Meet this week's Houston innovators to know. Courtesy photos

It's safe to say most Houstonians have been glued to their TVs watching the Houston Astros in the World Series, but the city never sleeps on innovation news. And, one of this week's who's who of Houston innovation even has a World Series-worthy technology.

Here are this week's Houston innovators to know.

Patrick Lewis, co-founder of BBL Ventures

Patrick Lewis co-founded BBL Ventures that helps connect energy companies to startups that have innovative technology solutions for their pain points. Courtesy of Patrick Lewis

On last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Patrick Lewis, co-founder of BBL Ventures, with his 25-year career in tech investing, took the mic to discuss Houston innovation, the energy tech industry, and BBL's progress with matchmaking big corporations and the startups that can help them stay competitive.

"At our core, we're an investment firm, but our mission statement is to be the innovation partner for the energy and natural resources industry," Lewis says on the podcast. Read more.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems

Through a partnership between two Houston companies, installing breast cancer screening technology is easier than ever. Courtesy of Acudata Systems

It's National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the demand for access to detection facilities is rising. Two Houston companies joined forces to help optimize detection.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems, along with Solis Mammography announced a new partnership with the creation of Center-in-a-Box, a technology solution that supports the rapid deployment of breast screening and diagnostic service. Combining IT design, engineering, equipment installation, and go-live support into one full-service package, Center-in-a-Box is forecasted to grow Solis by approximately 30 to 60 new mammography centers within the next 24 months.

"What differentiates Accudata is the services we provide," says DiPaolo. "From procurement and project management to design, installation, and ongoing support, Accudata is a one-stop shop for turning up a new site quickly." Read more.

Ben Fairchild, founder of Fairchild Sports Performance

Ben Fairchild is in the business of keeping athletes — from professionals to amateurs — in top shape. Courtesy of FSP

Sports technology is a burgeoning business and Ben Fairchild, founder of Fairchild Sports Performance, sees the value for its clients. Fairchild has created an app that allows users to stay in shape and access training from anywhere. This has been especially helpful for Fairchild's MLB athletes, which includes World Series athletes George Springer, right fielder for the Houston Astros, and Anthony Rendon, third baseman for the Washington Nationals,

"The FSP app is for anybody who has a body," Fairchild says. "We want to find solutions for long-term health and fitness challenges for people of all walks of life." Read more.

Through a partnership between two Houston companies, installing breast cancer screening technology is easier than ever. Getty Images

Houston tech company is helping to scale breast cancer screening using IT solutions

tech detection

With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, two Houston companies are working to provide a fast and accurate diagnostic solution.

Accudata Systems and Solis Mammography announced a new partnership with the creation of Center-in-a-Box, a technology solution that supports the rapid deployment of breast screening and diagnostic service. Combining IT design, engineering, equipment installation, and go-live support into one full-service package, Center-in-a-Box is forecasted to grow Solis by approximately 30 to 60 new mammography centers within the next 24 months.

Brian DiPaolo, the chief technology officer of Accudata Systems, tells InnovationMap that the product side of the solution includes equipment for a healthcare clinic, network and security infrastructure, as well as computers, tablets, phones, printers, scanners, and more.

"What differentiates Accudata is the services we provide," says DiPaolo. "From procurement and project management to design, installation, and ongoing support, Accudata is a one-stop shop for turning up a new site quickly."

According to a news release, there is a great demand to provide more centers nationwide, Solis saw the need for innovation and a cost-effective solution and turned to Accudata for assistance. In partnership with Solis, Accudata created a full-service solution for the IT design, equipment, and deployment of one clinic.

"Accudata identified the business challenge centered around people, processes, and products," says DiPaolo. "Solis was unable to scale quickly, limited resources could not provide adequate support, and they did not have the necessary project management and service delivery capabilities. Procurement from different vendors and manufacturers was difficult to manage, and the current network architecture made the process of spinning up new sites difficult and time-consuming."

DiPaolo tells InnovationMap that the company assists Solis when it's time to build out a new clinic or renovate an existing site, first performing a wireless survey to figure out the size of the clinic (small, medium, or large) and the equipment needed. Once this step is complete and the team understands the need, Accudata can begin the process of setting up the equipment in their lab before shipping it to the site and completing the deployment. The total turnaround time from purchase to clinic go-live is just three weeks.

The partnership creates a powerful match. Accudata Systems, founded in 1982 by Rich Johnson and Terry Dickson, is one of the largest IT integrators in the United States with 136 Houston-based employees, as well as a few in San Antonio and Austin and 30 in Dallas. Solis Mammography is the nation's largest independent provider of breast screening and diagnostic services with more than 50 centers in Texas, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C, Maryland, and Virginia.

"According to the World Health Organization, breast cancer is the most frequent cancer among women, impacting 2.1 million women each year," says Solis Chief Information Officer Guhan Raghu in a news release. "Breast cancer rates are increasing in nearly every region globally, making the screening and diagnostic services Solis provides ever more vital to early diagnosis and treatment. The Center-in-a-Box IT solution developed with Accudata allows Solis to rapidly address mammography needs across the United States and further fulfill our promise to help women achieve and maintain breast health and peace of mind."

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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.