This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Veronica Wu of First Bight Ventures, BJ Schaknowski of symplr, and Mikyoung Jun of the University of Houston. Courtesy photos

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

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures

Veronica Wu, who moved to Houston from Silicon Valley last year, has launched a new venture capital firm to help accelerate synthetic biology startups. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Veronica Wu is a relative newcomer to Houston. She made the move from Silicon Valley to the Bayou City in the middle of 2021. Wu has announced the launch of First Bight Ventures, a new VC firm focused exclusively on early-stage synthetic biology startups, and based right here in Houston. She plans to leverage the local market to incubate these startups locally, according to the release.

“Houston is well positioned to become a major center for synthetic biology with its existing talent, industries, and capital," she says.

Wu has over 20 years of experience in managerial positions at tech companies like Apple, Tesla, and Motorola, and she served as a founding team member of McKinsey & Company’s Greater China office's business technology practice. Click here to read more.

BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr

Houston-based symplr has made another strategic acquisition as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston-based symplr, which provides software solutions for governance, risk management, and compliance and is backed by California-based Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and Massachusetts-based Charlesbank Capital Partners, announced last week that it will acquire Midas Health Analytics Solutions.

Symplr will acquire the Midas platform, which provides users with operations efficiency via data analytics, from New Jersey-based Conduent Incorporated (Nasdaq: CNDT). The deal, valued at $340 million, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

"Midas Health Analytics Solutions brings actionable data and insights to help symplr's health system clients improve patient care and deliver better outcomes," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in a news release. "With integrated quality outcomes and machine learning-based advanced analytics, our combined compliance, quality and safety software portfolio can better predict patient specific risks, deliver population health insights, and proactively improve and support business intelligence performance further advancing symplr's mission of transforming healthcare operations."Click here to read more.

Mikyoung Jun, ConocoPhillips professor of data science at the UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics

A new UH-led program will work with energy corporations to prepare the sector's future workforce. Photo via UH.edu

The Data Science for Energy Transition project, which is funded through 2024 by a $1.49 million grant from the National Science Foundation, includes participation from UH, the University of Houston-Downtown, the University of Houston-Victoria, the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and Sam Houston State University.

At the helm of the initiative is principal investigator Mikyoung Jun, ConocoPhillips professor of data science at the UH College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

“It’s obvious that the Houston area is the capital for the energy field. We are supporting our local industries by presenting talented students from the five sponsoring universities and other Texas state universities with the essential skills to match the growing needs within those data science workforces,” Jun says in the release. “We’re planning all functions in a hybrid format so students located outside of Houston, too, can join in.” Click here to read more.

Houston-based symplr has made another strategic acquisition as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston health tech company makes $340M deal to acquire analytics biz​​

m&a moves

A tech-enabled Houston health care operations business has announced another strategic acquisition that would close before the end of the quarter.

Houston-based symplr, which provides software solutions for governance, risk management, and compliance and is backed by California-based Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and Massachusetts-based Charlesbank Capital Partners, announced this week that it will acquire Midas Health Analytics Solutions. Symplr will acquire the Midas platform, which provides users with operations efficiency via data analytics, from New Jersey-based Conduent Incorporated (Nasdaq: CNDT). The deal, valued at $340 million, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

"Midas Health Analytics Solutions brings actionable data and insights to help symplr's health system clients improve patient care and deliver better outcomes," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in a news release. "With integrated quality outcomes and machine learning-based advanced analytics, our combined compliance, quality and safety software portfolio can better predict patient specific risks, deliver population health insights, and proactively improve and support business intelligence performance further advancing symplr's mission of transforming healthcare operations."

Midas brings to the table a vast data warehouse with over 100 million claims and 30,000 indicators, according to the release, and comparative data from an estimated 800 hospitals.

"As part of our strategy to streamline our portfolio, we consider divestitures of select businesses in order to enhance shareholder and client value." says Cliff Skelton, Conduent president and CEO, in the release. "We believe this is a mutually beneficial transaction and we are focused on providing a seamless transition for our clients. We are committed to delivering robust business process solutions to all industries, including the healthcare industry."

Symplr has been on a bit of a roll when it comes to acquisitions. In March, InnovationMap reported that the SaaS company acquired Phynd Technologies, and symplr went on to acquire another handful of companies throughout 2021. Looking back, symplr has made over a dozen acquisitions and was recognized among the fastest-growing tech companies by Deloitte in 2020.

"The Midas acquisition further strengthens symplr's comprehensive healthcare operations SaaS solutions that enable hospitals and health systems to efficiently navigate the complexities of integrating critical business operations," says Behdad Eghbali, co-founder and managing partner of Clearlake, which acquired symplr in 2018. "We look forward to supporting the company as it continues driving industry consolidation and accelerating organic growth through our O.P.S. value creation framework."

Houston-based symplr has acquired a Dallas SaaS company as it grows its software offerings to its health care clients. Image via symplr.com

Houston health care SaaS company makes strategic acquisition

keep it symplr

A Houston-based health tech company is on an acquisition roll — it's latest deal marks the 11th acquisition in six years.

Software-as-a-service company symplr, which makes health care governance, risk management, and compliance software, has acquired Dallas-based data management SaaS company, Phynd Technologies. Symplr, which is backed by Clearlake Capital Group L.P. and SkyKnight Capital, did not disclose the terms of the transaction.

Symplr's burst of M&A activity spurs from the growing company's mission of providing end-to-end healthcare GRC portfolio, according to a news release. Phynd's platform manages data to provider profiles, locations, clinical expertise, availability, and health plan and network participation.

"Delivering new and significant ongoing value to our customers is integral to symplr's mission. Bringing Phynd into the symplr family helps us further deliver on that promise," says BJ Schaknowski, CEO of symplr, in the news release. "Phynd will integrate with our existing provider software solutions to create an end-to-end provider data management platform for hospitals, health systems, and payers that is unmatched in the healthcare industry today. We're excited to continue leading the healthcare GRC industry with innovative solutions that drive meaningful change."

Phynd was founded in 2012 and raised its $8 million series B in January 2019, according to Crunchbase.

"In the digital healthcare era, organizations must manage their providers and locations as searchable products that are accessible by consumers, referring providers and staff, and care delivery and revenue cycle teams. The combination of symplr and Phynd offers a unique, holistic provider data management offering that includes all providers, locations and virtual visits, helping healthcare organizations become more efficient and competitive," says Tom White, CEO of Phynd, in the release.

"symplr now offers the most robust and scalable central hub of continuously-curated credentialed and referring provider data. We are enthusiastic about executing as one organization and jointly expanding symplr's market leadership," he continues.

The Phynd acquisition is the sixth since symplr formed its partnership with private equity firms Clearlake and SkyKnight in 2018. Based in Santa Monica and Dallas, Clearlake is focused on software solutions across industries and currently has approximately $30 billion of assets under management. San Francisco-based SkyKnight Capital manages over $1.5 billion of PE capital and invests in healthcare, insurance, and business services.

Last year, symplr was named to Deloitte's 26th annual North America Technology Fast 500.The companies on the list were selected based on percentage fiscal year revenue growth from 2016 to 2019. The company came in at No. 426 on the national list with 221 percent growth.

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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy