Masschallenge accepted

International accelerator launches next program in downtown Houston

Midway's GreenStreet in downtown will be the site of MassChallenge Texas' Houston program. Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

Houston entrepreneurs will have a new accelerator program to choose from — and this one has an international presence.

MassChallenge Texas, which launched in Austin last year, has expanded to include a Houston program that will operate out of downtown's GreenStreet, which is owned and operated by Houston-based Midway Cos. Applications for the 2019 cohort open in April, and the six week program runs from July through August.

The program looks for applicants that haven't raised more than $500,000 in equity-based funding and have generated less than $1 million in revenue over the past year, a release says. The cohort will support 25 startups with free GreenStreet office space, mentorship, investment opportunities, and more, all the while taking no equity in the companies.

By expanding to Houston, MassChallenge Texas is continuing its commitment to strengthening and growing the innovation ecosystem across the Lone Star State, working to make Texas the best place in the world to innovate.

Almost two years ago, the city released a report in which a task force investigated matters pertaining to innovation in Houston.

"In this report, we realized that Houston has a thriving innovation economy, but its potential is limited by the absence of a flourishing startup community," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a release. "A key recommendation was to create critical mass in a few key areas with access to 'legacy industry' and institutional players as well as an unparalleled array of amenities."

On par with this dedication to developing innovation in Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority has approved an economic development grant to operate the program. The grant will cover up to $2.5 million of operation costs to be distributed to the organization over five years, the release says.

"MassChallenge is an opportunity that we pursued in earnest," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, says in the release. "[The grant is] an investment that we believe will garner long-term results for the GreenStreet development, Downtown and the Houston region."

MassChallenge also has locations in Boston, Israel, Mexico, and Switzerland, as well as vertical programs focused on digital health and fintech. Its Texas program was the second location in the United States and the seventh in the world. Since the April 2018 launch in Austin, MassChallenge Texas and its partners have worked to accelerate 84 companies from 5 continents, 11 countries, and five Texas cities and doled out $500,000 to startups.

"The success of the inaugural MassChallenge Texas accelerator proves that the MassChallenge model works in Texas," says John Harthorne, CEO of MassChallenge, in the release. "Houston has a strong emerging entrepreneurial ecosystem and is home to technology-advanced legacy industries—such as energy, life sciences and aerospace — that can be leveraged to help startups at their earliest stages. We are excited to bring MassChallenge to Houston."

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A new AI-optimized COVID screening device, a free response resource, and more — here's your latest roundup of research news. Image via Getty Images

Researchers across the Houston area are working on COVID-19 innovations every day, and scientists are constantly finding new ways this disease is affecting humankind.

From a COVID breathalyzer to a new collaboration in Houston — here's your latest roundup of local coronavirus research news.

A&M System to collaborate on a COVID-19 breathalyzer

A prototype of the device will be used on the Texas A&M campus. Photo via tamu.edu

Researchers at Texas A&M University System are collaborating on a new device that uses artificial intelligence in a breathalyzer situation to detect whether individuals should be tested for COVID-19. The technology is being developed through a collaboration with Dallas-based company, Worlds Inc., and the U.S. Air Force.

The device is called Worlds Protect and a patient can use a disposable straw to blow into a copper inlet. In less than a minute, test results can be sent to the person's smartphone. Worlds Inc. co-founders Dave Copps and Chris Rohde envision Worlds Protect kiosks outside of highly populated areas to act as a screening process, according to a news release.

"People can walk up and, literally, just breathe into the device," says Rohde, president of Worlds Inc., in the release. "It's completely noninvasive. There's no amount of touching. And you quickly get a result. You get a yay or nay."

The university system has contributed $1 million in the project's development and is assisting Worlds Inc. with engineering and design, prototype building and the mapping of a commercial manufacturing process. According to the release, the plan was to test the prototypes will be tried out this fall on the Texas A&M campus.

"Getting tech innovations to market is one of our sweet spots," says John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, in the release. "This breakthrough could have lasting impact on global public health."

Baylor College of Medicine researchers to determine cyclosporine’s role in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients

BCM researchers are looking into the treatment effect of an existing drug on COVID-19 patients. Photo via BCM.edu

The Baylor College of Medicine has launched a randomized clinical trial to look into how the drug cyclosporine effects the prevention of disease progression in pre-ICU hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The drug has been used for about 40 years to prevent rejection of organ transplants and to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

"The rationale is strong because the drug has a good safety profile, is expected to target the body's hyperimmune response to COVID and has been shown to directly inhibit human coronaviruses in the lab," says Dr. Bryan Burt, chief of thoracic surgery in the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery at Baylor, says in a press release.

Burt initiated this trial and BCM is the primary site for the study, with some collaboration with Brigham and Women's. The hypothesis is that the drug will help prevent the cytokine storm that patients with COVID-19 experience that causes their health to decline rapidly, according to the release.

The study, which is funded by Novartis, plans to enroll 75 hospitalized COVID-19 patients at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center who are not in the ICU. There will be an initial evaluation at six months but Burt expects to have the final study results in one year.

Rice launches expert group to help guide pandemic response

A new response team is emerging out of a collaboration led by Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University is collaborating with other Houston institutions to create the Biomedical Expert Panel, supported by Texas Policy Lab, to assist officials in long-term pandemic recovery.

"Not all agencies and decision-makers have an in-house epidemiologist or easy access to leaders in infectious disease, immunology and health communications," says Stephen Spann, chair of the panel and founding dean of the University of Houston College of Medicine, in a news release. "This panel is about equity. We must break out of our knowledge siloes and face this challenge together, with a commitment to inclusivity and openness."

The purpose of the panel is to be available as a free resource to health departments, social service agencies, school districts and other policymakers. The experts will help design efficient public health surveillance plans, advise on increasing testing capacity and access for underserved communities, and more.

"The precise trajectory of the local epidemic is difficult to predict, but we know that COVID-19 will continue to be a long-term challenge," says E. Susan Amirian, an epidemiologist who leads the TPL's health program, in the release. "Although CDC guidelines offer a good foundation, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when managing a crisis of this magnitude across diverse communities with urgent needs."

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