HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 23

Former founder wants to make Houston a major femtech hub

In this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Brittany Barreto discusses her passion for femtech domination as well as expert info for founders looking to get involved with Capital Factory. Photo courtesy of Brittany Barreto

Brittany Barreto has had a rollercoaster of a year. She went from a startup founder in her second round of funding to sitting on the other side of that fundraising table.

Barreto, who is the venture associate at Capital Factory, has a Ph.D in genetics and founded the first nationwide DNA-based dating app called Pheramor. Last year, she had to close down the business due to changes in Apple's App Store's rules. Now that she's shifted from founder to helping founders, she's realized Houston needs more former-founder mentors like herself.

"I actually think Houston needs to figure out how to capitalize on these recycled founders and how to get them in more mentorship and leadership positions," Barreto says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're in Houston, Texas, and the second question out of everyone's mouths is, 'How can I help you?'"

But that willingness to help only takes mentorship so far for founders who can learn a lot from people who've been in their exact position.

While she wants to see more of these types of mentors emerging in Houston, she also wants to see more of something else: Femtech. These types of startups focus on technology that improves the health and wellness of women, and Houston is poised to be a great hub for femtech — mainly because, well, nowhere else is yet.

Femtech has a lot of potential for investors and success because it's creating technology that's an aspirin and not a vitamin, Barreto says. People won't necessarily pay for and take vitamins, but when they need that aspirin, they'll pay what they can for it.

"Whenever I hear about new femtech companies, I think, 'why doesn't this exist yet?'" Barreto says. "That's why I'm really passionate about FemTech, because it's not something that's just nice to have."

Houston has several female-focused organizations that have emerged lately, but the next steps for the city as it develops as a hub for femtech is to establish a femtech-focused accelerator program and venture fund.

Barreto shares her thoughts on Houston, plus explains what makes Capital Factory different from other organizations in Houston. She also gives her advice on pitchdecks and how she's looking to better connect the dots between entrepreneurs and startup development organizations on the podcast. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Last month was National Diabetes Awareness Month and Houston-based JDRF Southern
Texas Chapter has some examples of how technology is helping people with type 1 diabetes. Photo courtesy of JDRF

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease where insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas are mistakenly destroyed by the body's immune system. Insulin is vital in controlling blood-sugar or glucose levels. Not only do you need proper blood-sugar levels for day-to-day energy, but when blood-sugar levels get too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia), it can cause serious problems and even death. Because of this, those with T1D are dependent on injections or pumps to survive.

The causes of T1D are not fully known, and there is currently no cure; however, advancing technologies are making it easier to live with T1D.

Monitoring

Those who have had T1D for decades might recall having to pee into a vial and test reagent strips in order to check their blood-sugar levels. Thankfully, this evolved into glucometers, or glucose meters. With a glucometer, those with T1D prick their finger and place a drop on the edge of the test strip, which is connected to the monitor that displays their results. Nowadays, glucometers, much like most T1D tech, can be Bluetooth enabled and sync with a smartphone.

From there, scientists have developed the continuous glucose monitor (CGM) so that those with T1D can monitor their blood sugar 24/7. All you need to do is insert a small sensor under the skin. The sensor then measures glucose levels every few minutes, and that information can then be transmitted to smartphones, computers and even smart watches.

Monitoring blood-sugar levels is vital for those with T1D, particularly because it helps them stay more aware of their body, know what to do and even what to expect, but they also have to actively control those levels by injecting insulin. Think of a monitor as the "check engine" light. It can tell you that there may be a problem, but it won't fix it for you. To fix it, you would need an injection or a pump.

Pumps and artificial pancreas

The development of insulin pumps has made a huge impact on the lives of those with T1D and parents of children with T1D by making it easier to manage their blood-sugar levels. 50 years ago, the prototype of the insulin pump was so large, it had to be a backpack, but with today's technology, it is about the size of a smartphone. The pump is worn on the outside of the body, and it delivers insulin through a tube which is placed under the skin. Insulin pumps mimic the way a pancreas works by sending out small doses of insulin that are short acting. A pump can also be manipulated depending on each person's needs. For example, you can press a button to deliver a dose with meals and snacks, you can remove it or reduce it when active and it can be programmed to deliver more at certain times or suspend delivery if necessary.

One of the most recent and trending developments in T1D research is the artificial pancreas, or more formally referred to as the automated insulin delivery (AID) systems. Essentially, the artificial pancreas is an insulin pump that works with a CGM. The CGM notifies the insulin pump of your blood-sugar reading, which acts accordingly to restore your blood sugar to the target level. The artificial pancreas allows those with T1D to be even more hands off, as it does essentially everything: It continuously monitors blood-sugar levels, calculates how much insulin you would need, which can be done through smart devices, and automatically delivers insulin through the pump.

Living with T1D is a 24/7/365 battle; however, the advances in technology make it easier and safer to live with the disease. Organizations like JDRF play a huge role in investing in research, advocating for government support and more.

November was National Diabetes Awareness Month, and this year is particularly special for JDRF, as it is the 50th year of the organization. JDRF was founded in 1970 by two moms. The community grew to include scientists, lobbyists, celebrities and children—all determined to improve lives and find cures.

Bound by a will stronger than the disease, this year during National Diabetes Awareness Month (NDAM), JDRF celebrates "The Power of Us." We are reflecting on the power of our community and reminding ourselves and the public of how far we've come in the fight against T1D.


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Rick Byrd is the executive director of the JDRF Southern Texas Chapter.

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