Surge Focusing on More Mature Energy Companies, Raising Bigger Fund

The change of one word can signify a lot.

Surge Accelerator has become Surge Ventures, a name change that reflects the maturing mission of the cleantech accelerator in Houston. The shift comes amid a downturn in the oil and gas industry as a whole: Oil prices are down to about half of their peak of $100-plus a barrel a year ago.

Both the economic times as well as Surge’s new focus were apparent recently at the accelerator’s annual demo day for its fourth class of startups. As usual, the event was held at the House of Blues in Houston. But, unlike previous years, the “graduation” of its latest class had a decidedly subdued flavor.

Rock music clips still accompanied the entrepreneurs before they gave their pitches, but the onstage DJ was gone, the lights were less flashy, and coffee was the beverage of choice.

In previous Surge demo days, the atmosphere had a rock-concert feel, with House of Blues employees handing out mimosas, bloody marys, and breakfast tacos for morning attendees. RedLabs founder and University of Houston business professor Hesam Panahi manned a turntable on stage, spinning tunes as DJ Surge.

There was apparently enough grumbling from the audience to bartenders, because Surge founder Kirk Coburn announced from the stage that the absence of alcohol was his decision. For Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of the Mercury Fund in Houston and a mentor to Surge companies, Surge’s shift in approach reflects the culture of its biggest customers: oil and gas companies.

“Many corporates have given the feedback that they’d like to see a ‘tighter’ and more professional demo day, and to save the celebratory atmosphere for later,” he says. “It may not be the ‘rah-rah’ event that the tech community was looking for but … Surge responded with its most cohesive group of presentations ever.”

Coburn founded Surge four years ago. A serial entrepreneur in Austin, he saw an opportunity in his hometown of Houston to boost energy innovation. Coburn raised $1 million from members of the Houston … Next Page »

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