Houston Methodist has doled out $4.8 million to Houston nonprofits. Photo via TMC.edu

Houston Methodist has awarded $4.8 million to 50 Houston-area nonprofits as part of its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program, the hospital announced this month.

The funds go toward "addressing the root causes of health inequities experienced by social, racial and ethnic minorities," according to the hospital. An estimated 51,000 Houstonians are expected to be impacted by these dollars.

Of the nonprofits selected, 24 are healthy neighborhood programs, 16 are educational empowerment programs and 14 are economic programs.

The grant program is broken up into two types of funding: The Social Equity Grant and the DEI Grant. Now in its third year, the program has for the first time selected recipients of the Social Equity Grant that all support economic empowerment.

"We know there is a direct correlation between economic stability and health outcomes," Ryane Jackson, vice president, community benefits at Houston Methodist said in a statement. "Without livable wages or employer backed insurance, access to health care can be limited. If we can help those in underserved communities obtain employment and increase their wages in a short amount of time, then we can provide immediate and meaningful change that can potentially be felt for years to come.”

Capital IDEA Houston is a local nonprofit that’s received the Social Equity Grant. The organization helps low-wage workers find living-wage careers. Capital IDEA plans to use the funds to support Black and Hispanic Women in health care professions and launch a pilot program that will assist women with an associate degree who are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Another recipient, Compudopt, will focus on digital literacy training to low income African American and Hispanics, while Montrose Center will use the funds to support its Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years program at the Law Harrington Senior Living Center. Other recipients include Avondale House, BakerRipley, Interfaith Caring Ministries, Kids Meals Inc., and the Tejano Center for Community Concerns. Click here to find a full list.

DEI is at the forefront of Houston Methodist's vision for the future of health care. In a recent interview with InnovationMap, Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist, shared how linked diversity and innovation are to her.

"I think we're in a very interesting time when we think about how health care looks. It's changing drastically and so people have a lot more options for where they choose to get their health care and who their providers are," she tells InnovationMap. "So I think that the thought of the patient comes first is really going to be the key of understanding how do we tackle health equity."

Since launching Houston Methodist's DEI Grant Program has awarded more than $11 million to 83 Houston-area nonprofits. Last year it awarded $4.6 million to 59 organizations. Click here to see who else has been awarded funding through the program.
This tech giant is extending access to the internet for those who need it. Photo courtesy of Comcast

Comcast deploys $1M in Houston to shrink digital divide

access for all

Global Internet service provider, Comcast, is investing more than $1 million locally to help give families in the Houston region an opportunity to thrive in the digital age.

The funds are aimed to help students, adults and people with disabilities to ‘level up’ their computer, career development and tech education skills. The million-dollar investment will also support ongoing efforts to build awareness about low-cost or no-cost connectivity programs like Internet Essentials and the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

“The Internet is where life happens. It allows students to expand their educational aspirations and it empowers parents to explore better job openings so they can ultimately deliver a better quality of life for their families,” says Ralph Martinez, Comcast Houston’s regional senior vice president. “We are passionate about doing our part to close the digital divide and committed to helping establish a more equitable foundation for learning, working and succeeding.”

This effort is part of the company’s $1 billion, decade-long commitment to expand access to the internet across the world and open doors for the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, storytellers and creators.

In December 2021, Comcast donated funds to support local diversity-focused non-profit, SERJobs.

So far, Comcast has given grants to eight Houston area organizations. More announcements will be made later this year, according to the company’s press release.

  • United Way | Funding will be used to provide tech experts (Digital Navigators) to help people in need of digital skills training.
  • BakerRipley | Funding will support computer skills, software, email and internet safety training for low-income adults in the Houston area.
  • Comp-U-Dopt | Funding will support students participating in Early Adopters, STEAM Team and Learn2Earn, which brings technology education to area youth. Comp-U-Dopt will also use the funding to provide tech experts (Digital Navigators) to help people in need of digital skills training.
  • Easter Seals of Greater Houston | Funding will support the development of a curriculum for people with disabilities to help them successfully learn to use digital technology to gain and maintain employment
  • The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston | Funding will help high school students gain technical and leadership skills through the Workforce Readiness Program.
  • AAMA | Funding will be used to purchase technology and equipment to support students through the training program at the Work and Learn Center, with an emphasis on digital literacy and design.
  • Dress for Success | Funding will be used to provide Houston-area women with the resources needed to obtain long-term employment through access to job readiness training, digital skills workshops, computers and mobile labs.
  • AVANCE-Houston | Funding will support adult literacy program and continue to build pathways to economic mobility for families in the community.
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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.