

The Technology Bridge houses 23 startups and has 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space suited for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing. The bridge sits on the former Schlumberger campus just south of UH.

To Campbell, the bridge adds its own niche of research and lab space to the Houston innovation ecosystem as a whole, and both these companies' new offices are on par with the greater goals of the bridge.

"It's about economic development," Campbell says in the release. "A strong innovation economy is a rising tide that floats all boats."

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Building Houston

 
 

Calling all clean energy startups — Rice Alliance has announced a new accelerator launching in 2021. Photo via Getty Images

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has announced its new Clean Energy Accelerator — a 12-week program for early stage energy startups — at the close of the 18th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum.

"Houston truly is the hub of the global energy industry, and it is here where the next generation of energy leaders will create and scale innovations that will change the world," says Bob Harvey, president and CEO at the Greater Houston Partnership, in a press release. "The new Clean Energy Accelerator will build on that legacy and align with the work already taking place in Houston's robust energy innovation ecosystem."

The program joins Rice University's suite of business accelerating programs — including Owl Spark, the annual venture forums, and the Rice Business Plan Competition — and is being supported by Wells Fargo.

"The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is poised to increase the quality and quantity of clean-tech startups in the area, which benefits Houston but also has the potential to benefit the greater global economy," says Jenny Flores, head of small business growth philanthropy at Wells Fargo, in the release. "At Wells Fargo, we believe that climate change continues to be one of the most urgent environmental and social issues of our time."

The Clean Energy Accelerator — to be housed at The Ion when it opens — falls in line with the city of Houston's Climate Action Plan, which has a goal of making Houston carbon neutral by 2050.

"It's a very ambitious goal, and it's one the City of Houston, as a municipality, cannot do alone," Mayor Sylvester Turner says in the release. "Today's announcement of the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is a great example of what we have been seeking to build in Houston, an innovation ecosystem that can develop creative solutions to address our toughest challenges."

More information is available online, and applications for startups will open in early 2021. The Rice Alliance announced several community supporters for the new accelerator, including BP, Chevron Technology Ventures, Equinor, ExxonMobil, NRG, Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, Shell Ventures, Sunnova, Total, Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., Halliburton Labs, Houston Exponential, the Center for Houston's Future, and Greentown Labs.

"Houston is our home, and we are strong believers in our city," says Brad Burke, managing director of the alliance, in the release. "It is here that some of the greatest minds in energy are innovating. New technologies, many driven by startup companies, have enabled the U.S. to become energy self sufficient for the first time in history, but global energy needs are growing and changing. We need to apply that same entrepreneurial spirit and technology innovation to meet these challenges."


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