Houston — home to the largest medical center in the world — needs access to more early stage funding for medtech companies. Photo by F. Carter Smith/courtesy of MD Anderson

Houston, an important hub for healthcare and life-science ventures, continues to see significant support for those sectors. And the city’s infrastructure around life-sciences and healthcare continues to grow. Most recently, the Texas Medical Center announced an increase in the size of its TMC Venture Fund to $50 million from $25 million. The Venture Fund was launched in 2017 to invest in Houston-area medical technology organizations and initiatives.

The city is on the leading edge when it comes to investing in digital health startups and the entrepreneurs who launch them. Nationwide, venture capital financing for medtech increased 67 percent from 2017 to 2021, with total financing approaching $20 billion, according to Deloitte’s new study, New Strategies for MedTech Startups. Financing deals for medtech organizations in Texas totaled $555 million during that time. That’s the fourth-largest total in the country, behind California, Massachusetts, and New York.

What investors are paying the most attention to are late-stage diagnostic and digital companies, according to the report. Among the hot spots for funders: AI technologies, at their highest funding level in five years; in-vitro diagnostics (IVD) and healthcare IT, both of which have dominated medtech fundraising over the last decade, raising $48 billion and $36 billion, respectively.

What could use more support are early-stage companies, the kind that get seed and series A funding. The study found that funding for them has dipped to 23 percent of total medtech VC funding in 2021 from 27 percent in 2017. Why? Yields are lower for medtech investors compared to other sectors, and reimbursement for new technologies can be difficult to achieve, meaning companies can’t get paid for their goods or services. Additionally, pandemic-induced factors, such as supply-chain issues, have also impacted funding.

Ever creative, many Houston-area early-stage entrepreneurs are looking to alternative kinds of finance, including pre-revenue IPOs and SPACs to gain entry to public markets as well as build-to-buy, where a medtech incumbent takes an ownership stake with an option to buy the company. They’re also looking to family office investment groups—family-run, generally mission-driven investors who tend to be less formal than VC funds—for financial support.

And venture capital is more than willing to invest in companies, according to the investors interviewed for the Deloitte study. Companies with strong management teams, scalable technologies that address unmet needs for a large market, technologies with low regulatory and reimbursement barriers, and products that can reduce the overall cost of healthcare will catch their attention. Bonus points for efficient, forward-looking companies, too.

Attention to these smaller firms is crucial and necessary, given that 94 percent of the 15,500-plus medtech firms in the United States are pre-revenue or have no revenue at all. Houston is home to plenty of these smaller firms with big potential. Investors would do well to look at them as long-term investments and support them by helping to lay the groundwork for regulatory and reimbursement success, in addition to investing financially.

In adopting this approach, the VC community can make significant strides towards bolstering an already strong medtech ecosystem in Houston.

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Kevin Wijayawickrama is principal at Deloitte and works on the company's risk and financial advisory team.

Considering applying for something in this roundup of grants, accelerators, and more. Photo via Getty Images

4 Houston tech and startup opportunities to apply for

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A flurry of deadlines for grants, accelerators, and more are upcoming — do you have these on your radar?

Scroll through four tech and startup opportunities happening in Houston and open for Houston innovators.

MassChallenge and IBM's Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Founders

MassChallenge and IBM are bringing back a second cohort of their mentorship program, which provides AI mentoring support and resources to high-impact startups with historically underrepresented founders. In addition to artificial intelligence, IBM is expanding this program to invite startups innovating with cyber and data security.

The IBM Mentorship program will take place over the course of three months, starting May 11, and the early-stage startups enrolled in the program will be matched with IBM Mentors who will share their expertise helping them advance their businesses.

Select participating startups will be invited to participate in a Prize Competition where IBM will award $50,000 in non-cap-table cash prizes.

Applications for the IBM Mentorship program close at 11 pm April 13, 2022. Accepted startups will be notified by May 3, 2022. Apply now.

Additionally, MassChallenge has applications open for its international cohorts — including their Texas programs. The global network supports entrepreneurs and their startups through the early stages of building a business. Founded in 2009, MassChallenge’s non-profit, zero equity accelerator model supports more than 400 startups, from all industries and anywhere in the world, across seven locations and nine programs.

Eligibility requirements include:

  • Less than $1 million in funding (equity-based)
  • Less than $2 million in revenue
  • From any industry
  • From anywhere in the world
Applications are due April 20 at 11 am. Apply now.

