Chevron Technology Ventures solar-to-steam project in California’s Coalinga Field. Chevron Technology Ventures solar-to-steam project in California’s Coalinga Field.

feature20 things to know about CTV at 20 years old

Since its inception in 1999, Chevron Technology Ventures (CTV) has pushed energy’s frontiers through the continuous pursuit of new business models and externally developed technologies that enhance the way Chevron produces and delivers affordable, reliable and ever-cleaner energy. Fostering innovation both within Chevron and across the energy landscape, CTV champions the integration of solutions that address not only today’s business needs, but also those of tomorrow.

CTV’s launch two decades ago marked a major commitment by Chevron to innovation across the industry. Since then, CTV – the longest-operating corporate venture capital firm in oil and gas – has launched seven investment funds in total, two within the last year. Partnering inside and outside Chevron, CTV is developing and deploying problem solvers to handle today’s biggest challenges while anticipating those on the horizon. To capture and share 20 things everyone should know about CTV, we spoke with Don Riley, CTV venture executive, who has been with the organization since the beginning.

Foro is a high-powered laser cutting tool which is part of Chevron Technology Ventures asset integrity focus area.

Foro is a high-powered laser cutting tool used in well abandonment and other operations, part of CTV's asset integrity focus area.

1. They are “explorers.” Riley summed up the diverse group (represented by nine disciplines) that makes up the organization with a single word, which, interestingly, is connected to the origin of Chevron itself.

2. It seemed like a goofy idea at the beginning. “Most people thought that [then CEO] Ken Derr would turn it down as a goofy idea, so the odds seemed stacked against the proposal succeeding,” said Riley. Instead, Don Paul, then Chevron’s chief technology officer, received approval for a $60 million venture capital fund to invest in high-risk, high-reward startup companies as well as in some venture capital limited partnerships. CTV was born.

3. Bold moves are in Chevron’s DNA. “Think back to the first discovery of oil at Dammam Dome in Saudi Arabia that Standard Oil of California made during the depth of the Great Depression,” said Riley. “After drilling 12 consecutive dry holes, the 13th attempt was the discovery well. CTV operates in that bold tradition.”

4. Emphasis is on external. “We scout for, find, test, invest in and encourage adoption of new external technologies,” said Riley. “The emphasis is on external. We spend a lot of time developing skill sets to be able to source and evaluate external technologies fairly quickly.”

5. CTV has to do two opposite things at once. “It’s challenging to try to find good investments and do the due diligence to make the investment while at the same time trying to ramp up the use of innovative technology inside Chevron,” said Riley.

Regen technology, scouted by Chevron Technology Ventures, installed an artificial control device.

Regen technology, also scouted by CTV, involves an artificial lift control device from GE Oil & Gas (Lufkin) that continually adjusts motor speed with minimal harmonics.

6. CTV’s workforce is extremely multifunctional. “We have earth scientists, petroleum engineers, production engineers, information technology people, business-focused people, lawyers and policy specialists, all from their respective ends of the business,” said Riley.

7. It helps to be a talker. “You can’t be uncomfortable talking with people you never met before,” said Riley. “You have to be able to go out and find new companies and knock on doors and be fairly focused.” For those to whom it doesn't come easily, Riley added that in CTV, everyone gets to develop and flex muscles in areas they haven’t considered strengths before. “We’re a constantly learning organization.”

8. You must be an astute decision maker. “You have to be familiar enough with the legal aspects of these transactions so that you can make the right business decisions and then get the technology accepted,” said Riley.

9. CTV once invested in glowing bunnies. Riley explained: “The oddest investment we ever made, and the only one in medical biotech, was in a company that created ‘glowing bunnies.’ They gene-spliced enzymes into laboratory rabbits and injected tracer chemicals to simulate a drug response, enabling them to get test results without having to kill and dissect the animals.” (Chemical tracers are commonly used to investigate and inform wellbore and reservoir characterization.)

10. Sometimes an otherwise successful investment has no value for Chevron’s core business. “The wild part of the ‘glowing bunnies’ idea was that it actually worked,” said Riley. “But we could never figure out how to use it in Chevron. Fortunately, the company went public, and CTV nearly doubled our investment. “

Don Riley admires a new pickup truck that one of the Chevron Technology Venture companies ZiLift just bought.

Circa 2013, Don Riley admires a new pickup truck that ZiLift, one of CTV’s now-portfolio companies, had just bought for its Bakersfield, California, field office. “ZiLift did a lot of work for our San Joaquin business unit, installing their new electrical downhole submersible pumps in our wells in Kern River Field and Midway Sunset Field,” said Riley.

11. It ultimately comes down to investing in people. “At the end of the day, the technology may be cool, but you’re investing in a team of entrepreneurs and trying to pick good people.”

12. Entrepreneurs are a diverse bunch. “The people you meet are like something out of a Dr. Seuss book,” said Riley. “The entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes, and we’ve had all sorts of people that we’ve financed to help get companies started.”

13. CTV once invested in a startup through a blind auction. “We participated in an Internet auction of shares in a startup company. That was wild because we didn’t know who we were investing with until after the auction. Everything was happening on the Internet back in 2000 or 2001, so the consensus was, let’s give it a try and see what happens. In fact, the company was a records management company. We ended up adopting the technology in Chevron, and eventually they were purchased. But it was kind of a crazy way to do it.”

14. Working at CTV means exposure to a wide range of technologies. Riley said, “Across the 100 or so investments we’ve made over the past 20 years, we’ve had every possible technology that we could use in our business – from IT to sensor technology to tools and materials for water chemistry and biology. You have to become knowledgeable in every one of these areas, and so it involves switching gears a lot.”

A ZiLift electric submersible pump is installed at Kern River Field as a field trial.

In 2013, the company conducted a field trial in Bakersfield, California, of ZiLift, a novel electric submersible pump installed at Kern River Field.

15. They don’t shy away from risky bets. “One of our most fascinating investments was in a state-of-the-art fiber-optics company that measures temperature and acoustic vibrations and strain coming out of a single hair-sized fiber up to 20 miles away. The company has grown from two people to about 90 people and still is a high-impact investment that we think will certainly benefit our business.”

16. The decision-making process is agile and streamlined. “If we see something that appears to have significant potential, we can act on it very quickly and fund a field trial or investment within a couple of months,” said Riley.

17. CTV is adept at capturing value by moving technologies into Chevron. “I think we’re the only ones in the energy investment business that have a group dedicated to facilitating business unit field trials as well as a group that focuses on technology deployment and adoption. It’s all integral to the use and integration pipeline and really contributes to Chevron’s value chain.”

Abyssal, a Chevron Technology Ventures asset, enables a real-time augmented reality system to guide ROVs.

One of the more recent technologies in CTV's portfolio is Abyssal, an augmented reality system for subsea intervention. It enables real-time monitoring while reducing costs through more efficient use of remotely operated vehicles and other equipment.

18. Subsurface technology is one of CTV’s focal areas. “It’s a specialty that only a handful of venture capital firms do, mainly in the energy business,” said Riley. “But that’s an area in which we feel comfortable making assessments and selecting the technologies, be it subsurface imaging or data analysis-related things.”

19. CTV is often ahead of the curve. “Shortly after we launched CTV, we invested in a 3-D printing company that made micro-scale metal devices at the millimeter size,” said Riley. “It’s amazing to think how far out front they were in terms of 3-D printing. The company’s still in business today.”

20. CTV people love their work. “I wouldn’t have traded these past 20 years for anything,” said Riley, who formerly was chief geophysicist for Chevron Canada. “I think it’s been an incredible experience.”

Published: June 2019