3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ody De La Paz of Sensytec, Sassie Duggleby of Venus Aerospace, and David Eagleman. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from aerospace to nueroscience — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Ody De La Paz, CEO and co-founder of Sensytec

Ody De La Paz, CEO and founder of Sensytec, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of his company as it gears up for growth. Photo courtesy of Sensytec

The importance of creating longer lasting infrastructure is top of mind for the country, and Ody De La Paz, co-founder and CEO of Sensytec, is prepared to help. Through participation in AFWERX — the innovation arm of the Air Force, construction tech company Sensytec was tapped by the military to use the technology across operations.

"The plan is to integrate our system and analytics from sensors into a multi-platform system that the Air Force is trying to roll out in all of the military bases," De La Paz says on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're trying to be that center hub for concrete and soil monitoring for them."

With the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, $65 billion is being deployed to build or improve infrastructure — among other tech and transportation improvements — and a lot of that funding is coming to the Lone Star State. De La Paz discusses more on the podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace

Houston-based Venus Aerospace has raised $20 million — and is one step closer to providing one-hour global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A Houston aerospace startup has raised millions to continue its work on a zero-carbon emission spaceplane that will enable one-hour global travel. Venus Aerospace closed its $20 million series A funding round led by Wyoming-based Prime Movers Lab.

"We are excited to continue our partnership with Prime Movers Lab and our other great investors. In the past year, with our initial funding, we have scaled from 3 people to 40. These are the world's best rocket scientists, engineers, and operators," says Sassie Duggleby in the release. "With this funding, we will continue to push forward toward our next technical milestones, hire great people, and scale our organization. We are excited to continue engineering the future of high-speed aviation." Click here to read more.

David Eagleman, author and neuroscientist 

David Eagleman returns to Houston this month. David Eagleman/Facebook

Not many researchers have ever compared brain function to drug dealers, but then, not many researchers are David Eagleman. Much like charismatic astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eagleman brings hefty and brainy topics to a conversational and digestible level.

The globally renowned neuroscientist, TV host, and best-selling author will visit Houston to discuss his latest book, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. The event is produced by The Progressive Forum and will take place at Congregation Emanu El (1500 Sunset Blvd.) at 7:30 pm Thursday, April 28. Click here to continue reading.

David Eagleman returns to Houston this month. David Eagleman/Facebook

Brainy PBS host and celebrity author visits Houston for mindful event

wise guy

Not many researchers have ever compared brain function to drug dealers, but then, not many researchers are David Eagleman. Much like charismatic astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, Eagleman brings hefty and brainy topics to a conversational and digestible level.

The globally renowned neuroscientist, TV host, and best-selling author will visit Houston to discuss his latest book, Livewired: The Inside Story of the Ever-Changing Brain. The event is produced by The Progressive Forum and will take place at Congregation Emanu El (1500 Sunset Blvd.) at 7:30 pm Thursday, April 28.

Tickets are available online or by calling 800-514-3849 and also at the door on event night. General admission tickets range from $45 and $70; reserved seats and speaker reception are $150. All ticket purchases include a free copy of Livewired.

This is a homecoming of sorts for Eagleman, who attended Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine. Since then, he has become a leading — if not the preeminent — voice on all things brain and neuroscience, covering sensory substitution, time perception, vision, synesthesia, and even the intersection of neuroscience with the legal system — a task he undertakes with the University of Houston.

He is perhaps most recognizable as host and writer of the PBS and BBC television series The Brain, which has been nominated for an Emmy. Penning books The Runaway Species, The Brain, Incognito, and Wednesday is Indigo Blue, Eagleman has written a bestselling fiction, Sum, which has been translated into 32 languages, turned into two operas, and named a Best Book of the Year by Barnes and Noble.

Eagleman also pens pieces for myriad publications and frequently appears on national radio and TV programs and has hosted a TED Talk.

His lab has launched several companies, including Neosensory, a firm that uses haptics for sensory substitution and addition, according to his bio.

