New to town

Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves $1.25 million grant for new-to-Houston accelerator program

The funds will go toward bringing a new, pre-accelerator program to Houston. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Houston has yet again attracted a nationally recognized accelerator program to downtown. Wisconsin-based genera8tor has announced its plans to launch its pre-accelerator program, gBETA, in Houston in spring of next year thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

"With gener8tor joining nonprofit global accelerator MassChallenge in Downtown, the Houston innovation ecosystem will be home to two nationally ranked accelerators," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "This agreement furthers Central Houston's long-term goal to create a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown and helps bridge the gap between small local startups and the city's growing innovation economy."

The grant will not exceed $1.25 million and will be paid out over the next five years. Gener8tor will have two gBETA cohorts a year, and the seven-week program will have a max of five teams across industries. The program will be equity-free and at no cost to participants accepted into the program. The program will also host six lunch-and-learn events that will be free and open to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"The city of Houston's leadership is supporting its community members to be the economic drivers of tomorrow," says Abby Taubner, partner at gener8tor and managing director of gBETA, in the release. "We are humbled and excited to be part of the palpable excitement surrounding the local startup ecosystem, and cannot wait to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

According to gener8tor, a third of gBETA graduates will advance to a later stage equity-based accelerator program or raise a seed round of at least $50,000, and gBETA graduates from across the organization's eight states have collectively raised $57.7 million and created 716 jobs.

This announcement comes on the heels of MasChallenge Texas launching its Houston program earlier this year, as well as Silicon Valley's Plug and Play Technology Center entering the Houston market as well this year. Houston's downtown landscape has become a major hotbed for tech and innovation, with UiPath opening a major Houston office and coworking space popping up across downtown.

"Innovation is the next economic frontier for Houston, and gener8tor's gBETA program will help bridge the gap between the city's legacy industries—energy, medicine, space exploration and the port—and our growing innovation ecosystem of startup accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "gBETA is the latest leap into that future, following in the exciting footsteps of The Ion innovation hub; the relocation or expansion of Silicon Valley firms to Houston such as Bill.com, UiPath and Google Cloud; the plans for the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 translational research commercialization campus; and so much more."

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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