A startup and a nonprofit makerspace have rallied to create PPE, or personal protective equipment, for local hospitals. Getty Images

In the span of one day, the founders of Houston-based Lazarus 3D received calls from emergency room directors and physicians and vice presidents of hospitals explaining a dire need for personal protective equipment — like surgical masks and face shields — for medical professionals in the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.

"We stopped everything we were doing," says Jacques Zaneveld, co-founder of Lazarus, which makes 3D-printed human organs for surgeons to practice on. "We've moved 100 percent of our focus on developing PPE."

Now, Zaneveld with his co-founder, Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld, have manufacturing orders in for 700,000 surgical masks weekly and have designed a non-FDA approved face shield, which they have ordered a few million of. The duo has taken out a short-term loan to front the cost of the medical equipment and are now looking for the right customers to buy these new PPE products. All hospitals and medical professionals in need of supplies can head to Lazarus' website to request more info.

"Our personal feeling has been to do whatever we can do to build as many as possible," Jacques tells InnovationMap. "It's very stressful because I'm borrowing money that we don't have in order to set up these production lines."

On the other side of town, 3D printing nonprofit TXRX has reprogramed 30 of its 3D printers to make PPE. The nonprofit is working Memorial Hermann to quickly prototype and test items made with materials they can get their hands on.

The Center for Disease Control has relaxed some of the requirements for PPE in light of the crisis and shortage, and Roland von Kurnatowski, president at TX/RX Labs, says that has helped speed up their efforts. But, the biggest challenge, he says, has been to quickly get together a design and prototype for Memorial Hermann to give them feedback so that they can then produce the products.

"I think there are a lot of people out there producing devices, but I think the problem is there's not a lot of clarity around materials, quality, and acceptance. People are doing what they can with what they've got," says von Kurnatowski. "Our hope working with Memorial Hermann was to make sure we are devising and testing devices that are functional and appropriate.

TXRX is also relying on Memorial Hermann and others in the medical community to indicate which PPE devices are most needed. Currently, the nonprofit is printing 10,000 face shields for Memorial Hermann, but also has designs for N95 respirators, surgical masks, a positive air pressure respirator (or PAPR), Tyvek suit, and even a portable shield for the intubation process.

Von Kurnatowski says the Houston community can get involved by donating to TXRX's GoFundMe campaign. The 3D printing process is quick and local, but expensive and out of budget for hospitals, so TXRX is taking a loss on its products it is creating. The organization is also looking for people who might have 3D printing materials or experience to volunteer — TXRX has about 20 people working on this but hopes that number ramps up to 60 to 80 people helping out.

Crisis also brings the community together in their time of need — that's what Zaneveld says he sees happening.

"Everyone who is at all involved in the medical space in engineering in Houston is trying to put stuff out," Zaneveld says. "We're sharing information and trying to work together to support each other."

Lazarus 3D is using 3D printing to help advance surgeons' skills. Photo via laz3d.com

Houston company is using 3D printing to enhance surgeon training and prevent avoidable patient deaths

Practice makes perfect

It is no surprise that, when a company offered life-like bladders for medical training, Houston urologists jumped at the opportunity — many had to learn the surgery by operating on bell peppers.

This sort of produce practice is the traditional method for teaching surgeons. Before a doctor ever makes an incision on a living person, they'll practice surgery on food — slicing bananas open and sewing grapes back together.

But for a pair of Baylor College of Medicine-educated doctors, that didn't seem like sufficient prep for working with living bodies; fruit surgery was not fruitful enough. In 2014, Drs. Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld founded Lazarus3D to build a better training model — and layer by layer, they created models of abs and ribs and even hearts with a 3D printer.

"We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that allows us to, overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models of human anatomy," says Jacques, who serves as CEO. "They can be treated just like real tissue."

This isn't 3D printing's foray in medicine. In 1999, doctors in North Carolina implanted the first 3D-printed bladder in human bodies — they covered the synthetic organs in the patients' cells so that their bodies accepted them. Since, researchers have continued to find uses for the technology in the field, printing other organs and making prosthetic limbs.

