3D Systems announced its acquisition of Volumetric and its plans to keep operations in Houston. Photo via Jordan Miller/Rice University

Houston-based Volumetric Biotechnologies has gone from startup to nine-figure acquisition in a mere three years.

Volumetric, which makes 3D-printed human organs and tissues, agreed October 27 to be purchased by publicly traded 3D Systems, a Rock Hill, South Carolina-based company that specializes in 3D technology, for as much as $400 million. The cash-and-stock deal, expected to be completed this year, will provide $45 million at closing and up to $355 million if Volumetric reaches certain benchmarks.

"Volumetric is already successful in its space with innovative light-based bioprinting," says Jeffrey Graves, president and CEO of 3D Systems. "This acquisition and integration of Volumetric into the 3D Systems family advances our commitment to health care."

Founded in 2018, Volumetric is a privately held spin-out of Rice University's bioengineering department. Its co-founders are Jordan Miller, the company's president, and Bagrat Grigoryan, the chief operating officer. Volumetric participated in the San Francisco-based accelerator Y Combinator in 2020. Investors include two health care nonprofits, the Methuselah Foundation and Methuselah Fund.

Miller, an associate professor of bioengineering at Rice University, will join 3D Systems as chief scientist for regenerative medicine, and Grigoryan will come aboard as vice president of regenerative medicine.

In conjunction with the acquisition, 3D Systems and business partner United Therapeutics, based in Manchester, New Hampshire, will conduct R&D for organ and tissue manufacturing at Volumetric's 20,000-square-foot facility in Houston's East End Maker Hub. Last December, Volumetric moved its operations to the hub. The startup produces human organs and tissues like the liver, kidney, pancreas, lung, and heart using a combination of human cells and medical-grade plastics.

"The vital organs inside of the human body are the most complicated structures in the known universe," Miller says in a news release. "Just as a vibrant city needs roads, a vital organ needs vasculature. Our work to date at Volumetric has focused on 3D bioprinting the intricate blood vessel architecture that is crucial for the function of these organs."

Grigoryan says manufacturing human organs represents a "transformative opportunity" to combat organ diseases.

"Broadening our team's ability to deliver on the promise of organ therapy is a win for patients and medical care around the world, as well as Volumetric shareholders who believed in our promise from early phase development," Grigoryan says.

Friday, October 1, is Manufacturing Day Houston at East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of EEEMH

Houston has all the ingredients to thrive as a manufacturing hub, says expert

guest column

Manufacturing is critical to building the economy on both local and national levels.

According to Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, 4.6 million U.S. manufacturing jobs will be needed by 2030. The National Association of Manufacturing estimates that each $1 spent in manufacturing adds $2.79 to the economy and each $1 earned in direct manufacturing labor income yields $3.14 in labor income elsewhere. Failing to fill these jobs could cost the U.S. $1 trillion and thwart economic growth.

Manufacturing is a win-win for Houston. With Houston's manufacturing sectors tied to the overall U.S. economy, the Greater Houston area has the opportunity to thrive as a manufacturing powerhouse by returning manufacturing to the U.S.

"Houston is an amazing city with a wide variety of entrepreneurs, inventors and industry specialties. To support these firms, we need tens of thousands of skilled employees in a plethora of manufacturing jobs. On the product side, they include Space, Medical Devices, Robotics, Additive Manufacturing, BioEngineering, and next generation energy devices. From the process side - refined products, chemicals, beverages and plastics," said Michael Holthouse, CEO and founder of Holthouse Foundation For Kids.

In an effort to increase awareness of these advanced manufacturing careers, TXRX East End Maker Hub is hosting Manufacturing Day Houston on Friday, October 1. The event is attracting hundreds of middle- and high-school youth along with their teachers from the Greater Houston area.

EEMH is opening its doors to allow students the opportunity to engage in hands-on experiences, demonstrations, and interact with subject matter experts to learn the latest technologies in Process Manufacturing, Product Manufacturing, Bioengineering, Virtual Reality, Robotics, 3D printing and more. The keynote speaker, Jim "Mattress Mack" McIngvale of Gallery Furniture, will open the event.

