and the winner is

Houston organization doles out over $775,000 in prizes to women-led health tech startups

Mara McFadden (left), CEO of Endolumik, took home the top prize at the Ignite Fire Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Ignite

After virtual and postponed events, Ignite Healthcare Network finally got to honor its 2021 cohort and name the annual winners.

The Fifth Annual Fire Pitch Competition was slated to take place last November, but was postponed to January. Affected by the Delta and then Omicron variants of COVID-19, the event finally got to return to in-person networking and pitches on Thursday, March 3.

"The opportunity to bring people together is a really different level of engagement and energy," Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite, says ahead of the awards event. "We love seeing the energy that's being generated in Houston around innovation — and particularly health care innovation."

Seven companies pitched and three were awarded monetary prizes. Morgantown, West Virginia-based Endolumik, which has developed a patent-pending fluorescence-guided device to improve visualization and safety of robotic and laparoscopic bariatric operations, took home the top prize, which included a total of $500,000 in investment prizes from the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health.

Second place was awarded to Rx Bandz of Locust Valley, New York. The company created the MiniJect, the world’s smallest military-grade auto-injector designed to deliver a wide range of injectable medication, and was awarded $250,000 from the Texas Halo Fund and $25,000 from The Southwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium.

San Antonio-based Hera Biotech took third place and was awarded a pilot program prize with Banner Health. Hera has developed the first non-surgical, tissue-based test capable of diagnosing endometriosis.

Ignite taps into Houston health care institutions to provide opportunities for its cohort of companies. According to a news release, this year’s partner organizations included Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, The Menninger Clinic, Banner Health, Kindred Healthcare, Aetna, Commonwealth Care Alliance, BLUE KC, Hospital for Special Surgery, Summit Health, TMC Ventures, Texas Heart Institute, Golden Seeds, Portfolia, The Artemis Fund, Wavemaker 360 Health, Prosalus Capital Partners, 7Wire Ventures, Texas Halo Fund, Unity Point Ventures and others.

The judges who evaluated the competition’s panel of companies included:

  • Jay Goss, MBA General Partner, Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
  • Amanda Hammel, Chief Information Officer, Memorial Hermann Health System
  • Karen Hill, MD, MBA, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Texas Children’s Health Plan
  • Tom Luby, PhD, Director, Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute
  • Fiona Mack, PhD, Head of JLABS @TMC
  • Roberta Schwartz, PhD, EVP and Chief Innovation Officer, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Andrew Truscott, Global Health Technology Lead, Accenture

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Melax Tech has developed multiple Natural language processing tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations. Photo via MelaxTech.com

Melax Tech Partners, a leader in natural language technology processing, announced a new partnership with the University of California at Irvine that will help researchers derive insights from the UCI Health Data Science Platform’s electronic health records system and improve patient care.

Melax will implement its signature text annotation tool LANN to pull information from clinical notes, and its CLAMP product to develop natural language processing customizations through the use of AI, according to a statement from the company.

“There has been a strong desire among UCI researchers to have the capability to analyze free-text clinical narrative data using cutting-edge NLP technologies," Kai Zheng, chief research information officer at UCI Health Affairs, says in a statement. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Melax Tech to deploy their AI-driven annotation and analytics tools to help our researchers advance their research agenda by leveraging the vast amount of free-text data that our health system has accumulated in the past two decades.”

Natural language processing, or NLP, allows organizations and healthcare groups to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data at a rapid rate through the use of machine learning and AI. Houston-based Melax Tech, founded in 2017, has developed multiple NLP tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations, according to its website.

In addition to the recent partnership with UC Irvine, Melax has also recently partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Western Pennsylvania on similar clinical projects.

Melax has also used its platforms to pull vital information from datasets relating to COVID-19, in both medical and social settings.

In March 2022, it was awarded a Phase 1 NIH Award, valued at $300,000, to develop informatics tools based on COVID-19 datasets with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. The tool aims to help researchers better understand vast amounts of virus-related data and connect findings with other similar results.

In August, Melax also received another $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop NLP-based algorithms that will "model, extract and synthesize vaccine misinformation from multiple popular social media sources," according to a statement. Melax will also develop a visualization that presents its findings on the misinformation into a compressible format.

"This is a very real topic affecting culture at present," Andre Pontin, CEO at Melax Tech, says in a statement. "And shows that we as a collective business and group of experts continue to be on the cutting-edge of science in the NLP and AI domain."

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