“The Progressive Forum is pleased to welcome a great mind with Houston roots,” said Randall Morton, its president, in a statement. “As an undergraduate at Rice, he majored in British and American literature, then earned his PhD in neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine.”

David Eagleman will appear at Congregation Emanu El, 1500 Sunset Blvd. at 7:30 pm Thursday, April 28. For tickets and more information, visit The Progressive Forum.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

BrainCheck has raised its latest round of funding. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston health tech startup closes $10M series B led by Austin investors

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that's tackling cognitive health diagnoses with its innovative platform has closed its latest round of funding.

BrainCheck, the cognitive health care platform for physicians, announced the closing of its $10 million series B funding led by Austin-based investors, Next Coast Ventures and S3 Ventures. The funding will be used to expand research and development, including developing a digital therapeutic and enhancing go-to-market capabilities.

BrainCheck's digital platform allows physicians to better assess cognitive function in their patients — whether they are elderly dementia patients or suffering from other cognitive ailments. One in nine adults aged 45 and older report subjective cognitive decline, according to a news release, and one in 14 COVID-19 survivors have neurocognitive disorder.

"We are at the forefront of improving access to cognitive assessment and care," says Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, in the release. "With early diagnosis comes treatment and intervention. These funds will allow us to accelerate the adoption of our platform and work with clinicians to help more patients live better and safer lives, decrease caregiver frustration, and save health systems trillions of dollars. I believe that BrainCheck can help cognitive care evolve the way cancer care has since the 1970s, when chemotherapy was one-size-fits-all."

Katz co-founded the company with neuroscientist David Eagleman in January of 2015. Now, doctors at over 400 neurology, primary care and geriatrics practices — such as Cleveland Clinic, MD Anderson, and Johns Hopkins — are already using BrainCheck's 10-to-15-minute test, which is covered by Medicare and by most private insurers, to conduct cognitive testing. The FDA Class II Software as a Medical Device (SaMD), which means that physicians can facilitate in-person or even an remote assessment of their patients' cognitive function.

"BrainCheck is a breakthrough platform that has the potential to transform how we diagnose and treat cognitive impairment," says Michael Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, in the release. "The combination of technical sophistication and ease of use makes BrainCheck a perfect tool for doctors and health systems everywhere. I'm so impressed by what Dr. Katz and her team have achieved to date and am excited to support the team as they continue to innovate and scale."

Other investors included Nueterra Capital, Tensility Ventures, and True Wealth Ventures, as well as UPMC Enterprises and SelectQuote, which joined on as strategic investors.

"BrainCheck shows promise as a cognitive assessment tool that would allow patients to independently complete the test while allowing physicians to spend more time reviewing the results and planning care with patients," says Dr. Adele Towers, director of risk adjustment at UPMC Enterprises and a geriatric medicine specialist at UPMC, in the release.

BrainCheck closed its $8 million series A round in October of 2019, and the company moved into its new office in Upper Kirby following the raise in early 2020. The startup also has an office in Austin.

Amazon has selected eight KIPP schools in Houston to received resources to create robotics programs. Courtesy of Amazon

Energy tech company closes round, hospital introduces VR brain tours, Amazon bets on Houston schools, and more innovation news

Short stories

From virtual reality-enabled brain scans to Amazon selecting Houston schools for its robotics program, the future is now with this latest batch of local innovation news.

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OAG Analytics closes round

Luther Birdzell, founder and CEO of Houston-based OAG Analytics is on a mission to democratize data for his upstream oil and gas clients. Courtesy of OAG Analytics

OAG Analytics, which uses artificial intelligence in the oil and gas industry, has closed its second round of strategic funding in nine months from Rice Investment Group. The capital will be used to grow the company and focus on several major enhancements to their upstream AI platform, according to a news release.

The exact amount of the raise was not disclosed by OAG, but according to a Form D filing, the company expressed that it was raising $8.72 million in this round.