Manufacturing Day Houston is a local effort to join National Manufacturing Day and Creators Wanted, both industry initiatives supported by the National Association of Manufacturers and the Manufacturing Institute. Manufacturing Day Houston has been created to reshape the perception of the advanced manufacturing industry and help today's youth understand how they can match their talents with in-demand product and process manufacturing careers that average $87,185 annually.

While attractive, many of these skilled manufacturing jobs go unfilled due to misinterpretations about the industry and educational opportunities. Houston's community colleges and technical programs offer affordable training for these opportunities, which can be completed in two years or less.

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Michelle Wicmandy serves as a marketing consultant for Imagina Communications.

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, aims to put Houston on the map for manufacturing. Photo by Natalie Harms

Photos: $38M innovative maker hub space opens in Houston's East End

new to hou

A new 300,000-square-foot innovation and manufacturing hub with a goal of creating 1,000 new companies in the next five years has officially celebrated its grand opening.

The East End Maker Hub — a $38 million public-private partnership — is anchored by TX/RX Labs, a makerspace nonprofit, and located at 6501 Navigation Blvd. So far, 25 companies have signed leasing agreements with the hub that has two of its three phases completed.

"Houston can become the next great manufacturing hub in America," says Roland von Kurnatowski, president at TX/RX Labs. "We can decrease our external reliance and increase our resilience."

The grand opening event, which was held June 3, was attended by makers, EEMH tenants and employees, and some of the local politicians that aided in making the hub a reality with grants, private funding, and more.

The EEMH has officially celebrated its grand opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

"We've always been a city of amazing innovation, whether it's been in energy, medicine, or space exploration," says Mayor Sylvester Turner. "And, we've led the world in whatever we have chosen as the pursuit of our endeavors. One thing about this city is that when we work together, we win."

"The East End Maker Hub provides an opportunity to reclaim our history of innovation and manufacturing and to ensure that the process of innovation is equitable," Turner continues. "It is not saying much to be diverse if you are not inclusive at the same time."

Through TX/RX and other tenants, the EEMH will aim to provide education, workforce development, jobs, and entrepreneurial space to innovators, students, and more.

The mission of the East End Maker Hub is to "drive advanced manufacturing by bringing together the brightest engineers, scientists, manufacturers, and makers to generate innovative advanced manufacturing solutions," according to Patrick Ezzell, president of the Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation.

Six Houston startups recently announced their moves into the space, and the EEMH tenants represent everything from 3-D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles to vodka distilling and fragrance design.

Take a slideshow tour of the TXRX space below.

TX/RX Labs is the EEMH anchor tenant

Photo by Natalie Harms


Six Houston startups — from health tech to aerospace — have moved into the new East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

New innovation hub grows with the addition of 6 Houston startups

moving in

The East End Maker Hub in Houston's East End District is growing with the recent addition of six startups.

"All of these companies cite the East End Maker Hub's physical innovation infrastructure, customizable spaces, strategic location, and potential collaborators as motivations for moving their operations into the hub," Patrick Ezzell, president of Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., one of the hub's creators, says in an April 26 news release. "All are in the process of growing their teams and view Houston and, more specifically, the East End as a key resource for human capital heading into the future."

The companies that recently joined the East End Maker Hub are:

  • Alchemy Industrial. The company is a contract manufacturer that uses advanced technologies to develop industrial products for the medical, renewable energy, and drone sectors. Mush Khan, a British-born entrepreneur, established the startup last year.
  • CarbonATM. Led by Frank Zamarron and a group of former NASA engineers, CarbonATM aims to improve monitoring of ambient air quality with a low-cost portable device.
  • Gbowo Inc. This startup, founded in 2020, seeks to help companies reduce the environmental and financial costs of last-mile deliveries through the use of low-speed electrical vehicles. Ganiu Ladejobi is the founder and CEO.
  • Horizon Aeromarine. Established in 2020, the startup develops software and electronics from unmanned aerial and marine vehicles. Laura Sammons and Denver Hopkins are the founders.
  • Parallax 621. Founded by Benjamin Peters and Phillip Lentz, the Parallax 621 tech think tank develops technology based on theoretical physics research.
  • Polyvascular. The startup, established in 2014, makes a polymer-based heart valve for children with congenital heart disease.

