This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Alessio Lorusso of Roboze, Tobi Smith of All I Do Is Cook, and Pradeep Sharma of the University of Houston. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from 3D printing to food and cooking — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze

Alessio Lorusso joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss why he chose Houston to set up U.S. operations for his large-scale 3D printing company, and how the city has the potential to become a hub for the industry. Photo via LinkedIn

The hit the pandemic has had on the global supply chain has been a huge hit to so many companies. However, one Italian company with its United States headquarters in Houston, has an alternative for customers — large scale, in-house production. Roboze, which recently completed a multimillion-dollar fundraise, has seen explosive growth due in large part to how COVID-19 has affected the global supply chain over this past two years.

"This was an incredible accelerator for us," says Alessio Lorusso, CEO and founder, on the Houston Innovators Podcast. He adds that, while Roboze has attracted large corporate customers, the business is seeing growth in the small to mid-sized company sector.

"The moment is now," Lorusso says. "The time to integrate printing capabilities and have the possibility to print parts in house is something that needs to be done now." Click here to read more and listen to the podcast.

Tobi Smith, founder of All I Do Is Cook

All I Do Is Cook is on a mission to grow accessibility to Nigerian dishes. Image via allidoiscook.com

Tobi Smith wanted to take his business to the next level — and he found the perfect opportunity to do so. After completing the gBETA accelerator program and winning the grand prize in the ClearCo ClearPitch competition, Smith and his business partner Bethany Oyefeso are transitioning their small business, All I Do Is Cook, into a startup with the ultimate goal of making Nigerian food accessible to everybody.

Smith and Oyefeso came one step closer to that goal when Phoencia, a Houston grocery story, started stocking the startup's condiments in 2021. In that same year, Smith and Oyefesso joined the gBETA accelerator program. Smith described this program as being instrumental in the advancement of their company from a small business to a start up, now at the beginning of their pre-seed funding phase.

“They taught us everything about what it meant to be a start up and connected us with mentors and other individuals working in the food and beverage space,” says Smith. Click here to read more.

Pradeep Sharma, engineering department chair at the University of Houston

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair at the University of Houston, was named to the National Academy of Engineering. Photo via uh.edu

The National Academy of Engineering elected its new members, and five local scientists are among the new 133-person cohort — as is Elon Musk, if you were wondering. The appointment is among the highest professional distinctions in an engineer's career.

Pradeep Sharma, M.D. Anderson Chair Professor and department chair, Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Houston, was recognized for establishing the field of flexoelectricity, leading to the creation of novel materials and devices and insights in biophysical phenomena.

“Nature has provided us very few piezoelectric materials even though their applications in energy harvesting and in making sensors is very important. What we did was use theory to design materials that perform like piezoelectric ones, so that they can create electricity,” says Sharma in the release. Click here to read more.

Alessio Lorusso joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss why he chose Houston to set up U.S. operations for his large-scale 3D printing company, and how the city has the potential to become a hub for the industry. Photo via LinkedIn

Why this innovator wants to make Houston a hub for 3D printing

Houston innovators podcast episode 121

When Alessio Lorusso founded his company in 2014, he saw a huge gap in the 3D printing market — and he wanted to be the person to fill it.

Lorusso, CEO and founder of Roboze, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast, that historically 3D printing has been used for prototypes and testing, before companies decide to turn to larger scale manufacturing — typically done overseas.

"I thought at that time — and still today — that 3D printing needed to demonstrate that it was a real capable technology to produce and use parts instead of prototypes," Lorusso says. "This was my goal — and still is my goal — to bring this technology to the production shop floor."

Now, Roboze works with companies to put their large-scale 3D printer on site to support in-house part and tool creation. Roboze's technology, the ARGO 1000 has the ability to produce parts up to one cubic meter — about 40 inches by 40 inches by 40 inches. This size of output allows for on-demand manufacturing at scale. Additionally, the device uses more sustainable and high-performing super polymers and composites such as PEEK, Carbon PEEK and ULTEM ™ AM9085F.

"We are helping our customers to digitize their inventory," Lorusso says on the podcast, "but this is much more than 3D printing. This is supply chain reshaping. This is a production reshoring."

Roboze, which recently completed a multimillion-dollar fundraise, has seen explosive growth due in large part to how COVID-19 has affected the global supply chain over this past two years.

"This was an incredible accelerator for us," he says, adding that, while Roboze has attracted large corporate customers, the business is seeing growth in the small to mid-sized company sector.

"The moment is now," Lorusso says. "The time to integrate printing capabilities and have the possibility to print parts in house is something that needs to be done now."

Roboze set up its United States headquarters in Houston in the summer of 2020, and has hit the ground running in terms of connecting to the ecosystem. Lorusso observes that some of the city's key industries — health care, aerospace, energy, and transportation — are all ripe for disruption by 3D printing — and by Roboze specifically.

"We are super committed in making Houston one of the most important cities in the U.S. for 3D printing. What we are trying to create is an ecosystem in the city," he says. "There is an incredible potential."

Lorusso shares more on where he sees the future of 3D printing heading and why he's committed to Houston on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Roboze has closed its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of Roboze

Houston 3D printing company closes latest round of funding, plans to hire

money moves

Roboze — an Italian high-performance 3D printing company with its U.S. headquarters in Houston — closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding this month with investments from an international group of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Investors include Nova Capital, Lagfin, Andrea Guerra, Luigi De Vecchi, Roberto Ferraresi, Luca Giacometti, Denis Faccioli and others, according to a statement.

