forget up and coming

Mayor, Station CEO: Houston's innovation ecosystem has arrived

The new two-story wall in Station Houston's space represents Station's promise to its startup members as well as showcases the city's stewards for innovation. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

For Gaby Rowe, Houston's not just an up-and-coming innovation leader.

"Houston's tech ecosystem is here. It exists now. It will continue to grow and gain momentum. It is not a thing of the future; it is here now," Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, tells InnovationMap.

At Station's third anniversary party on January 30, Mayor Sylvester Turner agreed with that sentiment.

"I don't want to say that we're looking to just build this robust, integrated ecosystem," Turner says. "Let me just be bold enough to say that it is done. We've already done it, and we are just expanding on it."

In a week full of announcements — from $2.5 million grants bringing in an international accelerator program to Midtown innovation hub announcing its new name and construction plans — Station, not to be out done, announced its programming expansion plans.

Station's Houston VR Lab made its debut at the celebration, which is an AR/VR space where members can use to showcase their technology to potential partners and investors. Station is also a short ways away from finishing up its robotics lab, something that the organization is partnering with TXRX Labs to work on.

When it comes to investors, Station acts as a sort of matchmaker with its member startups. In 2019, the organization will have 15 different investors with weekly, monthly, or quarterly office hours in the Station space — nine of which are already on board, Rowe says.

Station will also be launching a foreign development accelerator aimed at attracting startups from around the world. The program will help educate and transition the companies into business here in the United States over a one- to three-week session.

"Our belief is that there's no better city for an international startup to come to," Rowe says. "It's so easy to assimilate and there's such a global footprint. And, there's such an open community when it comes to the warmth of the people. There's no one here that I've worked with that won't give you one meeting."

Visually, Station Houston's biggest unveiling was the wall that spans two floors of the office. On the wall is four stewards, as Rowe describes them, that have partnered to progress Houston's innovation. On the wall are the logos of Houston Exponential, TMC Innovation Institute, Rice University, and the University of Houston.

"Those four entities have committed through their stewardship tp make sure that this ecosystem a reality, and today we can say it's here," Rowe says.

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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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