Small Business Growth Fund

Houston-based Hello Alice's Small Business Growth Fund provides the capital entrepreneurs need to make their next big move. Each recipient will receive a $5,000 grant to accelerate their growth and help make 2022 the year of their small business .Eligible businesses must:

  • Be a for-profit business
  • Have less than $1 million in 2021 gross annual revenue
  • Have a commitment to their customers and community
  • Have a clear plan for use of funds

If you applied and were not selected for a previous round of the program, you are welcome to submit a new application. The deadline for this application is May 20, 2022, at 5 p.m. Apply now.

M1 MedTech

Proxima Clinical Research's M1 MedTech, a medical technology accelerator, is accepting applications for its fall cohort. The accelerator is looking for five to seven of the most promising early-stage medical device companies to participate in its three-month program. The program has closed its first fund and will be selecting companies over the summer for investments up to $100,000 as a combination of both cash and in-kind services.

“Our program is unique in that it combines acceleration capital, company building expertise, and the regulatory and clinical services of a top CRO,” says Larry Lawson, a venture partner and investor with M1, in a news release. “Access to the M1 founders’ network, both within and outside of the Texas Medical Center, sets these companies up for success. There’s no better group to build a MedTech company with, period.”

Experts from Greenlight Guru, Medrio, Galen Data, and Merge Medical Device Studio join Proxima CRO as sponsors of the program and will assist with content delivery and mentoring. Applications will remain open until May 31. Apply now.

Deloitte's Technology Fast 500

Applications for Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500 are now open. Now in its 28th year, the ranking recognizes the most innovative, fastest-growing technology companies in North America across industries — media, life sciences, fintech, energy tech, and more.

“Each year, Houston’s Fast 500 applicants illustrate the important role innovation and technology play in our daily lives and in the advancement of our city,” says Amy Chronis, vice chair, oil, gas and chemicals leader, and Houston managing partner, Deloitte LLP. “We look forward to seeing the diverse portfolio of innovations Houston applicants bring to the table this year.”

To be eligible, companies must:

  • Be in business for at least four years
  • Be headquartered in North America
  • Have fiscal year 2018 operating revenues of at least US$50,000
  • Have fiscal year 2021 operating revenues of at least US$5 million
  • Have a growth rate of at least 75 percent (growth rate is computed as [(FY2021 rev. – FY2018 rev.)FY2018 rev.] x 100)
  • Own proprietary intellectual property or proprietary technology, which must be sold to customers in products or services that contribute to a majority of the company’s operating revenues

Past Houston-based winnersast Houston-based winners include Enercross LLC, Onit, and Graylog Inc.

The application period is open from April 4 to June 24. And winners will be announced on Nov. 16. Apply now.

DEI is a commitment that, rather like a good relationship needs to be worked on every day, especially when it comes to maintaining trust. Photo via Getty Images

Houston DEI programs are in place — now it's time to trust them

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It’s no secret to almost any Houston-area businessperson that diversity, equity and inclusion has been front and center on the corporate radar for quite some time. According to the 2021 Deloitte/Fortune CEO survey, 94 percent of the 175 CEOs surveyed reported that diversity, equity, and inclusion are strategic priorities for them. Nearly three-quarters (72 percent) planned to disclose DEI metrics to the public.

How are they doing so far? Pretty well, apparently. Deloitte’s new study, Build trust in diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments, indicates that 80 percent of survey respondents who work in Texas trust their organizations to follow through on their DEI commitments.

But here’s the rub: More than one-third (36 percent) of Texas workers surveyed say they’d consider leaving their jobs should that trust be broken. This should spark concern among Houston business leaders dealing with the white-hot job market and the Great Resignation.

Clearly, follow-through on DEI commitments, and gaining employees’ trust that DEI goals are being thoughtfully and rigorously pursued, is the next step. To be sure, other cities in the country are diverse, but Houston is unique. It’s considered the most diverse city in the United States across five categories: cultural, economic, socioeconomic, household, and religion, according to 2021 research by WalletHub. Another relevant fact: Nearly one in four Houston residents are foreign-born.

Houston is also an important business hub. The metro area boasts 24 Fortune 500 company headquarters, ranking it third among all cities in the United States. This status, paired with the city’s diversity, means that Houston companies—and all of them, not just Fortune 500 firms—should really commit to DEI as an ongoing journey. It matters to employees, with 86 percent of the surveyed general population believing that companies should address environmental and social issues, including DEI, according to Cone Communications research. That figure soars to 94 percent for Generation Z respondents.

