The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley hosted a delegation of about 40 entrepreneurs from the Mexican Institute of Petroleum, the National Autonomous University of Mexico and small business enterprises on Monday for the first day of a three-week business incubator/accelerator workshop for the Mexico Energy Council (COMENER), dedicated to spurring innovation in the energy sector.

The goal is to develop 19 projects, each involving different aspects of innovation in the energy industry, into marketable, real-world applications. One of the projects, for instance, entails robotic inspection of undersea pipelines.

Working with personnel from UTRGV’s STARGATE Technology Launch Pad (STPL), the entrepreneurs will learn how to set up businesses in the United States and potentially bring new ideas, technology or products to this country, said Ramiro Gonzalez, the city of Brownsville director of government and community affairs.

“This is something that’s actually been in the planning stages for a long time,” he said. “It actually crossed administrations in Mexico and they still made it happen, which is quite a feat.”

Juan Acra, COMENER president, won the backing of the county’s minister of energy and president for the public-private partnership, which he described as vital to opening Mexican energy innovation to the world.

“It’s very important for us because we are promoting Mexican technology for the energy sector,” Acra said.

He said the project was launched in response to Bill Gates’ initiative to accelerate clean-energy technology, “to bring it from the laboratory to the market.”

“Mexico and the U.S., it’s a must to work together,” Acra said. “We have the biggest energy market in the world, the U.S., Mexico and Canada. We have to work together. … You have best practices, you have technology and you have the product.”

While the STARGATE incubator/accelerator was established with “new space” entrepreneurs in mind, the energy sector partnership is a good fit, according to Teviet Creighton, director of UTRGV’s Center for Advanced Radio Astronomy (CARA), of which STARGATE is a part, charged with developing and commercializing technology generated by CARA.

“This isn’t new space, but … part of our vision here at CARA is finding the synergies between different technology sectors, and there are a lot of connections between the energy sector and the space sector,” he said.

“They face similar challenges. They’re both high tech. They both involve a lot of technology development, so a lot of the stuff that we’re doing both with Mexico and also here in Texas is forming connections with the energy sector, with oil and gas and the other energy companies, to see what the common challenges are and what kinds of solutions we can have for them.”

Creighton said the COMENER partnership is the first big contract STPL has landed.

“We’re hoping this is just the first of many such contracts, many such projects that we’re going to have to do incubation and acceleration in the Valley,” he said. “Our first big project happens to be this cross-border initiative with COMENER, but we would also be looking at development and incubating businesses originating here in the Valley as well, or working with people wanting to start high-tech businesses here in the Valley.

“It’s very cool. It all fits in with the whole vision of the New Space City Brownsville, building up this technology corridor here between Mexico through Brownsville all the way up to Houston. Having this technology corridor will promote both space technology, the commercial space industry and other high-tech industries in the area.”