This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Neal of AmPd Labs, Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund, and Sahir Ali of Modi Ventures. 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 venture capital to manufacturing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Tim Neal, CEO of AmPd Labs

Tim Neal is the new CEO of AmPd Labs, a unique additive manufacturing startup in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston entrepreneur Tim Neal joined next-generation additive manufacturing company AmPd Labs as CEO of the company. He tells InnovationMap that he'd always been interested in the additive manufacturing sector, and sees a lot of potential for AmPd Labs in the industrial world in Houston — now more than ever.

“Within additive manufacturing, a lot of people focus on the medical and the aerospace sectors, but the industrial sector has been largely overlooked. Being in Houston, that really resonates,” Neal says. “The technology is now at a place that it can be at this production scale.” Read more.

Sandy Guitar, general partner of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar shares some lessons learned from the fallout of Silicon Valley Bank. Photo via HXVF

In its third year, Venture Houston — taking place on Rice University's campus on September 7 — has a theme of "decarbonization in a digital world," but that's not the only thing different this year. The one-day conference has added on a unique event on September 6 to help engage around 50 investors with over 100 Houston startups.

The new activation is called Capital Connect, and HX Venture Fund will matchmake investors and startups for one-on-one meetings meant to spur collisions and collaboration.

"It's not a pitch competition — it doesn't have the stress of that," Sandy Guitar, general partner of HX Venture Fund, tells InnovationMap. "It's really just a way of connecting with a longer term horizon. We didn't want to limit it just to those who are currently raising, but actually include people who maybe just raised six months ago or are not going to raise for 12 more months, but might still want to be in the room." Read more.

Sahir Ali, founder and general partner of Modi Ventures

Sahir Ali is the founder and general partner of Modi Ventures. Photo courtesy of Modi Ventures

It might be cool to arrive fashionably late to a party, but Houston investor Sahir Ali likes to be early when it comes to new technologies.

"What has been a part of my success and has driven a lot of my profesional, scientific, and financial growth has been being ahead of the curve a little bit in technologies. That is really the basis of the fund," Ali, founder and general partner of Modi Ventures, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Hardware and software have come to a point where now artificial intelligence is ready to go, and I think the biggest benefactor of that is going to be health care and the health and medicine space — and that space is not easy for investors to just jump in right away," he continues. Read more.

Tim Neal is the new CEO of AmPd Labs, a unique additive manufacturing startup in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Exclusive: Houston additive manufacturing startup names new CEO

at the helm

As of last week, Tim Neal has a new job.

The Houston entrepreneur joined next-generation additive manufacturing company AmPd Labs founded by Sean Harkins and Brien Beach. Neal now serves as CEO of the company. He formerly served as co-founder and CEO of GoExpedi, a Houston-based industrial procurement solutions company.

Neal tells InnovationMap that he'd always been interested in the additive manufacturing sector, and sees a lot of potential for AmPd Labs in the industrial world in Houston — now more than ever.

“Within additive manufacturing, a lot of people focus on the medical and the aerospace sectors, but the industrial sector has been largely overlooked. Being in Houston, that really resonates,” Neal says. “The technology is now at a place that it can be at this production scale.”

The AmPd Labs facility, located in the Heights, works with its industrial clients through the entire life cycle — from initial design, fit and function, and onward. Neal says that what AmPd Labs provides for its customers is this comprehensive support at a rapid pace and in a nearshore capacity.

“We see a vision of ourselves as a digital manufacturing firm for manufacturers," he says. “The ability to very rapidly hard-to-make products and save that time, but also removing obsolete parts."

Additionally, AmPd Labs has a zero-waste process and can help its industrial clients with their ESG goals. The materials the company uses can be recycled and used again, Neal says.

"A lot of large industrial firms in Houston are focused on this new energy revolution, and that requires new technologies," he explains. "Many of these parts are hard to make."

Neal says he's sat on every side of the arena at this point, and he's bringing his background, including his experience with scaling a startup, to the table.

“We are big believers in the Houston economy," he says. "While the market might disagree at times, the green economy starts in Houston — the infrastructure is here, the companies wanting and needing to make that change are here.”

