Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share why Houston is already a great hub for bioindustrial innovation. Photo courtesy of BioWell

Bioindustrial technologies have a high potential for impacting sustainability — but they tend to need a little bit more help navigating the startup valley of death. That's where the BioWell comes in.

Carlos Estrada, head of Venture Acceleration at BioWell, says the idea for the accelerator was came to First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based biomanufacturing investment firm, as it began building its portfolio of promising companies.

"While we were looking at various companies, we found ourselves finding different needs that these startups have," Estrada says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "That's how the opportunity for the BioWell came about."

Specifically, bioindustrial companies, which are tapping into life science innovation to create more sustainable products or services, need early funding, lab space, and strategic corporate partners to help research and develop their startups.

"The very direct challenge that we are seeing is that these companies very often have to spend their funds to build out their own lab spaces," Estrada says, "so by the time they're trying to focus back on the product itself, they are starting to run out of funding."

BioWell is currently selecting its inaugural cohort and is also actively searching for its physical location to build out the program and facilities. Last year, BioWell secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

In addition to solving for specific challenges bioindustrial companies face, Estrada says the program will provide support for general startup and entrepreneurial guidance, like business plan development, navigating investors and grant funding, and more.

Just as First Bight Ventures was founded strategically in Houston to make the most of the local resources, the BioWell will operate out of the Bayou City — a market Estrada says has everything the industry needs.

"We have the right talent — our universities produce great researchers. We have the energy companies that are utilizing (a workforce) with transferable skills," he says on the show. "We also have the infrastructure, the square footage, and various real estate companies creating shells for lab space. We have the know how, the universities, and all at a lower cost, which plays a big role in the equation."

Calling all biotechnology startups. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organization launches virtual accelerator, seeks 10 biotech startups

calling for applicants

A Houston organization — freshly funded by a $700,000 U.S. Economic Development Administration’s “Build to Scale” grant — is seeking its first accelerator cohort of industrial biology startups.

Founded by Houston-based First Bight Ventures, the BioWell has launched a virtual accelerator program that will provide programming, networking, mentorship, and financial resources to its inaugural cohort of 10 bioindustrial startups. The selected companies will also have access to specialized pilot bioproduction infrastructure throughout the nine-month program.

“BioWell equips startups with more than just capital. We provide a foundation for breakthrough innovations by combining access to cutting-edge bioproduction facilities with expertise that nurtures scalability. This comprehensive support is crucial for transforming pioneering ideas into market-ready solutions that can address pressing global challenges,” Carlos Estrada, head of venture acceleration at BioWell, says in a news release.

Applications for the program are open until May 15, and the cohort will be announced in June. Specifically, BioWell is seeking seed or pre-seed startup applicants that have a technology readiness level of 3 to 5, focusing on areas including low-cost and sustainable feedstocks, commercially viable yields, and purpose fit microbes.

“During our selection process, we'll prioritize startups that demonstrate a commitment to not only hitting milestones but also to building sustainable revenue streams for long-term survival. This phase necessitates keen awareness of market dynamics, customer demands, and sound financial management,” adds First Bight Ventures and BioWell Founder Veronica Wu.

In December, BioWell secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

Ex-Apple exec Wu founded First Bight Ventures in Houston in 2022 after relocating from Silicon Valley and seeing the region's potential for biotech.

BioWell, a Houston accelerator focused on synthetic biology, named its first executive director. Photo via Getty Images

Houston nonprofit synthetic biology accelerator names inaugural executive director

new hire

A Houston accelerator that supports early-stage synthetic biology startups has named its first executive director.

BioWell, which was founded by First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based venture capital group, has announced the appointment of Paul Palmer as executive director. It's the nonprofit organization's first move in assembling its management team. According to his LinkedIn, he's served in the role since November.

“Paul was a clear choice for BioWell because of his combined experience at EY and engagement with Houston’s entrepreneurial community,” First Bight Ventures & BioWell Founder Veronica Wu says in a statement. “Working with large corporations and startups at all levels, he has successfully delivered value-based results for his clients.

"Equally important, Paul has an established relationship with the Houston business community and will be able to leverage his existing network to promote BioWell and our participant entrepreneurs in a public-facing role," she continues.

Palmer was formerly a partner at EY, where he worked on international cross-border tax planning, business development, assurance, and business consulting, as well as working with startups in collaboration with organizations like the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Texas Medical Center Innovation.

He joins the BioWell to execute on the organization's mission of "creating an ecosystem that provides hands-on business education, industry mentorship, research, and pilot infrastructure" for the bioeconomy, per the release. He will oversee fundraising, partnerships, sponsorships, and grant opportunities.

He will also lead recruiting for the BioWell's inaugural cohort and securing lab space, which is expected in the coming months.

“Utilizing the resources and expertise of First Bight Ventures, along with our recent EDA grant, BioWell is set to assist with innovation and industrial biology advancements for the United States,” Palmer says in the release.

In December, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

“With the formation of our leadership team, we’re making significant progress on building out the BioWell platform. We are excited about nurturing solutions in industrial biology and helping to establish Houston’s leadership in the global bioeconomy,” he continues.

First Bight Venture's BioWell has received a $741,925 grant to continue supporting bioindustrial startups. Photo via Getty Images

Houston nonprofit accelerator receives grant funding to advance bioindustrial startups

funds granted

A Houston-based nonprofit accelerator that works with early-stage synthetic biology startups has secured nearly $750,000 to support its mission.

