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Greentown Labs Taps Big Energy in Texas

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Greentown Labs CEO Emily Reichert at the announcement of Greentown Houston. Photo: Greentown Labs

What do Somerville, Massachusetts, and Houston, Texas, have in common? The catalytic energy of Greentown Labs. 

Twelve years ago in a dark Cambridge warehouse, a motley crew of entrepreneurs were busy with the business of changing the world, focused on climate tech as the solution to a growing list of challenges. For the four founders, the list included more immediate challenges like the fact that they were quickly outgrowing their scrappy setup. Enter CEO Emily Reichert, Greentown Labs’ first official employee. She corralled the all-star team and their 25 new startups and raised $1.5 million in six months to move from their basement to a shining 33,000-square-foot facility in Somerville that would welcome 40 companies in no time at all. Soon after, they would need even more room — 100,000 square feet of world-class research space to be exact, now home to over 100 companies. Reichert credits Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone for recognizing early on “the opportunity for the future of his city being about innovation, being about cleantech. To this day he’s a wonderful partner.” 

QuantAQ’s CEO, David Hagan, in the prototyping space at Greentown Labs HQ. Photo: Greentown Labs

Meanwhile in Texas, another mayor was looking to innovate. Sylvester Turner of Houston is the co-chair of Climate Mayors, a bipartisan network of 450 U.S. mayors making moves for the climate and he’s not just talking the talk. While Texas is still big on oil and gas, Houston has quietly claimed a leading role in the cleantech and renewable energy sectors. With more than 130 solar and wind companies calling it home, the city is now powered by 100 percent renewables. In April 2020, Mayor Turner unveiled the “science-based, community-driven Houston Climate Action Plan” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. As explained on greenhoustontx.gov: “After three 500-year floods in as many years culminating with the largest rain event in North American history, climate change is an unprecedented challenge for Houston. Sustainability and resiliency go hand-in-hand and this plan is essential to the health and economic vitality of Houston’s future. The time for bold action is now.” 

And that’s why North America’s largest climate tech startup incubator is launching their second location right smack in the middle of Houston’s energy field. As part of the incubator’s announcement, Reichert said: “Houston—the energy capital of the world—is the best place to broaden our impact and help accelerate the energy transition through cleantech entrepreneurship, in partnership with the nation’s fourth-largest city and the world-leading energy organizations headquartered there. We believe the engineering strength, talent, and assets of the energy industry in Houston can and must be redeployed toward a decarbonized future. Climate change cannot be solved from the coasts—we need all hands on deck at this time. Houston has the opportunity to be the energy transition capital of the world and we believe bringing Greentown Labs to Houston will accelerate the shift in this direction.”

A rendering of Greentown Houston courtesy of Greentown Labs.

Greentown Labs wants to get us to think about how we engage with and use energy. They want to explore better ways to build our buildings, get from place to place, grow and package our food, and preserve our natural resources like clean drinking water. And so far, it’s working. The Greentown Labs site boasts $1.56 billion in economic impact, 280+ companies incubated, an 88% startup survival rate, $850 million raised in funding, and 6,500 jobs created. Those are some impressive numbers. And now, with Greentown Labs Houston, they’re going exponential. “What I’m most excited about is bringing folks that are working in all aspects of energy along to be part of the energy transition” Reichert explained, “to really figure out what’s possible and engage them in this process.”

Months out from a spring launch, the Houston community is already engaged. Today, Greentown Labs announced 16 inaugural startups. Members of Greentown Labs pay monthly fees in exchange for access to lab and office space, as well as a myriad of collaborative opportunities within the community. Greentown relies heavily on partnerships and grants to keep membership fees low for their burgeoning entrepreneurs. And they don’t require equity in exchange. Reichert told us what drew her to Greentown Labs back in 2013 was “that vibe, that community, that spirit of supporting each other in what is a really tough thing to do. It’s tough to be an entrepreneur, but it’s super tough to be an entrepreneur solving climate and cleantech problems.” Nobody would disagree that the startup life is tough, but it’s one that Reichert and the whole Greentown community consider rich with opportunity. That opportunity is evident in the powerhouse partners lined up to support Greentown Houston, including Chevron, Shell, BHP, Microsoft, and Direct Energy, among others. 

Stephen Frayne, Senior Chemist at Via Separations prepares for Greentown Labs Climatetech Summit. Photo: Greentown Labs

People matter; the location is everything — two truths not lost on Greentown Labs. They’ve secured a 40,000-square-foot spot in Houston’s Innovation District, with easy access to downtown to connect with potential investors, corporations, and civic leaders, in close proximity to local universities doing their own climate tech research including Rice University, the University of Houston, and Houston Community College. And last but certainly not least, it’s an easy walk to the Houston METRORail or you could just ride your bike on a new protected bikeway right up to the front door. 

