Meet MIA — Houston Methodist's new voice technology assistant. Photo via Getty Images

Hey, MIA. Start surgery.

These are the words Houston doctors are learning to say in the operating rooms, thanks to a first-of-its-kind voice technology developed by the Houston Methodist's Center for Innovation in collaboration with Amazon Web Services. In the same way we use programs like Alexa or Siri to make our everyday tasks easier, the Methodist Intelligent Automation, or MIA, is allowing medical professionals to improve the way they interact both with technology and patients alike.

"There's been a push in the industry for a long time that people sitting behind computers and typing and staring at a computer screen is inadequate," says Houston Methodist Chief Innovation Officer Roberta Schwartz. "There's been a desire to return people back to each other rather than physicians and look at a screen and patients look at a doctor looking at a screen."

Currently in its pilot phase, MIA is working to do just that through two key functions that shift the way medical professionals work in what Schwartz calls the "era of electronic medical records."

The first is through operating room voice commands. Here medical professionals can run through a series or checklists and initiate important actions, such as starting timers or reviewing time of anesthesia, through voice instead of by typing or clicking, which can become cumbersome during lengthy and highly detailed surgeries. Information is displayed on a large 80-inch TV in the operating suite and following surgery all of the data captured is imported into the traditional EMR program. The technology has been prototyped in two Houston Methodist O.R. suites so far and the hub aims to trial it in a simulation surgery by the end of the year.

Additionally, the hub is developing ambient listening technology to be used in a clinical setting with the same goal. Houston Methodist and AWS have partnered with Dallas-based Pariveda to create specialized hardware that (after gaining patient permission) will listen into doctor-patient conversations, transcribe the interaction, and draft a note that is then coded and imported directly into the EMR.

"For EMR the feedback is that it's clunky, it's click-heavy, it's very task oriented," says Josh Sol, who leads digital and clinical innovation for Houston Methodist. "Our goal with the Center for Innovation and this technology hub is to really transform that terminology and bring back this collaboration and the patient-physician relationship by removing the computer but still capturing all the pertinent information."

The ambient listening technology is further off and is currently in user acceptance testing with clinicians.

"They've had some great feedback, whether it's changing how the note is created, changing the look and feel of the application itself," Sol adds. "All feedback is good feedback at this point. So we've taken it in, we prioritize the work, and we continue to improve the application."

And the hub doesn't plan to stop there. Schwartz and Sol agree that the next step for this type of medical technology will be patient facing. They envision that in the near future appointment or surgery prep can be done through Alexa push notifications and medication reminders or follow up assessments could be done via voice applications.

"It's all going to be of tremendous value and it's coming," Schwartz says. "We may be taking the first baby steps, but each one of these voice technologies for our patients is out there on the horizon."

Houston usurped the Dallas metro to grab the No. 2 ranking in the United States for big cities attracting corporate relocation and expansion projects. Getty Images

Report: Houston ranked No. 2 in the country for corporate relocation, expansion projects landed in 2019

big business

In Texas, Houston rules the corporate relocation and expansion kingdom.

Site Selection magazine ranks Houston second among large U.S. metro areas for the number of corporate relocation and expansion projects landed in 2019. That's up two spots from the previous year's ranking.

On the new list, published in the magazine's March issue, Houston replaces Dallas-Fort Worth in the No. 2 spot among metros with at least 1 million residents, pushing DFW down to No. 3. Austin takes the No. 6 spot.

Last year, Houston landed 276 projects that met the magazine's ranking criteria. With 416 projects, Chicago earned the No. 1 spot. Dallas-Fort Worth scored 261 projects in 2019, while Austin snagged 95.

Qualifying projects for Site Selection's rankings must have a minimum investment of $1 million, create at least 20 new jobs, or involve at least 20,000 square feet of new space.

A couple of notable Houston corporate relocations or expansions in 2019 were:

"This latest ranking is more evidence of Houston's strength as a destination for corporate relocation and investment," Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership, says in a March 3 statement. "Our low cost of doing business, access to quality talent, and pro-growth mentality continue to make Houston an attractive place for companies across the country and around the world looking for expansion and relocation opportunities. Our strong, diverse economy is a big part of what makes Houston a great global city."

Commercial real estate services company Colliers International notes that Houston is one of the country's most competitive cities for corporate relocation and expansion.

"Houston's ability to foster continued expansion in future-growth industries responsible for generating high-quality, well-paid jobs across all business sectors has placed it in the top tier among U.S. cities," Colliers International says. "With its numerous business advantages, Houston is well positioned to successfully compete in today's global marketplace."

