Here's what grant funding news stories trended this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Pexels

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. Money means a lot to startups and other innovative entities, and while startups are usually scouting venture capital investors, grants and donations are key too. These are the most-read news articles about grants and gifts — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston-based battery innovators receive $4M in federal funding

Houston-based Zeta Energy has fresh funding from the government. Image via Zeta Energy

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this week that it was selected to receive $4 million in federal funding for the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program, which aims to increase the number of EVs on the roads by boosting the country’s supply chain of affordable, convenient, reliable and safe batteries.

Zeta Energy is one of 12 groups in the U.S. to receive funding from the program, which awarded $42 million in total.

“Electric vehicle sales in America have tripled since the start of this Administration and by addressing battery efficiency, resiliency and affordability, the projects announced today will make EVs attractive to even more drivers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement released earlier this week. “This is a win-win for our efforts to fight climate change and power America’s clean transportation future with technologies produced by researchers and scientists right here at home.”

Continue reading the article from January.

Fresh off grant, Houston health tech company's AI aims to revolutionize diagnostics, care

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Continue reading the article from January.

Houston organization announces nearly $28M in Texas research grant funding

The Welch Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit, has doled out fresh funding to research organizations, with over a third being deployed to Houston-area institutions. Photo via Getty Images

Five schools in the Houston area have landed $10.8 million in research grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

The 36 grants were awarded to Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, the Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

In all, the foundation announced nearly $28 million in Texas research grants for 2023. All of the money — in the form of 91 grants for 15 Texas colleges and universities — goes toward chemical research. This year’s total for grant funding matches last year’s total.

“The Welch Foundation continues to emphasize the creative pursuit of basic chemical research,” Adam Kuspa, the foundation’s president and a former dean at the Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. “Our funding allows investigators throughout the state to follow their curiosity and explore the foundations chemical processes.”

Continue reading the article from July.

Seattle biotech co. to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from Texas organization

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release.

Continue reading the article from July.

Massive $32M gift from former patient, new UH deal pump big changes into Houston organization

The Texas Heart Institute recently received its largest charitable donation in its history. Photo courtesy of THI

Leadership at The Texas Heart Institute has two major things to celebrate. First, it just received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history.

Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.

"Students will have the chance to develop their skills in the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular conditions and will be taught by outstanding clinical educators,” said Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, president and CEO of The Texas Heart Institute and heart failure specialist at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, in a press release announcing the news.

Continue reading the article from August.

The new building is supposed to deliver in 2026. Rendering via UH.edu

Houston business leaders make donation to rising innovation hub, establish economic inclusivity initiative

supporting students

Two University of Houston alumni have made a donation supporting a project that will create a central campus hub for innovation activity.

Ali and Emad Lakhany, along with their family, have reportedly donated to their alma mater to support the University’s planned Innovation Hub. The amount of the donation was not disclosed but also contributed to economic inclusivity research at the C. T. Bauer College of Business, according to a UH news release, by establishing the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion.

With the gift, UH will name the second floor of the building the Salma and Hashim Yousuf Lakhany Entrepreneurship Floor, in honor of the brothers' parents who emigrated from Pakistan in the 1960s.

"My brother Emad, sister Lina, and I are thrilled to make this generous gift to the Bauer College of Business and the University of Houston’s innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives,” says CSM Group CEO Ali Lakhany, a 2007 UH graduate, in the release.

The CSM Group is a Houston company that works in restaurant franchising, telecommunications, hospitality, and real estate development.

“Our parents, immigrants to this country, have always instilled in us a profound belief in the power of entrepreneurship and the importance of giving back. With this contribution towards the Innovation Hub, we are honored to have a floor named after our parents within this remarkable building,” he continues. “We are excited about the boundless opportunities this space will offer to students, entrepreneurs and innovators. Together, we look forward to a future of endless possibilities and positive impact."

Originally reported about by InnovationMap, the UH Innovation Hub is a 75,000 square-foot building to rise on the site of the current Technology Annex building and open in 2026. In it will reside the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Musa and Khaleda Dakri Center for Economic Inclusion, the Energy Transition Institute, a large makerspace, and more.

