Houston innovators podcast episode 6

Innovation leader wants Houston's diverse population to have the same access to entrepreneurial success

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, wants to set up the city's innovation ecosystem for success. Courtesy of Grace Rodriguez

It's not enough to Grace Rodriguez that Houston's been recognized as the most diverse city in the nation. She wants Houston's innovation ecosystem to have inclusion and opportunities for all.

One of the originals founders of Station Houston, Rodriguez saw that, while Station and others at the time were making huge moves for helping entrepreneurs, there were some that weren't having the same experience.

"Houston is so diverse, and there are so many entrepreneurs that weren't getting access to the same resources," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rodriguez founded Houston's chapter of Impact Hub, a global organization that helps to accelerate nonprofits and startups working to advance the United Nations' sustainable development goals, last year. The organization now works with other entities, like The Cannon Houston, to provide useful and inclusive programming for the entirety of the city's innovation world.

Recently, organization hosted Houston's first Climathon — a hackathon for climate change solutions — and is currently working on programming for the city's upcoming The Houston Innovation Summit, or THIS. The week-long event takes place November 18 to November 24 and engages and activates organizations across the city — such as Bunker Labs, The Cannon, Houston Exponential, and more.

With the growth of startup development organizations and new accelerator programs entering the market, Rodriguez wants now for each organization to come together — like they will be doing for THIS.

"Now I think the conversation needs to be, 'How can all of us play well together?'" Rodriguez says.

On the podcast, Rodriguez discusses her career, the impact of Impact Hub, and more details about THIS. Check it out below and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.


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Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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