Living the dream is living the mission at Greentown Labs, and Reichert invites everyone to consider: “What does energy look like going forward?” This is a global problem that will require a global-scale solution. And what better place to go big or go home, than Texas? “We’re excited about engaging a community, and a broader ecosystem of folks that are working in the energy industry, broadly defined — both the renewable energy industry and the more traditional incumbent industries. And all of us need to be part of what, in the Houston area, we call the energy transition.”

Prior to COVID, the Greentown Labs team gathers for a photo in Somerville, Massachusetts. Since then, they’ve implemented social distancing protocols, but the collaboration is strong. Photo: Greentown Labs

Greentown Houston Inaugural Startups

Greentown Houston will have room for 50 companies and 200-300 employees. Interested startups may apply on their site.

  • Applied Bioplastics produces affordable polymers with properties that are equal to or better than those of traditional petrochemical plastics. These polymers use significant plant matter, which absorbs CO2 and avoids the CO2 emissions of petrochemical plastics. Applied Bioplastics’ thermoplastic replacement displaces 30 percent of the petrochemical content, resulting in a carbon-negative footprint.
  • Black Mountain Metals is a global battery metals mining company, specifically focused on sustainable nickel and copper mining for lithium-ion battery cathodes.
  • Carbon Free Technologies provides the world’s only “plug-in-the-wall” home battery system/appliance, which stores electricity when electricity rates are low, so the electricity can be used later to avoid paying higher rates. This new system requires no installation, no permits, and no utility approvals.
  • ClearValue deploys zero-net-carbon, sustainable, renewable, and resilient electrical generation and transportation power systems via combustion of in situ, sunlight-powered, bio-chemically formed, pure hydrogen and oxygen. 
  • e^2: equitable energy is a multi-brand cause-marketing platform that onramps consumers on the road to drive carbon neutral, accelerate deployment of sustainable energy solutions, and incentivize the adoption of zero-emission vehicles in a way that is compelling, convenient, cost-efficient, and credible. e^2 offers a multi-stakeholder partnership that creates shared value for energy companies, conservationists, consumers, and climate activists—thus the “Square Energy Deal” for all.
  • Eclipse Solar Projects (ESP) finances, develops, owns, and operates utility-scale solar projects in North America through newly developed technology and potential battery storage operations. In bringing its solar arrays to Texas, ESP will partner with communities, landowners, and farmers to identify ideal site locations and then successfully develop renewable energy projects in communities that will benefit from them.
  • Ennuity Holdings is creating a brand new asset class that allows retirees to buy out their electric utility bill. By doing so, retirees can fund construction of the clean energy infrastructure needed to impact the trillion-dollar climate problem, while receiving an in-kind return that substantially beats other types of fixed-income investments.
  • Excipio Energy is an offshore renewable energy company integrating wind, wave, currents, ocean thermal energy conversion and power-to-fuel in a single floating platform.
  • Quantum New Energy is working to make energy sustainable by empowering everyone to take responsibility for their climate impacts. The company helps people, organizations, and cities make smart energy choices that reduce costs and cut carbon emissions. Quantum New Energy’s platform, EnerWisely, helps users transform their unused energy consumption data into personalized, actionable insights to maximize their monetary savings and reduce their environmental impacts.
  • Renu Energy focuses on “Renuable” energy technologies to create efficiency and economic advantages with a responsible and accountable future. The company specializes in recycling industries, water filtration, and wind energies.
  • REVOLUTION Turbine Technologies (RTT) is developing a revolutionary, carbon-free power generation solution that solves pain points for upstream oil and gas. RTT’s technology is a micro-Expansion Turbine System (mETS). The mETS uses an existing source of pressurized gas, such as lift gas, to generate power for mission-critical equipment without burning or venting the lift gas, so that no CO2 is released.
  • Revterra is developing a highly efficient kinetic energy storage solution for utility-scale applications, such as the storage of solar and wind energy.
  • Skylark designs and manufactures broadband last-mile radio systems for internet service providers, with a focus on 40 million unserved Americans in rural markets. Its patented solution provides point-to-multi-point, non-line-of-sight, and affordable high-speed communications in difficult terrain that other technologies can’t reach.
  • swytchX is building the future of a truly connected world through technology that empowers trust, transparency, security, and integrity. Its product is a cloud-based SaaS solution that leverages blockchain technology to track, trace, and manage renewable energy delivery connected to corporate sustainability and ESG goals while simultaneously creating transactable digital assets for energy and environmental attributions.
  • Varea aims to help enable the world’s transition to an energy-efficient and sustainable future by rooting out inefficient waste, water, and energy systems to increase sustainability and decrease operational costs for commercial facilities. Its data-driven SaaS business model eliminates barriers to adoption, quickly generates cost savings and enables simple, scalable customization.
  • Veloce Energy develops technology to create intelligent, flexible, and scalable grid-edge energy networks (GrEEN). Initially focused on cost reduction in EV charging stations, the Veloce FastGrid™ system uniquely combines energy storage, intelligence, a streamlined installation system, and a unique charging-infrastructure-as-a-service model to maximize and deliver customer value.
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