But the Lazarus3D founders felt like medical training was lagging behind. Even cadavers, which medical schools also use to prepare doctors for surgery, don't represent a healthy human body or the diseased state of a hospital patient, said Smriti, who works as the research director.

The pair turned their kitchen into a printing lab and set to work, creating life-like models of human organs. They didn't have to go far after their first successes to find potential buyers — they just went to Starbucks. In a coffeeshop in the heart of the Medical Center, they talked loudly about their product until the neighborhood doctors and researchers took interest and gathered around.

Over the next few years, the Lazarus3D team pooled resources and contacts and, a summer after opening, they moved out of their kitchen and into an office. They now are a Capital Factory portfolio company and have partnerships with Texas Children's, Baylor College of Medicine, MD Anderson Cancer Center, and others, providing organs for specialized training — and the more they expand, the more they're able to prepare doctors for invasive, sometimes dangerous procedures.

"There are over 400,000 deaths annually in the U.S. due to medical error," Smriti says. "Not all of them are due to surgical mistakes, but all of these, nonetheless, were preventable."

The models can also be used for explaining to patients in a visual way what surgeries they're about to receive — the black and grey smears on an MRI scan might not actually help a patient understand much about what a surgeon is going to do to their body. In 2018, Lazarus3D won a contest with NASA on the potential for 3D printing organs in space, so that major surgeries might be performed there. And the printed organs can also be used by researchers to safely develop new surgery methods.

This year, the company grew to seven people and aims to expand even more to add to its sales and manufacturing teams. Having been funded mostly by friends and family investors, Lazarus3D plans enter its first equity round this year. They're raising $6 million.

"Every generation in medicine, people look back at what was done before and think 'Man, that was barbaric,'" Jacques said. "Fifty years from now, we're going to look back and think, 'Man, back then we used to just give someone a patient to learn how to do physical skills on? That seems crazy.'"

Houston is one of only five WeWork Labs markets that can expect access to 3D printers as a part of a pilot program with two companies. Courtesy of WeWork

WeWork selects Houston as one of its markets for a 3D printing pilot program

press print

WeWork has teamed up with two leading 3D printing companies to bring their technology into five WeWork Labs markets — including Houston's downtown location. The other locations tapped for the pilot program are London, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.

Massachusetts-based Formlabs' Form 2 printer has over 20 different material resins WeWork Labs members can use to prototype and print products using desktop stereolithography.

"Formlabs was founded eight years ago on the basis of empowering anyone to make anything," says Max Lobovsky, CEO and co-founder of Formlabs in a release. "Today, our customers have printed more than 40 million parts, they vary from early stage entrepreneurs changing the status quo and developing new applications to Fortune 500s experimenting with new business models or production methods."

The other company involved in the program is Seattle-based Glowforge, which created a 3D laser printer. Glowforge Plus uses subtractive laser technology to cut and sculpt projects from materials like wood, leather, acrylic, stone — and even stickers. The company, which was founded in 2014, has had over three million prints on its devices — everything from jewelry and clothing to machinery.

"We are thrilled to partner with WeWork Labs to provide their community of entrepreneurs and startups alike access to the tools that will help them create corporate giveaways, new product prototypes, and full production runs — everything to take their dreams from idea to creation," says Dan Shapiro, CEO of Glowforge, in the release.

The printers will be revealed at various launch events celebrating the National Week of Making, which begins June 21 and goes through June 27. Houston's launch event will be on June 28, but the specifics have not yet been finalized.

"We see WeWork Labs as a platform for creators, innovators and makers alike, and believe partnering with Glowforge and Formlabs will give our members even more of an opportunity to take their ideas, and bring them to life," says Katie Perkins, creative director at WeWork Labs, in the release. "We are incredibly excited to welcome two leading brands and their products into our community, giving creators access to the tools they need and inspiring new creators to be makers themselves."

