From fitness tech and interior design to super thin wearable technology, this week's innovators to know can't be stopped. Courtesy photos

Another week, another set of Houston innovators to keep your eye on. This week's cast of characters are from across industries — from fitness innovation to interior design for tech companies. Scroll through to meet the people behind Houston innovation.

Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness

Photo courtesy of DeLacy Wellness

After years of working in fitness, Lizzie DeLacy, founder of DeLacy Wellness, wanted to be able to help more people on their health and wellness journeys. She launched Bodypeace — an app that offers workout sessions, recipes, and tips for a healthier lifestyle — to help people make time for fitness and mindfulness.

"Rather than focusing on really long sessions, though we have a couple in there, we focus on short 5-minute sessions, so anyone can fit movement into their schedule and lifestyle," DeLacy tells InnovationMap. "Additionally, we break it down by body part focus, because oftentimes people don't know necessarily what exact movement or pose or stretch they might need."

Read more about DeLacy and Bodypeace here.

Cunjiang Yu, a Bill D. Cook associate professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston

Photo courtesy of UH

Cunjiang Yu, a professor and researcher at the University of Houston, is the lead author on a paper that ran as the cover story in Science Advances. In the paper, Yu identifies a wearable technology that can detect health conditions while being so incredibly thin, the wearer might not even notice.

"Everything is very thin, just a few microns thick," says Yu, who also is a principal investigator at the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH, in a release. "You will not be able to feel it."

Read more about Yu and the technology here.

Amy English, director of interiors for HOK

Photo courtesy of HOK

For most people, the design of an office might be non-consequential. But, for Amy English, director if interiors for HOK, designing the right space can do wonders for your company. English wrote a guest article for InnovationMap that outlines different trends in interior design for tech companies.

"While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best," she writes.

Read English's guest article here.

From amenities to flexibility, here's what tech companies need to prioritize in a working environment to stay competitive. Courtesy of HOK

Tech companies need flexible and personalized workplaces to stay competitive, according to this Houston interior design expert

Guest column

Nowhere is the rapid pace of change more apparent than in the tech sector. Fierce competition for talent, an evolving regulatory environment, and mounting privacy and data security challenges confront both well-established tech leaders and startups, forcing them to continuously adapt and innovate.

Companies that succeed in this hyper-competitive market have two things in common: workforces and workspaces that can pivot to address new demands and business models. In a recent report titled HOK Forward: Tech Workplace Takes Center Stage, HOK explored the impact tech industry challenges are having on the office space and examined design solutions that can make these spaces more responsive and successful.

The report found that workplace flexibility is key when it comes to spurring innovation and collaboration. So too is personalization. Each company's ideal environment should reflect its culture, work style, mobility profiles, and business goals and be continually re-evaluated as the organization grows.

Five workplace trends that are gaining popularity in the tech sector include:

  • Activity-Based Workplaces (ABW) – This office concept encourages movement and empower people to select the right space for the job at hand. ABW environments are typically designed to serve four major work functions: solo work, collaboration, learning, and socializing and rejuvenation. These spaces work nicely for organizations that are market-oriented in organizational structure.
  • Neighborhood-based Choice Environments (NCE) – A variation of the ABW model, these spaces create a neighborhood or home for teams to operate out of while still allowing people to have access to a variety of work settings. These spaces are ideal for organizations that are team-based and mobile, but seek to build community.
  • Agile Environments – Scrum spaces where project-based teams from different business groups or departments can gather to collaborate on special projects. These spaces are helpful for team-based organizations that desire belonging and community, as they are highly interactive and collaborative.
  • Maker Environments for Mobile Occupants (MEMO) – These spaces are emerging in sectors where rapid development is key. They encourage experimentation and group work in entrepreneurial environments with flat organizational structures.
  • Immersive Environments – These spaces pull the best lessons learned from ABW, NCE, agile environments and MEMO and tailor them to meet the specific needs of a company to create custom spaces.

These creative approaches meld the needs of an evolving workforce with the needs of the organization. But attracting talent extends far beyond the work styles accommodated. So, how can tomorrow's tech workplace attract and retain top talent?

Amenities play a critical role. Amenity offerings should be diverse and speak to the culture of an organization. Nap pods, wellness rooms, medical clinics and maker spaces are benefits gaining popularity in the tech industry and beyond. These amenities speak to a workforce that values convenience, works hard and finds inspiration in unique ways.

Smart workplaces are gaining popularity in the technology sector. Complete with multiple sensors that track office use—such as how often a space is used and the peak times of activity within a communal space—this advanced technology can help building owners and operators optimize a space and better understand which kinds of environments are in demand.

In addition to leveraging data, tech workplaces are on the cusp of merging the digital realm with physical space. This move towards seamless technology that anticipates behavior and needs and creates immersive experiences has the potential to transform the work experience. At the center of this evolution should be a commitment to engaging, equipping, and empowering individuals to excel, which requires developing flexible, technology-infused space solutions that accommodate a growing diversity of work styles, preferences and personalities.

The tech industry's increased focus on the human experience—from amenities to immersive technology—can be applied to workplaces in other sectors. While the next big technological advancement isn't set in stone, one thing is certain: Companies that wish to remain competitive and responsive in the future will need workplaces with the flexibility and personalization that allow their people to gather, connect, innovate, and simply be their best.

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Amy English is the director of interiors for HOK.

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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.