This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Nick Skytland of NASA, Neal Dikeman of Energy Transition Ventures, and Bill McKeon of TMC. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from space tech to health care innovation — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Nick Skytland, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center

Nick Skytland, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

For most people, it might be pretty hard to envision a future where astronauts are living on the moon or even Mars in the next few decades, but Nick Skytland, chief technologist at NASA Johnson Space Center, says he sees that future pretty clearly.

Since its inception in 1958, NASA has achieved many milestones, from the from putting the first man in orbit to having astronauts live in space for over 20 years consecutively. But it's a new era for NASA — and its commercial partners.

"What has changed in the past decade or so is that space flight is no longer just a government focus," Skytland says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We have an entire space industry that's growing and starting to thrive in the United States, and that's an important part of our strategy going forward." Read more.

Neal Dikeman, partner at Energy Transition Ventures

Houston-based energy tech investor Neal Dikeman writes his observations on Houston's venture capital and startup community's growth — in stark comparison of Silicon Valley's recent evolution. Photo via LinkedIn

In his guest column for InnovationMap, Neal Dikeman, a Houston-based energy transition investor, shares how Houston's innovation ecosystem differs from Silicon Valley these days. While deemed a newer ecosystem, there appears to be a growing amount of activity in and around the Ion, where Dikeman works out of. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley is pretty quiet.

"Founders are learning that Houston’s venture investment and tech scene has an actual home these days, and is open for business," he writes in the column. Read more.

Bill McKeon, CEO of the Texas Medical Center

Mayor Sylvester Turner, TMC CEO Bill McKeon, Governor Greg Abbott, and others gave their remarks at the TMC3 Collaborative Building opening. Photo via tmc.edu

For nearly a decade, thee Texas Medical Center and its partners have been working on the plans for Helix Park, a 37-acre campus expansion of TMC. As of this week, the first building has opened its doors to the public.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building officially opened today to a crowd of media, public officials, and health care executives. The institutional agnostic, 250,000-square-foot building will anchor Helix Park and house research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Today, we lay the cornerstone of a new campus fully dedicated to streamlining the commercialization of life-changing innovations in medicine and technologies,” William McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, says at the event. “We are incredibly excited to both welcome our founding institutions and industry partners to the Collaborative Building and to invite the community to experience the Helix Park campus and its beautiful parks with a series of special events in the months ahead."Read more.

The Dynamic One building in TMC Helix Park is expected to deliver later this year. Rendering via TMC.edu

Rising TMC development names Houston health care institution as anchor tenant

coming soon

TMC Helix Park, formerly known as TMC3, has announced its first anchor tenant.

The Texas Medical Center and Beacon Capital Partners announced that Baylor College of Medicine will be the anchor tenant of the Dynamic One building at TMC Helix Park. The facility is will be the first to deliver of the four TMC Helix Park industry buildings. The Topped off in December, the Dynamic One building is being developed by Beacon in collaboration with Zoë Life Science and is scheduled to open before the end of the year.

“Beacon is excited that Dynamic One will be our first entry into the fast-growing Houston Life Science market,” says Fred Seigel, president and CEO of Beacon, in a news release. “This state-of-the-art environment is designed to enable and encourage collaboration and will greatly accelerate the innovative lifesaving discoveries that emerge when industry and academic research work side-by-side.”

Baylor College of Medicine will lease 114,000 square-feet of lab and office space in the 355,000-square-foot building. BCM's goal is to house lab space for novel diagnostics and therapeutics — and provide space to house startups.

The organization is expanding its presence in Houston after decades of residing in the region.

“Baylor College of Medicine moved to Houston in 1943 and was the first institution built in the Texas Medical Center," says Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO and executive dean of Baylor, in the release. "Our researchers and scientists will have the opportunity to access the uniquely concentrated research environment being developed at TMC Helix Park, facilitating the continuing advancement of innovation and compassionate care."

TMC Helix Park, which includes more than 5 million-square-feet of space across 37-acres, also expects to deliver its research facility, the TMC3 Collaborative Building, later this year.

“Baylor College of Medicine is a major force in life sciences discovery and commercialization at TMC," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, in the release. "Their move to TMC Helix Park will serve as a catalyst for enhanced collaboration with TMC’s other esteemed Institutions, as well as with industry leaders from around the world."

BCM is the first anchor tenant announced for TMC Helix Park. Rendering via TMC.edu

TMC gave an update on TMC3 — now called TMC Helix Park — and introduced a new bioport project. Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

TMC unveils details of new bioport, Helix Park at annual Greater Houston Partnership event

coming soon

Within the next five to 10 years, the Texas Medical Center you know today will be double the size. That's what Bill McKeon, president and CEO of the TMC, said at yesterday's State of the Texas Medical Center event hosted by the Greater Houston Partnership.

