Texans see need for telemedicine amid the pandemic, Liftoff Houston has launched applications, ChipMonk Bakery is growing, and more of the latest Houston innovation news. Getty Images

From health-conscious cookies reaching fundraising goals to a Houston-wide business competition, the Bayou City's innovation news is pretty diverse.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of startup and tech short stories, there's everything from telemedicine, fundraising, and more.

Houston baking startup raises money after finding its new home

ChipMonk Baking Company, a consumer packaged goods startup focused on healthy dessert options, has met its goal of $150,000. Photo courtesy of ChipMonk

Houston-based ChipMonk Baking Company, which recently found a new home in a new dedicated production facility, has reached its goal on its investment round on NextSeed.

ChipMonk, which was founded last year to create sweets that use sweeteners monk fruit and allulose for health-conscious consumers, will soon operate in a 2,300-square-foot space at 3042 Antoine Dr. The space is strictly for baking, storage, etc. and will not have a storefront.

Co-founders Jose Hernandez and David Downing have seen a spike in demand since the start of the pandemic, which increased the need to upgrade from shared kitchen space.

"The stay-at-home environment has encouraged many people to think more about their health and to start cooking and baking more at home. We've been able to offer a delicious option that fits perfectly in this growing trend," says Downing, who also serves as CEO.

ChipMonk's lease begins next month, and, to fund its growth plans, the company launched a its campaign on NextSeed. In just a couple weeks, the startup met its fundraising goal of $150,000.

Cancer nonprofit moves into new space

The Rose has a new facility to better serve patients. Photos courtesy of The Rose

The Rose, a Houston-based breast cancer nonprofit that provides medical services to 40,000 patients annually, has moved into its new space at 6575 West Loop South, suite 275, in May.

"We know this location will allow us to better serve our community," says Dorothy Gibbons, co-founder and CEO of The Rose, in a news release. "During this time of the pandemic, we've added so many safety precautions and will continue to space appointments to allow social distancing. Most of all we want our patients to feel safe and welcome from the moment they walk through our door."

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, data reports have shown a drop in routine health care, like cervical and breast cancer screenings. Gibbons says the drop in these appointments is concerning and those who postpone routine screening or diagnostic testing could be at risk for developing later stage breast cancer.

"Our message to our patients is breast cancer is not going to wait until this pandemic is over; neither should you. With the projected increase in uninsured women, due to so many job losses, The Rose has to be ready to serve. Now more than ever, we depend on our insured patients to help cover the care for uninsured patients," she says.

Houston business competition opens applications

Small businesses in Houston have until August 10 to apply for the annual Liftoff Houston competition. Photo via liftoffhouston.smapply.org

The city of houston's annual business plan competition, Liftoff Houston, has opened applications. The program, which is sponsored by Capital One Bank, is looking for companies and will award winners in three categories: Product, service, and innovation

Each business that wins will receive a $10,000 cash prize. The competition is focused on early stage startups with revenue less than $10,000 and must have only been in business for less than a year. The companies also must be based in Houston.

Applicants can submit their information online to be considered for the contest. The deadline to apply is August 10.

TMCx company closes $1.53 million seed round

Manatee

Manatee has raised funds for its digital therapy platform. Photo via getmanatee.com

Manatee, a health tech startup based in Denver that was a member of this year's TMCx cohort, has announced it closed its seed funding round at $1.53 million. The company, which provides digital solutions to therapy for children, closed the round at the end of June.

Michigan-based Grand Ventures led the raise and invested alongside The American Family Insurance Institute (AmFam), Telosity, SpringTime Ventures, and notable health care entrepreneurs, Danish Munir, Luke Leninger, and Johnathan Weiner, according to information emailed by Manatee representative.

"Manatee was the first solution we found that really understood kids and their unique needs," says Christopher Neuharth, executive director of digital health and experience at Children's Wisconsin. "They got the dynamics between the child, parent, and therapist – and how to influence behavior change."

Accenture study finds COVID-19 has been a gamechanger for telemedicine

Houston medical organizations pivot to telemedicine and remote care amid COVID-19 crisis

An Accenture study found that most Texans are seeking telehealth amid the pandemic. Getty Images

According to a recent study from Accenture, 89 percent of Texas consumers want telehealth options — and the COVID-19 pandemic deserves the credit for the increased interest.

According to a press release from the company, the research found that:

  • One-fourth of Texans surveyed said they first learned about virtual health care following the outbreak of COVID-19.
  • The number of Texans who said they know a little or a lot about virtual health care increased 25 percent following the outbreak.
  • Approximately nine in 10 Texans surveyed after the pandemic began believe that virtual care options should be available to everyone.

The widespread stay-at-home orders exposed Texans to virtual health care and left a positive impression on receiving care remotely. For instance:

  • An estimated 4.5 million state residents began using virtual health care services since the onset of the pandemic.
  • Nearly half (45 percent) of Texans said they trust a virtual health visit as much as or more than an in-person visit—a 15 percent uptick from the pre-pandemic period.
  • Six out of seven remote-care patients (86 percent) who have continued to use virtual care options during the pandemic said their experience after the start of the COVID-19 outbreak was better or the same as before, and three-quarters (76 percent) said their wait time was shorter or the same.

"A lot of Texans got a taste for what it's like to see their physicians and specialists from the safety and comfort of their home," says Mark Olney, a managing director in Accenture's health practice and the study's lead author. "Now patients are eager to get more of that access, convenience and time savings."

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

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Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

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An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

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The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.