Ali Lakhany and Emad Lakhany are UH alumni. Photo via uh.edu

Baylor College of Medicine's Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower is set to open in 2026. Rendering courtesy of SLAM Architecture

Houston health care institution secures $100M for expansion, shares renderings

fresh funding

Baylor College of Medicine has collected $100 million toward its $150 million fundraising goal for the college’s planned Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower.

The $100 million in gifts include:

  • A total of $30 million from The Cullen Foundation, The Cullen Trust for Health Care, and The Cullen Trust for Higher Education.
  • $12 million from the DeBakey Medical Foundation
  • $10 million from the Huffington Foundation
  • More than $45 million from members of Baylor’s Board of Trustees and other community donors, including the M.D. Anderson Foundation, the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation, and The Elkins Foundation.

“The Cullen Trust for Health Care is very honored to support this building along with The Cullen Foundation and The Cullen Trust for Higher Education,” Cullen Geiselman Muse, chair of The Cullen Trust for Health Care, says in a news release. “We cannot wait to see what new beginnings will come from inside the Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower.”

The Baylor campus is next to Texas Medical Center’s Helix Park, a 37-acre project. Rendering courtesy of BCM

The Lillie and Roy Cullen Tower is set to open in 2026. The 503,000-square-foot tower is the first phase of Baylor’s planned Health Sciences Park, an 800,000-square-foot project that will feature medical education and research adjacent to patient care at Baylor Medicine and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center on the McNair Campus.

The Baylor campus is next to Texas Medical Center’s Helix Park, a 37-acre project that will support healthcare, life sciences, and business ventures. Baylor is the anchor tenant in the first building being constructed at Helix Park.

“To really change the future of health, we need a space that facilitates the future,” says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean of Baylor. “We need to have a great building to recruit great talent. Having a place where our clinical programs are located, where our data scientists are, next to a biotech development center, and having our medical students all integrated into that environment will allow them to be ready in the future for where healthcare is going.”

In the 1940s, Lillie and Roy Cullen and the M.D. Anderson Foundation were instrumental in establishing the Texas Medical Center, which is now the world’s largest medical complex.

“Baylor is the place it is today because of philanthropy,” Klotman says. “The Cullen family, the M.D. Anderson Foundation, and the Albert and Margaret Alkek Foundation have been some of Baylor’s most devoted champions, which has enabled Baylor to mold generations of exceptional health sciences professionals. It is fitting that history is repeating itself with support for this state-of-the-art education building.”

The Cullen Foundation donated $30 million to the project. Rendering courtesy of BCM

Nancy and Rich Kinder gifted $50M to their eponymous center. Photo courtesy

Houston's biggest benefactors gift massive $50M to pivotal Rice University institute

big money

Houston’s most generous couple has once again gifted a massive sum to a local institution. Rich and Nancy Kinder’s Kinder Foundation has donated $50 million to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the organization announced.

The Kinder's generous grant will assist the institute’s focus on what it dubs “inclusive prosperity” — that is, “ensuring that everyone can contribute to Houston's success and share in its opportunities.”

This new grant follows the approximately $30 million he Kinder Foundation previously gifted Rice’s Kinder Institute and its affiliates to facilitate its headquarters.

“Over the past decade, the Kinder Institute has played an integral role in shaping Houston,” said Rich Kinder, chairman of the Kinder Foundation. “However, we can do more to inform and more directly address the challenges our communities face, particularly in the areas of housing, education, economic mobility, health and population research.”

To that end, the Kinders’ funds will ensure the institute can assist its partners regardless of their ability to pay for research. Funds will also help the institute respond to community research needs quickly during times of crisis — such as a catastrophic storm or pandemic — when funds aren’t readily available.

Kinder Institute director Ruth López Turley calls the grant “a gift to all of Houston,” speaking to the institute’s work to improve lives through data, research, engagement and action.

“Inclusive prosperity doesn’t just happen spontaneously,” she noted in a statement. “It requires an explicit effort informed by research. Lots of organizations are working hard to make things better, but most of them have very limited research capacity, and that’s what the Kinder Institute is primed to do.”