Here are some actionable suggestions Houston-area firms should consider to help companies continue to earn and maintain trust around their DEI actions:

Be clear about your DEI strategy. CEOs, chief diversity officers and corporate boards: your role here calls for setting, sponsoring and sharing a sincere vision for DEI strategies. Data can and should be employed for clarity; use it to create solid short and long-term plans. And be sure to put enough of your budget into DEI efforts. Robust and effective results require ample funding.

Involve your employees in DEI initiatives. Setting a sincere strategy means getting input from all levels of the organization, even some external partners — suppliers and perhaps even outsourced service providers — who might be affected by your firm’s DEI initiatives. Gather ample input, including suggestions for new and existing programs as well as any challenges that might arise, from these stakeholders.

Seeking a wide variety of perspectives and understanding experiences across gender identity, race, ethnicity, and other identities can help you develop initiatives that effectively meet the needs of all your people.

Measure success and share it. Crunch and present the numbers just as you would sales figures or any other business metric. The key word here is accountability. Communicate regularly and with transparency on progress and challenges; honesty is paramount — employees are typically aware that not every effort will meet all of its goals right out of the box. They tend to expect a setback here and there and could be more supportive if those setbacks are honestly shared.

More than a year ago, when companies began committing to DEI in earnest, nobody thought it would be easy. And it’s not. DEI is a commitment that, rather like a good relationship needs to be worked on every day, especially when it comes to maintaining trust. It’s a promise that needs to be kept, and then some.

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Amy Chronis is the Houston managing partner at Deloitte. Patti Wilkie is global talent and mobility leader of Deloitte Tax LLP.

Three Houston tech companies are seeing big business growth, according to Deloitte's report. Graphic via Deloitte

3 Houston companies make Deloitte's fastest-growing tech list

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Three Houston companies have earned spots on this year's edition of the North American Technology Fast 500.

The three Houston honorees are:

  • Enercross, a provider of logistics software for the energy sector. It appears at No. 31 on the Fast 500 list, with revenue growth of 6,230 percent from 2017 to 2020.
  • Onit, which offers workflow and AI technology for legal, compliance, sales, IT, HR, and finance departments. It lands at No. 304, with a 408 percent rise in revenue from 2017 to 2020. According to Crunchbase, Onit has reeled in $216.6 million in venture capital.
  • Graylog, a provider of log management software. It sits at No. 309, with revenue growth of 402 percent from 2017 to 2020. Graylog has collected $27.4 million in venture capital, according to Crunchbase. That includes an $18 million round announced this summer.

The North America Technology Fast 500, sponsored by professional services firm Deloitte, is an annual ranking of the fastest-growing tech, media, telecom, life sciences, and energy tech companies in North America.

"The Houston companies on this year's Fast 500 list are transforming the way our city does business by combining technological innovation with entrepreneurial spirit," Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner at Deloitte, says in a news release. "I'm inspired by the ways these organizations have succeeded amid unprecedented times, and I look forward to seeing their progress in 2022."

The top-ranked company is Irvine, California-based medical device company Axonics, whose revenue soared 87,037 percent from 2017 to 2020. The top-ranked Texas company is Austin-based Shipwell, where revenue climbed 32,670 percent from 2017 to 2020. Shipwell provides a shipment-tracking platform. Overall, 5 percent of the Fast 500 companies are based in Texas.

Both Enercross and Onit showed up on last year's Fast 500. Enercross ranked 37th in 2020, with revenue growth of 5,881 percent, and Onit ranked 190th, with revenue growth of 641 percent. Meanwhile, Graylog is a new entrant this year.

Two Houston companies fell off the Fast 500 this year:

  • Lexicon Pharmaceuticals, which ranked 328th last year with revenue growth of 306 percent.
  • Vendor Credentialing Services (symplr), a tech platform that simplifies vendor services, compliance, and more for health professionals. It appeared at No. 426 last year, notching revenue growth of 221 percent.

Not surprisingly, Silicon Valley accounted for one-fifth of the companies in this year's Fast 500, followed by the New York City metro area (12 percent) and New England (8 percent). Nearly three-fourths of the Fast 500 companies specialize in software, and 81 percent of the companies have received venture capital at some point.

