Four Houston accelerators will be working together this summer to advance nearly 30 university-associated startups. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston and Rice University have announced the cohorts for their summer accelerators that advance university-founded startups and small businesses.

The two schools run four programs in tandem with each other every summer for about a decade. There are nearly 30 companies this year being accelerated across the four programs, which are:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • UH's RED Labs is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small businesses.
  • UH's RED Launch is focused on non-tech small businesses.

"A very cool part of the program is that we partner every summer with Rice University's OwlSpark and Blue Launch," says Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg, managing director of RED Labs. "It creates this really incredible network across the universities and allows both schools to bolster and benefit from each other.

"We share staff, we share mentors, we share speakers, we co-host the demo day, and we even share the catering bill," she continues. "It's a really special part of the program that I think has brought endless value to the founders, the universities, and Houston."

The 12-week program takes each of the teams — all of which have a university-affiliated founder, from undergrad to faculty — through key programming and mentorship. The final event includes a pitch day, called the Bayou Startup Showcase, where all of the companies share their business plans they've created through the program.

“I’m excited to support these new ventures with highly curated offerings and rich mentorship, propelling them to commercial success,” said Jessica Fleenor, managing director of BlueLaunch and OwlSpark. "We have built a long-standing culture of advocacy and collaboration, and look forward to upholding that in our largest cohort to date."

The selected companies for the four programs are as follows.

RED Labs (cohort 11)

  • We Felt It 3-D prints customized modifications to mobility devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs that maximizes comfort during use.
  • Zoop makes nutrition easy, clean and sustainable smoothie premixes which can be consumed anywhere and anytime by just mixing it with any of the preferred mixer (Water, Vegan milk, Milk, etc.)
  • Orbit is an application that allows users to understand the stock market through practice and training.
  • Team X is creating a company around nanoporous membrane technologies that recovers metals from wastewater and brine.

OwlSpark (cohort 11)

  • Terradote will manufacture cost-competitive, petroleum-free chemicals using captured carbon dioxide, methane and renewable bio-based materials.
  • Biomethanator’s biofilm bioreactors utilize biomethanation to convert industrial-waste carbon dioxide to methane, which can be used as fuel or in other industrial applications.
  • TaurusVascular is developing a minimally invasive catheter for addressing the most pressing complication of endovascular aortic aneurysm repair: endoleaks.
  • Voythos offers a mobile physician companion that monitors electronic medical records, prompting action and initiating care workflows.
  • AiKYNETIX is developing a video analytics platform for human motion insights, focusing on a mobile running lab for runners and coaches.
  • AllStars is building an affect-sensitive educational tool for self-studying and blended classroom learning.
  • EurekaHub is developing a marketplace where data and research scientists can publish, manage, share and revise analytical models for data sets across diverse applications.
  • ScoutBetter is an end-to-end recruiting platform that connects students with corporate campuses and provides recruiters access to university talent.

RED Launch (cohort 2)

  • CurioSweets is a vegan dessert brand that provides wholesale desserts and services including: consultation; recipe development; and contract baking of their product.
  • SpaceCityVinyl is a vehicle wrapping business that offers a quick and non permanent color change of vehicles.
  • Venus by Design is a handmade jewelry company
  • First Byte Digital consulting firm that helps mom and pop restaurants and non-profits establish a robust online presence by offering a wide range of digital conversion services.
  • 2tinys designs, prints, and cuts stickers with the plan of expanding into art prints and stationery items.
  • Lacey's Art paints dog portrait artwork. They partner with shelters to find models (and provide some help to getting the dog adopted), and then sells the prints.

BlueLaunch (cohort 2)

  • Archway Family Medicine provides medical care to patients through a monthly membership model known as direct primary care.
  • rdy helps communities recover from disasters faster and more equitably by working with local organizations to plan for them.
  • 610Smokehouse is a mobile food service and catering company that serves “Texan Fusion,” a unique cuisine that combines traditional Texas barbecue with diverse Houston food.
  • SerendipityPicnic is a unique picnic with all the goodies and essentials wrapped in a beautiful, lightweight, easy-to-carry and reusable “BlanKIT.”
  • La Mer Macaron offers an assortment of homemade French macarons.
  • TenTwelve provides residential construction and remodeling services.
  • DHA America customizes, designs and sells powder-coated and galvanized fence panels, posts and accessories.
  • All About Baby provides bespoke tableware for babies transitioning to solid foods.
  • MeowPlanet is opening a cat lounge.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.