Founded in 2010, the institute has evolved into a leader in research, data, and policy analysis of critical issues such as housing, transportation, and education. The institute also releases the familiar Kinder Houston Area Survey, which charts significant changes in the way area residents perceive and understand Houston’s ongoing challenges and opportunities.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist received its second largest gift in the hospital's 102-year history. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Houston hospital receives anonymous $50M donation to support specialty treatments

big time gift

On the heels of kicking off construction for a $1.4 billion hospital tower at the Texas Medical Center, Houston Methodist has announced an anonymous $50 million gift.

The donation is the second largest received in the 102-year history of Houston Methodist.

Coupled with matching gifts and other sources of money, the gift’s overall impact will exceed $154 million, Houston Methodist says. Among the areas that will benefit from the funds are orthopedics, sports medicine, neuroprosthetics, gastrointestinal medicine, and immunology.

“Houston Methodist is honored to have the support of generous donors who entrust us to continue building on our legacy of leading medicine,” Dr. Marc Boom, president and CEO of Houston Methodist, says in a news release.

“This donor represents the giving spirit of the Houston community and believes in the unparalleled work our physicians, researchers, and staff do to bring lifesaving and life-changing treatments to our patients throughout the city and the country,” Boom adds. “We’re humbled to have this support and excited for what it will help us accomplish in the future.”

Highlights of the gift’s impact include:

  • Creation of an endowed position for the Houston Methodist Neuromodulation & Recovery Laboratory in collaboration with Rice University’s George R. Brown School of Engineering.
  • Support of the Center for Musculoskeletal Regeneration and Joint Preservation and Outcomes Laboratory.
  • Establishment of at least 20 endowments and support of special programs in areas such as imaging, nursing, ophthalmology, reconstructive surgery, surgery, and women’s health.

Earlier this month, Houston Methodist said it started construction on the 26-story Centennial Tower at the Texas Medical Center.

Set to open in 2027, the tower will include a larger emergency department and hundreds of patient beds, among other features. The new tower will replace Houston Methodist’s Houston Main building and West Pavilion.

DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock

Impact-driven Houston fintech startup officially launches after successful beta

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Learning culture fosters business success, per this Houston expert

guest column

Employee training is often seen as synonymous with learning and development, but there are significant differences. Understanding the differences can help elevate your organization’s programs and foster a learning culture.

Training teaches employees to perform the core duties of their role, typically competency and task/skills-based learning. Training is usually leveraged when the goal is to elevate an employee’s performance in their current role.

Learning and development (L&D) programs give employees the resources to grow within their current role and ready them for their possible advancement into new positions and/or another role or function. This development should be a collaborative effort with the employee to support the employee’s growth goals. L&D programs build and strengthen your organization’s learning culture, which encourages employees to lean into the overall corporate culture and promotes employee engagement.

There are major benefits when developing L&D programs that impact business success, including:

Employee retention

Employee turnover occurs in every organization, regardless of the work culture. As we continue to maneuver a tight labor market, it is important to consider how each business initiative impacts employee retention. Leadership should not focus on L&D potentially preparing employees for their next position outside the organization. According to LinkedIn’s 2024 Workplace Learning Report, organizations with a strong learning culture saw a 57 percent boost in employee retention. It is much better to invest in and retain your current employees today to drive business success, rather than be forced to invest in constant hiring and onboarding initiatives. Investing in L&D shows your workforce that you value them and care about their future within the company. L&D is a sound investment in your most valuable resource, your people.

Upskilling and reskilling

Today’s labor market has brought increased attention to the value of upskilling and reskilling, with upskilling reducing the skill gaps and preparing employees to advance within your organization, while reskilling teaches employees how to perform an entirely new set of skills. Insperity’s 2024 Business Outlook Report surveyed small- and medium-sized businesses, finding that almost 75 percent either had or planned to introduce an upskilling strategy.

A learning culture is the foundation for upskilling and reskilling within your organization and creates agility in the talent within your business. Upskilling and reskilling opportunities can be individually customized to meet your employees’ career goals, skill sets and the needs of the organization. When members of your workforce experience upskilling and reskilling, others within the organization may be motivated to grow within the organization as well.

