who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Philip Dutton of Solidatus, Benjamin Foster of Nurseify, and Tasos Katsaounis of Bread Man Baking Co. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from baking to software development — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Philip Dutton, CEO of Solidatus

Philip Dutton is the new Houston-based CEO of Solidatus, a London-founded data management startup. Photo via LinkedIn

As part of a company reorganization, data management startup Solidatus has established Houston as its North American headquarters and has named co-founder Philip Dutton as its Houston-based CEO.

Founded in London in 2017, Solidatus initially focused on supplying data management software to businesses in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but has since extended its reach to North America. Overall, Solidatus employs more than 110 people. It plans to triple its U.S. headcount over the next year.

“Solidatus serves visionary organizations that desire streamlined access and clarity of their data to build smarter and more profitable businesses. That’s everyone from Fortune 500 companies that have an unmanageably complex data landscape to startups and scale-ups that want to optimize their data practices from the get-go. There is no greater concentration of these organizations than in the U.S.,” Dutton, who had been the co-CEO, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

Benjamin Foster, founder and CEO of Nurseify

Benjamin Foster was leading human resources at Gulf Coast Division during Hurricane Harvey when he saw a huge need for an alternative to hiring short-term nurses quickly. That's when he had the idea for Nurseify, a platform that allows for nurses to find jobs — and for facilities to find nurses with the specialties they need. The platform is now live in five pilot states — Texas, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Nurses are facing a significant amount of burnout — in part due to what they went through during the pandemic, but also because of the stressful work environments due to hiring misalignment. Foster says he's intentionally designed the platform to be supportive of nurses.

"We want Nurseify to be known as the most nurse-friendly company in the world. We believe we can bridge the gap between administration and operations and nurses," Foster says. "We want 'Nurseify' to become a verb at some point." Click here to read more.

Tasos Katsaounis, CEO and founder of Bread Man Baking Co.

How Tasos Katsaounis took his hobby and let it rise into a booming Houston business. Image via breadmanco.com

Four years ago, while looking to escape the daily rigors of his corporate work stress, Houstonian Tasos Katsaounis began to bake bread between Zoom calls. He took that hobby and turned it into Bread Man Baking Co. – a Houston-based artisan bread business that can now be tasted in restaurants all throughout the city.

“You know, there’s just something about the idea of growing something from nothing,” Katsaounis, CEO and founder of the company, tells InnovationMap. “I really feel like for the first time in my 26 years of working professionally, that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing and I'm super passionate about what I do every day.”

At the end of 2021, the company expanded from its 5,000-square-foot kitchen and moved its operations into a new 40,000-square-foot facility on the northeast side of Houston, close to the Budweiser and Kroger distribution buildings. At the time of the move, it had 17 employees and this year it has since grown to 42. Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

A Rice research team is tapping into materials science to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, a UH professor is developing a treatment for hereditary vision loss, and a BCM researcher is looking at stress and brain cancer. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on life-saving health care research thanks to new technologies.

Rice University scientists' groundbreaking alzheimer's study

Angel Martí (right) and his co-authors (from left) Utana Umezaki and Zhi Mei Sonia He have published their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease will affect nearly 14 million people in the U.S. by 2060. A group of scientists from Rice University are looking into a peptide associated with the disease, and their study was published in Chemical Science.

Angel Martí — a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program — and his team have developed a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, according to a news release from Rice. The scientists "found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates, opening the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits."

Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer’s, per Rice.

“Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils” says Martí in the release. “Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.

“Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity,” he adds.

The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research, which is explained more thoroughly on Rice's website.

University of Houston professor granted $1.6M for gene therapy treatment for rare eye disease

Muna Naash, a professor at UH, is hoping her research can result in treatment for a rare genetic disease that causes vision loss. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher is working on a way to restore sight to those suffering from a rare genetic eye disease.

Muna Naash, the John S. Dunn Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering at UH, is expanding a method of gene therapy to potentially treat vision loss in patients with Usher Syndrome Type 2A, or USH2A, a rare genetic disease.

Naash has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support her work. Mutations of the USH2A gene can include hearing loss from birth and progressive loss of vision, according to a news release from UH. Naash's work is looking at applying gene therapy — the introduction of a normal gene into cells to correct genetic disorders — to treat this genetic disease. There is not currently another treatment for USH2A.

“Our goal is to advance our current intravitreal gene therapy platform consisting of DNA nanoparticles/hyaluronic acid nanospheres to deliver large genes in order to develop safe and effective therapies for visual loss in Usher Syndrome Type 2A,” says Naash. “Developing an effective treatment for USH2A has been challenging due to its large coding sequence (15.8 kb) that has precluded its delivery using standard approaches and the presence of multiple isoforms with functions that are not fully understood."

BCM researcher on the impact of stress

This Baylor researcher is looking at the relationship between stress and brain cancer thanks to a new grant. Photo via Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Stress can impact the human body in a number of ways — from high blood pressure to hair loss — but one Houston scientist is looking into what happens to bodies in the long term, from age-related neurodegeneration to cancer.

Dr. Steven Boeynaems is assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. His lab is located at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also is a part of the Therapeutic Innovation Center, the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

Recently, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, awarded Boeynaems a grant to continue his work studying how cells and organisms respond to stress.

“Any cell, in nature or in our bodies, during its existence, will have to deal with some conditions that deviate from its ideal environment,” Boeynaems says in a BCM press release. “The key issue that all cells face in such conditions is that they can no longer properly fold their proteins, and that leads to the abnormal clumping of proteins into aggregates. We have seen such aggregates occur in many species and under a variety of stress-related conditions, whether it is in a plant dealing with drought or in a human patient with aging-related Alzheimer’s disease."

Now, thanks to the CPRIT funding, he says his lab will now also venture into studying the role of cellular stress in brain cancer.

“A tumor is a very stressful environment for cells, and cancer cells need to continuously adapt to this stress to survive and/or metastasize,” he says in the release.

“Moreover, the same principles of toxic protein aggregation and protection through protein droplets seem to be at play here as well,” he continues. “We have studied protein droplets not only in humans but also in stress-tolerant organisms such as plants and bacteria for years now. We propose to build and leverage on that knowledge to come up with innovative new treatments for cancer patients.”

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