"Our industry is entering the next phase of the shale revolution by moving to full-field development. As such, we need the next generation of analytical capabilities to maximize capital efficiency," says Derek Rice, partner at Rice Investment Group and director at OAG, in a release. "Large-scale development optimization requires an in-depth understanding of hundreds of uncorrelated data points, which OAG provides through data management and advanced analytics to support profitable decision making. We are thrilled to partner with OAG's team, and believe our insights and experience as an operator will continue to add value to the platform."

OAG's founder and CEO, Luther Birdzell, created a way where he can give clients an easy-to-use platform to have access to data that could save oil and gas companies millions of dollars. In fact, according to the release, OAG clients have optimized over $10 billion in capital expenditures.

"RIG's trust in the OAG team and AI platform is a huge vote of confidence," says Birdzell in the release. "As a leadership team that already built and sold a highly data-driven, technology-centric oil and gas company, RIG's market insights and capital are important to our business. We look forward to continued collaboration as we accelerate our growth."

Methodist Hospital has new VR technology for brain treatment

Patients about to undergo brain surgery can use VR to see what their surgeon is about to do to their brain. Courtesy of Methodist

Houston Methodist Hospital is channeling a Magic School Bus episode with new VR technology that allows neurosurgical patients and their family members to essentially walk through their brains ahead of their surgeries.

The patient wears a virtual reality headset and gets a 360 degree view of their brain, and the neurosurgeon can walk the patient through the surgery process. According to a release from Houston Methodist, the technology is the first of its kind that combines fighter jet flight simulation with patients' anatomy scans from MRI, CT, and/or DTI processes to make a 3D model.

Eight Houston schools named in Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant program

Eight Houston schools will receive resources from Amazon to create a robotics team. Courtesy of Amazon

Eight Houston schools have been selected as part of Amazon Future Engineer Robotics Grant program. The program has selected 100 schools in 21 states and each will receive support to create robotics team and a $10,000 grant. These Houston schools were selected:

  • KIPP Academy MS
  • KIPP Connect HS
  • KIPP Connect Middle School
  • KIPP Generations Collegiate
  • KIPP Northeast College Preparatory
  • KIPP NEXUS MS• KIPP Polaris
  • KIPP Sunnyside HS

The Amazon Future Engineer program launched in November, and, according to a news release, is a four-part childhood-to-career program geared at teaching technology and computer science to children from underrepresented and underserved communities. Through the program, Amazon hopes to help more than 10 million students nationwide.

Mattress Firm seeks second round of "snoozeterns"

Last summer, Mattress Firm introduced its Snoozetern program, advertising as a "dream job" for college students wanting to get "paid to sleep." The program is looking for it's next employee that will learn the ins and outs of the Houston company and test and review products. Applications are open now until May 3. To apply or learn more, visit here.

Deloitte’s 2019 Technology Fast 500 Awards are now open

Houston companies can enter to win this national recognition from Deloitte. Photo via Deloite.com

Deloitte has opened its 2019 Technology Fast 500 Awards applications. The national awards program has been honoring fast-growing tech companies for 25 years. Last year, two Houston companies were ranked: Onit and symplr. The honorees are chosen based on the past three years' of fiscal-year revenue growth over a three-year period. Applications close on June 28. Click here for more.

The Kidney Cancer Association approves $1.3 million for early detection and new treatments

Applicants have until May 20 to submit for a grant from the Kidney Cancer Association. Photo via Facebook

The Kidney Cancer Association's board of directors approved $1.3 million to be dedicated to advancing early detection and new treatments for kidney cancer. Grant applications opened April 17 and close May 20. Grant recipients will be announced in the fall.

"The KCA Board of Directors is committed to providing research funding with the goal of identifying new treatments and finding new ways to prevent and manage the disease," says Christopher Wood, board president, in a news release. "With these advancements in research and a greater understanding of these cancers, we believe the outcomes of these grants will have substantive impact for kidney cancer patients."

There will be six grants are divided into two types of awards. The Advanced Discovery Awards will honor two "established investigators" $500,000 grants, and the Young Investigator Awards will give out four $75,000 grants.

