On the job

New accelerator director at Station Houston wants to bring talent and impactful startups to town

Station Houston has a new hire. Christine Galib was named as the director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

When Christine Galib moved to Houston, she knew two things: it was going to be hot, and there were going to be tacos. But when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, she learned something else: the resiliency of the city — and its people — was a thread that interwove the fabric of the metro.

And now that the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, a program that would allow participants to find solutions to real-world problems in Houston, has now hired Galib as its first program director. Through her position, she'll be able to guide participants from all over the country find solutions to two of the city's biggest problems: transportation and mobility.

"Houston is international, resilient, and inspirational, powered by innovation, energy, and diversity that forms a strong foundation for our unique entrepreneurial ecosystem," Galib says in a news release announcing her hiring. "I am excited to serve Houston through leveraging and creating collaborations, partnerships, and solutions to differentiate Houston as a smart city that is building for its future."

Station Houston will host the accelerator through its first cohort, but it will move to The Ion when the innovation hub opens in 2020.

"When we look at The Ion being created as a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in Houston, there's no other city in the world has this type of level of collaboration and transparency of major players in the innovation space coming together to create, not only the physical space, but also the programming and mindset and the environment and the culture to sustain it," she tells InnovationMap.

"It was a pretty easy decision for me to be on board with the vision. It's not just a vision for a future which is far off … It's a vision for the future that we're actually creating today."

Galib, a former instructor at Rice University and the University of St. Thomas who has experience as a financial analyst on Wall Street, will spearhead the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator. For her, leading the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator allows her to take part in creating a forward-thinking, solutions driven program that will help usher in that culture into Houston's entrepreneurial atmosphere — collaboration is key.

"When I think of Houston and innovation, I think this collaborative approach to making something that is going to stick — sustainable change that sticks — and then making a future that is not just different but better for everybody," Galib says.

The accelerator, which was announced by Mayor Sylvester Turner at a Microsoft IoT in Action event, is now accepting applications for its first cohort. Galib says access is one of the biggest assets applicants are given if given the opportunity to join the accelerator.

"One of the goals is inclusion," Galib says. "You can't have a smart city and have that smartness benefit only one or two percent of the people. The inclusive nature of the accelerator in this entrepreneurial ecosystem is a major selling point."

Participants of the 10-month program will participate in structured curriculum and programming focused on mobility and resiliency and are tasked with creating feasible solutions to those problems within the city.

Galib, along with Station Houston, will offer participating entrepreneurs and startups with the resources they need to validate their solutions and prepare them for deployment, as well as create programming for participants and lead the research and analysis for the accelerator.

Galib is excited to attract talent into the first cohort and see what they do throughout their tenure in the accelerator.

"(We want to identify and recruit) talent to come to Houston and to stay in Houston, to be part of a family of entrepreneurs in innovation," she says. "I had no family here when I came here, and one of the reasons why I stayed here was because I found people who really got me excited about being a Houstonian."


Christine Galib will lead the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator program. Photo via StationHouston.com

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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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