3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Thomas Vassiliades of BiVACOR, Katie Mehnert of ALLY Energy, and Don Whaley of OhmConnect Texas. Courtesy photos

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


Thomas Vassiliades, CEO of BiVACOR

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Thomas Vassiliades has been named CEO of BiVACOR, and he replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.” Click here to read more.

Katie Mehnert, CEO and founder of ALLY Energy

Katie Mehnert joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of energy amid a pandemic, climate change, the Great Resignation, and more. Photo via Katie Mehnert

Katie Mehnert started ALLY Energy — originally founded as Pink Petro — to move forward DEI initiatives, and she says she started with building an audience first and foremost, but now the technology part of the platform has fallen into place too. Last summer, ALLY Energy acquired Clean Energy Social, which meant doubling its community while also onboarding new technology. On the episode, Mehnert reveals that this new website and platform is now up and running.

"We launched the integrated product a few weeks back," Mehnert says. "The whole goal was to move away from technology that wasn't serving us."

Now, moving into the new year, Mehnert is building the team the company needs. She says she hopes to grow ALLY from two employees to 10 by the end of the year and is looking for personnel within customer support, product developers, and sales and service. While ALLY is revenue generating, she also hopes to fundraise to further support scaling. Click here to read more.

Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas

Texas is about a month away from the anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — would the state fair better if it saw a repeat in 2022? Photo courtesy

The state of Texas is about a month away from the one year anniversary of Winter Storm Uri — but is the state better prepared this winter season? Don Whaley, president at OhmConnect Texas, looked at where the state is now versus then in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Governor Abbott has gone on record guaranteeing that the lights will stay on this winter, and I am inclined to agree. With the reinforcement of our fuel systems being mandated by the Railroad Commission, 2023 to 2025 should receive the same guarantee," he writes. "Beyond that, as the demand for electricity in Texas continues to grow, we will need to rely on the initiatives under consideration by the PUCT to attract investment and innovation in new, dispatchable generation and flexible demand solutions to ensure long-term stability in the ERCOT market.

Whaley has worked for over 40 years in the natural gas, electricity, and renewables industries, with specific experience in deregulated markets across the U.S. and Canada. He founded Direct Energy Texas and served as its president during the early years of deregulation. Click here to read more.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Former Medtronic exec takes the helm of Houston med device startup

mover and shaker

A Houston-based preclinical artificial heart device company has a new head honcho as it grows its team and further develops its technology.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. He replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

“BiVACOR led an extensive CEO search, and Tom was the clear choice given his experience, background, leadership style, and exceptional track record,” says Timms in a news release. “Tom has the skillset and credibility to guide BiVACOR through its next chapter of transformation and advancement as we undertake the next stage of clinical activities leading up to First in Human early feasibility studies.”

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.”

Timms will take over BiVACOR's technical team working on the Total Artificial Heart system as CTO. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

The medical device company, which has operations in Houston and Australia, recently announced the addition of eight new employees doubling their team. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“It is a testament to the great progress the team has made and to the importance of the unmet clinical need addressed by the Total artificial Heart technology," Timms says on the appointment of Vassiliades. "We look forward to Tom’s leadership as BiVACOR navigates the path to commercialization.”

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a health tech startup has grown its team, a coworking company opens its latest location, and more. Shobeir Ansar/Getty Images

Houston named a top market for remote tech workers, startup doubles its staff, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its ability to employ remote tech talent, a coworking company opens a new location, a med device startup doubles its staff, and more.

New report finds Houston a top market for remote tech talent

Houston is a top city for employing remote tech workers. Graphic via Karat

In a new report, Karat — a Seattle-based human resources company — looked at which metros were best for attracting remote tech talent. The company first completed the report based on 2020 due to a changing workforce spurred by the pandemic.

"Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs," writes Patrick Wu, data analyst at Karat, in a blog post. "Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve."

Houston ranked No. 6 this year in the list of 10 metros just ahead of No. 7 Austin. Last year, Houston ranked as No. 2 and Dallas at No. 9, but that North Texas metro fell off the top 10 for 2021. Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list year over year.

