This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Anu Pansare of gBETA, and Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four innovators across industries recently making headlines — from space tech to startup development organizations.

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

NASA has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Libby Neder Photography

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, got the green light on a grant renewal from NASA, which will allow the organization to continue to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028. NASA opted to continue the partnership and now TRISH will receive additional funding of up to $134.6 million from 2022 to 2028.

"NASA has received outstanding value from our bold approach to sourcing and advancing space health research and technologies," institute director Dorit Donoviel, says in a statement. "We are proud to be NASA's partner in its human space exploration mission and to be supporting the research necessary to create new frontiers in healthcare that will benefit all humans." Click here to read more.

Anu Pansare, director of gBETA Houston

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Anu Pansare has a new gig. The Sugar Land-based consultant has over 20 years of experience working with the likes of Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. Pansare, who's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network, recently started as director of gBETA's Houston office.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort — for which applications are open online — through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment. Click here to read more.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Early-stage accelerator names new Houston leader, opens applications for next cohort

now open

Houston's gBETA accelerator announced new leadership in conjunction with opening enrollment for its latest cohort this week.

The early-stage program, which is a part of Wisconsin-based gener8tor, has named Anu Pansare as its new director.

Pansare has spent the last 20 years at Sugar Land-based consulting firm Volyx and has also worked with big names like Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. She's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network. She will be replacing the accelerator's inaugural director Eléonore Cluzel in the position.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort of early stage startups through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment.

"Downtown Launchpad is an inclusive ecosystem of tools, resources, and opportunities that help founders accelerate and scale their businesses to solve humankind's boldest challenges," says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston, in a press release. "The addition of Anu Pansare as gener8tor's new Houston director will strengthen our commitment to entrepreneurs in Houston and will help us evolve our strategy to better serve our founders, startups, partners, and our community."

Applications for the new cohort are open online until March 13.The zero-equity, no-fee program looks for locally based startups still in the early stage of business. Five companies will be selected.

The program is hosting a virtual webinar in partnership with SCORE Houston on March 1 to discuss the program and opportunities for interested startups. Event registration is free.

Houston's gBETA presence was launched thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority in 2019 with support from Central Houston, the City of Houston, and Amegy Bank. The local team has an office at the Downtown Launchpad coworking space in the Amegy Bank Building on Main.

About a year into operations, gBETA has worked with 10 local startups in two cohorts across industries — from food tourism to sports technology, artificial intelligence for home buying to skincare and prescription solutions.

Pansare will be

holding virtual office hours for local entrepreneurs to provide insight and information about gBETA's Houston Spring 2021 program. More information on the program can be found at gBETA Houston's website or email Pansare directly at anu@gener8tor.com.
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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.