Soul-searching in Houston on Energy Innovation as Surge Closes
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up in software.”
In the last few years, about half a dozen Surge startups have left Houston for more hospitable climes. Conser points to a company he mentored, Autonomous Marine Systems, which makes a self-sailing, solar-powered catamaran that can monitor the ocean for months at a time, and was part of Surge’s third class. “They decided to be in Boston to plug into the more entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he says. “They are now at Greentown Labs in Boston.”
Other companies have landed in Austin, including RunTitle, which was in Surge’s second class. The startup has an online database to search mineral rights titles, and moved to Austin in 2013 because investor “Austin Ventures mandated that we move as part of our round … because they care about the community,” says Reid Calhoon, founder and CEO. “We were intending to stay.” Last fall, the startup raised an additional $8 million in a round led by San Francisco-based Founders Fund.
SEEForge, which was also in the accelerator’s third class, has remained in Houston. The company makes an app that digitizes reporting paperwork for safety inspections and other reviews that take place at remote industrial sites such as oil and gas platforms.
“We were in Silicon Valley as well as Australia, and we wanted to come to Texas to focus on energy,” says James McDonough, the company’s founder and CEO. (It doesn’t hurt that their software can be modified to attract customers from more than just the Oil Patch.)
Both Calhoon and McDonough are effusive in their praise of the Surge program. “Surge was the single best thing that we’ve ever participated in,” Calhoon says. “The community of Houston needs to have an accelerator for oil and gas companies.”
Coburn told me he plans to stay in Houston, mentor the 32 existing Surge companies, and noodle on the idea of building an exploration and production company that is built on technology. “How do we build a new company from the ground up that has the purpose of building the future of energy,” he says. “That can only be done here.”