who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of innovators includes Alfredo Arvide of MAP360, Gaurab Chakrabarti of Solugen, and Stephen Ives of YMCA of Greater Houston. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: The three innovators being called out this week for their latest news includes three leaders looking to make a difference and disrupt the norm. From innovating diversity and inclusion to making a huge splash in the chemicals industry.

Alfredo Arvide, CEO and co-founder of MAP360

This Houston startup is increasing access to marketing for other startups and small businesses

"We're here for the founders and the little guys," Alfredo Arvide says about his new venture that's redefining marketing for small businesses and startups. Photo courtesy of MAP360

Alfredo Arvide's story isn't too unfamiliar. After getting laid off amid a recession, he turned his full focus to his startup hoping to disrupt the industry he's worked in for years. The only difference here is Arvide's story is still ongoing, and the industry he's trying to disrupt is marketing for startups.

"There is a great opportunity in Houston with the accelerating innovation ecosystem," says Arvide. "When my co-founder and I were brainstorming ideas, we saw the need for a marketing program tailored specifically for startups or small businesses."

MAP360 touts a 50 percent or fewer costs of an agency with the same agency-quality talent. The services they offer range from branding, storytelling, design, to consulting. They also offer tiers or packages aimed for startups, funded or growing businesses, and established businesses. Click here to read more.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, CEO and co-founder of Solugen

Solugen, which uses plant-centered biotechnology to produce environmentally friendly chemicals, has raised an additional $30 million and is speculated to soon reach unicorn status. Photo via solugentech.com

Is Solugen going to be the next unicorn — a startup valued at $1 billion — to come out of Houston? That's what Forbes, but that's not what Gaurab Chakrabarti is focused on right now. He's got bigger goals to disrupt the entire chemicals industry.

"Quite simply, we want to become the next DowDuPont or the next iconic chemical company, but using principles of green chemistry instead of principles from petroleum chemistry," Chakrabarti says.

And he's on the right path. Recently, Solugen raised another $30 million in a bridge round after raising $36 million last year. Click here to read more.

Stephen Ives, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Houston

The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant will have online resources as well as an interactive learning lab at Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA. Photo courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston

With Houston's diversity and in light of the current civil unrest, the YMCA of Greater Houston wanted to create something to help educate Houstonians and provide a space for unity and collaboration. That's why the organization is launching The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant, says Stephen Ives, president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Houston.

"The YMCA of Greater Houston vows to stand with our brothers and sisters who are made to feel less safe by the many recent incidents – fighting for health equity in the face of the inequities being laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and unjust killings," says Ives. "The Y will continue expanding and strengthening its commitment to combat racism, bias, prejudice and inequalities while fighting for justice."

The center is coming out of a $100,000 donation from Reliant, which will be distributed in $50,000 commitments over two years. The sum is a part of Reliant and NRG's "Powering Change" initiative. Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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