teamwork

Houston incubator announces merger with local nonprofit

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, and Jeff Reichman, founder of Sketch City, have announced a partnership between their organizations. Photos courtesy

Two Houston organizations that have partnered for three years to provide a platform for innovation and ideation have announced a more formalized partnership.

Impact Hub Houston, a global impact innovation incubator, and Sketch City, a nonprofit focused on advancing technology and data in public decision making and social good, have announced the merger of Sketch City into a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston: Code for Houston.

"We're honored to continue Sketch City's work of connecting Houston's tech talent with civic innovation opportunities through Code for Houston," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in a news release. "From our response and recovery collaboration after Hurricane Harvey to our ongoing events that help diverse do-gooders and developers collaborate on and create impactful solutions for Houston, we have established a strong track record of effective #Tech4Good initiatives."

The two organizations have worked together to host Open Project Night and the Houston Hackathon over the past few years. Jeff Reichman, principal at Houston-based data science consulting firm January Advisors, founded Sketch City in 2016.

"We are so excited to join forces with Impact Hub Houston," Reichman says in the release. "Their mission is directly aligned with ours. Sketch City began as a way to connect people with shared interests in technology, data, and civic improvement. Within a few years, it has grown into a community of thousands of people who live all over the world."

The merger comes following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic — something Reichman says has led him to rethink how Sketch City operates.

"Merging Sketch City with Impact Hub Houston feels like a natural extension of the work we've done together; and it creates additional administrative capacity for programming and community growth," Reichman continues in the release. "Sketch City's efforts will continue under Impact Hub Houston's 'Code for Houston' initiative. I'm thrilled to be a part of that new chapter."

Sketch City and its initiatives will roll into Code for Houston, a new initiative under Impact Hub Houston that aligns with Code for America — a national organization that works with community organizations and governments to build digital tools, change policies, and improve public programs.

Code for Houston will streamline operations for Impact Hub Houston's annual hackathons, which includes the Houston Hackathon and Climathon Houston, as well as expand resources and support for Houston's changemakers and civic technologists who want to transform their ideas into viable triple-bottom-line businesses and impact ventures, per the release.

"We look forward to continuing Sketch City's legacy of strengthening and activating relationships between Houston's tech talent and diverse communities," Rodriguez continues.

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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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