Among those advantages, Colliers says, are:

  • Two major airports
  • Massive seaport
  • Extensive rail and road infrastructure
  • 90 foreign consulates

In February 2019, René Lacerte, founder and CEO of Bill.com, said the Palo Alto, California-based company picked Houston for its first U.S. outpost following an "extensive national search." Bill.com settled on Houston because of its talent pool, quality of life, and business-friendly environment, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said the Bill.com expansion represents a "another great example of Houston's building momentum as a leading digital tech hub."

A second example is Amazon Web Services' July 2019 expansion in Houston. Kris Satterthwaite, the company's Gulf Coast enterprise sales leader, praised the city as "a fantastic place to live and work," and as having "a strong local economy that we look forward to investing in and growing together [with]."

The Houston-DFW-Austin trifecta of top-performing markets for corporate relocation and expansion in 2019 helped propel Texas to win Site Selection's Governor's Cup Award for the eighth consecutive year.

In accepting the award, Gov. Greg Abbott called Texas "the most dynamic economy in the nation."

"Texas' skilled, diverse, and ever-expanding workforce drives our booming economy," Abbott said. "I want to thank all of our local, regional and statewide economic development teams for their work to expand economic opportunity in Texas, as well as the companies that continue to invest and create more jobs throughout the Lone Star State."

Amazon has invested over $10 billion into Texas since 2010. Photo via blog.aboutamazon.com

Amazon opens newest Tech Hub in Houston and plans to hire

It's 'zon

A year and a half after Houston was left off the list of 20 cities Amazon was pursuing for its second United States headquarters, the tech giant chose the Bayou City to house its 18th North American Tech Hub.

Amazon opened the doors of the hub on Friday, July 26, in 25,000-square-feet of space in CITYCENTRE, and the company has plans to hire to round out its team of 150 Amazon Web Services employees to work out of the hub.

"We're looking forward to becoming a bigger part of the Houston community," says Kris Satterthwaite, Gulf Coast enterprise sales leader of AWS, in a release. "Houston is a fantastic place to live and work, and has a strong local economy that we look forward to investing in and growing together."

The city of Houston, along with the Greater Houston Partnership, has worked to make Houston appealing to big business and tech giants, says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the GHP.

"The expansion of Amazon's Houston workforce is indicative of a larger trend we are seeing of the major cloud players opting to locate their teams closer to their customers here in Houston," Davenport says in an email to InnovationMap. "Our energy, life sciences and manufacturing sectors are data-intensive, and this move makes a lot of sense. This is not the first, and I doubt it will be the last. A great portion of the digital tech industry's activity to this point has been focused on business-to-consumer, and is now shifting to business-to-business. Houston is largely a B2B city, so we stand to gain from this trend."

The Tech Hubs in North America have over 20,000 employees. Around 1,000 of those are from Amazon's Austin Tech Hub, which opened around four years ago and was recently announced to be in the process of expanding to include another 800 Austin employees, per the Wall Street Journal.

The company has invested $10 billion into Texas since 2010, according to the release, and Houston's diversity, universities, and quality of life were attractive to Amazon.

"Houston is such a culturally diverse city, with so many international companies based here," says Eddie Murray, global accounts lead, in a release. "We're excited to create great jobs and hire locally to boost the local economy while also giving back to the community through programs like Amazon Future Engineer."

The Amazon Future Engineer program is an initiative to help propel kids from under-served areas into careers in computer science. The program is in 35 Houston schools. Amazon also provided disaster relief aid after Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

"We have worked for the last couple of years to accelerate the growth of Houston's digital tech ecosystem, and we've got quite a bit of momentum with The Ion, TMC3, The Cannon, and so many others," Davenport adds. "The opening of Amazon's tech hub is another indicator of Houston's growing presence as an innovation-focused city."

TMCx is looking for members for its ninth cohort. Courtesy of TMCx

Houston software company raises $16.3 million, TMCx opens applications, and more innovation news

Short stories

From rounds closing to accelerator applications opening, there's a lot of Houston innovation news that might not have reached your radar. Here's a roundup of short stories within tech and innovation in the Bayou City.

Need more news rounded up for you? Subscribe to our daily newsletterthat sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

Houston software company closes a $16.3 million Series A

Industrial software

Innovapptive raised its round lead by a New York-based firm. Getty Images

Innovapptive, a software-as-a-service company with clients in industrial industries, announced it closed on a $16.3 million Series A investment led by New york-based Tiger Global Management LLC. The company will use the funds for continued global growth. As of the raise's completion, company's valuation is now more than $65 million.