Houston's WeWork Labs program launched in March in the WeWork Jones Building at 708 Main St. and includes a partnership with local digital startup resource, Alice. The WeWork Labs program started a little over a year ago and is already in over 30 markets worldwide.

"As the fourth largest city, Houston is in a unique position to launch high-impact startups," says Houston Labs Manager Carlos Estrada, in a previous release. "We see WeWork Labs in Houston as a tremendous platform for innovation, as our founder-focused approach to supporting early-stage startups will nurture and accelerate the work of entrepreneurs to scale their solutions to today's biggest challenges."

Form 2

Courtesy of WeWork

Using 20 types of resin materials, Formlabs' Form 2 can create parts or prototypes.

A Houston company just opened a new factory and community space, allowing anyone in the community access to 3D printing. Courtesy of re:3D

3D printing company opens new space in the Houston area

Press print

You now have access to large-scale 3D printers, thanks to re:3D. The Houston company opened its community space in its factory located next to the NASA Johnson Space Center in southeast Houston.

The company makes an affordable and customizable 3D printer, called the Gigabot, and has clients across industries in over 50 countries. Recently, re:3D introduced sustainable options, including printing using plastic waste. The 7,000-square-foot space opened to the public on Saturday, April 13, with free tours and mingling.

This unveiled area allows for anyone in the community to learn about the 3D printing process, tour the facility, attend social events or workshops, or even buy a printer or some of the company's merchandise.

"re:3D couldn't be more thrilled to connect with our neighbors and share our desire to grow in Houston," says Co-Founder and Catalyst Samantha Snabes in a release. "In addition to offering regular classes and tours, we're seeking feedback on how we support innovation in Houston whether it be partnerships, cross-activations, meetups or other creative connections."

re:3D launched in 2013 — Snabes and her co-founder, Matthew Fiedler, were involved at NASA before founding the company. The company hasn't taken any investment money and has bootstrapped for the most part, receiving $1 million from WeWork's Creator Award, a $250,000 NSF Phase I Grant, and some other pitch competitions. The team also received $40,000 equity-free funding from Parallel18 and $40,000 from Startup Chile. Last year, the company, which has a presence in Austin and completed MassChallenge Texas. The company has raised over $300,000 in a couple Kickstarter campaigns over the years.

The company's printer, called the Gigabot, is on display and able to be used in the newly opened space. Courtesy of re:3D

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TMCx names 9 health tech startups to its 2020 cohort

X-CITING NEWS

Now, more than ever, is time to think about the future of health care. Lucky for the Texas Medical Center, they've been doing that for years with their accelerator program, TMCx, which has just announced its latest cohort of health tech startups.

After redesigning the program, TMCx has been reimagined to better connect the startups and technology to TMC's member institutions. New this year was a bootcamp, in which 19 companies were invited to the TMC Innovation Institute in February to engage in programming with the TMCx team and TMC members.

"Bootcamp went off without a hitch," says Lance Black, associate director of TMCx, on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the companies all got something meaningful out of it and we were actually very surprised with the reaction and response we got from our member institutions."

The goal of the bootcamp was to connect the 19 potential cohort members to the TMC community to see which companies the health care institutions gravitated toward for potential relationships, such as a pilot program, clinical trial, or a joint development opportunity, for instance, Black says on the episode.

Black says his team took into consideration all of the feedback and selected nine startups to be a part of the cohort. At this point, with the COVID-19-caused travel issues and closures, face-to-face interaction in the program has been postponed, but the accelerator will start of virtually.

"Out of respect for our hospitals and member institutions, we want to delay the physical presence of the companies in Houston," Black says in the episode. "But that doesn't mean we're not able to call or virtually meet with the companies. There's a lot of pre-work we can do in order to prep the companies appropriately so that when they do have meetings face to face, they can put their best foot forward."

