HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 54

Houston innovator is putting female health tech entrepreneurs on center stage

Ayse McCracken joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss women in health care and Ignite Madness. Photo courtesy of Ignite

When COVID-19 hit, Ayse McCracken realized that women in health care were going to be disproportionately affected by the pandemic and social isolation. As the founder and board chair of Ignite Healthcare Network, a nonprofit dedicated to connecting and promoting female health tech entrepreneurs, McCracken jumped to provide a virtual way to connect her members.

"With COVID, it has only escalated the importance of our work, so we've elevated our voices through our webinar series," McCracken says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

The webinars featured prominent women in health care discussing leaderships, the effect of the pandemic, and more. Now, Ignite has introduced an entirely new virtual event series focused on startups and, something slightly unexpected: basketball. Ignite Madness begins tomorrow, October 22, and will feature 35 startups. The startups will be narrowed down to seven finalists, who will then pitch at the finals next Thursday, October 29. Click here to register.

"We wanted to do something that was kind of fun and engaging for people while showcasing great entrepreneurs. We didn't want it to just be a pitch event," McCracken says. "When you look at basketball, the similarities were very interesting."

Women make up a significant portion of the fan base for basketball, McCracken says she discovered, and she had the idea of featuring female coaches into the pitch competition. Seven college basketball coaches will be involved in the event as mentors, sharing their own stories.

McCracken says she was strategic when organizing the pitch competition and made sure the competing companies were representative of both the industry's innovation and of diversity. The startups from 13 states across the United States and six other countries — 43 percent of the founders pitching are women of color.

"When we say women, we mean women of all colors and ethnicities," McCracken says. "We have made sure that our leadership team is diverse and inclusive. Everything we do, you'll see women in a very inclusive way."

While you'll have to watch the pitches yourself, McCracken says, the startups are focusing on novel medical devices, cancer detection, and nanotech-based treatment selection platforms, mental health platforms, telehealth solutions, digital solutions for women's health issues like fertility, and so much more.

McCracken shares more about what viewers can expect from the event as well as the important role women in health care play and the evolution of the industry in Houston on the podcast. You can listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi have been recognized by Fast Company for their leadership in developing low-cost COVID vaccine. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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