"We are connecting the enterprise by providing a platform that improves real-time data collaboration and communications between the field and back office. The communications and collaboration data are captured and converted into executive insights for continuous workforce optimization," says Sundeep Ravande, CEO and co-founder of Innovapptive, in a press release. "This additional capital will allow us to accelerate our strategy and development to transform the digital experience of the industrial worker to help increase revenues and margins for our customers."

TMCx opens its medical device cohort applications

The deadline to apply for the next TMCx cohort is May 24. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has announced that TMCx's 2019 medical device cohort applications are now open. The deadline to apply is May 24, and selected companies will be notified by June 21. The program will run from August 5 to November 8th. For more information, click here.

Nesh closes Seed round of funding

Aristos Ventures lead the round for the Houston energy startup. Courtesy of Nesh

The Siri of oil and gas, Hello Nesh Inc, has raised its first round of funding thanks to seed funding from Aristos Ventures and a LOOP contract with Equinor Technology Ventures. The funding will be used for new hires and expansion plans.

"Securing LOOP funding from ETV and seed funding from Aristos provides us with a unique mix of strategic knowledge and domain expertise, coupled with investment experience in digital technologies, artificial intelligence, and SaaS," says co-founder and CEO of Nesh, Sidd Gupta in a release. "This will enable us to further build Nesh's petrotechnical and natural language understanding and scale our business in the North America market."

ETV has chosen not to disclose the dollar amount of the round, however last fall Gupta at the Texas Digital Summit, Gupta announced that the company was seeking to close a $800,000 seed round. Read more about the company here.

Shell Oil Co. gives $2.5M to fund research, inform public policy at Rice University’s Baker Institute

Shell and Rice University have entered a partnership.Courtesy of Rice University

Following a $2.5 million commitment from Shell Oil Co., the Center for Energy Studies at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy has announced five-year research program to study the global energy system — including the policies, regulations, geopolitical forces, market developments and technologies.

"We are grateful for Shell's commitment to advancing the study of critical energy issues affecting our region, the nation and the world," says Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian in a release. "This partnership with Shell furthers our mission to provide unbiased, data-driven analysis of factors that will shape our energy future with the aim of engaging policymakers, corporate leaders and the general public with the results."

Texas improves its ranking as an innovative state

The Lone Star State is moving on up as an innovative state. Getty Images

Texas is slowly but surely moving on up as an innovative state. According to Bloomberg's newest U.S. State Innovation Index, Texas is the 17th best state for innovation. The study factors in six metrics: research and development intensity, productivity, clusters of companies in technology, "STEM" jobs, populous with degrees in science and engineering disciplines, and patent activity. Last year, the study found Texas at the No. 19 spot.

Texas' score was 60.1 — which is just over a point's difference from being in the top 15. It's also worth noting that the Lone Star State is the highest ranked in the south.

"What is most important is the construction and catalyzation of super vibrant advanced industry sectors and clusters in a state," says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings, a think tank in Washington DC, to Bloomberg. "Commercialization has not been a top priority of universities in the heartland, especially in the South."

Houston companies take home Napier Rice Launch Challenge prizes

Abbey Donnell's startup, Work & Mother, won the award for the Best Alumni team at the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge at Rice University. Courtesy of Work & Mother

On April 4, 10 teams competed in the H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge at Rice University. Here are the Rice University alumni- and student-led companies that won awards.

  • LilySpec took home $2,500 as the Audience Favorite award winner.
  • CardStock Exchange won $12,500 in the Best Undergraduate category.
  • WellWorth walked away with $12,500 as the Best Graduate team winner.
  • Abbey Donnell, founder of Work & Mother, took home first place the Best Alumni category — along with $12,500.
  • UrinControl was the Grand Prize winner and scored $20,000.

BBL reverse pitch contest extends deadline

The deadline for a new pitch competition with ExxonMobil and BBL Ventures has been extended. Getty Images

BBL Ventures, which announced its reverse pitch competition with ExxonMobil earlier this year, has extended the challenge deadline to May 13.

"BBL Ventures is excited to be working with a forward-thinking partner like ExxonMobil, engaging the external innovation ecosystem is a key step in advancing the energy industry's continued success," says Patrick Lewis, managing partner of BBL Ventures, in a release. Full details for the competition are available here.

