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BioUrja Group Moves to Westchase District

Fast-growing biofuels business becomes tenant and landlord

Among BioUrja’s diverse portfolio is a company that supplies specialty metals to the oilfield industry.

If you haven’t yet heard of the BioUrja Group, you soon will. With its principal headquarters in Westchase District, BioUrja has offices and facilities around the globe. It is a supplier and trader of physical commodities, including biofuels, petroleum products, crude oil, natural gas, electric power, metal alloys, grains and animal feed products. Recently, the company added commercial real estate ownership to its portfolio.

Founded in 2006 by Amit Bhandari, BioUrja has grown organically and through acquisition to be one of the four largest privately held companies in Houston. Earlier this year, a team of investors, led by Bhandari, purchased 1500 CityWest, the 191,467 square-foot-building on the southwest corner of Briar Forest Drive and CityWest Blvd.

“We focus on the cyclicality of industries,” said Ben Durfee, vice president of corporate development for BioUrja. “That allows us to take advantage of certain entry points. Commercial real estate is a unique asset class. We think the current vacancy rates are a temporary disruption in the industry that does not reflect the long term and it gave us the opportunity to get into the market at a good time.”

In early September, BioUrja Group’s 65 Houston-based employees relocated from their current offices in the Energy Corridor to 11,000 square feet of space in its newly acquired building.

Building improvements planned
BioUrja surveyed its new tenants and asked what improvements they’d like to see in the building. As a result, the company has set aside capital dollars to build a new gym in the office building. Durfee said the tenants also requested more shared conference space. “We’re focused on creating community spaces in the building that all tenants can enjoy,” said Durfee. “We’ll also be enhancing the food service options in the building. We want high quality, healthy options for our tenants.”

BioUrja engaged Transwestern to provide leasing and property management services for the building. “With eight months of building ownership under our belt, we knew we wanted to hire the best third-party service providers,” said Durfee. “Transwestern is the largest property management firm in town and they’ve done a great job leasing the building.”

Durfee said the Westchase District location offers benefits to their current employees, many of which live in Katy or the Bellaire area. “The location is central and being able to get on and off the Beltway at Briar Forest is a big plus,” said Durfee.

Ethanol came first
With seven different business groups, BioUrja has more than 600 employees worldwide. It all started with BioUrja Trading LLC, which was founded to supply physical bioethanol to the U.S. refining industry. That business has expanded to supplying refined petroleum products and natural gas liquids. Other business groups are focused on power trading (RiverCrest Power Holdings LLC), supplying specialty metals to the oilfield industry (Energy Alloys Global Solutions LLC), operating ethanol, frac sand, crude oil and natural gas liquids storage and transloading terminals (BioUrja Terminals & Land), supplying grains and animal feed ingredients (West Plains LLC), producing distilled alcohol for beverage and consumer products (BioUrja Renewables LLC) and investing in projects and companies in growth industries, primarily energy and agriculture (BioUrja Capital).

Durfee said that Bhandari embraced entrepreneurship and innovation from an early point in his career which earned him Ernst & Young’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award in 2013. The company’s philosophy of empowerment, decisiveness, ethical behavior, risk taking and challenging the status quo have helped it to succeed as well as attract and retain talent.

“Being in Houston is key for us. With the country’s focus on renewables, our growth prospects in Houston are limitless,”Durfee said. “As the world goes through its energy transition, Houston has the talent base that we can tap into.”

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