Here are the nine startups selected to be a part of the TMCx 2020 cohort:

  • San Francisco-based Atlas Health — connecting patients with payment resources
  • San Francisco-based DeepScribe — autonomous medical scribe
  • Los Angeles-based Elly Health — live healthier through positivity
  • San Francisco-based Ferrum Health — reduce preventable medical errors
  • Toronto-based HelpWear — clinical grade wearable heart monitor
  • London-based Lantum — total workforce solution for healthcare
  • Denver-based Manatee — connected, everyday therapy for kids
  • Copenhagen-based Radiobotics — automate analysis of routine medical X-rays
  • Evanston, Illinois-based Rhaeos — wearable shunt monitor (Rhaeos previously won fourth place in the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.)

Another major Houston conference cancels due to COVID-19

OTC offline

First, CERAWeek announced it would not take place in early March — and SWSW followed suit, as did Rodeo Houston. The spiral of canceled events and conferences continues as the annual Offshore Technology Conference has been canceled.

Every year in Houston, thousands of visitors from some 100 countries around the world descend on NRG Park for the massive expo, which has been a mainstay since 1969, attracted more than 60,000 attendees two years ago, along with more than 2,300 exhibitors — all who come to celebrate the oil and gas industry and its impact on the local economy.

The annual oil and gas event is a significant boon to the local economy, as industry regulars, investors, and entrepreneurs pack our hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The OTC has spawned OTC Brazil, OTC Asia, and even the Arctic Technology Conference. The event has been dubbed the "South by Southwest for offshore" by local insiders.

But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at OTC announced that the 2020 conference — initially postponed until August or September — is canceled. Organizers, already looking ahead, have announced that plans will commence for OTC 2021 in Houston from May 3-6, 2021.

"Amid continued health and travel concerns during this uncertain time, the OTC Board of Directors felt this decision was the most feasible and responsible for staff, exhibitors, partners, attendees, and the Houston community," organizers said, in a release.

"As we navigate these difficult and uncertain times, it is with a heavy heart that the OTC Board of Directors has determined that it is in our best interest to cancel OTC 2020. Our priority is the health and safety of our attendees and exhibitors, and we have taken federal, state, and local guidelines into account in making our decision," said Cindy Yeilding, OTC chairperson, in a statement.

For those involved in the conference, a call for papers will be open on May 28. Event updates will be posted on the official website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's Houston innovators to know include a blockchain expert with insight on how COVID-19 is affecting supply chain, a Houston tech leader with a logistics software solution, and a streamable story on cancer treatment innovation.

Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Topl

Photo courtesy of Topl

Amid the negativity the COVID-19 news, one Houston startup had an exciting announcement. It reworked its C-suite and Kim Raath, who just finished Ph.D in statistics and a Master's in economics at Rice University, has transitioned into the CEO role. Raath and her co-founders, James Aman and Chris Georgen, recently convened to re-envision the company's next phase.

"It was definitely a cool experience for us as founders to go through together, but I'm glad that all three of us came out of this excited about what we're doing moving forward," says Raath. Read more.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne

Photo courtesy of ChaiOne

Houston tech company ChaiOne recently announced the soft launch of Velostics, the "slack" for logistics that solve wait times and cash flow challenges in the supply chain and logistics industry. The digital logistics platform is set to aid the struggling supply chain as surging demands stretch suppliers, offering their platform free for 60 days.

"At ChaiOne we have a history of helping Houstonians whenever disaster strikes," says CEO and founder, Gaurav Khandelwal. "We created a disaster connect app during Hurricane Harvey for free that connected people with the resources they need. Velostics by pure happenstance happened to be ready for situations like [the coronavirus] when there's a lot of parties that need to collaborate." Read more.

James Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jim Allison MD Anderson

Photo courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center

In a time when our health care heroes are serving on the front lines of the coronavirus, it's a great reminder of the work they all do round — from the research labs and academic institutions to the patient rooms. Jim Allison, a researcher in immunotherapy for MD Anderson Cancer Center recently took home the Nobel Prize for his work. He went on to be the subject of a documentary that premiered at SXSW last year, and that film will be coming to a TV near you.

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App. Read more.