Employer branding

Information travels about your organization, whether good or bad. When there are ample L&D opportunities, it improves your employer brand and helps attract top talent who are looking for growth opportunities. A learning culture is a competitive advantage when competing for talent. When the competition does not invest in L&D, your business will stand out more to their employees and prospective candidates as an opportunity for growth and development.

Leveraging your L&D programs and knowing the opportunities available are important for recruiting success. Highlighting upskilling and advancement opportunities are especially important as many employees who choose to work with startups and small businesses want to have a hand in the company’s growth and success. It is also important to discuss how your organizational culture supports learning on the job.

Building a strong learning culture and refining your strategies now will strengthen your current employees’ engagement and attract top-notch talent in the future. Success in business always begins with a focus on your people.

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Karen Leal is performance specialist with Houston-based Insperity, a provider of human resources offering a suite of scalable HR solutions available in the marketplace.

Breaking news: 2 media startups expand to Texas

coming soon

Houston is already a media-rich town, with multiple newspapers, magazines, and online sites. But it's about to get richer in 2024, with two newcomers arriving and setting up shop.

Here's two new media startups coming to Texas in 2024:

Amaré Magazine Texas
A quarterly print and digital magazine covering lifestyle, fashion, reality TV, celebrities, philanthropy, entertainment, events, arts & culture, cuisine, breaking news, and pop culture — phew, that's a lot — is launching an edition in Texas.

Their "about us" page says they began in L.A. in 2016. Their founder/CEO is George Rojas, a fashion/stylist expert, event producer, and according to his bio, former meth addict. The mission: shine a light on artists, entrepreneurs, and businesses via a business model that allows professionals to expand their network, grow their social media, and work with advertisers and investors. Prior issues include "profiles" similar to the Voyage-type sites where the subjects write the profiles themselves.

Helping to launch in Texas is skincare doctor and "Bravo TV personality" James Mercer and editor Lindsay Stevenson.

While short on experience, they're long on enthusiasm. They breezed through Texas in May, stopping at Dallas restaurant Bistro 31, as well as the Highland Park home of D’Andra Simmons and the Houston home of reality-TV star and famed closet-owner Theresa Roemer — the latter of whom will be on the cover of the first issue which they say will debut in August. They claim to also be launching an edition in New York.

Courier Texas
National pro-democracy news network founded in 2019 is opening a bureau in Texas, and advertising for positions — based in Dallas — that include political reporter, operating/managing director, and a statewide social media manager, with a launch slated for summer 2024.

Courier's mission is to build a more informed and engaged America by providing factual, values-driven news, and analysis online. Their reporting is produced primarily for social media and online channels, with an emphasis on video, graphics, and skimmable newsletters.

Their CEO is Tara McGowan, who has worked in journalism and politics, mostly for Democratic candidates, as have a number of their staffers. To avoid spreading misinformation, they eschew the "both sides" approach followed by so many mainstream media sites under the guise of being "balanced."

They currently have outlets based in 10 states: Arizona, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Nevada.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Female leaders from NASA receive presidential awards

space medals

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Rigby was honored for her work on leading NASA’s transformational space telescope.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release.

Rigby has published 160 peer-reviewed publications. She has been recognized with various awards like NASA’s Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, the Fred Kavli Prize Plenary Lecture from the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and the 2022 LGBTQ+ Scientist of the Year from Out to Innovate. Currently, she is an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Part of Rigby’s Medal of Freedom honor is due to her role in the success of NASA’s Webb mission. Webb is considered the most powerful space telescope, which launched on Dec. 25, 2021.

“I am proud Ellen and Jane are recognized for their incredible roles in NASA missions, for sharing the power of science with humanity, and inspiring the Artemis Generation to look to the stars,” says NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in the release. “Among her many accomplishments as a veteran astronaut and leader, Ellen served as the second female director of Johnson, flew in space four times, and logged nearly 1,000 hours in orbit. Jane is one of the many wizards at NASA who work every day to make the impossible possible. The James Webb Space Telescope represents the very best of scientific discovery that will continue to unfold the secrets of our universe. We appreciate Ellen and Jane for their service to NASA, and our country.”