"Each year, the Technology Fast 500 shines a light on leading innovators in technology, and this year is no exception," says Paul Silverglate, leader of the U.S. technology sector at Deloitte. "In the face of innumerable challenges resulting from the pandemic, the best and brightest were able to pivot, reinvent and transform and grow."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Amy Chronis of Deloitte, James Reinstein of Saranas, and Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Health. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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


Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner of Deloitte LLP

The Houston location is one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Co-located with the company's downtown Houston headquarters, the 14,000-square-foot Deloitte Greenhouse is intended to help executives plant and foster new ways of thinking, working, and experimenting in the energy industry.

Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner, at Deloitte LLP, says that as the energy capital of the world, Houston is an ideal location for one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world.

"The oil and gas industry is at a crossroads where business transformation is no longer an option," says Chronis. "We are providing a controlled, safe environment for companies to experiment and test various workforce, technology and market scenarios to help them right-size and future-proof their businesses in this rapidly changing landscape." Click here to read more.

James Reinstein, president and CEO of Saranas

James Reinstein joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what's next for growing medical device company, Saranas. Photo courtesy

When James Reinstein took the helm of Houston-based Saranas in March 2020, he was tasked with taking the medical device company through its series B funding round and into larger clinical trials. Navigating these tasks during a global pandemic wasn't part of the plan.

"There was just so much uncertainty," Reinstein says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "All of the funds didn't know which end was up, what hospitals would be doing, what procedures were going to begin again."

Saranas received FDA approval and began its clinical trials for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in 2019. The device is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels. Around 20 percent of patients suffer a bleeding complication during endovascular procedures. Click here to read more.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via LinkedIn

Founded by Tatiana Fofanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fofanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fofanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions." Click here to read more.

The Houston location is one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world. Photo courtesy of Deloitte

Deloitte launches first-of-its-kind clean energy lab in Houston

seeing green

Houston will become home to professional services giant Deloitte's largest and most technologically advanced immersive, interactive innovation hub dubbed the Deloitte Greenhouse, Powered by Energy & Industrials.

Co-located with the company's downtown Houston headquarters, the 14,000-square-foot space is intended to help executives plant and foster new ways of thinking, working, and experimenting in the energy industry.

The Houston location is one of six Greenhouses in the U.S. and one of 40 around the world — take a virtual tour of a few of them here. This is the first Greenhouse in Texas (other U.S. locations include Chicago, New York, San Jose, and Washington D.C.) and the first to focus on the energy transition.

"Houston, the world's energy capital, is the ideal location for this type of innovative approach to accelerate problem-solving," says Amy Chronis, Houston managing partner, Deloitte LLP. "The oil and gas industry is at a crossroads where business transformation is no longer an option. We are providing a controlled, safe environment for companies to experiment and test various workforce, technology and market scenarios to help them right-size and future-proof their businesses in this rapidly changing landscape."

The space is designed with touchscreen-enabled and collaborative technology tools to "help ideate, co-create and prototype solutions to the toughest challenges facing the industry," including a 360-degree immersion dome.

It's also slated to include AR technology and computer vision algorithmic solutions that have become a focus for crews working in remote, high-risk environments, especially during the pandemic.

"New realities and expectations are driving the demand for new thinking," says Stanley Porter, vice chair and U.S. energy, resources and industrials leader at Deloitte. "At Deloitte, we are committed to and we are investing in the Deloitte Greenhouse, Powered by Energy & Industrials to accelerate learning and enable rapid solutions to help our clients solve their most complex problems and co-create their future."

Other global leaders have launched incubators in Houston that focus on the shift to lower carbon energy in recent months. Halliburton's in-house incubator launched last year and recently announced new startups that are teaming up with the lab. Meanwhile, Greentown Labs, opened earlier this year.

The space is designed with touchscreen-enabled and collaborative technology tools. Photo courtesy of Deloitte

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Houston-based health tech startup is revolutionizing patient selection for clinical trials

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On many occasions in her early career, Dr. Arti Bhosale, co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health, found herself frustrated with having to manually sift through thousands of digital files.

The documents, each containing the medical records of a patient seeking advanced treatment through a clinical trial, were always there to review — and there were always more to read.

Despite the tediousness of prescreening, which could take years, the idea of missing a patient and not giving them the opportunity to go through a potentially life-altering trial is what kept her going. The one she didn’t read could have slipped through the cracks and potentially not given someone care they needed.

