Coburn, Ex-cleantech Accelerator Founder, Joins Shell Tech Ventures
Houston—While leading the energy-focused Surge Accelerator, Kirk Coburn says he was never “behind the curtain” to truly understand how technology could help solve problems for major oil companies.
“I was never inside to see how the soup’s being made,” he says. “I get that opportunity now. I’m part of the team.”
The opportunity he’s alluding to is at Shell Technology Ventures. In his role there, he’ll focus on investing in what he calls “new energies.” “I will be able to walk into the offices of senior executives and frontline managers and operators and ask the questions,” Coburn adds.
When it launched in 1998, Shell Technology Ventures became the first corporate venture fund in the oil and gas industry. The fund is seeking investments in both traditional oil-and-gas technologies as well as cleantech opportunities, according to its website. In addition to funding, Shell says it can “offer companies technical and scientific expertise, R&D facilities, and field trial pilots to further develop and demonstrate their concepts.”
The venture fund’s portfolio companies include Veros Systems, an Austin, TX-based maker of software that can alert users when engines that power pumps and turbines are at risk of a mechanical failure.
Joining a large corporate environment like Shell brings Coburn back to the early days of his career when he worked at Dell in Austin. “It’s strategic,” he says of corporate venture funds. “We’re making investments because we believe our company will benefit from that tech and those entrepreneurs. It’s not just a spray-and-pray approach. These are based on real problems that we know about.”
In between the corporate gigs, Coburn turned to entrepreneurship, most notably founding the Surge Accelerator for cleantech companies in 2011. Last year, however, Coburn closed the program because of a “lack of industry support.”