First Bight Ventures' accelerator, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

The funding will support the BioWell's mission to establish a "vibrant bioeconomy" by helping startups scale and commercialize "through access to a unique combination of pilot bioproduction infrastructure," according to a news release from First Bight.

"Startups at BioWell will gain access to a robust ecosystem, expertise, mentorship, and financial resources essential for successfully commercializing their bio-industrial innovations," BioWell Executive Director Paul Palmer says in the release.

The BioWell is still working toward establishing a physical space and has worked out of the East End Maker Hub in the meantime. The organization has partnered with Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation, or UP CDC, which led the application process on this federal grant.

"BioWell chose to partner with UP CDC for the EDA grant, to continue the successful model that UP CDC has created at the East End Maker Hub for advanced manufacturing. UP CDC looks forward to continuing our partnership with BioWell in the UP CDC's BioCity project that will position Houston at the forefront of bio-manufacturing," UP CDC's CEO Patrick Ezzell says in the release.

First Bight Ventures Founder Veronica Wu established the BioWell to target high-potential startups, which usually have to overcome lack of funding challenges early on.

"Often times, early-stage startups gain momentum and hit important milestones, but ultimately find themselves heading toward the 'Valley of Death,' where progress is made on their enterprise, but no sufficient revenue is generated for the company's stability and longevity," Wu says in the release. "This 'Build to Scale' program's support will help offset these inevitable challenges in our bio-industrial space."

She shares more about her mission for First Bight Ventures on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the interview from March below.

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Houston businesses score spots on prestigious list of most influential companies

leading the pack

Five companies with strong ties to Houston have been named among this year’s 100 most influential companies by Time magazine.

The five companies are:

  • South Korea’s Hanwha Group, whose Hanwha Power Systems Americas subsidiary is in Houston. Hanwha, known as the “Lockheed Martin of Asia,” was praised for winning approval last year from the American Bureau of Shipping for the world’s first large-scale, carbon-free liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessel.
  • Houston-based Intuitive Machines. In February, the company’s Odysseus spacecraft became the first commercial spacecraft to land on the moon. The feat also marked the first U.S. landing on the moon since 1972.
  • Saudi Aramco, whose Americas headquarters is in Houston. Time cited Saudi Aramco’s dominance in the global oil market as a $1.9 billion “giant.”
  • Germany-based ThyssenKrupp Nucera, whose U.S. headquarters is in Houston. The company builds alkaline water electrolyzers to power steel mills and other fossil-fuel-dependent industrial sites.
  • United Airlines, which operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport. Chicago-based United was lauded for funding startups that help produce sustainable aviation fuel.

To come up with the fourth annual list, Time solicited nominations and polled in-house contributors and correspondents, along with external experts. Editors at Time then evaluated each company based on factors such as impact, innovation, ambition, and success.

“The result is a diverse group of 100 businesses helping chart an essential path forward,” the magazine says.

In a news release, Time’s editor in chief, Sam Jacobs, says the list of 100 companies “is more than an index of business success.”

“It is an argument for what business influence looks like in 2024,” Jacobs adds. “At a time when leadership in other sectors is battered, surveys suggest that many look to corporate leaders first for direction …. Each show us how companies can provide new models and new inspiration for the future of humanity.”

Houston climatetech incubator brings in new automation tools for startup use

Houston’s Greentown Labs announced new resources and equipment for its members thanks to two corporate partnerships.

Greentown Houston is now home to new tools from Emerson and Puffer to help members implement strong foundations for access to contextualized data.

Automation is the theme with the latest resources, as the process assists with a startup's journey to “standardization and scalability” according to a news release from Greentown Labs. Members will have access to these two units and platforms. The DeltaV Automation Platform is a data-driven decision-making resource that aims to improve operational performance while reducing risks, costs, and downtime. It integrates real-time analytics, advanced automation solutions, sophisticated control systems, and lifecycle services.

Puffer-Sweiven is a localized, single point of contact for sales, service, and applied engineering for Emerson Automation Solutions in the Texas Gulf Coast and Central Texas area with the capabilities to combine with other members in North America to leverage global reach and technologies. Puffer is an Emerson Impact Partner.

With access to the two units, Greentown Labs member companies can further explore easy-to-use, integrated-by-design DeltaV Distributed Control System. With the system, companies and members can better scale new technologies into pilot scale, optimize processes for high quality products, and implement a smart foundation for access to contextualized data. Global ROC is one company that is already utilizing the new resources at Greentown Labs.

“Our member Global ROC, which is developing a solution for cooling tower systems that reduces chemical consumption, saves water, and reduces energy costs, plans to use the system in two ways,” Global ROC CEO Ely Trujillo said to Greentown Labs via LinkedIn.

The startup will be able to create a control method that can be applied to future projects by using and comparing Global ROC’s products with the Delta V’s advanced function blocks. Trujilloalso plans to train team members to set up a Proportional Integral Derivative (PID) controller. The PID involves building a lab test box that connects to the DeltaV’s CHARM modules to control a process to a temperature by varying amperage through the DeltaV’s PID controller.

As part of the 3-year kickoff of the Texas Exchange for Energy and Climate Entrepreneurship (TEX-E), Greentown Labs also celebrated 87 Texas students from The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, Rice University, Prairie View A&M University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have been accepted into this year's Fellowship. The students will gain access to hands-on experiences including internships, pitch competitions, entrepreneurship bootcamps, courses, and conferences geared to help the climate and energy-transition innovation field.

In

March, Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space were named the newest accelerator for the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL. The seven selected startups will have a year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, and a non-dilutive $25,000 grant.

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This article originally ran on InnovationMap.