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund, Denis Akhiyarov of AiKYNETIX, and Sean Harkins and Brien Beach of AMPD Labs. Photos courtesy

4 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Aleece Hobson, venture partner for the HX Venture Fund

Aleece Hobson of HX Venture Fund shares what people can expect from Venture Houston on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of HXVF

Today is a big day for Aleece Hobson — venture partner for the HX Venture Fund, a fund of funds investing in venture capital firms across the country that have interest in investing in Houston companies. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss Venture Houston, which takes place today, and why it is so important to HXVF to showcase Houston.

"Houston is a destination for innovation — we are not a flyover city," she says on the show. Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Denis Akhiyarov, CEO and co-founder of AiKYNETIX

Houston-based AiKYNETIX is equipping runners with high-tech tracking tools. Image courtesy of AiKYNETIX

Houstonain Denis Akhiyarov wanted to design a way to easily improve running performance. He founded AiKYNETIX uses real-time technology to provide a new option for runners on treadmills.

“Runners spend a lot of time, energy and money to run better,” says Akhiyarov, CEO and co-founder of the company. “In my personal life with training for nine marathons, I’ve seen limitations with wearables, they don’t actually track running form while running. Overall, our technology tracks not only your basic parameters but it can also analyze the human running form while in motion.”

AiKYNETIX, which was founded in January 2021, is positioned to replace power meters and can make a treadmill smarter. It has ability to plug into interactive video platforms for sports and serves as a much cheaper and more widely available analysis tool outside of motion capture labs, he says. Click here to read more.

Sean Harkins and Brien Beach, co-founders of AMPD Labs

Sean Harkins and Brien Beach opened AmPd Labs' space in the Heights last month. Images via ampdlabs.llc

Last year, Sean Harkins introduced his friend Brien Beach to the world of additive manufacturing, and together the duo saw a business opportunity not only for themselves — but also for all of Houston.

Harkins had been working in 3D printing and additive manufacturing — the process of creating an object by building it one layer at a time — for the last decade and studied industrial design at the University of Houston. Working together, Harkins and Beach launched AmPd Labs, Houston’s next-generation additive manufacturing facility for industrial design and production.

“There is a hill to climb with market acceptance, but we want to be the champions of that and Houston is just a great place to start this because it's the largest industrial city in America and there's so much industry here and there's tons of engineers in this community,” says Beach. “Houston is such a business-forward place. A ‘how can I help you’ type of business place.” Click here to read more.

Two innovators are bringing additive manufacturing opportunities to Houston. Image via Getty Images

New venture brings next-generation additive manufacturing to Houston

new to hou

Last year, Sean Harkins introduced his friend Brien Beach to the world of additive manufacturing, and together the duo saw a business opportunity not only for themselves — but also for all of Houston.

Harkins had been working in 3D printing and additive manufacturing — the process of creating an object by building it one layer at a time — for the last decade and studied industrial design at the University of Houston. Working together, Harkins and Beach launched AmPd Labs, Houston’s next-generation additive manufacturing facility for industrial design and production.

“I met Brien through a mutual friend and we started discussing this idea of an additive manufacturing center in Houston,” says Harkins, president of AmPd Labs.

AmPD Lab’s focus is to break down traditional engineering design constraints, forcing the question “can this be additively manufactured?” The facility uniquely enables the printing of metals through metal binder jetting technology.

Last week, the company opened its first dedicated space near the Heights that was built to be the production studio as well as a place to bring in potential partners interested in additive manufacturing.

“There is a hill to climb with market acceptance, but we want to be the champions of that and Houston is just a great place to start this because it's the largest industrial city in America and there's so much industry here and there's tons of engineers in this community,” says Beach. “Houston is such a business-forward place. A ‘how can I help you’ type of business place.”

In addition to the launch of the new facility, Beach and Harkins visualize they will soon create a trade-school-type concept of “Digital Craftsmen” for additive manufacturing and offer an educational platform to help build a skilled workforce in this space.

“AM is not a fit for everything, but by working together, we can find those parts and products in which an AM solution can give you an operational or competitive advantage,” says Beach. “We will work with you through the design process, provide samples for testing, work through parts quality and qualification, and eventually find some products that you can permanently implement into your business.”

AmPd Labs will focus its business on these dedicated areas of impact:

  • Manufacturing technology choice
  • Part design
  • Material selection
  • Material performance
  • Assembly and workflow assessment
  • Business model impact
  • Supply chain impact
  • Increased data generation
  • Sales and marketing approach

Sean Harkins and Brien Beach opened AmPd Labs' space in the Heights last week. Images via ampdlabs.llc

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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.