BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

A Houston-based preclinical artificial heart device company has a new head honcho as it grows its team and further develops its technology.

BiVACOR named Thomas Vassiliades as CEO effective immediately. He replaces the company's founder, Daniel Timms, in the position. BiVACOR is on track to head toward human clinical trials and commercialization, and Vassiliades is tasked with leading the way.

“BiVACOR led an extensive CEO search, and Tom was the clear choice given his experience, background, leadership style, and exceptional track record,” says Timms in a news release. “Tom has the skillset and credibility to guide BiVACOR through its next chapter of transformation and advancement as we undertake the next stage of clinical activities leading up to First in Human early feasibility studies.”

Vassiliades has over 30 years of experience within the medical device industry as well as cardiothoracic surgery. He was most recently the general manager of the surgery and heart failure business at Abiomed and held several leadership roles at Medtronic. Dr. Vassiliades received his MD from the University of North Carolina, and his MBA was achieved with distinction at Emory University.

“I am excited and honored to join the BiVACOR team, working closely with Daniel and the entire team as we look forward to bringing this life-changing technology to the market,” says Dr. Vassiliades in the release. “Throughout my career, I’ve been guided by the goal of bringing innovative cardiovascular therapies to the market to improve patient care and outcomes – providing solutions for those that don’t have one. BiVACOR is uniquely well-positioned to provide long-term therapy for patients with severe biventricular heart failure.”

Timms will take over BiVACOR's technical team working on the Total Artificial Heart system as CTO. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

The medical device company, which has operations in Houston and Australia, recently announced the addition of eight new employees doubling their team. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“It is a testament to the great progress the team has made and to the importance of the unmet clinical need addressed by the Total artificial Heart technology," Timms says on the appointment of Vassiliades. "We look forward to Tom’s leadership as BiVACOR navigates the path to commercialization.”

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a health tech startup has grown its team, a coworking company opens its latest location, and more. Shobeir Ansar/Getty Images

Houston named a top market for remote tech workers, startup doubles its staff, and more innovation news

short stories

Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its ability to employ remote tech talent, a coworking company opens a new location, a med device startup doubles its staff, and more.

New report finds Houston a top market for remote tech talent

Houston is a top city for employing remote tech workers. Graphic via Karat

In a new report, Karat — a Seattle-based human resources company — looked at which metros were best for attracting remote tech talent. The company first completed the report based on 2020 due to a changing workforce spurred by the pandemic.

"Last year we took our first look at the rapidly expanding remote software engineer hiring landscape. As more organizations shifted to remote or hybrid working models we had started to see significantly improving candidate performance outside of the more-established tech hubs," writes Patrick Wu, data analyst at Karat, in a blog post. "Today, as even more top tech companies commit to hiring remote software engineers, we’re taking a look at how this landscape has continued to evolve."

Houston ranked No. 6 this year in the list of 10 metros just ahead of No. 7 Austin. Last year, Houston ranked as No. 2 and Dallas at No. 9, but that North Texas metro fell off the top 10 for 2021. Pittsburgh maintained its top spot on this list year over year.

Houston artificial heart company makes strategic hires

This med device company has eight new team members. Photo via bivacor.com

BiVACOR, a Houston-based cardiatric medical device company, announced that it has doubled the size of its team with the addition of eight team members. The growth comes following its series B raise last year.

“The diversity of skills and experience throughout the company is something we are very proud of, and I am pleased to welcome this all-star group of individuals to the team,” says Daniel Timms, BiVACOR founder and CEO, in a December news release. “They will each play an integral role in the overall accomplishments of BiVACOR, specifically as we undertake benchtop and preclinical verification activities so that we can commence our First in Human early feasibility study in the near future.”

Here's who recently joined the company at both its United States and Australia-based operations:

  • Nathan Kong, purchasing administrator
  • Farhad Akhavan, systems engineer
  • David Duarte, verification and validation engineer
  • Paul Chiver, manufacturing technician
  • Lindsey Brede, financial controller
  • Dawnel Scott, director QA/RA
  • Mairi Maclean, director of product development
  • Nicole Bartnikowski, scientific manager (Australia)

“Having the ability to attract and hire individuals with the industry knowledge and pedigrees of this world-class team is a testament to how BiVACOR is perceived in the industry," Timms continues. "Each of them brings a unique perspective and skillset to BiVACOR and will play an important role in furthering our technology.”

BiVACOR is developing its Total Artificial Heart, or TAH. The device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

Coworking company opens new Houston location

Common Desk has a new West Houston location. Photo via Common Desk

Dallas-based Common Desk has announced the opening of its newest location in Westchase District. The flexible workspace company opened its first location in Houston in October 2020 and unveiled four more locations since then. The company shares in a news release that two more spots will be opening in 2022.

Common Desk - Westchase (2500 CityWest Blvd) ha 20,000 square feet of coworking space with 54 private offices, four office suites, six conference rooms, and shared space. Tenants will have access to an outdoor space, reserved and unreserved garage parking, a fitness center, and Common Desk's coffee brand, Fiction Coffee.

"When thinking about expanding our reach in the city, we knew we wanted to be somewhere in West Houston,” says Bobby Spoden, community sales manager at Common Desk, in the release. “Community comes first at Common Desk, and we love that the Westchase District shares the same value. We couldn't be more excited and honored to become part of the rich community in the West Houston area, and we're looking forward to the new additions to our vibrant member base."

