Incubator program fosters scientific start-ups

Houston Advanced Research Center in The Woodlands has partnered with Houston-based Houston Technology Center North to promote the growth of entrepreneurial sustainable energy technology companies in The Woodlands area.

An incubator program, called Innovators in the Woods, was set up in May and recruits start-up businesses to pitch their energy technology ideas. The companies present their business concept to a three- to four-person panel, HTC Managing Director Charles Wohl said. The panel includes venture capitalists and business consultants.

“Applicants are asked questions such as where the applicant sees their market, where do they see themselves going and what are the financial requirements to get there,” he said. “So that the reviewers and panel are able to identify needs and wants and where the support is—is there a natural match to help support and grow the business.”

The pitch presentations, open to the public, offer a chance for investors to hear and ask questions, Economic Development Partnership CEO Gil Staley, said.

“It’s just intriguing what you will hear,” he said. “They all come up with an idea or a science or a technology and hopefully incubate into a viable business. I want them to spin out of there and stay here and create jobs. The hope and desire is to get those groups that have just that as their mission and help them get to commercialization.”

The panel then determines if the entrepreneur moves onto the next phase, which requires a more in-depth examination, Wohl said. The final stage is an inclusion into the incubator program.

“HARC’s mission overall is for people seeking scientific answers, with an intent on building a sustainable future,” Wohl said. “That can be energy, space, accelerating clean energy technologies and finding solutions for environmentally friendly oil and gas development. We’re growing businesses where there is a scientific connection.”

A company named Magna Imperio Systems, Inc. entered the incubation program in October after a successful presentation of their business idea. The company focuses on desalination technology—converting saltwater to freshwater, Wohl said.

HTC’s goal for Innovators in the Woods is to spur partnerships of 10-12 client companies per year in the region, HTC chief operating officer Maryanne Maldonado said.

Innovators in the Woods has hosted two pitch events so far at the Lone Star Community College Systems administrative campus at 5000 Research Forest Drive. The first was held in July. Events will be held quarterly, and the third one will take place Nov. 16.

“The partnership between HTC North and HARC is a relationship whose time has come,” Maldonado said. “Through it, entrepreneurs will have access to the HTC’s in-depth acceleration process and HARC’s world-class energy, air and water issue research expertise.”

The Woodlands is ideally situated for renewable energy entrepreneurs, Staley said.
Innovators in the Woods comports with what George Mitchell originally had in mind for The Woodlands community.

“Thirty years ago [George] Mitchell firmly believed in start-up companies developing technologies and research programs in his community,” Staley said. “Hence the name Research Forest.”