The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."

Here's what interactive, virtual events to log on to this month. Katleho Seisa/Getty Images

10+ can't-miss virtual business and innovation events in Houston for April

where to be online

Going into April, the city of Houston has another month at least of working from home, hopping on calls, and setting up video chats — but you don't have to go through this all alone.

Here are over 10 Houston innovation events you can attend virtually via online meetings. Be sure to register in advance, as most will send an access link ahead of the events.

April 1 — Social Entrepreneurship Meetup

Impact Hub Houston is bringing this monthly meetup online. Registrants will receive an email with the link to attend the Zoom meeting.


Details: The event is at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, April 1. Learn more.

April 2 — Considerations for Emerging Companies in the COVID-19 Era

A group of experts will discuss how the coronavirus and all its resulting complications will affect startups.

Details: The event is at 2 pm on Thursday, April 2. Learn more.

April 3 — UH's Red Labs Pitch Madness

You are invited to watch the final round of Pitch Madness, a pitch competition for UH students. Students will give a four minute pitch and be asked questions about their startup idea by judges. You can attend digitally the finals and watch students pitch at bit.ly/pitchmadness_finals.

Details: The event is at 1 pm on Friday, April 3. Learn more.

April 7 — CARES Act and Managing your Startup through the COVID Crisis

Carolyn Rodz, CEO of Alice, and Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund, answer tech startups' questions about the CARES Act. Zoom link will be sent to attendee's prior to the event.

Details: The event is at 4 pm on Tuesday, April 7. Learn more.

April 8 — Startups & Sustainability - How to Make a Profit and Impact

Join as General Assembly brings together entrepreneurs in sustainability to examine how business and tech can be a force for good. Hear from leaders who will share their insights into how industry can impact the environment. Event will be hosted via Zoom, and registrants will be sent a link to attend.

Details: The event is at 5:45 pm on Wednesday, April 8. Learn more.

April 9 — Out of the Lab & Into the Newsroom: Media 101

This JLABs webinar will discuss trends in the media world, how these impact best outreach practices, and tips for designing a successful media campaign.

Details: The event is at 9 am on Thursday, April 9. Learn more.

April 9 — Webinar: In Today's Market - Do Patents Even Matter?

Inventors and business professionals are asked to review the claims of their patent application before it is filed. This step is THE critical step that is supposed to ensure that the claims will protect their invention. The decision you make here determines if you will be part of the 97% of all patents that never recoup the cost of filing them. This event is virtual and a Zoom link will be emailed on the day of the event.

Details: The event is at noon on Thursday, April 9. Learn more.

April 13-16 — Capital Factory's Founders Academy Essentials

Amongst all the excitement of running a startup is a lot of hard work and stressful decisions. Founders Academy Essentials is a 4-day lunch-n-learn curriculum designed specifically for driven entrepreneurs that are passionate about their business potential.

Details: The event is from Monday, April 13, to Thursday, April 16. Learn more.

April 14 — Black in Tech Summit

Capital Factory welcomes you to its 2nd Annual Black In Tech Summit. We're dedicated to increasing diversity in the tech community and making our coworking space an inclusive environment for people of all backgrounds and identities.

Details: The event is at noon on Tuesday, April 14. Learn more.

April 21 — Don’t Go Pitching in the Dark: How to Navigate Investor Interactions

In this webinar, experts of the craft will share practical tips on becoming more effective in communicating your story to investors, increasing your chances of successful fundraising.

Details: The event is at 9 am on Tuesday, April 21. Learn more.

April 21 — Employable in 2030: Closing the skills gap.

What jobs will exist in 2030? Come along and hear from a panel of industry leaders on how to stay relevant in the rapidly changing space for 2030 and beyond. Event will be hosted via Zoom, and registrants will be sent a link to attend.

Details: The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, April 21. Learn more.

April 22 — Ion Startup Demo Day (Virtual Edition)

Top tier mentors, local investors, and personalized pitch feedback for participating startups -- nothing's changed but the address. Whether you're a serial entrepreneur or just looking to get involved in the community, this event is for YOU.

Details: The event is at 6 pm on Wednesday, April 22. Learn more.

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For more virtual events, check out Houston Exponential's calendar.

Houston tech company launches digital logistics platform to help coronavirus supply chain disruptions

tech solutions

Houston-based ChaiOne recently announced the soft launch of Velostics, the "slack" for logistics that solve wait times and cash flow challenges in the supply chain and logistics industry. The digital logistics platform is set to aid the struggling supply chain as surging demands stretch suppliers, offering their platform free for 60 days.

The platform, aimed at making communication and execution of industrial shipments easier is one of ChaiOne's software service startups. The digital solutions provider for the energy, power, and industrial sectors is a leader in behavioral science-led solutions for logistics operations.