“Those stories have stayed with me,” she says. “That’s why we developed Sieve.”

When standard health care is not an option, advances in medical treatment could be offered through clinical trials. But matching patients to those trials is one of the longest standing problems in the health care industry. Now with the use of new technology as of 2018, the solution to the bottleneck may be a new automated approach.

“Across the globe, more than 30 percent of clinical trials shut down as a result of not enrolling enough patients,” says Bhosale. “The remaining 80 percent never end up reaching their target enrollment and are shut down by the FDA.”

In 2020, Bhosale and her team developed Sieve Health, an AI cloud-based SaaS platform designed to automate and accelerate matching patients with clinical trials and increase access to clinical trials.

Sieve’s main goal is to reduce the administrative burden involved in matching enrollments, which in turn will accelerate the trial execution. They provide the matching for physicians, study sponsors and research sites to enhance operations for faster enrollment of the trials.

The technology mimics but automates the traditional enrollment process — reading medical notes and reviewing in the same way a human would.

“I would have loved to use something like this when I was on the front lines,” Bhosale says, who worked in clinical research for over 12 years. “Can you imagine going through 10,000 records manually? Some of the bigger hospitals have upwards of 100,000 records and you still have to manually review those charts to make sure that the patient is eligible for the trial. That process is called prescreening. It is painful.”

Because physicians wear many hats and have many clinical efforts on their plates, research tends to fall to the bottom of the to-do list. Finding 10-20 patients can take the research team on average 15-20 months to find those people — five of which end up unenrolling, she says.

“We have designed the platform so that the magic can happen in the background, and it allows the physician and research team to get a jumpstart,” she says.” They don’t have to worry about reviewing 10,000 records — they know what their efforts are going to be and will ensure that the entire database has been scanned.”

With Sieve, the team was able to help some commercial pilot programs have a curated data pool for their trials – cutting the administrative burden and time spent searching to less than a week.

Sieve is in early-stage start up mode and the commercial platform has been rolled out. Currently, the team is conducting commercial projects with different research sites and hospitals.

“Our focus now is seeing how many providers we can connect into this,” she says. “There’s a bigger pool out there who want to participate in research but don’t know where to start. That’s where Sieve is stepping in and enabling them to do this — partnering with those and other groups in the ecosystem to bring trials to wherever the physicians and the patients are.”

Arti Bhosale is the co-founder and CEO of Sieve Health. Photo courtesy of Sieve

Houston nonprofit unveils new and improved bayou cleaning vessel

litter free

For over 20 years, a nonprofit organization has hired people to clean 14 miles of bayou in Houston. And with a newly updated innovative boat, keeping Buffalo Bayou clean just got a lot more efficient.

Buffalo Bayou Partnership unveils its newest version of the Bayou-Vac this week, and it's expected to be fully operational this month. BBP Board Member Mike Garver designed both the initial model of the custom-designed and fabricated boat as well as the 2022 version. BBP's Clean & Green team — using Garver's boat — has removed around 2,000 cubic yards of trash annually, which is the equivalent of about 167 commercial dump trucks. The new and improved version is expected to make an even bigger impact.

“The Bayou-Vac is a game changer for our program,” says BBP field operations manager, Robby Robinson, in a news release. “Once up and running, we foresee being able to gain an entire workday worth of time for every offload, making us twice as efficient at clearing trash from the bayou.”

Keeping the bayou clean is important, since the water — and whatever trash its carrying — runs off into Galveston Bay, and ultimately, the Gulf of Mexico. The improvements made to the Bayou-Vac include removable dumpsters that can be easily swapped out, slid off, and attached to a dump truck. The older model included workers having to manually handle trash and debris and a secondary, land-based vacuum used to suck out the trash from onboard.

Additionally, the Bayou-Vac now has a moveable, hydraulic arm attached to the bow of the vessel that can support the weight of the 16-foot vacuum hose. Again, this task was something done manually on the previous model of the Bayou-Vac.

“BBP deeply appreciates the ingenuity of our board member Mike Garver and the generosity of Sis and Hasty Johnson and the Kinder Foundation, the funders of the new Bayou-Vac,” BBP President Anne Olson says in the release. “We also thank the Harris County Flood Control District and Port Houston for their longtime support of BBP’s Clean & Green Program.”