Two new sites will help with mass testing needs. Photo by Getty Images

With the omicron variant showing no signs of slowing locally or nationally, the City of Houston’s health department has partnered with a major company to open two mega COVID-19 testing sites this week, both opening on Thursday, January 6.

Those near Greater Houston can look for a new mega testing site at the former Dave & Busters at 6010 Richmond Ave. Opened in partnership with Xpress COVID Testing, this new site will accommodate approximately 1,000 tests, per an announcement. January hours of operation are 9 am to 3:30 pm Mondays through Saturdays; appointments are not required.

Those outside Greater Houston to the north can look for a new site at the Kingwood Community Center (4102 Rustic Woods Dr.); its daily capacity is approximately 800 tests. January hours here are 9 am to 3:30 pm Mondays through Saturdays’ appointments are not required.

Meantime, existing mega testing sites are operating at the following locations:

Butler Stadium (13755 S Main St).
Hours are 8 am to 4 pm Mondays through Saturdays with no appointment required.

Delmar Stadium (2020 Mangum Rd.)
Hours are 8 am to 6 pm daily; appointments are required and can be made at appointments via Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042.

Minute Maid Park
Minute Maid Park (Lot C, 510 St. Emanuel St.)
Hours are 8 am to 5 pm on Saturdays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays; noon to 8 pm on Thursdays and Fridays. Appointments are required at mycovidappoitment.com or by calling 833-213-0643.

More testing sites, schedules, and appointment information are available at HoustonHealth.org or by calling 832-393-4220.

“Every Houstonian deserves to have access to testing, especially those in our most vulnerable communities,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “As we continue to navigate this crisis, I ask Houstonians to keep each other safe by getting tested, vaccinated, and boosted. We need everyone doing their part to remain healthy and slow the virus from spreading in their homes and places of employment and houses of worship.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The new mega-site opens December 29. valentinrussanov/Getty Images

City of Houston announces massive new drive-through COVID testing site

new to hou

With COVID/omicron cases on the rise and Houston preparing for New Year’s Eve celebrations and travel, the City of Houston is expanding access to testing with a new drive-through mega site this week.

The site, which comes via the Houston Health Department and Curative, is located at Delmar Stadium, 2020 Mangum Rd., and opens 9 am Wednesday, December 29. Hours of operation run 8 am to 6 pm; the site promises to handle some 1,000 daily tests, according to a press release. Appointments are required at Curative.com or by calling 1-888-702-9042.

Importantly, the mega-site will be closed December 31 and January 1, 2022.

This means that at full capacity, the department’s network of Curative, United Memorial Medical Center, and multi-service center sites can provide approximately 27,000 daily tests.

Those interested can still visit HoustonHealth.org or call 832-393-4220 to find nearby free health department-affiliated testing sites and schedules.

Current Centers for Disease Control recommendations dictate that those who have symptoms and anyone who had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period) with someone with confirmed COVID-19 should test for infection.

Testing and vaccination at health department-affiliated sites is free, and does not require proof of residency, citizenship, or insurance.

“As Omicron cases surge in Houston and across the country, I applaud people for getting tested before traveling, gathering with loved ones or returning to work,” said Mayor Sylvester Turner in a statement. “Testing and vaccination will help slow the virus spread and save lives. The increased demand for testing has led to longer than usual lines and wait times for some. The new site will help meet the demand and expand capacity for testing.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Luminostics, which was founded out of a lab at UH, received NIH grant to produce its COVID-19 rapid antigen test. Photo courtesy of Luminostics

University of Houston spinout's smartphone COVID-19 test to head to market

Pandemic innovation

A Silicon Valley startup with Houston roots is helping tackle the COVID-19 pandemic with its smartphone-based coronavirus test.

Milpitas, California-based Luminostics, a University of Houston spinout, is producing millions of its Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test for U.S. consumers after receiving emergency authorization for the product in December. The emergency approval closely followed the National Institutes of Health awarding a $26.1 million contract to Luminostics to speed up development of the coronavirus test. According to a news release from UH, Luminostics is working on an affordable next generation hardware system to reach the mass over-the-counter market at scale.

Chemical engineers and UH alumni Bala Raja, the CEO, and Andrew Paterson, the chief technology officer, began forming their company in the UH lab of Richard Willson, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and professor of biochemical and biophysical sciences.

The technology developed in the UH lab aims to equip consumers with rapid self-diagnostic tests for the flu, HIV, herpes, and other conditions by detecting the presence of bacteria, viruses, small molecules, hormones, and proteins. But Raja and Paterson put that strategy on hold last year and pivoted to re-engineering their technology for COVID-19 testing. The result: the Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test.

"When we realized that COVID wasn't just a bad flu and that it was actually gonna go crazy and affect as many people as it has, we decided that everything we've done could be very quickly repurposed to make two different tests," Raja told Inc. magazine in April.

UH alumni Andrew Paterson and Bala Raja are co-founders of Luminostics. Photo via UH.edu

As UH explains, the Clip COVID test relies on a nasal swab, a smartphone clip, and glow-in-the-dark nanoparticles to detect a coronavirus infection within 30 minutes. In the phone, an image processor measures the intensity of the luminescence signal. If the signal is strong enough, the result is positive. If it's weak, the result is negative.

