Houston Energy Startups Take A Shot at Shell GameChanger Funding

Henk Mooiweer and his colleagues at Shell GameChanger usually gather behind closed doors when evaluating new investments in energy startups.

But recently they opted to participate in a sort of public casting call for energy entrepreneurs that, if the pitches looked interesting, Shell would immediately pledge $25,000 of in-kind advice and assistance to help bring the idea to the proof-of-concept stage.

“Usually, we have a screening panel where we listen to a pitch for 10 minutes and then send them out when we take 10 minutes to discuss the idea,” Mooiweer told the assembled group of entrepreneurs Thursday. “This time it’s an open discussion. You can follow how, perhaps unsophisticated, the discussion actually is.”

Hosting the meet-up was Simrit Parmar, co-founder of co-working space Platform Houston near Rice University. “A lot of the times these early-stage entrepreneurs are so disconnected from the funding process,” she said. “We wanted to try to make things happen quickly.”

Two months ago, Shell GameChanger executives spoke at an introductory event there explaining the organization’s goals. Essentially, the investment group is looking for early-stage innovations related to what it calls “extreme recovery” energy, or where it’s hard-to-reach, and future energy technology to aid in processes like storage and transportation of energy.

“We are interested in meeting unusual people because we feel that a lot of the solutions to challenges we have in our industry might come from different areas,” Mooiweer told me in an interview following the event. “And we want to be active and support the local entrepreneurial community.”

Shell started GameChanger 15 years ago to act as an angel investment arm for the multinational oil company. “We look at deals too risky for normal Shell business,” Mooiweer said. “We are to be investing in what people might say are crazy ideas.”

At bat Thursday evening were four entrepreneurs with energy projects such as an electric “muscle,” a turbine for villagers in the autonomous region north of Somalia called Somaliland, cyber-security software, and an idea to use electromagnetic fields to decrease oil viscosity to increase production. GameChanger had four criteria it used to evaluate the 10-minute pitches: novelty, potential value, relevance to Shell’s business—i.e., it has to do with energy—and that … Next Page »

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