“We are honored to have a group of investors of this caliber, who strongly believe in the vision of Roboze and in the change of production paradigm that our technology is enabling by replacing metals and producing parts without wasting raw materials," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, said in a statement.

Roboze aims to put the funds towards the research and development of a new "super material" developed in the company's R&D facility in Italy, where the company is also building a new chemistry lab.

The company added that it will also be implementing an aggressive hiring plan in 2022, hiring 60 experts in the next 12 to 18 months in fields such as materials science, chemistry, business development, aerospace, medical devices, and field and applications engineering. Half of the new jobs will be based in the U.S. while the others are slated to be located in Italy and Germany.

Roboze specializes in manufacturing industrial 3D printing technology, such as its ARGO1000, which the company says is the largest printer of its kind. Through a process called Metal Replacement 3D Printing, the company uses super polymers and composites like PEEK and Carbon PEEK to create large-scale, end-use parts for an array of industries—from aeronautics equipment to medical manufacturing.

The company currently works with GE, Bosch, and Airbus, among others, and announced in the statement that manufacturing giant Siemens Energy acquired its first 3D printer from the company.

"We think additive manufacturing is playing a key role in digitalization and cost out in the energy sector. At Siemens Energy we evaluated many companies and found that Roboze technology for high temperature polymers has met our engineering qualification and expectations," Andrew Bridges, Service Frame Owner at Siemens Energy, said in a statement. "As a result, we acquired our first machine and look forward to expanding our relationship with Roboze."

An Italian company has moved in on Houston. In an op-ed, the company's founder shares why he bet on the Bayou City. Photo via Getty Images

Why this Italian tech company is betting on Houston

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Roboze's latest technology is the biggest on the market. Image courtesy of Roboze

Tech company unveils the 'world's largest 3D printer' in Houston

Texas sized

An Italian company that specializes in manufacturing industrial 3D printing technology has released the largest 3D printer on the market. And the company, which has its North American headquarters in Houston, chose the Bayou City to go live with the innovative product.

Roboze revealed the ARGO 1000 — a 3D printer that Roboze is calling the biggest in the world — which will be available for commercial distribution in 2022. The device has a heated chamber designed to produce large-scale parts with super polymers and composites for industrial applications, according to a news release.

"After years of specializing in super polymers and high-temperature composites and paving the future of industrial 3D printing, we are excited to introduce our flagship Production Series solution, ARGO 1000," says Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, in the release. "Since we announced the opening of our new headquarters in North America earlier this year, we have grown our global customer base and invested in R&D to fulfill customer demand for a much larger 3D heated chamber super polymer printer."

Roboze announced its U.S. HQ just over a year ago. The company told InnovationMap that the new office was intended to grow Roboze's presence in oil and gas. The new industrial-sized printer too will impact the company's presence in the energy industry, as well as aerospace, transportation, medical, and automotive.

The ARGO 1000 has the ability to produce parts up to one cubic meter — about 40 inches by 40 inches by 40 inches. This size of output allows for on-demand manufacturing at scale. Additionally, the device uses more sustainable and high-performing super polymers and composites such as PEEK, Carbon PEEK and ULTEM ™ AM9085F, per the release.

The company's technology, including its industrial automation system and proprietary gear-based (beltless) technology, also allows for the production of parts that are six times more precise than those made with belt-driven printers, reports the release.

"We have gone far beyond prototypes and are now building custom components for miniature satellites, gears for military-grade vessels, and parts for companies developing the nation's sustainable infrastructure," says Lorusso in the release. "Our technologies ensure precise process control is maintained through the automation of every setting and calibration phase, resulting in continuous accuracy, repeatability, and the certification of every single part produced."

Last year, Roboze announced its American headquarters in Houston. Now the company is announcing something big. Photo courtesy of Roboze

Growing Italian company with U.S. HQ in Houston launches new industrial-scale 3D printing

bigger in texas

An Italian-American manufacturer of 3D parts and printers with its U.S. headquarters in Houston is touting what's billed as a first-of-its-kind innovation — an innovation that's helping drive the need for more local workers.

Roboze recently introduced Roboze Automate, and it's being promoted as the world's first industrial automation system to bring customized 3D printing with super polymers and composites into the production workflow.

"As the need for strong, resilient infrastructure in the U.S. and around the world continues to climb, we are bringing 3D manufacturing to a new level of consistency, repeatability, and process control and production speed," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, says in an April 12 news release. "Our components-as-a-service approach is upending error-ridden manufacturing fluctuations and materials shortages to support true industrial-scale 3D manufacturing."

Roboze cranks out 3D-printed parts for customers in industries like aerospace and aviation, energy, oil and gas, transportation, defense, and research. It also sells 3D printers to industrial users. Among its customers are aerospace giant Airbus, appliance manufacturer Bosch, industrial conglomerate GE, defense contractor Leonardo, Pennsylvania State University, consumer electronics titan Sony, the U.S. Army, and the University of Colorado.

Last year, Roboze announced it was establishing its U.S. headquarters in Houston to support its U.S. rollout. The company employs 10 people in the U.S. The local operation, at 7934 Breen Dr. in Northwest Houston, features more than 20 industrial-scale 3D printers.

In February, Roboze said it plans to add 100 employees in the U.S. within the next two years; 30 of those new hires are expected to join the company this spring. The new employees will work in areas such as engineering, sales, and marketing. As of April 13, the Roboze website listed a dozen job openings in Houston and nine in Italy. Around the world, Roboze employs nearly 100 people.

"Houston ranks as one of the top U.S. cities for manufacturing plants and industrial employment, and [is] home to exciting scientific initiatives at the Houston Spaceport and Rice University," Lorusso, who now lives in Houston, said in February.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

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.