ones to watch

Houston startups named most promising in the life science space at annual event

Eight of the 10 most-promising life science startups named at BioHouston and the Rice Alliance's event are based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

For the second time this year, Houston life science leaders and startup founders gathered to discuss the future of health care in Houston.

The annual Texas Life Science Forum hosted by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship was usually held during the fall before the pandemic pushed it off schedule. In February, the two organizations hosted the previous forum, but as of this month, the annual event is back on track.

The day included panels and networking, plus over 50 companies — about half of which are based in Houston — pitched their solutions across medical device, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals, and more to the crowd.

Houston-based Bairitone Health won the Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award, established by BioHouston in honor of the groundbreaking Houston cardiovascular surgeon. The company is creating a wearable technology that takes a more innovative approach to sleep apnea and snoring with its SOMNAR platform that detects tissue-born sounds, identifies obstructions, and more. The award was presented by Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston.

Ann Tanabe, CEO of BioHouston, presented the DeBakey Award to Houston-based Bairitone Health. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

For the first time, the event also named a people's choice award winner, as voted on by the audience members. Baritone Health also claimed the prize.

At the conclusion of the event, the Rice Alliance and BioHouston named the 10 most promising life science companies selected by investors and presented by the Greater Houston Partnership. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order.

Autonomize

Austin-based Autonomizeunlocks data and context to enable human health outcomes

bEHR Health Systems

New Orleans-based bEHR Health Systemsdelivers, medical, lifestyle, and social solutions to health for African Americans.

EMPIRI

EMPIRI, based in Houston, is revolutionizing cancer care with a novel technology that accurately predicts each cancer patient's treatment responses empirically, enabling doctors to make the optimal treatment selection for each cancer patient.

InformAI

Houston-based InformAI develops AI-based medical image diagnostic tools and uses large dataset synthesis to develop clinical outcome predictors for physicians, hospitals, and medical imaging/medical device companies

March Biosciences 

Houston-based March Biosciences is impacting the most challenging lymphoma and leukemia.

MRG Health-SmartCare360

MRG Health-SmartCare360, based in Houston, is a determinate of health and disease specific virtual care management technology and services company that improves patient access to care and clinical outcomes for people suffering from one or more chronic disease.

Prana Thoracic

Prana Thoracic, founded in Houston out of JLABS at TMC, is a medical device startup that's innovating for the future of early intervention in lung cancer.

Steradian Technologies

Another med device startup based in Houston,Steradian Technologiesemploys deep-photonics technology to diagnose respiratory diseases in seconds, all for the price of a latte.

TYBR Health

Houston-based TYBR Health makes a hydrogel that protects tendons from scarring after surgery and improves patient outcomes.

Voythos

Voythos, based in Houston, is making medical records work for today's healthcare.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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