HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 98

Houston investor shares why she's focused on funding the future of femtech

Kyra Doolan joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the huge opportunities for innovation within femtech. Photo via LinkedIn

Successful investors find gaps in the marketplace and direct funds into startups and technologies resolving those gaps. For Kyra Doolan, managing director at Houston-based Texas HALO Fund, femtech represents a huge opportunity for innovation.

"A lot of the issues that face women, are things that are not talked about," she says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, referencing things like miscarriage, injury during childbirth, etc. "For a lot time, women just sat back if they had these issues, and they kept it to themselves, so those problems weren't being addressed."

While Texas HALO Fund has invested in femtech since its first fund in 2012, Doolan shares on the show how she personally saw an investment opportunity with kegg, a fertility tracking device. Doolan says she and other women aren't taught how to manage their own fertility journey, but it doesn't have to be that way.

"I was at a stage in my life where my eyes were open to the gaps that are out there and the conversations that weren't being had," she says. "In looking into Kegg, it showed me what the market was and how many gapes there were in the market just around fertility."

Texas HALO Fund has a few femtech companies in its portfolio now, and the most recent addition is Houston-based Work & Mother, a company that builds out fully-equipped nursing accommodations in office buildings.

Despite it's growing femtech portfolio, the fund is industry agnostic, though, Doolan says, about a third of the companies Texas HALO Fund invests in reside in the health tech space. What makes HALO different is its focus on early-stage startups.

"We like to get in early," Doolan says. "We're, what you would historically consider 'pre-VC,' but now that's getting a little bit blurred. ... We're some of the earlier capital that's invested, and we continue to make investment as the companies continue to subsequent rounds."

Doolan shares more on her passion for femtech, as well as her advice for founders looking for funding and potential female investors looking to get into investing on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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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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