Houston neuroscientist David Eagleman to discuss new book at the Hobby Center

Courtesy images

The Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit, is hosting its 25th annual A Celebration of Reading event on Thursday, May 2, at The Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The event hosts five authors, and this year, Houston neuroscientist David Eagleman is on the lineup.

Eagleman's most recent book, The Runaway Species: How Human Creativity Remakes the World, will be the topic of discussion during his presentation. Eagleman and his co-author, Anthony Brandt, seek to determine the human mind's ability and drive to create.

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Houston neighbor clocks as one of the best U.S. cities for remote workers

working from home

Working remotely is increasingly part of the modern lifestyle, and a new report cements a Houston neighbor as one of the top places for remote workers.

Apartment search website RentCafe ranks Conroe No. 15 in its Top 50 Cities for Remote Workers, released in November.

The study looked at 150 U.S. cities, comparing them across five main categories: leisure, affordability, comfort, rental demand, and remote work readiness. Scores were based on 19 metrics, from cost of living, availability of apartments with short-term leases, and rental demand to coworking spaces, percentage of remote workers, and internet speed.

"With remote work migration on the rise, we uncovered the most desirable cities to move to across the nation if you work remotely," the website says. It suggests that remote workers on the move "look toward the South and Southeast, where we identified several cities that offer the perfect balance between comfort, value, leisure and remote work-readiness."

Conroe ranks best for:

  • Number of high-end units
  • Share of new apartments
  • Number of apartments with access to sports amenities

Three other Texas cities join Conroe in the top 15. College Station (No. 9) makes the cut for remote workers due to its high availability of short-term rentals, large population of rentals, and access to sports amenities.

In the Austin metro area, both Austin (No. 13) and Round Rock (No. 11) appear, thanks in part to access to internet connection, average download speed, and the number of remote workers.

Lower on the list, but still in the top 50, are: Plano (No. 23), Lubbock (No. 27), Houston (No. 35), Amarillo (No. 36), San Antonio (No. 41), Dallas (No. 42), and Fort Worth (No. 46).The top city for remote workers, according to RentCafe, is Greenville, South Carolina.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Walmart, Houston startup team up to bring small biz products to shelves

holiday shopping teamwork

Thanks to a pop-up shop marketplace platform, small businesses will now have the opportunity to have their goods displayed in one of the country’s largest national retail stores.

Through a strategic partnership between Houston-based Popable and Walmart, local businesses to set up shop for short-term leasing and bring brand new eyes to their products.

“Supporting small businesses has always been a priority for Walmart,” says Darryl Spinks, senior director of retail services for Walmart, in a news release. “We are proud to work with Popable to offer local brands an opportunity to grow inside our stores. This is a great example of our focus on offering services unique to the neighborhoods we serve through our store of the community initiative.”

Popable has assisted brands secure qualified spaces, get education and resources, and build community, and connections that are vital to helping small businesses expand their visibility in the marketplace. The platform simultaneously helps retail landlords find qualified retailers from a directory of tens of thousands of brands to fill vacancies and drive traffic to their shopping centers.

For those small businesses interested, they can be paired with their local participating Walmart to connect and enter into an agreeable temporary leasing agreement by signing up on the platform’s official website. The businesses will set up right in front of the store generally where the customer service areas and salons tend to be. While the partnership isn’t aimed to be a pilot program, Popable will be giving Walmart the chance to infuse some local flavor into the stores from the community.

With the holidays around the corner, and small businesses looking to gain back revenues lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to display and sell their products at Walmart can be highly beneficial to recoup profits, and unload new and extra products to a larger audience.

“Going into the holidays the timing is pretty good for a lot of brands looking to move some access inventory that they have loaded up from last year, but this (hopefully with Walmart) will be a year-round thing,” says Popable CEO and co-founder Scott Blair. “The pop-up opportunities we’ve been seeing with brands doing reach outs so far, a lot of them are looking for stuff into January and February too.”

Scott Blair, CEO and co-founder of Popable, says he hopes to continue the partnership with Walmart. Photo courtesy of Popable