The biggest project contributing to the TMC's growth is TMC3, a campus expansion that will bring 37 acres and 5 million square feet of space to the TMC, is now known as Helix Park. The name is a nod to the shape of the park and walkway design at the center of the campus. The TMC3 Collaborative Building — the first multi-institutional research facility in TMC’s history — will be the first of the project to deliver and is currently under construction and slated for completion in 2023.

However, the big news of the event was the TMC BioPort, the organization's upcoming biomanufacturing and medical supplies distribution engine. This new campus will span several hundred acres just down the road from TMC and will drive the much-needed repatriation of critical medical supplies and new cell and gene therapies, per a news release.

"During COVID, we saw the weakness of our supply chain," McKeon says at the event. "There is a huge effort by this country as a part of national security to make sure drug and vaccine production is moved back into the United States."

The new campus will also have an on-site upskill training center and create over 100,000 new job opportunities.

“Houston is advancing its position as the leading destination for life science discovery,” McKeon says in the release. “Through our holistic, expansive vision, we are building every vital component necessary to advance the largest life science ecosystem in the world.”

As explained at the event, the growing TMC is anchored by four districts: the TMC Medical Campus and the TMC Innovation Factory, which are already fully open and operating for years now, and the upcoming TMC Helix Park and TMC BioPort, which are both underway.


Bill McKeon gave the address at the State of the Texas Medical Center.

TMC3's Collaborative Building has topped out. Image courtesy of Texas Medical Center

First TMC3 Collaborative Building tops out, plans to open next year

medical milestone

Construction of Houston’s 250,000-square-foot TMC3 Collaborative Building has reached a milestone.

Founders of the research facility recently celebrated completion of the uppermost part of the building, known as “topping out.” Construction started in January 2021.

The building is part of the first phase of the TMC3 campus, a 37-acre life science property designed to capitalize on the intersection of medicine and commercialization. Founders of the campus are Texas Medical Center, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building, set to open in 2023, will promote innovation and collaboration among the founding institutions, as well as with academic, healthcare, and industry partners. A key feature is a 43,000-square-foot research lab that’ll be shared by MD Anderson, Texas A&M Health, and UT Health Houston.

“The topping out of the TMC3 Collaborative Building marks an integral milestone in the future of life science research and innovation and reflects an unprecedented commitment to collaboration among the four founding institutions,” William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, says in a news release. “The lifesaving research and technologies that will come out of this building will truly revolutionize healthcare.”

In addition to the research lab, the building will include:

  • 85,000 square feet of lab and office space for industry partners.
  • 14,200 square feet for Texas Medical Center’s strategic initiatives, the Braidwell investment firm, the TMC Venture Fund, and national venture and equity fund partners.
  • A 7,000-square-foot atrium for lectures, programs, and informal events.

“Houston already has a place on the world stage as a leader in clinical care and life sciences. With the launch of the TMC3 Collaborative Building and larger TMC3 campus, we showcase why our city leads in the areas of innovation and technology,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says. “In the process, we will create opportunities to bring new partners and industry to our city and generate new jobs for the residents of the Greater Houston community.”

For the first time, Accenture hosted its HealthTech Innovation Challenge finals at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Photo courtesy of Accenture

2 startups win big at Accenture's ​Houston-based health tech competition

winner, winner

Two health tech companies walked away from Accenture's HealthTech Innovation Challenge with awards. Regionals took place in Boston and San Francisco, and Houston was selected to host the finals last week.

New York-based Capital Rx was selected as the 2020 Innovation Champion of the Accenture HealthTech Innovation Challenge, and Minneapolis-based Carrot Health was given the second-place award for Top Innovator. The program, which was first launched in 2016, aims to pair startups with health organizations to drive innovative solutions to real challenges in health care.

"The submissions we received this year demonstrate the momentum of discovery and digital innovation in healthcare," says Brian Kalis, managing director of digital health and innovation at Accenture, in a news release. "Healthcare organizations continue to advance their digital transformation agendas — enhancing access, affordability, quality and experience to drive innovation that improves the lives of consumers and clinicians. We look forward to working with these companies and others to continue to help advance solutions that address the industry's toughest challenges."

Capital Rx, a pharmacy benefit manager, won for its product, the Clearinghouse ModelSM, which connects pharmacies and employers for a more efficient and transparent way to coordinate prescriptions.

"Receiving the designation as Innovation Champion is a validation of our mission to change the way drugs are priced and administered, and it represents the broad support across the country to transform the antiquated and opaque pricing model for prescription drugs," says AJ Loiacono, CEO of Capital Rx, in the release.