"At ChaiOne we have a history of helping Houstonians whenever disaster strikes," says CEO and founder, Gaurav Khandelwal. "We created a disaster connect app during Hurricane Harvey for free that connected people with the resources they need. Velostics by pure happenstance happened to be ready for situations like [the coronavirus] when there's a lot of parties that need to collaborate."

Velostics results in an improved cash cycle for clients, cutting a 90-day settlement down to one day, along with an overhead reduction that reduces costs and improves output along with error reduction. The digital platform is specially engineered to reduce waste while keeping the supply chain running efficiently.

"With Velostics everybody in the supply chain whether it's the carrier, the truck driver, the warehouse worker or the customer can all be on the same page and in the same system using the in-app messaging system and satellite locations to see where the shipment is in real-time," says Khandelwal.

Like many other companies and individuals, Velostics has not been left untouched by the fallout of the spread of the coronavirus. This year they were chosen by Plug and Play Tech Center as a keynote for the Agora track of CERA week, with the cancellation of the premier energy conference they were not able to roll out the platform to a large audience.

"It's definitely unfortunate, but the situation has been changing daily and it has resulted in new opportunities for Velostics," says Khandelwal.

Velostics uses machine learning algorithms to predict wait times, help customers utilize their assets and plan more efficiently. The benefits of the logistics platform focus on reducing wait times for industrial shippers, third-party logistics providers, and freight brokers.

Today, they find themselves using these tools to help the community. Along with offering their platform for free for 60 days, they will be partnering with the American Red Cross to aid health professionals get the medical gear they need.

"Like any startup, we have a hypothesis about how to improve the industry which we then test, says Khandelwal. "But when there's a need such as this one, the hypothesis goes out of the window because the market is changing rapidly. If we can do anything to help from a supply-chain perspective to help save lives, we are very much open to sharing ideas."

For newly named CEO of Topl, it's game on. Courtesy of Topl

Coronavirus has placed new focus on digitization and supply chain, says Houston blockchain startup leader

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 25

From a business perspective, Kim Raath, founder and CEO of Topl, sees the challenges and expected recession caused by COVID-19 as an opportunity — and a test.

"A bunch of companies — like Airbnb — were built in the 2008 recession," Raath says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'm excited to see if we make it through here, I think we can survive anything."

Topl was founded by Rice University graduates — Raath, James Aman, and Chris Georgen — to track impact in various industries, such as carbon footprints in oil and gas or fair wages for farmers in agriculture, via a robust blockchain network. The company closed a $700,000 seed round last year and is looking toward another round of investment this year — yes, even amidst the current situation.

Raath just recently took over as CEO for the company following the completion of her Rice Ph.D in statistics and a Master's in economics, and it was a perfect time for the founders to sit down and realign their company. Aman will continue to focus on the tech, Georgen will focus on the customer, and Raath will steer the ship.

"It was definitely a cool experience for us as founders to go through together, but I'm glad that all three of us came out of this excited about what we're doing moving forward," says Raath.

And then, the coronavirus hit, which, to Raath, has proven to be an added obstacle and an exciting time to be in the track and trace world of blockchain.

"A lot of these COVID-19 trackers that everyone is watching, the data is being pulled into these trackers in the same way you could be tracking your chocolate, diamonds, anything," says Raath. "I'm excited to see the virtual and digital side of this — people are realizing you can use data to visualize things — and at the same time use that data for informed decision making."

She's observed that people are actually thinking of the effects on supply chain — in more than just the business sense.

"I don't think any of us thought this much about supply chain. Most of us just went to the grocery store, and we had all these options," Raath says.

Raath, like many startup founders, have had to make some tough calls and some huge cuts to her business, which has been scrappy and bootstrapped most of its existence anyways. In the episode, she offers her fellow startup leaders some advice about making these cuts as well as reminds them, as well as herself, that everyone is in the same boat right now — ask yourself what you can do to stand out and survive.

"Everyone is in the same place — including your competition right now," Raath says. "You don't have control of the uncertainty — but no one does. What do you have control over right now and how can you act on that control. That's what my focus has been."

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston Methodist is the first academic hospital in the country to use a new plasma infusion treatment against COVID-19. Photo by Getty Images

Houston hospital first in U.S. to try experimental plasma treatment

A major Houston hospital is spearheading a crucial treatment in the ongoing battle against COVID-19.

Houston Methodist is the first academic medical center in the nation to be approved by the FDA to transfuse donated plasma from a recovered COVID-19 patient into a critically ill patient.

The experimental treatment was fast-tracked as the death toll in the coronavirus pandemic soared to more than 2,000 people across the United States and more than 100,000 Americans sick from the virus, according to a statement.

