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."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Mitra Miller of Houston Angel Network, Richard Baraniuk of OpenStax, and Carlos Estrada of BioWell. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to three Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with an angel investment evangelist, an academic-turned-startup-founder celebrating a big win, and a leader of a brand new accelerator.

Mitra Miller, vice president and board member of the Houston Angel Network

Mitra Miller, vice president and board member of the Houston Angel Network, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share her passion for growing angel investors in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

One of the biggest components of a well-functioning startup ecosystem is inarguably access to capital, and Mitra Miller is dedicated to enhancing education around investment and growing Houston's investor base.

As vice president and board member of the Houston Angel Network, the oldest angel network in Texas and one of the most active angel networks in the country, Miller strives to provide guidance to new and emerging angel investors as well as founders seeking to raise money from them.

"Most founders have no idea or understanding of how investors think — we are not an ATM," Miller says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We are really partners you are getting married to for the next 5, 8, 10 years — sometimes longer. We need to bring your allies in every sense of the word." Continue reading.

Richard Baraniuk, Rice University professor and founder of OpenStax

At an event at the Ion, OpenStax and Rice University announced a $90 million NSF-backed initiative. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice

An educational technology company based out of Rice University has received $90 million to create and lead a research and development hub for inclusive learning and education research. It's the largest research award in the history of the university.

OpenStax received the grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for a five-year project create the R&D hub called SafeInsights. Richard Baraniuk, who founded OpenStax and is a Rice professor, will lead SafeInsights. He says he hopes the initiative will allow progress to be made for students learning in various contexts.

“Learning is complex," Baraniuk says in the release. "Research can tackle this complexity and help get the right tools into the hands of educators and students, but to do so, we need reliable information on how students learn. Just as progress in health care research sparked stunning advances in personalized medicine, we need similar precision in education to support all students, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.” Continue reading.

Carlos Estrada, head of venture acceleration at BioWell

Calling all biotechnology startups. Photo via LinkedIn

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. Continue reading.

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.

Veronica Wu, founder of First Bight Ventures, recently announced new team members and her hopes for making Houston a leader in synthetic biology. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Houston synthetic biology VC grows team ahead of foundry launch

future of tech

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

WeWork Labs and NextSeed have teamed up to help Houston's food entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of WeWork

WeWork accelerator partners with Houston-based investment platform for food entrepreneurship

food for thought

Two Houston programs that exist to help grow and develop food and hospitality startups have teamed up to combine their resources and programming.

WeWork Labs, a global acceleration program with a location in downtown Houston, and NextSeed, a Houston-based online investment platform, have announced a partnership set to begin in December. Together, the two entities will build a support system for Houston-based food entrepreneurs to provide workshops, programming, events, and more.

"Houston food entrepreneurs are keen to solve the big problems the food industry is facing today," says Carlos Estrada, head of WeWork Labs in Houston, in a news release. "Houston is among the leading cities for startup innovation and we see our partnership with NextSeed as an exciting first-of-its-kind initiative that will prove to support even more food entrepreneurs in the area, arming them with the network and tools they need to get their concepts off the ground and transform into leading businesses."

WeWork brings in its international food labs programming, and NextSeed will be able to provide access to capital through its platform. In March, the company launched NextSeed Space — a pop-up retail and kitchen space for startups to test their food and operations.

"Since inception, NextSeed has been focused on developing a world-class technology platform to democratize finance and strengthen local communities," says NextSeed CEO, Youngro Lee, in a news release. "By partnering with WeWork Labs, we are excited to be able to expand the level of support we can provide to our clients and member businesses through services like coaching, mentoring and dedicated workspace to help them ultimately reach their goals."

The first joint event hosted will be a reception and panel on December 12 from 6 to 8:30 pm at WeWork's Jones Building location in downtown. For event details, click here.

Houston is one of only five WeWork Labs markets that can expect access to 3D printers as a part of a pilot program with two companies. Courtesy of WeWork

WeWork selects Houston as one of its markets for a 3D printing pilot program

press print

WeWork has teamed up with two leading 3D printing companies to bring their technology into five WeWork Labs markets — including Houston's downtown location. The other locations tapped for the pilot program are London, San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.

Massachusetts-based Formlabs' Form 2 printer has over 20 different material resins WeWork Labs members can use to prototype and print products using desktop stereolithography.

"Formlabs was founded eight years ago on the basis of empowering anyone to make anything," says Max Lobovsky, CEO and co-founder of Formlabs in a release. "Today, our customers have printed more than 40 million parts, they vary from early stage entrepreneurs changing the status quo and developing new applications to Fortune 500s experimenting with new business models or production methods."

The other company involved in the program is Seattle-based Glowforge, which created a 3D laser printer. Glowforge Plus uses subtractive laser technology to cut and sculpt projects from materials like wood, leather, acrylic, stone — and even stickers. The company, which was founded in 2014, has had over three million prints on its devices — everything from jewelry and clothing to machinery.

"We are thrilled to partner with WeWork Labs to provide their community of entrepreneurs and startups alike access to the tools that will help them create corporate giveaways, new product prototypes, and full production runs — everything to take their dreams from idea to creation," says Dan Shapiro, CEO of Glowforge, in the release.

The printers will be revealed at various launch events celebrating the National Week of Making, which begins June 21 and goes through June 27. Houston's launch event will be on June 28, but the specifics have not yet been finalized.

"We see WeWork Labs as a platform for creators, innovators and makers alike, and believe partnering with Glowforge and Formlabs will give our members even more of an opportunity to take their ideas, and bring them to life," says Katie Perkins, creative director at WeWork Labs, in the release. "We are incredibly excited to welcome two leading brands and their products into our community, giving creators access to the tools they need and inspiring new creators to be makers themselves."

Houston's WeWork Labs program launched in March in the WeWork Jones Building at 708 Main St. and includes a partnership with local digital startup resource, Alice. The WeWork Labs program started a little over a year ago and is already in over 30 markets worldwide.

"As the fourth largest city, Houston is in a unique position to launch high-impact startups," says Houston Labs Manager Carlos Estrada, in a previous release. "We see WeWork Labs in Houston as a tremendous platform for innovation, as our founder-focused approach to supporting early-stage startups will nurture and accelerate the work of entrepreneurs to scale their solutions to today's biggest challenges."

Form 2

Courtesy of WeWork

Using 20 types of resin materials, Formlabs' Form 2 can create parts or prototypes.

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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.