University of Houston scores $1 million from top Texas foundation

A HEALTHY BOOST FOR THE COOGS

The new $1 million gift will target top recruits. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

One of the most prestigious foundations in Texas has made a generous gift to a local university's fledgling medical department. The M.D. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine, UH announced.

The sizable gift is meant to establish the M.D. Anderson Foundation Endowed Professorship in Medicine, specifically to recruit a leader in health care to join the College of Medicine faculty, according to a press release.

The gift, matched one-to-one by an anonymous donor to create a $2 million endowment, aims to support the new medical school's mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

This isn't the first time the M.D. Anderson Foundation has supported UH. The foundation has gifted more than $6 million to UH Libraries, UH Law Center, Hobby School of Public Affairs, and the College of Medicine.

"Innovation in health care requires a fresh approach and a willingness to break down traditional silos to collaborate with experts in other health disciplines such as pharmacy, engineering, law and even data sciences, said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine," in a statement.

"By harnessing the power of data analytics, we can fundamentally change the way we deliver higher quality and cost-effective care to more people. Thanks to the M.D. Anderson Foundation's generosity and vision, we will be able to recruit a new faculty member who can help us greatly to accomplish these goals."

As previously reported, UH received a $50 million gift from an anonymous donor in 2019 to establish the "$100 Million Challenge," meant to recruit top nationally recognized and awarded research faculty for chairs and professorships, designed to inspire another $50 million in investments from additional donors.

Now, the school hopes to utilize these funds to address what the school describes as a "critical primary care physician shortage, especially in low-income and minority communities lacking access to a regular source of care and have gaps in preventative care, which leads to higher rates of sickness, hospitalization, and death."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Lisa and Nicky Holdeman are ensuring a bright future of UH med students. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston power couple prescribes major gift for college of medicine

funding future doctors

University of Houston medical students and staff will receive a gift that's just what the doctor ordered.

A prestigious and longtime UH power couple has bequeathed two major gifts a major gift to the school's burgeoning College of Medicine. Dr. Nicky and Lisa Holdeman — who together boast more than 45 years at the university — have established an endowed and chair/professorship and a scholarship for medical students, the school announced.

In their will/trust the Holdemans have established, per UH:

  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Professorship/Chair, which will support a clinical teaching faculty member responsible for the oversight and strategic direction of the College of Medicine's clinics, as well as enhancing the student and patient experience.
  • The Nicky R. and Lisa K. Holdeman Endowed Scholarship, which will support students in the College of Medicine, which was founded in 2020 on a social mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

The Holdemans say that they were inspired by the UH College of Medicine's mission to address a significant statewide primary care physician shortage and how social determinants of health, such as income, housing, food supply and transportation, contribute to health outcomes.

"I have a true admiration for the comprehensive physician, someone comfortable addressing multiple health issues," Nicky Holdeman relays in a statement. "The physicians being trained at the University of Houston will be well prepared to manage most of the patients, with most conditions, most of the time. That's really what primary care medicine is all about."

As previously reported, UH's medical school will welcome its second class of 30 students this summer and will have 480 students at full enrollment, within the decade.

More on the duo, who have been married for 38 years: A UH biography notes that Nicky, physician and professor emeritus at the UH College of Optometry, served as associate dean for clinical education and executive director of the University Eye Institute during his 30 years at the college. He retired in 2019.

Meanwhile, Lisa joined UH in 2006 and serves as vice chancellor for the UH System and vice president for UH marketing and communications. She works directly with UH System Chancellor and UH President Renu Khator and school leadership.

"This gift is especially gratifying because it comes from two dedicated UH leaders whose professional careers have already contributed so much to our University's success," said Renu Khator. "That kind of enlightened commitment on their part sets an admirable example. I know I speak for many when I express our deep appreciation for their generous support of the College of Medicine and the important work it is undertaking in our community."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of Houston broke ground on its new medical school building and named the College of Medicine's inaugural class. Photo via UH.edu

Houston medical school presents inaugural class as construction begins on new building

doctors in training

This month, the University of Houston has taken a couple huge steps toward establishing a prestigious medical school program — the first new medical school to be established in Houston in almost 50 years.

UH has broken ground on its $80 million medical school building that is expected to be completed in 2022, and the program has named its inaugural class.

The new cohort of future doctors is a group diverse in ethnic background and life experience. The school plans to tackle a key issue in public health: the shortage of primary care doctors. These future doctors are charged by the university with eliminating health disparities in underserved urban and rural areas, which often have poorer health outcomes.

The UH College of Medicine received 1,728 applications for its first class of students; 164 applicants were interviewed for the 30 available spots, according to UH. An 18-member admissions committee screened those most likely to pursue primary care.

Here is a breakdown of UH's inaugural medical school class:

  • 30 students
  • 73 percent underrepresented minorities in medicine
  • 63 percent female
  • 57 percent first generation in college
  • 40 percent low socioeconomic status
  • 100 percent Texas resident
  • Five graduates of the University of Texas at Austin; two graduates each from the University of Houston, Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston Baptist, Prairie View A&M, and Rice University

According to the school, the goal is for 50 percent of graduates of the UH College of Medicine to choose primary care specialties including family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. For some perspective, nationally, only about 20 percent of medical students choose primary care.