Startup Grind Houston is calling all female founders

pitch

Calling all female founders. Getty Images

Houston's Startup Grind chapter announced a female founder pitch event on May 2 at the TMC Innovation Institute. The organization is calling for teams to pitch at the event. The deadline to apply is April 23 at 5 pm.

Click here to nominate yourself or someone else for the pitch.

Sysco invites UH tech students to first-ever UHacks Hackathon competition

Sysco and AWS are teaming up for a hackathon. Getty Images

Houston-based Sysco Corp. — along with Amazon Web Services — is hosting its first-ever, university student-led hackathon event. The one-day competition takes place on Friday, April 19, from 8 am to 5 pm at the new Houston office of AWS ( 825 Town & Country Lane, 10th floor).

The student teams with focus on four hypothetical themes in Sysco's business landscape, including a spend management platform enhancing the customer shopping experience, identifying locally grown foods, proof of purchase technology, and a "best before" portal to streamline expiration data.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Greentown Houston announces plans for wet lab, calls for feedback from members

seeing green

Greentown Houston has announced it's building a new wet lab facility — but first, they need some help from the community.

Greentown Labs, which is dual located at their headquarters in Somerville, Massachusetts, and in the Ion District in Houston, has announced that they are building out a wet lab in their Midtown space.

"We have heard from several startups as well as corporate partners in the ecosystem that are looking for wet lab space," says Lara Cottingham, vice president of strategy, policy, and climate impact at Greentown Labs. "Greentown has experience running wet labs from our location in Somerville. We're excited to be able to offer wet lab space to climatetech startups as an additional amenity to the Ion District.

Although Greentown's Boston-area location has wet lab space, Cottingham says the organization is not interested in copying and pasting that same facility. Greentown wants to provide the tools that the Houston ecosystem needs, and that requires getting feedback from its current and potential members.

"We want to announce to the community that this is something we're going to build — but we still need a lot of feedback and input from startups so we can learn what exactly they need or want to see from the wet lab," Cottingham tells InnovationMap. "No two wet labs are the same."

Right now, there aren't any details available about timeline or specifics of the new facility. Greentown is prioritizing getting feedback from its members and having conversations with potential sponsors and corporate partners.

"Corporate partners are a big part of the ecosystem and the community at Greentown. They can be so many things to our startups — mentors, customers, investors," Cottingham says. "And in this space, they can help us sponsor and financially support the wet lab. We're still fundraising — we have some partners that have committed to funding, but we're still looking for more funding."

In addition to monetary contribution, Cottingham says they are looking for other options as well, from partnerships with equipment providers, hazardous materials management, and more.

Startups that need wet lab space are encouraged to fill out the online form, which will be open through the summer, and potential corporate partners can express their interest online as well.

Greentown Houston opened its doors in 2021 and has since grown to house more than 75 energy and climatetech startups, as well as several accelerators, thanks to support from dozens of corporate partners.

Recently acquired Houston hospitality tech company continues to expand following fresh funding

tech growth

Houston-based HungerRush, which is a point-of-sale system that includes payment-processing, digital ordering, customer engagement, and delivery management, continues to spread its impact to businesses big and small.

A New York private equity firm, Corsair Capital, saw the potential for the cloud-based POS software and purchased a majority stake in HungerRush last summer. In 2022, HungerRush was on target to reach $100 million in recurring revenue according to The Deal.

HungerRush aims to serve an industry that according to the tech company, 80 percent think technology is the way to go to assist restaurants with labor shortages and other barriers. HungerRush acquired artificial intelligence text ordering app OrderAI, ordering and marketing company 9Fold LLC and Menufy.com over the past two years to grow its reach.

In the first quarter, the company introduced a comprehensive all-in-one POS system bundle designed to meet the needs of independent operators (IOs), with the overall goal of providing a tech stack to transform the experiences of both restaurant staff and customers. Their partnership with Menufy, which helps IOs drive both growth and profitability through an online website and mobile app ordering experience and currently serves over 15,000 restaurants across the US market, has helped to deliver the transformed IO experience to pizza restaurants and our offerings have quickly expanded to serve Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants as well.

One of the businesses seeing the benefits of platforms like HungerRush is Little Pop’s Pizzeria, which is a Naperville, Illinois-based pizza spot that uses the HungerRush to communicate to help the small business keep up with the large demands of the Chicagoland suburbs.The app’s help has led to substantial business growth.

“Thanks to having 5,000 loyalty program customers stored in HungerRush, we were able to quickly communicate the new curbside pickup and no contact delivery options,” says HungerRush user Mike Nelson of Little Pop’s Pizzeria. “Getting the word out through email and Facebook has increased our business by 75 percent.”