Houston artificial heart company makes strategic hires

This med device company has eight new team members. Photo via bivacor.com

BiVACOR, a Houston-based cardiatric medical device company, announced that it has doubled the size of its team with the addition of eight team members. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“The diversity of skills and experience throughout the company is something we are very proud of, and I am pleased to welcome this all-star group of individuals to the team,” says Daniel Timms, BiVACOR founder and CEO, in a December news release. “They will each play an integral role in the overall accomplishments of BiVACOR, specifically as we undertake benchtop and preclinical verification activities so that we can commence our First in Human early feasibility study in the near future.”

Here's who recently joined the company at both its United States and Australia-based operations:

  • Nathan Kong, purchasing administrator
  • Farhad Akhavan, systems engineer
  • David Duarte, verification and validation engineer
  • Paul Chiver, manufacturing technician
  • Lindsey Brede, financial controller
  • Dawnel Scott, director QA/RA
  • Mairi Maclean, director of product development
  • Nicole Bartnikowski, scientific manager (Australia)

“Having the ability to attract and hire individuals with the industry knowledge and pedigrees of this world-class team is a testament to how BiVACOR is perceived in the industry," Timms continues. "Each of them brings a unique perspective and skillset to BiVACOR and will play an important role in furthering our technology.”

BiVACOR is developing its Total Artificial Heart, or TAH. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

Coworking company opens new Houston location

Common Desk has a new West Houston location. Photo via Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk has announced the opening of its newest location in Westchase District. The flexible workspace company opened its first location in Houston in October 2020 and unveiled four more locations since then. The company shares in a news release that two more spots will be opening in 2022.

Common Desk - Westchase (2500 CityWest Blvd) ha 20,000 square feet of coworking space with 54 private offices, four office suites, six conference rooms, and shared space. Tenants will have access to an outdoor space, reserved and unreserved garage parking, a fitness center, and Common Desk's coffee brand, Fiction Coffee.

"When thinking about expanding our reach in the city, we knew we wanted to be somewhere in West Houston,” says Bobby Spoden, community sales manager at Common Desk, in the release. “Community comes first at Common Desk, and we love that the Westchase District shares the same value. We couldn't be more excited and honored to become part of the rich community in the West Houston area, and we're looking forward to the new additions to our vibrant member base."

Houston fintech unicorn expands on partnership with software company

HighRadius has deepened its partnership with Genpact. Photo via highradius.com

New York-based Genpact and Houston-based HighRadius announced the expansion of their strategic partnership. The expanded partnerships means the merging HighRadius's Autonomous Software platform with Genpact’s global accounts receivables and digital process and delivery expertise to enhance client experience across the board.

“Now more than ever, the finance function plays a vital role in leading businesses through crises, providing agility and insight that lead to greater resilience. To thrive, organizations must connect, predict and adapt at speed, placing data at their core and embracing digital technologies,” says Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO at Genpact, in a news release. “Bringing our two companies together in even deeper partnership will allow a new level of predictive intelligence that can derive meaningful insights and lead to impactful action for our clients.”

The duo originally teamed up in February of 2020 to bring together their expertise — digital automation solutions and advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If we paint the picture of the future of finance, and therefore the future of the CFO and the CFO organization, we think about the world of the CFO as one where technologies will basically allow them to make decisions every minute,” says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO at HighRadius, in the release. “Prediction is what the machine will do. Decision, judgment and experience are never going to go away from human beings. So, humans are going to spend more time than they do today on decisions and examining business outcomes. That’s where the HighRadius and Genpact partnership can make a big difference.”

3 deadlines approach for Houston startup opportunities

Don't miss these three founder opportunities. Photo via Rice

Three different entrepreneurial opportunities have deadlines quick approaching.

  • The Rice Business Plan Competition, which is planned for April 7-9 this year, has its applications open until January 31. Any graduate-student startup, in a broad range of industries, from any university, in any degree program, in any country, can apply to the RBPC. Learn more about the competition and how to apply online at https://rbpc.rice.edu/compete.
  • Applications are open for the Black Girl Ventures Change Agent Fellowship, a nine-month leadership skills development program for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Selected applicants, who must be based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston or Detroit, will each receive a $10,000 stipend. The time commitment is about 8 hours/month. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2022, and decisions will be made by mid-February. Learn more and apply at https://www.blackgirlventures.org/fellowship.
  • The 2022 HCC Business Plan Competition has applications open through January 28. The BPC will begin in late February and run through early June, with six free, virtual, 1.5 hour training  sessions. To learn more about the program and eligibility, click here.

