In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, local venture groups announce new investments, Houston schools launch programs, and more. Photo via UH.edu

It's been a horrific week for both the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Millions of residents have lost power and/or water due to a winter storm that brought low temps. For this reason, Houston innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures make new investments, University of Houston professors make big moves, both Rice University and UH announce new programs, and more.

TMCx company raises $2 million

The Texas Medical Center Venture Fund announced its latest investment. Noninvasix Inc., a startup working on novel precision oximetry technology announced it has closed an over-subscribed seed round at $2 million led by the TMC Venture Fund with support from Philips and GPG Ventures. The funds will help the company advance product development and attain FDA clearance.

"TMC Venture Fund has been a strong supporter of Noninvasix since our initial investment in the company, and we look forward to our continued partnership with them," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "The potential of this platform technology to guide better clinical decision-making and improve outcomes has us excited to be part of the effort that brings the optoacoustic technology to the market."

The Noninvasix team has created a solution for the safe, accurate and non-invasive monitoring of infant welfare in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"Brain hypoxia, characterized by restricted blood flow to the brain, accounts for 23 percent of all neonatal deaths worldwide and costs the U.S. healthcare system over $7 billion per year, making the development of an accurate and precise patient monitoring system a top maternal-fetal health priority," says Noninvasix CEO Graham Randall, in the release.

"Noninvasix's novel solution utilizes optoacoustic monitoring of cerebral venous oxygenation to accurately measure the adequacy of the oxygen supply to a baby's brain in real time."

The Cannon and the University of Houston launch new partnership

A UH program has teamed up with a local startup development organization. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon has partnered up with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston to launch a semester-long program that will introduce students to the Startup Development Organization Network.Through the new collaboration, students will have access to new opportunities to interact and connect with professionals and advisers.

"We couldn't be prouder to partner with the University of Houston and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship to engage with the students that will soon be driving innovation in Houston and beyond," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "UH is widely recognized for its excellence in entrepreneurial education and what Dave Cook and his team have built through The Wolff Center is second to none.

"The Cannon is excited for the opportunity to play a role in enhancing the entrepreneurial education journey through helping to provide a bridge between world-class academic programming and the commercial entrepreneurial landscape."

Students at WCE will receive access to The Cannon's online platform, Cannon Connect, as well as access to exclusive events hosted by The Cannon.

Rice University launches new data science program

Rice University is now offering a master's in data science beginning in the fall. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University has announced it's creating a Master of Data Science program. The degree is offered through the George R. Brown School of Engineering and managed by the Department of Computer Science. With classes beginning in the fall, applications are now open.

"The field of data science touches almost every industry in our economy," says Scott Rixner, a professor in the Rice's Department of Computer Science, in a press release. "This degree will provide those seeking to find new careers, or to advance in their current careers, the opportunity to acquire an indispensable skill set and to build future-focused critical expertise that will drive future innovation."

The 31-credit program will be offer classes both online and face-to-face, according to the release. The courses will deliver the skills needed to collect, evaluate, interpret and present data for effective decision-making across a variety of industries. The new program joins the online Master of Computer Science degree that was launched in 2019.

"Data science has revolutionized all fields of study and many sectors of the industry where data is central to the scientific or industrial endeavor," says Rice Dean of Engineering Luay Nakhleh, in the release. "Data-driven discovery has complemented hypothesis-driven discovery, and it is here to stay. This degree positions our students for rewarding, life-long careers that provide meaningful impact in design and research in a multitude of industries."

Houston biotech company with COVID-19 treatment enters agreement with UH

A UH-founded biotech company has a new partnership to announce. Image via Getty Images

AuraVax Therapeutics Inc. has entered into an exclusive license agreement with the University of Houston for its intranasal vaccine and therapeutics technology platform. The biotech company is developing novel intranasal vaccines and therapies to help patients defeat debilitating diseases including COVID-19. This new agreement upgrades the optioned intellectual property between UH and AuraVax announced in October.