Houston fintech unicorn expands on partnership with software company

HighRadius has deepened its partnership with Genpact. Photo via highradius.com

New York-based Genpact and Houston-based HighRadius announced the expansion of their strategic partnership. The expanded partnerships means the merging HighRadius's Autonomous Software platform with Genpact’s global accounts receivables and digital process and delivery expertise to enhance client experience across the board.

“Now more than ever, the finance function plays a vital role in leading businesses through crises, providing agility and insight that lead to greater resilience. To thrive, organizations must connect, predict and adapt at speed, placing data at their core and embracing digital technologies,” says Tiger Tyagarajan, CEO at Genpact, in a news release. “Bringing our two companies together in even deeper partnership will allow a new level of predictive intelligence that can derive meaningful insights and lead to impactful action for our clients.”

The duo originally teamed up in February of 2020 to bring together their expertise — digital automation solutions and advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence.

“If we paint the picture of the future of finance, and therefore the future of the CFO and the CFO organization, we think about the world of the CFO as one where technologies will basically allow them to make decisions every minute,” says Sashi Narahari, founder and CEO at HighRadius, in the release. “Prediction is what the machine will do. Decision, judgment and experience are never going to go away from human beings. So, humans are going to spend more time than they do today on decisions and examining business outcomes. That’s where the HighRadius and Genpact partnership can make a big difference.”

3 deadlines approach for Houston startup opportunities

Don't miss these three founder opportunities. Photo via Rice

Three different entrepreneurial opportunities have deadlines quick approaching.

  • The Rice Business Plan Competition, which is planned for April 7-9 this year, has its applications open until January 31. Any graduate-student startup, in a broad range of industries, from any university, in any degree program, in any country, can apply to the RBPC. Learn more about the competition and how to apply online at https://rbpc.rice.edu/compete.
  • Applications are open for the Black Girl Ventures Change Agent Fellowship, a nine-month leadership skills development program for Black and Brown women entrepreneurs and ecosystem builders. Selected applicants, who must be based in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami, Houston or Detroit, will each receive a $10,000 stipend. The time commitment is about 8 hours/month. The deadline to apply is January 31, 2022, and decisions will be made by mid-February. Learn more and apply at https://www.blackgirlventures.org/fellowship.
  • The 2022 HCC Business Plan Competition has applications open through January 28. The BPC will begin in late February and run through early June, with six free, virtual, 1.5 hour training  sessions. To learn more about the program and eligibility, click here.

Through a series B round and a federal grant, BiVACOR has raised $22 million in funding ahead of human trials. Photo via bivacor.com

Houston-based artificial heart company snags $22M in fresh funds

money moves

Houston-based medtech company BiVACOR has picked up $22 million in funding — in the form of a series B round and a federal grant — to propel development of its Total Artificial Heart device for treatment of severe heart failure.

In a May 19 news release, BiVACOR says it received a series B round of $19 million and a National Institutes of Health grant of $3 million. Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management and Australia's OneVentures, through its OneVentures Healthcare Fund III, led the round.

OneVentures first invested in BiVACOR three years ago. According to Australia's Financial Review, OneVentures initially pumped $3 million (Australian dollars) into BiVACOR, with the potential of contributing as much as $10 million if BiVACOR met certain milestones. BiVACOR received a round of seed funding from U.S. investors in 2013.

"BiVACOR's one-of-a-kind technology is supported by a remarkable team that has moved this technology a significant distance toward the clinic," Paul Kelly, managing partner of OneVentures, says in BiVACOR's news release.

The fresh cash will support preparation for the first human trials of the device. As a short-term measure, the device can be implanted in someone awaiting a heart transplant. It's also designed to be a long-term alternative to a heart transplant.

The BiVACOR device, billed as the first long-term therapy for patients with severe heart failure, is an implantable artificial heart based on rotary blood-pump technology. Similar in size to an adult fist, it is small enough to be implanted in many women and some children yet capable of delivering enough cardiac power to a man who's exercising. Unlike the two-chamber human heart, BiVACOR's device features a single chamber.

"The commitment and interest from our investors validate our technology and the need for improved options to treat end-stage biventricular heart failure," says Daniel Timms, founder and CEO of BiVACOR. "With this financing, we will be able to expand our world-class team and undertake … verification activities so that we can commence our first-in-human early feasibility study in the near future."

Founded in 2008, BiVACOR maintains offices in Cerritos, California, and Brisbane, Australia. The company is affiliated with Houston's Texas Heart Institute, where the world's first artificial heart was implanted. BiVACOR's headquarters is at the Texas Medical Center complex.

The company employs about a dozen people and says the funding will enable it to bring on another 10 employees.

For 13 years, BiVACOR has been working on technology aimed at eliminating the need for heart transplants. Thus far, the BiVACOR device has been tested only on cows.

"In heart failure, the heart becomes unable to pump enough blood to keep the body healthy and strong. At least 26 million people around the world are living with the disease, and the number is rising as populations age," IEEE Spectrum reported in 2019. "Patients with severe heart failure have a bleak outlook: Their best option is a heart transplant, but the limited number of donor hearts means that only about 5,000 patients around the world receive transplants each year. Thousands more patients are eligible for transplants, and some die while waiting for a donor organ."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.