The concept of the treatment centers around the idea that plasma from someone who has recovered from COVID-19 contains antibodies made by the immune system and used to kill the virus. Transfusing antibody-rich plasma into a COVID-19 patient who is still fighting the virus may transfer the power of the antibodies into a healing, possibly life-saving therapy, per the hospital.

Donating plasma is similar to donating blood and takes about an hour, according to Methodist. Plasma donors are hooked up to a small device that removes plasma while simultaneously returning red blood cells to their bodies. Unlike regular blood donation in which donors have to wait for red blood cells to replenish between donations, plasma can be donated more frequently, as often as twice a week.

Known as convalescent serum therapy, the concept dates back more than a century, when similar treatments were used during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, a diphtheria outbreak in the 1920s, a flesh-eating bacteria epidemic in the 1930s, and during other outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Most recently, a description of the treatment of five patients in China was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggesting that the treatment was beneficial.

According to Methodist, scientists there recruited blood plasma donors from among approximately 250 patients who have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus at Houston Methodist hospitals. Willing donors were immediately identified; each gave a quart of blood plasma in a procedure much like donating whole blood.

The first recovered COVID-19 patient to donate plasma was an individual from the Houston metropolitan area who has been in good health for more than two weeks, according to the hospital. The plasma was then transfused into a COVID-19 patient at Houston Methodist.

Houston Methodist's convalescent serum therapy treatment is classified as an "emergency investigational new drug protocol" that requires FDA approval for each patient infused with donated convalescent serum, according to the hospital. Houston Methodist physician scientists will continue to seek additional FDA approval for follow-up studies, as time is of the essence.

"Convalescent serum therapy could be a vital treatment route, because unfortunately there is relatively little to offer many patients except supportive care, and the ongoing clinical trials are going to take a while," says Dr. Eric Salazar, principal investigator and a physician scientist in the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine at the Houston Methodist Hospital and Research Institute, in a statement. "We don't have that much time."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new fund will pump more than $1 million into local organizations set to help those in need. Photo courtesy of Greater Houston Recovery Fund

New fund emerges to aid Houstonians in need amid coronavirus crisis

Good news

Two Houston nonprofits have joined forces for the betterment of struggling Houstonians during the coronavirus pandemic.

As the jobless rate in America soars to 3.28 million and some 800,000 Texans slam the Texas Workforce Commission's lines, United Way of Greater Houston and the Greater Houston Community Foundation have teamed up to establish the Greater Houston COVID-19 Recovery Fund to help those in critical need. All money raised will be used to help with immediate basic needs, according to a press release.

The Houston Endowment is making a lead gift of $1 million to the fund and pledged an additional challenge gift of $1 million, which will match $1 for every $4 dollars raised. Additional leading Houston organizations who have pledged gifts to the fund include: JP Morgan Chase - $100,000; Houston Texans Foundation - $100,000, and Wells Fargo Foundation - $150,000.

"Nearly half of the households in our Greater Houston area struggle daily to make ends meet and the sudden loss of work, wages and child care can be a devastating financial hardship," says Anna M. Babin, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Houston. "Our primary goal is to make sure the most vulnerable in our community affected by COVID-19 have access to food, health care, shelter and other basic necessities to sustain them in this crisis."

These monies will be funneled to services provided by trusted nonprofit partners who have proven experience and the systems in place to serve the community in times of disaster; citizens in need can then approach said agencies directly, according to a spokesperson for the United Way.

For more assistance, Houstonians can call 2-1-1, which provides the most updated information on assistance with utilities, housing or rental assistance, crisis counseling, access to senior services, and information on food pantries in the community.

The recovery fund has been endorsed by Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. It is co-chaired by Jamey Rootes, board chair, United Way of Greater Houston and president of the Houston Texans; and by Tony Chase, board member, Greater Houston Community Foundation and chairman and CEO of ChaseSource, LP.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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TMCx names 9 health tech startups to its 2020 cohort

X-CITING NEWS

Now, more than ever, is time to think about the future of health care. Lucky for the Texas Medical Center, they've been doing that for years with their accelerator program, TMCx, which has just announced its latest cohort of health tech startups.

After redesigning the program, TMCx has been reimagined to better connect the startups and technology to TMC's member institutions. New this year was a bootcamp, in which 19 companies were invited to the TMC Innovation Institute in February to engage in programming with the TMCx team and TMC members.

"Bootcamp went off without a hitch," says Lance Black, associate director of TMCx, on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "And the companies all got something meaningful out of it and we were actually very surprised with the reaction and response we got from our member institutions."

The goal of the bootcamp was to connect the 19 potential cohort members to the TMC community to see which companies the health care institutions gravitated toward for potential relationships, such as a pilot program, clinical trial, or a joint development opportunity, for instance, Black says on the episode.

