Houston Energy Startups Take A Shot at Shell GameChanger Funding

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the idea must be something that can be taken to the proof-of-concept stage.

The GameChanger team decided to accept two proposals for further support: the electric muscle developed by Houston entrepreneur Charles Whitehead and the use of electromagnetic fields in oil viscosity as pitched by Kelvin Selva, also a Houston entrepreneur. (The other two projects were deemed not to fit within GameChanger’s purview, but the turbine project was referred to Shell’s social venture arm, while the cyber-security software—which as part of a standalone company was well beyond the proof-of-concept stage—was referred to a Shell IT investment arm.)

What I found interesting was that the two projects accepted by GameChanger were on opposite ends of the innovation spectrum. Whitehead has already built a prototype of the electric “muscle,” which he said in his pitch “can bench press 100,000 pounds.”

The muscle’s technology has origins at NASA and DARPA, he added, and has the potential for extensive uses in energy exploration, including infrastructure for subsea drilling and in stripper wells, wells that are at the end of their useful life.

Selva, however, came to the committee with only basic research about how electromagnetic fields might be able to reduce viscosity in oil, thereby making it easier to extract. His plan would be to further explore the possibilities working with Rice University scientists and executives at Shell to test out theories.

“GameChanger is a sweet deal because it not only accepts ready-made processes,” he said. “They also accept ideas at inception from a start-up guys like myself, [people] who can’t do anything with their idea without any appropriate funding and guidance.”

Both men will now pitch GameChanger’s full screening panel, after which Shell executives will work with the entrepreneurs to flesh out the ideas and bring them to the proof-of-concept stage. Ultimately, the projects could get fully developed, receiving as much as $500,000 in investment and an entry into the business pipeline at Shell.

The odds are long, however. Mooiweer says only 10 percent of projects at the first stage make it to full funding. “Ninety percent fail; that is a good number,” he says. “We’re trying to do stuff that is difficult.”

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