Through a series B round and a federal grant, BiVACOR has raised $22 million in funding ahead of human trials. Photo via bivacor.com

Houston-based artificial heart company snags $22M in fresh funds

money moves

Houston-based medtech company BiVACOR has picked up $22 million in funding — in the form of a series B round and a federal grant — to propel development of its Total Artificial Heart device for treatment of severe heart failure.

In a May 19 news release, BiVACOR says it received a series B round of $19 million and a National Institutes of Health grant of $3 million. Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management and Australia's OneVentures, through its OneVentures Healthcare Fund III, led the round.

OneVentures first invested in BiVACOR three years ago. According to Australia's Financial Review, OneVentures initially pumped $3 million (Australian dollars) into BiVACOR, with the potential of contributing as much as $10 million if BiVACOR met certain milestones. BiVACOR received a round of seed funding from U.S. investors in 2013.

"BiVACOR's one-of-a-kind technology is supported by a remarkable team that has moved this technology a significant distance toward the clinic," Paul Kelly, managing partner of OneVentures, says in BiVACOR's news release.

The fresh cash will support preparation for the first human trials of the device. As a short-term measure, the device can be implanted in someone awaiting a heart transplant. It's also designed to be a long-term alternative to a heart transplant.

The BiVACOR device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

"The commitment and interest from our investors validate our technology and the need for improved options to treat end-stage biventricular heart failure," says Daniel Timms, founder and CEO of BiVACOR. "With this financing, we will be able to expand our world-class team and undertake … verification activities so that we can commence our first-in-human early feasibility study in the near future."

Founded in 2008, BiVACOR maintains offices in Cerritos, California, and Brisbane, Australia. The company is affiliated with Houston's Texas Heart Institute, where the world's first artificial heart was implanted. BiVACOR's headquarters is at the Texas Medical Center complex.

The company employs about a dozen people and says the funding will enable it to bring on another 10 employees.

For 13 years, BiVACOR has been working on technology aimed at eliminating the need for heart transplants. Thus far, the BiVACOR device has been tested only on cows.

"In heart failure, the heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to keep the body healthy and strong. At least 26 million people around the world are living with the disease, and the number is rising as populations age," IEEE Spectrum reported in 2019. "Patients with severe heart failure have a bleak outlook: Their best option is a heart transplant, but the limited number of donor hearts means that only about 5,000 patients around the world receive transplants each year. Thousands more patients are eligible for transplants, and some die while waiting for a donor organ."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

winners

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

.

Samsung sets sights on nearly $200 billion expansion in Texas

chipping in

As it builds a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor, tech giant Samsung is eyeing a long-term strategy in the Texas area that could lead to a potential investment of close to $200 billion.

Samsung’s plans, first reported by the Austin Business Journal, call for an additional $192.1 billion investment in the Austin area over several decades that would create at least 10,000 new jobs at 11 new chipmaking plants. These facilities would be at the new Taylor site and the company’s existing site in Northeast Austin.

The first of the 11 new plants wouldn’t be completed until 2034, according to the Business Journal.

“Samsung has a history already in the Austin market as an employer of choice, providing high wages, great benefits, and a great working environment. All of this will be on steroids in the not-too-distant future, creating a historic boost to the already booming Austin economy,” John Boyd Jr., a corporate site selection consultant, tells CultureMap.

Samsung’s preliminary plans were revealed in filings with the State of Texas seeking possible financial incentives for the more than $190 billion expansion. The South Korean conglomerate says the filings are part of the company’s long-range planning for U.S. chipmaking facilities.

Given that Samsung’s 11 new plants would be decades in the making, there’s no certainty at this point that any part of the potential $192.1 billion expansion will ever be built.

Last November, Samsung announced it would build a $17 billion chipmaking factory in Taylor to complete its semiconductor operations in Northeast Austin. Construction is underway, with completion set for 2024. Boyd proclaimed last year that the Taylor project will trigger an “economic tsunami” in the quiet Williamson County suburb.

The Taylor facility, which is expected to employ more than 2,000 people, ranks among the largest foreign economic development projects in U.S. history. The impact of a nearly $200 billion cluster of 11 new chipmaking plants would far eclipse the Taylor project.

The Taylor factory will produce advanced chips that power mobile and 5G capabilities, high-performance computing, and artificial intelligence.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.