Carrot Health, which took second place, has created algorithms to use consumer data analytics to predict and determine health issues. Its MarketView platform weighs in factors including social, economic, behavior, and environmental information.

"It's been a great opportunity to be with Accenture and a broad spectrum of health care players," says Kurt Waltenbaugh, CEO and founder of Carrot Health, in the release. "Being recognized as the Top Innovator will help us expand our footprint toward our goal to change health and serve every person in the U.S."

A total of 11 finalists pitched in Houston at TMCx on Feb, 6. The other finalists included: San Francisco-based Cleo, Boston-based DynamiCare Health, San Francisco-based InsightRX, United Kingdom-based Lantum, Washington, D.C.-based Mira, Denver-based Orderly Health, New York City-based Paloma Health, St. Louis-based TCARE, and Seattle-based Xealth.

It was the first time the challenge was hosted at the Texas Medical Center, and William F. McKeon, TMC president and CEO, took the stage at the event to share the medical city's vision for the future.

"The opportunity to host the HealthTech Innovation Challenge in Houston for the first time re-enforces our city's prominent and ever-expanding designation as a major hub for healthcare innovation nationwide," McKeon says in the release. "As Texas Medical Center heads into a new era of collaborative healthcare research on our forthcoming TMC3 campus, we look forward to maintaining a fruitful long-term partnership with Accenture."

The Texas Medical Center's CEO, Bill McKeon, ran down a list of exciting updates and innovations from the organization's member institutions at the annual State of the TMC. Photo via tmc.edu

From robots to immunotherapy, TMC talks innovation at its annual address

check up

In the Greater Houston Partnership's annual State of the Texas Medical Center address, TMC CEO Bill McKeon shared a status update of sorts for all the goings on at the largest medical center in the world.

McKeon ran down the list of member institutions to briefly touch base on each organization's innovations and growth. In the address, which took place at the Marriott Marquis on October 31, McKeon discussed exciting construction projects, new accelerator programs, and more. Here are some of the highlights from the presentation.

TMC3 and beyond

The TMC spans 1,400 acres and 50 million square feet of development — and growing. The largest medical city in the world will increase its size by 10 percent in the next two to three years, McKeon says. Here are some updates on each of the ongoing construction projects.

  • TMC3 is underway. The 37-acre research campus is expected to be completed in 2022.
  • CHI St. Luke's McNair Campus is expected to break ground on a new building before the end of the year.
  • Memorial Hermann's Sarofim Building is expected to open in 2020 with 18 stories, 26 new operating rooms, and 144 beds
  • Rice University has moved its synthetic biology program to BioScience Research Collaborative in the TMC.
  • Texas A&M University's EnMed program, which graduates students with a master's in engineering and a MD in four year, has launched. The university's med center building is underway at 1020 Holcombe, and is expected to be completed next May.
  • The University of Houston's new medical school us up and running, and the inaugural class's tuition was completely funded by an anonymous donor.
  • UTHealth's psychiatric hospital is expected to be the largest academic psychiatry hospital in country. The building is under construction and will be completed in 2021.

Building biobridges

In order to grow the TMC's global presence and bring the best innovations from around the world to Houston, McKeon says the organization has expanded its BioBridge partnerships.

The first partnership was with Australia in 2016, before the organization teamed up with the United Kingdom for the second one. Recently, the TMC has entered into its third BioBridge partnership with Denmark.

The partnerships are intended to encourage collaboration, particularly with TMCx. Now, TMCx startups break down from being a third of the companies from around the world, a third from other states in the U.S., and a third being from Texas.

"There's no greater collection of minds, patients, resources to really think about the next innovations in health care," Mckeon says.

Accelerating accelerators

TMCx is celebrating its fifth year and has worked with over 170 companies through its digital health and medical device accelerator programs.

"We're evolving to start to work more closely with our member institutions to understand their specific needs and how we can match novel technologies through them," says Lance Black, associate director of TMCx.

The TMC Innovation Institute supports 12 programs, and three have been introduced just this year.

  • TMCxi: A 40,000-square-foot space to support industry partners, investors, and other service providers that provides subject matter expertise and other resources for entrepreneurs.
  • TMCalpha: Programming for TMC doctors and staff who may have an idea for a new technology or startup.
  • TMC | ACT: An accelerator program for advancing cancer therapeutics and technologies.

Investing in robotics

Earlier this year, TMC announced plans to open a special robotics lab space with ABB Robotics. The space officially opened last month.

"Many of the things we do in our labs require pinpoint accuracy," McKeon says. "Many of the things we do now here are done by humans, but in the future, we have one of the most sophisticated robotics companies in the world thinking about how we can transform our labs."

The lab is just the beginning of ABB's connection to TMC and its member institutions.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.