Ben Lamm and George Church are pioneering colossal de-extinction technology. Courtesy of Colossal

In a move that may conjure up fanciful thoughts of a particular Steven Spielberg film, a newly launched bioscience and genetics company with ties to Austin and Dallas is pioneering a plan to ensure the long extinct woolly mammoth will once again trudge through the Arctic tundra.

(No need to panic, movie fans, as the furry beast is an herbivore and has no taste for human flesh, lest we forget the lessons learned from Jurassic Park.)

The appropriately named Colossal, which is based across Austin, Dallas, and Boston, has secured $15 million in funding from a variety of sources (including Austin-based Capital Factory and famed self-help guru Tony Robbins) to bring the woolly mammoth back from its roughly 10,000-year extinction.

Colossal, the brainchild of Baylor University grad and tech and software entrepreneur Ben Lamm and George Church, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School who has innovated new approaches to gene editing. Their goal is to pioneer animal de-extinction technology to restore lost ecosystems for a healthier planet. And they're starting by resurrecting the woolly mammoth back to its cold-resistant, curled-tusk, fur-covered glory.

Specifically, Colossal will work to bring to life a cold-resistant elephant-mammoth hybrid with the core biological traits of the woolly mammoth, meaning it will walk, look, and sound like the giant creature, and will be able to inhabit the same ecosystem left abandoned by the woolly mammoth's extinction.

The company uses breakthrough advances in CRISPR genetic engineering to make such scientific dreams a reality. It's all in an effort to "rewild lost habitats and help combat the effects of climate change and the loss of biodiversity." And Colossal notes that its gene-editing process also has the potential to help advance biotechnology products and genomics while also treating diseases. Such technological advancements will also be used to help recover species on the brink of extinction.

"Never before has humanity been able to harness the power of this technology to rebuild ecosystems, heal our Earth, and preserve its future through the repopulation of extinct animals," Lamm says in a release. "In addition to bringing back ancient extinct species like the woolly mammoth, we will be able to leverage our technologies to help preserve critically endangered species that are on the verge of extinction and restore animals where humankind had a hand in their demise."

Indeed, Colossal points to a 2019 United Nations report that warned that more than 1 million animal, plant, and fungi species are now threatened with extinction. That situation could domino, leading to the collapse of ecosystems and negatively impacting human health and livelihood.

By resurrecting certain extinct species, Colossal hopes to rewild habitats and revitalize lost ecosystems, thereby creating a healthier planet. To wit, restoring the woolly mammoth can potentially revitalize the Arctic grasslands, which could combat the dire effects of climate change through a variety of properties, including carbon sequestering, methane suppression, and light reflection.

"Technologies discovered in pursuit of this grand vision — a living, walking proxy of a woolly mammoth — could create very significant opportunities in conservation and beyond, not least of which include inspiring public interest in STEM, prompting timely discussions in bioethics, and raising awareness of the vital importance of biodiversity," Church says.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston-based Mainline is providing the tournament software for an unprecedented esports showdown between the Big 12 schools. Jamie McInall/Pexels

Houston esports company to provide software for a first-of-its-kind collegiate tournament

game on

While college football's fate this fall is up in the air thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, the Big 12 Conference is definitely going to face off virtually thanks to esports software developed in Houston.

According to an announcement from the Big 12 Conference and Learfield IMG College, its multimedia rights partner, the tournament has opened for registration for all 10 member schools — Baylor University, Texas Christian University, University of Texas, Texas Tech University, Iowa State University, University of Kansas, Kansas State University, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and West Virginia University.

"This is a great opportunity to engage in an emerging space on a Conference-wide level," says Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a news release. "This opportunity is a unique way to provide original content from within a competitive environment during these challenging times. We appreciate the collaborative efforts that have made this first-of-its-kind Big 12 Championship tournament possible."

Houston-based Mainline, an esports software startup, has been selected to provide the tournament software for this unprecedented event, which is set to take place July 13 to 16. Each of the 10 schools will host its own single-elimination qualifying tournament featuring Madden NFL 20. Students have until July 10 to register to compete. Big 12 Now on ESPN+ will air both the schools' finals and the Big 12 Conference Championship tournament. The host of Big 12 This Week, Bill Pollock, will call the tournament.

Not only will Mainline's tournament software enable the competition, but it will allow Learfield IMG College to sell sponsors on esports visibility. Just like the football season, the esports tournaments will promote school branding and an opportunity to connect with student participants.

"It's more important now than ever to provide college students the ability to stay connected and engaged, and our technology can help aggregate the college esports community to help make that happen," says Chris Buckner, Mainline's CEO and founder, in the release. "This will multiply the opportunity, power and fun of esports to college students attending all Big 12 universities and keeps students competing while still practicing social distancing."

Earlier this month, Buckner joined InnovationMap's Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the opportunities — as well as the challenges — the pandemic posed for his company.

"Everyone is looking for how to get sports, or esports, in front of people because everyone is just missing [sports] so much," Buckner says on the episode. "Our June will pretty much be the best month of our company, and a lot of that is driven by the fact that everyone is looking for a digital solution rather than an in-person solution."

Rice University — sometimes known as the "Ivy League of the South" — has been ranked as the best school in the Lone Star State. Courtesy of Rice University

Rice University tops best schools in Texas list

Top of the class

By any measure, Rice University is a top-tier academic institution, lauded locally and nationally for its innovative tuition programs and for boasting the highest-paid graduates in the state. Now, a new ranking names the "Ivy League of the South" the top university in Texas.

Personal finance website WalletHub has released its 2020's Best College & University Rankings, just in time for the looming November 1 "early decision" college application deadline. Rice takes the No. 1 Texas spot and comes in at No. 13 overall in the U.S.

In order to determine the rankings, WalletHub compared more than 1,000 colleges and universities across seven key dimensions: student selectivity, cost and financing, faculty resources, campus safety, campus experience, educational outcomes, and career outcomes.

Among Texas schools, Rice comes in first for the following individual metrics: admission rate, student-faculty ratio, graduation rate, and post-attendance median salary. The school places second for gender and racial diversity.

The University of Texas at Austin follows as the No. 2 best school in Texas, while Trinity University comes in third. Here are the top 10 schools in Texas, according to WalletHub:

  1. Rice University
  2. University of Texas at Austin
  3. Trinity University
  4. Baylor University
  5. LeTourneau University
  6. Texas Christian University
  7. Texas A&M University-College Station
  8. University of Dallas
  9. Southwestern University
  10. Southern Methodist University

At No. 13 on the overall list, Rice shares the spotlight with prestigious institutions, coming in behind the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, the California Institute of Technology, Duke University, University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern University, University of North Carolina — Chapel Hill, Vanderbilt University, and Columbia University. University of Chicago is No. 14.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

Here's what Houston startups need to know about internal communications

guest column

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

------

Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.