"We were very deliberate in our pursuit of medical students who fit the mission. This is much different than most other medical schools because we need different solutions for the current health care problems facing our city and state," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the College of Medicine, in a statement.

Each student will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship through philanthropy to cover tuition and fees. At full enrollment, the College of Medicine will have 480 students, per the school. The Health 2 Building in the UH Medical District will be the college's temporary home for the first two years until a new $80 million medical school building is completed in 2022. Construction crews broke ground on the new building on June 15, according to the university.

Being part of UH's inaugural medical school is deeply personal for students such as Cenk Cengiz. At 14, Cengiz's family emigrated from Turkey to Houston, but could not afford health insurance. Cengiz attended high school and college without ever seeing a doctor, which attracted him to the field of medicine and peaked his interest in the medical school's unique mission to help underserved communities.

"I came a long way from washing dishes at age 14 at a pizza store," Cengiz said in a statement. "My parents are super proud of me."

Dr. Stephen Spann is the founding dean of the College of Medicine. Photo via uh.edu

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

Report: Federal funding, increased life science space drive industry growth in Houston

by the numbers

Federal funding, not venture capital, continues to be the main driver of growth in Houston’s life sciences sector, a new report suggests.

The new Houston Life Science Insight report from commercial real estate services company JLL shows Houston accounted for more than half (52.7 percent) of total funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) across major Texas markets through the third quarter of this year. NIH funding in the Houston area totaled $769.6 million for the first nine months of 2022, exceeding the five-year average by 19.3 percent.

VC funding for Houston’s life sciences sector pales in comparison.

For the first nine months of this year, companies in life sciences raised $147.3 million in VC, according to the report. Based on that figure, Houston is on pace in 2022 to meet or surpass recent life sciences VC totals for most other years except 2021. JLL describes 2021 as an “outlier” when it comes to annual VC hauls for the region’s life sciences companies.

JLL notes that “limited venture capital interest in private industry has remained a challenge for the city’s life sciences sector. Furthermore, it may persist as venture capital strategies are reevaluated and investment strategies shift toward near-term profits.”

While life sciences VC funding has a lot of ground to cover to catch up with NIH funding, there are other bright spots for the sector.

One of those bright spots is the region’s rising amount of life sciences space.

The Houston area boasts more than 2.4 million square feet of space for life sciences operations, with another 1.1 million under construction and an additional 1.5 million square feet on the drawing board, the report says. This includes a soon-to-open lab spanning 25,000 square feet in the first phase of Levit Green.

A second bright spot is the migration of life sciences companies to the region. Two Southern California-based life sciences companies, Cellipoint Bioservices and Obagi Cosmeceuticals, plan to move their headquarters and relocate more than half of their employees to The Woodlands by the first half of 2023, according to the report.

“Houston’s low tax rate and cost of living were primary drivers for the decisions, supported by a strong labor pool that creates advantages for companies’ expansion and relocation considerations,” JLL says.

Here's what Houston startups need to know about internal communications

guest column

Startup founders often focus on outward victories. However, if they look inward and get internal communications right, this can prioritize, inspire, and retain talent, which is the heart of the company.

Consistent internal communication helps employees to understand the company's core values and mission and the evolving internal policies and procedures — health care benefits, reorganizations, remote work — that accompany a young business. Investing in internal communications also supports external public relations efforts because the best company storytellers are well-informed employees.

Consider these tactics for effective internal communications.

Prioritize messaging

In any startup, internal procedures evolve as the company grows. Take control of the narrative while easing employees' minds by prioritizing internal messaging.

Whether transitioning to a more flexible work schedule, updating healthcare benefits, or rolling out a performance review process, planning messages in advance can help team members understand the change, the impact, and how they can contribute positively to the development.

Well-informed employees help mitigate uneasiness and tend to achieve business goals more quickly. Make sure to allow the employees time to reflect and react.

Support managers

Leaders and mid-level managers play an integral role in internal communications by cascading information throughout the organization. They regularly engage with their employees, so it is important that managers feel confident and supported in their communication skills.

Managers can benefit from a common company language, talking points, or communications training for more effective and productive conversations. By identifying, clarifying, and reinforcing common goals and key objectives for managers, companies can strengthen productivity and eliminate confusion, especially if the company changes teams' roles and responsibilities.

Be consistent

Make sure that the drumbeat remains steady, whether this includes a monthly town hall meeting or weekly CEO emails. Since communication is not necessarily one-size-fits-all, use a communication approach tailored to the workforce.

For example, there might be more effective communication methods than email for employees not behind a desk. As a smaller company, take that time to connect with the team directly because as the company swells, that one-on-one experience will become increasingly difficult to manage.

Listen to employees

Delivering top-down messaging that resonates with the workforce remains critical. However, internal communication is a two-way street.

Allow team members to give valuable feedback. Encourage team members to share their thoughts about the company, concerns, and how to improve communications. Issue internal surveys or hold face-to-face meetings to gain useful insight.

Understanding these critical proof points will enable more effective communication and quick action on any issues.

Be a human

Keep humanity at the heart of internal communications. Amid the company's transition, maintain transparency and recognize the emotional toll some changes can have on teammates. The best talent will remain when they feel connected, informed and listened to.

Greater employee engagement can help build a strong company culture of accountability, authenticity and communication, setting up the business for bigger success.

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Melanie Taplett is a communications and public relations consultant for the technology, energy, and manufacturing industries.