Jim Dillon has been named CEO of BiVACOR. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston-based medical device company BiVACOR has brought aboard a new CEO.

Jim Dillon, a longtime executive in the medical device sector, has been hired to lead BiVACOR and join its board of directors. Dillon succeeds former heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, whose appointment as CEO was announced in January 2022.

“Jim’s leadership style, combined with his experience in building high-performance teams as well as expertise in the heart failure field, makes him the ideal person to lead BiVACOR,” Raymond Cohen, chairman of BiVACOR, says in a news release.

Cohen was named chairman of BiVACOR in December 2023.

Most recently, Dillon was CEO of Massachusetts-based BioVentrix, a medical device company that focuses on minimally invasive procedures aimed at preventing heart failure. He previously held sales and marketing positions at medical device companies Abiomed, TherOx, and InfraReDx.

In November, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) paved the way for BiVACOR to conduct a first-in-human clinical feasibility study of its Total Artificial Heart product. The study, initially featuring three patients at Houston’s Texas Heart Institute, is set to start during the first half of 2024. It will evaluate the device’s use as a substitute for a heart transplant.

The device “is unique in its complexity and importance as an advanced treatment option for end-stage biventricular heart failure patients,” Dillon says, and promises “to truly revolutionize the field.”

About 100,000 patients suffering from severe heart failure could benefit from BiVACOR’s artificial heart, the company says. For these patients, drug therapy is limited and the health prognosis is bleak, given the scarcity of donor hearts around the world.

Founded in 2008, BiVACOR maintains its headquarters in Houston, along with offices in Huntington Beach, California, and Brisbane, Australia.

To date, BiVACOR has raised nearly $37.8 million, according to CB Insights. The company’s investors include Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management, Australia-based OneVentures, the Australia Department of Health, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

SeisWave specializes in cost-effective, cloud-based seismic data processing. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy startup joins Texas-based climate accelerator

ready to grow

An Austin-based climate accelerator announced its 2023 cohort, which includes a Houston cleantech startup.

StudioX named seven startups to its 2023 cohort, and SeisWave Corp., a seismic service company, will join the program that aims to help the world reach net-zero targets by 2050. The group comprises Studio X's third cohort since the company launched in 2020.

SeisWave specializes in cost-effective, cloud-based seismic data processing.

Other companies in the cohort include:

  • AI Technology & Systems: A NASA iTech company that provides compressed AI models and software
  • Austere Environmental: An environmental remediation solution that extracts chemical contaminants in soil, drill cuttings, and tailings
  • Economical Energy: A long-duration energy storage solution company
  • Flexergy: A developing highly efficient hydrogen gas compression, storage and distribution system
  • Onvol: An IoT power solutions tech company with applications in wind energy, transport, and mining
  • Project Geminae: A Midland, Texas-based AI-powered portfolio optimization platform advancing predictive modeling across industries

The companies will participate in a 16-week program and mentorship through the cohort, along with investment opportunities.

“Our accelerator program helps to close that gap through bringing together an engaged community that grows these companies at a faster rate, ultimately driving innovation, and helping to evolve global energy solutions,” Jeff Allyn, CEO of Studio X, says in a statement.

Studio X is fully-owned and incubated by Shell and aims to "break down the silos of traditional R&D," according to its website. Click here to view some of the accelerator's past participants.

The company will host an Accelerator Showcase Event Friday, Nov. 10, where companies will pitch their concepts and offer a Q&A session. Register here.

Another Shell-backed accelerator announced its cohort earlier this week. In partnership with Greentown Labs, the organizations announced the cohort for Greentown Go Make 2023, which aims to accelerate partnerships between startups and corporations to advance carbon utilization, storage, and traceability solutions. The cohort includes six companies from around the world, from the Netherlands and Canada to Massachusetts and Washington state.

Additionally, The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will launch in Houston next year to help advance clean tech jobs. According to Accenture and Goodwill, which are partners in the accelerator, said it plans to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Meet Michelle Accardi, the new CEO of Liongard. Photo courtesy of Liongard

Houston SaaS startup names new CEO

c-suite switchup

A Houston startup founder is transitioning from CEO to make room for a new leader.

Liongard, a software-as-a-service startup with a Managed Service Providers platform, has named Michelle Accardi as CEO, effective April 17. Joe Alapat, co-founder and CEO, will transition to CTO to better lead tech development of the platform, which provides customers with compliance, cybersecurity risk mitigation, and more.

“Now is the right time for Liongard to transform for the long term as we welcome a new member to our executive leadership team,” Alapat says in a news release. “Michelle’s addition will help take Liongard to the next level and accelerate our growth as we address the evolving needs of the industry. This new role allows me to focus on driving Liongard’s innovation forward and helping our MSP partners navigate the modern business landscape.”

Accardi has over 20 years of experience within MSPs and technology companies. She will oversee growth of the company and its product portfolio.

“The Liongard team has accomplished much in its first few years, and that’s a testament to the founding vision and hard work of the entire organization,” Accardi said. “With Liongard in a strong market leadership position, there is a unique opportunity to accelerate growth. Joe and team have built a dynamic company culture and robust technical foundation and I am looking forward to partnering with him to build on the company’s success.”

Most recently as CEO of Logically, Accardi also served as president and chief revenue officer of Star2Star.

“We are excited to welcome Michelle to the team at Liongard,” says Carter Griffin, Liongard board member and general partner at Updata Partners, an investor of Liongard. “We believe that Michelle’s leadership experience and excellent track record will ensure Liongard continues to perform at a very high level.”