Black says his team took into consideration all of the feedback and selected nine startups to be a part of the cohort. At this point, with the COVID-19-caused travel issues and closures, face-to-face interaction in the program has been postponed, but the accelerator will start of virtually.

"Out of respect for our hospitals and member institutions, we want to delay the physical presence of the companies in Houston," Black says in the episode. "But that doesn't mean we're not able to call or virtually meet with the companies. There's a lot of pre-work we can do in order to prep the companies appropriately so that when they do have meetings face to face, they can put their best foot forward."

Here are the nine startups selected to be a part of the TMCx 2020 cohort:

  • San Francisco-based Atlas Health — connecting patients with payment resources
  • San Francisco-based DeepScribe — autonomous medical scribe
  • Los Angeles-based Elly Health — live healthier through positivity
  • San Francisco-based Ferrum Health — reduce preventable medical errors
  • Toronto-based HelpWear — clinical grade wearable heart monitor
  • London-based Lantum — total workforce solution for healthcare
  • Denver-based Manatee — connected, everyday therapy for kids
  • Copenhagen-based Radiobotics — automate analysis of routine medical X-rays
  • Evanston, Illinois-based Rhaeos — wearable shunt monitor (Rhaeos previously won fourth place in the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition.)

Another major Houston conference cancels due to COVID-19

OTC offline

First, CERAWeek announced it would not take place in early March — and SWSW followed suit, as did Rodeo Houston. The spiral of canceled events and conferences continues as the annual Offshore Technology Conference has been canceled.

Every year in Houston, thousands of visitors from some 100 countries around the world descend on NRG Park for the massive expo, which has been a mainstay since 1969, attracted more than 60,000 attendees two years ago, along with more than 2,300 exhibitors — all who come to celebrate the oil and gas industry and its impact on the local economy.

The annual oil and gas event is a significant boon to the local economy, as industry regulars, investors, and entrepreneurs pack our hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues. The OTC has spawned OTC Brazil, OTC Asia, and even the Arctic Technology Conference. The event has been dubbed the "South by Southwest for offshore" by local insiders.

But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at OTC announced that the 2020 conference — initially postponed until August or September — is canceled. Organizers, already looking ahead, have announced that plans will commence for OTC 2021 in Houston from May 3-6, 2021.

"Amid continued health and travel concerns during this uncertain time, the OTC Board of Directors felt this decision was the most feasible and responsible for staff, exhibitors, partners, attendees, and the Houston community," organizers said, in a release.

"As we navigate these difficult and uncertain times, it is with a heavy heart that the OTC Board of Directors has determined that it is in our best interest to cancel OTC 2020. Our priority is the health and safety of our attendees and exhibitors, and we have taken federal, state, and local guidelines into account in making our decision," said Cindy Yeilding, OTC chairperson, in a statement.

For those involved in the conference, a call for papers will be open on May 28. Event updates will be posted on the official website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's Houston innovators to know include a blockchain expert with insight on how COVID-19 is affecting supply chain, a Houston tech leader with a logistics software solution, and a streamable story on cancer treatment innovation.

Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Topl

Photo courtesy of Topl

Amid the negativity the COVID-19 news, one Houston startup had an exciting announcement. It reworked its C-suite and Kim Raath, who just finished Ph.D in statistics and a Master's in economics at Rice University, has transitioned into the CEO role. Raath and her co-founders, James Aman and Chris Georgen, recently convened to re-envision the company's next phase.

"It was definitely a cool experience for us as founders to go through together, but I'm glad that all three of us came out of this excited about what we're doing moving forward," says Raath. Read more.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne

Photo courtesy of ChaiOne

Houston tech company ChaiOne recently announced the soft launch of Velostics, the "slack" for logistics that solve wait times and cash flow challenges in the supply chain and logistics industry. The digital logistics platform is set to aid the struggling supply chain as surging demands stretch suppliers, offering their platform free for 60 days.

"At ChaiOne we have a history of helping Houstonians whenever disaster strikes," says CEO and founder, Gaurav Khandelwal. "We created a disaster connect app during Hurricane Harvey for free that connected people with the resources they need. Velostics by pure happenstance happened to be ready for situations like [the coronavirus] when there's a lot of parties that need to collaborate." Read more.

James Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center

Jim Allison MD Anderson

Photo courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center

In a time when our health care heroes are serving on the front lines of the coronavirus, it's a great reminder of the work they all do round — from the research labs and academic institutions to the patient rooms. Jim Allison, a researcher in immunotherapy for MD Anderson Cancer Center recently took home the Nobel Prize for his work. He went on to be the subject of a documentary that premiered at SXSW last year, and that film will be coming to a TV near you.

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App. Read more.