The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, similar to FluMist, and was developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

"We are excited to rapidly expand our relationship with the University of Houston to advance the development of this novel intranasal approach to tackle respiratory viruses. We plan to stop COVID-19 at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform represents a differentiated solution that will lead to a vaccine to create sustained immunity to COVID-19 and other viruses," says Varadarajan, in the news release.

Chevron Technology Ventures makes latest investment

CTV has recently invested in a geothermal energy company. Photo via eavor.com

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest investment in Eavor Technologies Inc., a Canadian company that closed a $40 million funding round. Eavor is working on a scalable geothermal technology and hopes to power the equivalent of 10 million homes by 2030.

Eavor-Loop™, Eavor's technology, uses the natural heat of the earth like a battery and is different from what's on the market because of its scalable and transportatable application — as well as because it produces zero emissions.

Along with CTV, investors included bp Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource1, and Vickers Venture Partners.

"I am delighted that with the funding closed in this round we can look forward to bringing down the cost of clean, dispatchable power to a universally competitive level – an important milestone for renewable energy," says John Redfern, president and CEO of the company, in a news release. "The involvement of companies such as bp and Chevron represents a fantastic endorsement of our technology, the progress we have made to date and the promise for its global scalability."

3 UH engineers named to Academy of Inventors

Three UH engineers have been named senior members of the National Academy of Inventors. Photos via UH.edu

The National Academy of Inventors have named three University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering researchers senior members for 2021.

Hien Nguyen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Endowed Chair, William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are among the 61 selected for the distinguishment, according to a press release from UH.

"This national distinction honoring the research and scholarship of Drs. Nguyen, Rimer and Song is emblematic of the reputation for innovation fostered at the Cullen College of Engineering," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in the release. "I congratulate these three outstanding faculty members for this well-deserved recognition."

Nguyen works with biomedical data analysis and artificial intelligence, Rimer's expertise in the processes behind crystal growth and formation, and Song researches the development of actuator systems for aerospace, biomedical and oil exploration applications.

A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Aziz Gilani to be recognized nationally

A Houston investor is being recognized nationally. Photo va mercuryfund.com

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Houston-based Mercury Fund, was just selected for an award from the National Venture Capital Association. Gilani is being recognized with the Outstanding Service Award for his work last year outlining and explaining the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration to entrepreneurs.

The award will be presented at NVCA's virtual ceremony on March 9. More info on the award ceremony here.

UH and a local company are developing a new COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Getty Images

University of Houston partners with local company to develop cutting-edge COVID vaccine

COOGS TACKLE COVID

A major Houston university has taken a big leap in the race to battle debilitating diseases such as COVID-19. The University of Houston has entered into an exclusive license option agreement with AuraVax Therapeutics Inc., a Houston-based biotech company developing novel vaccines against aggressive respiratory diseases such as coronavirus, according to a press release.

This means AuraVax has the option to exclusively license a new intranasal COVID-19 vaccine technology developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, much like FluMist. Based on pre-clinical experimentation, Varadarajan reports his technology not only elicits a mucosal immune response, but also systemic immunity, according to UH.

"We plan to stop COVID-19, a respiratory virus, at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform is a differentiated approach that will lead to a vaccine with increased efficacy to create sustained immunity to COVID-19," said Varadarajan in a statement.

So how does it work? Varadarajan is utilizing the spike protein, which helps the virus enter the target cell, and is the major target for neutralizing antibodies as it binds to the ACE 2 cellular receptor, for virus entry. The professor prefers using proteins because of their ability to induce strong immune responses, flexibility and scalability, and the absence of infectious particles, per UH.

Varadarajan's company, AuraVax, has created a next-generation vaccine platform that combines the potential of in-home administration with the ability to deliver complete immunity. The technology has been validated for COVID-19 in initial animal studies and results in immunity measured by both B-cell and T-cell responses.

"We believe AuraVax has a competitive advantage given the immune responses and a supply chain that is well-suited for widespread distribution and self-administration distribution," said Varadarajan. "We are excited to be collaborating with the University of Houston and look forward to future success by advancing the development of this novel intranasal vaccine technology to address a multitude of respiratory viruses, starting with COVID-19."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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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.