Accardi joins the team following a $10 million round of funding that Liongard, which was founded in 2015, secured last year. The startup has raised over $30 million in investment funding to date.

Joe Alapat has transitioned to CTO of Houston-based Liongard. Photo courtesy of Liongard

Houston-based Saranas has tapped a new leader amidst push to commercialize bleed detection technology. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston medical device startup names new CEO

now at the helm

Houston-based medical device company Saranas has tapped a veteran of the healthcare industry as its new CEO.

Mike MacKinnon most recently was president and partner at Madison Ventures +, a private equity firm based in Greenwood Village, Colorado. The firm invests in companies in healthcare, real estate, finance, and other sectors.

Before joining Madison Ventures +, MacKinnon was CEO of Zidan Medical, a startup focused on treatment of airway lesions in patients with early stage lung cancer. He served in that role from 2019 to 2023.

Earlier, he was CEO of ROX Medical, a medical device company specializing in minimally invasive vascular therapy for patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure. He held that role from 2018 to 2019. He previously worked at Philips North America, Volcano, AtheroMed, Hansen Medical, Access Closure, and FoxHollow Technologies.

In a news release, Dan Wolterman, chairman of Saranas’ board and former president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System, calls MacKinnon “an accomplished executive with an impressive record of bringing disruptive technology to market, guiding strategy, and driving significant growth.”

Now president and CEO of Nashua, New Hampshire-based medical device company Conformal Medical, James Reinstein was president and CEO of Saranas from 2020 to 2022. Prior to Reinstein, Zaffer Syed held that position from 2017 to 2020. He's still an adviser for the company and recently announced his role as entrepreneur in residence at the Texas Medical Center.

Saranas is working on commercializing its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, touted as the first and only system FDA-approved bleeding detection system for procedures involving blood vessels. It is designed to detect bleeds early, enabling physicians to reduce medical risks and potentially avoid costly medical problems.

“Bleeding remains a common issue during and after endovascular procedures and can result in life-threatening complications,” says MacKinnon.

Since being founded in 2013, Saranas has treated over 1,200 patients with its device and has received $29.2 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. This includes a $12.8 million Series B round that Saranas got in 2021 from Chicago-based Baird Capital and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The Early Bird device was developed at Houston’s Texas Heart Institute. The FDA approved the device in 2019.

Here's what factors a VC will consider when evaluating a startup's leadership, according to Rice University research. Photo via Getty images

Houston research: Why venture capital firms might change a startup's leadership

houston voices

Consider the 21st century's most storied CEOs: Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos. All have one thing in common – not only did they run their companies, they founded them.

Each of these corporate leaders, in other words, had to deal with venture capital firms to find critical resources for their firm's success. And it didn't always end well. Jobs was famously fired when Apple's board replaced him with the former CEO of a soft drink company – a disaster from which Apple took years to recover.

Even if changing CEOs doesn't always work out, however, it often does. And when VCs invest heavily in a company, they are proactive in making their investment pay off. Uber founder Travis Kalanick, for example, who cofounded the ride-sharing app Uber, was pressured to step down in 2017 after the company was rocked by scandals that included reported sexual harassment.

Though Kalanick's flameout drew global attention, being swapped out is actually commonplace for CEOs of startups, according to Rice Business Professor Yan "Anthea" Zhang. In a new study coauthored with Salim Chahine of the American University of Beirut, Zhang examined data on 1,156 venture-capital-backed U.S. initial public offerings between 1995 and 2013. Out of this sample, they found that 472 firms, or 40.8 percent, changed CEOs between the first round of venture capital financing and the IPO.

Venture capitalists often have strong reasons for swapping a CEO out, Zhang notes. Guiding a company from its startup phase to the initial public offering requires a huge learning curve. Attention must be paid to human resources, efficiency, public relations – hurdles that can stymie even the most successful startup leaders. Just as in public companies, CEO deficiencies in these areas can harm a company's IPO success and its stock value after the IPO.

A range of other factors, some subtle, lie behind VC decisions to change startup leadership, the researchers found. Distance between the startup and the venture capital firm's headquarters is one such factor. If a New York VC firm funds a company in Nevada, monitoring the day-to-day work of the startup is more difficult and costly than if the venture capital firm is based in California.

A CEO directly appointed by a venture capitalist is more likely to be seen as the venture capital firm's agent, allowing the VC firm to directly control the startup, the researchers write. Overall, VC firms unable to closely monitor the startups they funded were more likely to look for new leadership.

The CEO's past experience, described by the researchers as "human capital," is also pivotal. A CEO who has successfully led a prior IPO is much less likely to be replaced than one who hasn't been through the experience, Zhang's team found. Similarly, a CEO with finance/accounting experience, an MBA, or a graduate level degree is likely to be seen as more credible than one who lacks such experience or degree.

Chaotic as it might seem to swap horses midstream, replacing a CEO for one with more experience and education correlates to a better valuation of the public offering, the researchers found.

These findings are particularly timely now, in the era of COVID-19. As businesses turn to Zoom and other remote techniques, VCs may be questioning more than ever how well they can monitor their investments without frequent site visits and in-person meetings. Building a company has always been a heavy lift. When your funder can only measure your work through a screen, surviving as a startup CEO may be tougher than ever.

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This article originally ran on Rice Business Wisdom and is based on research from Yan "Anthea" Zhang, the Fayez Sarofim Vanguard Professor of Management – Strategic Management at Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University.

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Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

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.