"We live in a world where you can have all your basic necessities delivered to your home through an app, and yet this pandemic has exposed how far behind the diagnostics industry lags compared to consumer technology and the convenience economy," Paterson tells UH.

Funding from the National Institutes of Health, venture capital firm Khosla Ventures, investment firm Lynette Capital, and startup accelerator Y Combinator has helped support the Clip COVID Rapid Antigen Test. The startup entered the Y Combinator program in 2016, a year after Raja and Paterson established Luminostics.

In April 2020, French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi said it was exploring a collaboration with Luminostics on the COVID-19 test.

"The diagnostics industry is saturated with products that cater to big, centralized labs or testing in the doctor's office," Paterson says. "There are many applications where it does make sense to do testing in a centralized lab, but there are dozens of other applications where there should be home-tests and there are not, because few companies have tried to take on the technical and regulatory challenges with developing home-testing."

A Houston entrepreneur created a free smartphone app to easily track and share COVID-19 testing results. Photo courtesy of SafeFun

Houston tech-turned-hospitality entrepreneur launches global health passport

there's an app for that

The pandemic brought Houston hospitality entrepreneur Carson Hager — a self-described "recovering programmer" — back to his roots in an attempt to help people gather together once more.

After 20 years in the tech world — he sold his consumer-grade commercial software company Cynergy Systems to KPMG in 2014 —Hager founded the Hospitable Viking, known for popular local bars like Rosemont in Montrose and Cherry downtown.

"It gives me some chaos," he says of his new industry. "It's something to do that's a very different challenge."

But the pandemic added a new challenge and even more chaos in his industry. As restrictions were put in place in the spring of 2020 and many (including Hager himself) didn't feel comfortable dining and drinking in public, he watched as many in his industry lost their jobs, businesses, and sense of community.

"I live in restaurants and bars and I wouldn't have gone anywhere at that point," Hager says. "I was thinking, what's it going to take for people to be able to feel comfortable to go back out again and go out to bars and restaurants, gyms, salons, club, etcetera."

In April 2020, he decided to act. And with the help of a few programmer friends pulling long hours for about 100 days straight, Hager created SafeFun, a Houston-based digital health passport that allows users to voluntarily and easily share COVID-19 test results and information.

The free app extracts and analyzes PDF test results from a variety of COVID-19 tests including molecular/diagnostic, antigen and antibody tests. SafeFun then validates the test against records from 100 partnering testing centers, including the likes of Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart, to ensure that the results are credible and summarizes the information for users to easily share through the app or in person.

After completing the build out in September 2020, Hager and his small team of four approached various city governments with the hopes of having them come on board as partners and support using the app for business purposes. However, what they found was that users were more interested in using SafeFun for personal reasons.

After a few more weeks of programming, Hager and team released the consumer-facing version in late 2020. Currently SafeFun has about 12,000 users around the world, according to Hager. Today it's mainly used ahead of a small gathering with friends, when visiting family, or to date.

SafeFun also has the capability to process and analyze proof of vaccine and other tests for infectious diseases. However, the current road block in the COVID realm is that in the U.S. most vaccine providers do not provide digital for PDF documentation.

Still, Hager envisions various potential uses for SafeFun in the future: for cruises, air travel, and even STD testing. Or, as Hager says, "God forbid, future pandemics."

Results are generally ready within 30 minutes. Photo courtesy of CVS Health

4 Houston-area CVS locations now offering free COVID-19 rapid tests

COVID-19 NEWS

Flu season and cedar fever compounded with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is likely to make for a worrisome winter. In an effort to make testing for the novel coronavirus more accessible, CVS is launching rapid-result tests in 21 stores across the state, including four in Houston.

The Rhode Island-based health company announced its COVID-19 testing expansion on October 28, adding that it hopes to offer the service at 1,000 clinics nationwide by the end of the year.

In the Greater Houston area, COVID-19 rapid-result tests are available at the following CVS stores beginning this week:

  • 1410 Crabb River Rd. in Richmond
  • 3505 Center St. in Deer Park
  • 2232 Repsdorph Rd. in Seabrook
  • 23865 FM 1314 in Porter

Test results are usually available within 30 minutes. Rapid-result COVID-19 tests are available at no cost to patients who meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria, for those with private insurance, or those insured by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, notes a release. Read more about testing costs here.

Patients must register in advance at CVS.com in order to obtain a rapid-result test. Tests are also available for patients ages 12-17, but they must have a parent or guardian fill out the testing information. Children under 15 must be accompanied by an adult to the testing site.

Once at the site, patients should remain in their vehicle and proceed to a designated site located in the parking lot. In rare occasions, the test will take place inside the store, so follow signage and instructions.

"Access to rapid-result tests enables us to help minimize community spread of COVID-19 by being able to more quickly identify active COVID-19 infection," says Dr. David Fairchild, chief medical officer at MinuteClinic, in a news release. "In addition, we can test and treat symptomatic patients who test negative for COVID-19 for seasonal illnesses such as flu or strep and provide appropriate treatment and care."

Earlier this year, CVS expanded its COVID-19 response with drive-thru service in 33 states across the U.S., including Texas. The company's latest offering comes amid a nationwide spike in coronavirus cases, including 500,000 new cases in the last week alone. As of October 26, Texas had more than 874,000 confirmed cases and 17,595 deaths.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

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Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.