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New TMCx program launches, C-level execs named at Houston startups, and more innovation news

The new programming geared at idea-stage startups has officially commenced at TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMCx

There's been a lot of recent Houston innovation news, and you might have missed something. Keep up to date with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston in this innovation news roundup.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

TMCalpha premieres 

Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has long counseled budding medical entrepreneurs in various capacities through its TMC Innovation Institute, but wanted to introduce programming specifically for early-stage companies. That's how TMC alpha was born and announced at the most recent TMCx Demo Day.

The program officially launched on July 18 and will host meetups on the third Thursday of every month.

"Over the past five years, TMC Innovation has blossomed into a global proving ground for healthcare startup companies from across the world, and we could not be more pleased with the myriad ways in which the ecosystem here has expanded in nature," says TMC Innovation Director Tom Luby in a release. "That being said, we realized that TMC Innovation needed to do more for the local innovation community and offer ample resources to support homegrown talent from within the confines of the largest medical city in the world. With TMC alpha, the hope is to connect anyone with a fledgling healthcare idea to the TMC Innovation network and create a two-way channel of meaningful dialogue."

Innowatts scores extra funding and names new C-level exec

Photo via innowatts.com

Houston-based AI-enabled analytics company, Innowatts, is growing in more ways than one. The company, which is fresh off an over $18.2 million Series B fundraise, added move funds and a new C-level executive.

Veronorte, a South American venture capital firm backed by one of the largest utilities in Colombia, became an additional investor in the company with an undisclosed contribution. Meanwhile, Eric Danziger joined the company as its new chief revenue officer. He will be tasked with the growth and sales of Innowatts' eUtility™ product.

"As the utility grid becomes more complex with the proliferation of electric vehicles and distributed generation," says Danziger in a release, "utility companies have to adapt to the data generated and needs of their consumers to manage these complex requirements."

Startup snags free office space prize

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Shoot, a digital marketplace that simplifies the photographer and videographer booking process, has scored free office space in the newly opened Cannon building after receiving the second annual Insperity Innovation Scholarship.

The company was co-founded by Simbai Mutandiro and Alina Merida and has already launched its beta platform. The company will release its next version of the platform soon.

"Our relationship with The Cannon and the Insperity Innovation Scholarship are part of our initiative to help startups become successful more quickly by connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals," says Larry Shaffer, Insperity senior vice president of marketing and business development, in a release. "We congratulate Shoot on receiving this scholarship and wish the co- founders continued success in furthering their entrepreneurial dream."

The other three finalists in the contest — Delfin, Social Chains, and SOTAOG — will receive open desk memberships at The Cannon for six months.

Houston falls low on the list of cities booming with growing private companies

Texas Money

Getty Images

When it comes to the major metros with the biggest jump in private businesses with over $1 million in revenue, Houston is the last on the list for Texas cities. LendingTree looked at the data, and, between 2014 and 2016, Houston only saw an increase of 4.9 percent in million-dollar business growth. This earned the Bayou City a No. 32 ranking across the country.

Dallas was slightly ahead of Houston with 5.2 percent growth and a No. 29 rank. Meanwhile, Austin earned the top spot with 15.1 percent growth. San Antonio, the only other Texas metro in the study, ranked No. 12 with 9 percent growth.

Nesh forms partnership

Oil rig

Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

The Woodlands-based WellDatabase has announced a partnership with Nesh, an AI-optimized tool that's like the Siri or Alexa of oil and gas.

"The technology is amazing and we are thrilled to work with the Nesh team," writes John Ferrell, CEO of WellDatabase, in a blog post. "The integration allows Nesh to run real-time queries against WellDatabase. Users can ask a multitude of questions and get instant answers. They can also work with the Nesh team directly to train and build new questions and workflows."

Rice University and Cognite join forces

Courtesy of Cognite

When Oslo, Norway-based Cognite announced its dual U.S. headquarters in Houston and Austin, it had plans to engage universities from the get go. Now, the company, which specializes in data software with industrial applications, has officially created a partnership and internship program with Rice University.

"This partnership illustrates Cognite's commitment to attracting top people to build the most talented software engineering team in the world," says John Markus Lervik, Cognite co-founder and CEO, in a release. "Cognite solves some of the most complex problems related to industrial digitalization. To do that, we need the best minds, so partnering with Rice University was a natural choice."

Rice students are currently in Norway this summer working for Cognite as a part as the inaugural program.

The Cannon teams up with Thompson & Knight

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based law firm Thompson & Knight has officially signed on to provide resources for The Cannon startups in a strategic partnership between the two companies.

"Thompson & Knight is pleased to partner with Houston-based entrepreneurs who are building the innovation, services, and technological platforms of the very near future," says Mark M. Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight, in a news release. "We will offer our experience in the issues common to startup businesses, including intellectual property, technology, corporate, labor, and other areas of counsel that will help further the goals of these pioneering companies."

The law firm will have an office in The Cannon's recently opened building in West Houston.

Solugen names president

Getty Images


In May, Houston-based chemicals company, Solugen Inc., closed a $32 million round. Now, the company has put a portion of that money to work to hired the newest executive on the team. Jason Roberts, who has a decade of chemicals and oil and gas experience, has joined Solugen as president.

"What I found most compelling about Solugen was the company's quick successes and their overarching goal of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says Roberts in a release. "The company's fundamental chemistry and technologies have created products that no one in the industry currently has. I am excited to join this young company's fast moving team at such a significant time in its history and look forward to helping scale their innovative products and services."

Breakthrough research on metastatic breast cancer, a new way to turn toxic pollutants into valuable chemicals, and an evolved brain tumor chip are three cancer-fighting treatments coming out of Houston. Getty Inages

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

Photo via uh.edu

A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."