HungerRush continues to flourish in a crowded marketspace, which Chief Revenue Officer Olivier Thierry attributes to the platform’s accessibility to the audience and variety of features.

“While speaking to small business restaurant owners, we continued to hear the unique challenges they faced around having to navigate multiple delivery app interfaces, labor scheduling solutions, and other tools – resulting in many ending the month under their goal quotas, “ Thierry says. “Our tech tools arm our IOs to be able to manage omnichannel ordering, inventory, loyalty programs, and labor scheduling - but most importantly, support them where they need it the most to be successful in today’s digital world.”

Expert: Houston has potential to be a major hub for life sciences — if it addresses these concerns

guest column

Once upon a time in Houston, a promising startup, let’s call it BioMatrix, set out to revolutionize the world of biomaterials. Their groundbreaking product held immense potential, but the company faced the harsh reality of a lack of funding, resources, and talent in their local life sciences sector.

As they watched well-funded competitors in established hubs like Boston and Silicon Valley flourish, the passionate team at BioMatrix persevered, determined to overcome these challenges, and make their mark in the rapidly evolving world of MedTech and life sciences. But would they ultimately move to a richer life science hub?

Over the years, Houston has emerged as a life sciences hub, fueled by the world's largest medical center, Texas Medical Center, and an expanding network of research institutions, startups, and investors. However, despite all its potential, the city still lags other innovation hubs and isn’t included in many of the lists for top life science ecosystems. The challenges are many-fold, but some primary challenges are associated with lack of capital, trouble with talent acquisition, and weak collaboration.

Despite an uptick in venture capital funding, Houston's life sciences sector still trails the likes of Silicon Valley and Boston. Programs like CPRIT help keep companies within Texas, while Houston's unique advantages, such as lower living costs and the TMC's presence, can attract investments, but ultimately, to secure necessary capital, stakeholders must cultivate relationships with investors, government agencies, and other funding sources to infuse more money into the Houston ecosystem. And, when individuals try to do this, the rest of the ecosystem must be supportive.

Talent retention and attraction pose another challenge, as Houston competes with well-funded life science hubs offering abundant research institutions and funding opportunities. While Houston boasts numerous educational institutions producing skilled life sciences graduates, many curricula primarily prepare students for academic rather than industry careers, creating a skills and knowledge gap.

Having a lot of experience in academia doesn’t often translate well into the industry, as is demonstrated by many startup founders who struggle to understand the various stakeholder requirements in bringing a life science product to market.

To bridge this, educational institutions should incorporate more industry-oriented courses and training programs, like Rice University’s GMI Program, that emphasize practical skills and real-world applications. Collaborating with local companies for internships, co-op placements, and hands-on experiences can expose students to industry practices and foster valuable connections.

For any life science company, navigating the intricate regulatory landscape is also a challenge, as missteps can be disastrous. However, it’s even more of a challenge when you lack the fundamentals knowledge of what is required and the skills to effectively engage with industry experts in the space.

To address this, Houston must provide more opportunities for companies to learn about regulatory complexities from experts. Workshops, accelerators, or dedicated graduate and undergraduate courses focusing on regulatory compliance and best practices can facilitate knowledge and experience exchange between regulatory experts and innovators.

The initial inception of M1 MedTech was the result of a personal experience with a company who didn’t understand the fundamentals for regulatory interactions and didn’t know how to appropriately engage with consultants, resulting in time and money wasted.

Enhancing collaboration among Houston's life science stakeholders — including academia, research institutions, healthcare providers, subject matter experts, innovators, and investors — is fundamental for growth. A robust and lively professional network can stimulate innovation and help emerging companies access essential resources.

To this end, Houston should organize more industry-specific events, workshops, and conferences, connecting key life science players and showcasing the city's commitment to innovation. These events can also offer networking opportunities with industry leaders, attracting and retaining top talent. We’ve seen some of this with the Texas Life Science Forum and now with the Ion's events, but we could afford to host a lot more.

Houston's life sciences sector holds immense growth potential, but addressing funding, talent recruitment, regulatory navigation, and collaboration challenges is needed for continued success. By tackling these issues and leveraging its unique strengths, Houston can establish itself as a significant player in the global life sciences arenas. If we wait too long, we won’t be able to truly establish the Third Coast because another player will come into the mix, and we’ll lose companies like BioMatrix to their golden shores.

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Isabella Schmitt is the director of regulatory affairs at Proxima Clinical Research and principal at M1 MedTech.