Last week, I had a chance to attend the Energy Venture Investment Summit, a joint conference between EnerCom and the Colorado School of Mines.
The purpose of the event was to connect energy-related startups with capital providers, so it was structured as a series of 15 minute pitches, with the audience being primary VC firms and qualified investors. There were two dozen speakers across a range of energy technology domains, from conventional oil & gas to batteries, hydrogen, and materials science. A few takeaways below…
Takeaway #1: So. Many. Ideas.
As career O&G people here at Velocity Insight, we’ve long known that the energy industry is incomprehensibly big. From upstream to downstream, onshore to offshore, petrochem to power, the physical and conceptual footprint of what it takes to give people reliable, cost-effective power is astonishing.
That said, the push towards greener energy marks a massive increase in how many ideas are surfacing. Many of these areas already have dozens of startups clamoring for attention and market share. As one example, Prieto Battery (maker of a unique 3D solid state battery invented here in Colorado) showed a slide with dozens of competitors in the battery tech space, each with different technologies or applications. Every niche in the energy transition space is similarly filled, as a generation of smart engineers and scientists looks to contribute to the Energy Transition. It’s exciting, and overwhelming.
Takeaway #2: So. Much. Capital.
With all these ideas competing to solve problems, there’s going to need to be an absolute ocean of capital to take them far enough to determine winners. Almost every presenter mentioned ongoing Seed/Series rounds of financing (which was of course the point of the conference), with dollar amounts in the mid-seven figures. But as they talked about the capital required to fully validate and scale the tech, it was easy to count up billions of dollars in future funding that could be required by those two dozen companies.
It’s not just the dollar amounts that are challenging in this space, but also the risk profiles. It’s exciting to see a lot of interest from VC’s in this space, because many of these startups have risky technology, unclear market focus areas, or even unclear future revenue streams in situations where government incentives may be the primary way to pay for the good or service. The Venture Capital ecosystems seems much better suited to pick winners here than more traditional financing paths.
Takeaway #3: O&G still matters
With EnerCom, Mines, and the Denver/Golden community having deep expertise in O&G, this shouldn’t be a huge surprise, but many of the presenters have at least O&G applications, if not actually focusing on O&G. Use cases like improving remote monitoring (Remote Gauge, Iron-IQ), extending reserves life (ESal, Hydroacoustics), and driving near-term efficiencies (ENGAGE, Aureus) are all ideas that can help speed up the energy transition while promoting reliability and affordability.
There were also a number of industry-agnostic startups with important O&G use cases. Innovators in the materials sciences space like Exum (nondestructive solid material testing) and FLITE (engineered surface property modifications) could be useful in any space with high stresses, corrosion, and other material specs. Sound familiar?
Technology and Capital solving problems
I’m a technology optimist. If you incentivize 10,000 smart young engineers and scientists to do something crazy, I’m a believer that they’ll shock you with success.
Whether it’s building cross-continental railroads, producing from nano-darcy reservoirs, or decarbonizing an energy economy, when you combine the worlds of Technology with Capital providers that incentive them properly, amazing things happen. I’m looking forward to seeing where groups like EnerCom and Mines help these startups go!