Houston Investors Step Up to Bring Tech Innovation to the Energy Sector

Houston—A new crop of investors are backing efforts to support oil-and-gas innovation in Houston—just over three years after the Surge energy accelerator shut its doors.

BBL Ventures, a newly formed investment and consulting firm that focuses on energy technologies, will, next week, formally announce an accelerator program at Station Houston next week. The idea, co-founder Patrick Lewis explains, is to buttress the traditional accelerator model with consultancy services, research, and early-stage capital to more successfully connect new energy startups with the oil-and-gas companies that seek to work with them.

“We’re reverse engineering the [accelerator] model,” says Lewis, who is also BBL’s managing partner. “Instead of entrepreneurs saying, ‘I think they have this problem,’ let’s start with the problem.”

BBL first starts by evaluating big energy companies’ needs using its proprietary iNavigator software in pilot projects. “We deploy this across the organization to capture pain points in real time: the driller on the rig, technicians in the plant, and the global operations manager in corporate,” Lewis says. “They all get to see a dashboard and analytics across the organization.”

The companies export that information to BBL, where it’s analyzed. “We then send them back a dashboard and analytics at an industry level, where they are different or similar to the rest of the industry,” he says.

Next, BBL looks for common problems among the energy companies, trying to pair those with startup entrepreneurs who might have solutions. “We have a reverse pitch,” Lewis adds.

So far, he adds, BBL has about 100 startups and a handful of major energy companies in the pipeline. One current pilot involves helping ExxonMobil evaluate a refinery in Baytown, TX, looking for places where robotics could be used.

Developing an accelerator model tailored to the oil and gas industry make sense, says Brett Perlman, CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Center for Houston’s Future and the former commissioner of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which oversees telecom and electric utilities industries in the state.

“It can take 30 years from lab to pilot to commercialization and scale,” he says. “The [traditional] venture capital model isn’t patient capital. Things that work well and create unicorns in social media don’t work well in energy.”

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Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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