The East End Maker Hub, at 6501 Navigation Blvd., is a collaboration between TXRX Labs and Urban Partnerships Community Development that houses crafters, fabricators, and tech manufacturers. TXRX Labs invested $1.25 million in equity to set up the hub. Urban Partnerships Community Development raised $35.75 million in capital to get the project off the ground.

Volumetric Biotechnologies has announced its moving its HQ to the East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

3D-printing startup to move into rising Houston innovation and maker hub

moving around Hou

The East End Maker Hub has landed perhaps its most intriguing tenant thus far — a Houston startup that makes 3D-printed human organs.

Volumetric Biotechnologies Inc. has leased 11,200 square feet at the East End Maker Hub to serve as its headquarters and manufacturing center. Jordan Miller, co-founder of Volumetric, says one of the benefits of being located at the hub will be access to a cleanroom operated by Alchemy Industrial, a 3D manufacturer of medical devices. Earlier this year, Houston-based Alchemy leased more than 5,400 square feet at the East End hub.

Volumetric will occupy space in the first phase of the 307,000-square-foot project East End Maker Hub. That phase of the $37 million project is set to open soon. The startup's current 5,000-square-foot headquarters is at 7505 Fannin St., near the Woman's Hospital of Texas and south of the Texas Medical Center.

Miller says Volumetric's new home will help it "maintain and accelerate our already breakneck progress." Volumetric's 12 biological, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers focus on producing human organs and tissues like the liver, kidney, pancreas, lung, and heart using a mix of medical-grade plastics and human cells.

"We're straining to scale our company as fast as our team is inventing and progressing our technologies. It's an absolutely wonderful problem to have," Miller says.

Volumetric hopes to commercialize its 3D-printed organs in 2021. Founded in 2018, Volumetric is a privately held spin-out of Rice University's Department of Bioengineering. It has received $1.8 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Investors include Silicon Valley-based Sand Hill Angels, and the Springfield, Virginia-based Methuselah Foundation and Methuselah Fund.

Local Realtor Mike Pittman, a development associate with Pearland-based project partner Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., recruited Volumetric to the hub. He says he's also working with a distillery, a coffee roaster, and a medical gown manufacturer on leasing space there.

The first phase of the East End Maker Hub is set to open soon. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

Once the East End Maker Hub opens, Houston's East End District will be home to the largest maker hub in Texas and one of the largest such facilities in the U.S. Being built in three phases on a 21-acre site at 6501 Navigation Blvd., the East End Maker Hub aims to create an environment that gives members of the community access to trade skills and career opportunities, and to provide businesses a place for innovation and manufacturing. The hub's second and third phases are on track to be finished in 2021.

The soon-to-open first phase will feature "white box" suites, ranging in size from 420 square feet to 20,000 square feet, that cater to three sectors:

  • Innovation (robotics, 3D printing, and R&D)
  • Crafting (ceramics, fine woodworking, and screen printing)
  • Light fabrication (food production).

Aside from Alchemy, tenants recently lined up for the hub include Houston-based Waste Management Inc., whose R&D team will occupy more than 3,500 square feet, and Houston-based construction technology company Rugged Robotics Inc., which is renting 1,700 square feet.

"We're not the place for software companies, but our innovation area is the place for hardware companies — those that are into drones, robotics, 3D printing," Pittman says.

The project's hardware innovation element could boost Houston's manufacturing economy, he says. A recent analysis by the Smartest Dollar website found that 7.5 percent of the Houston metro area's workforce is employed in manufacturing. From 1999 to 2019, the number of manufacturing jobs in Houston grew by just 1.9 percent.

So far, the nonprofit TXRX Labs makerspace is the hub's largest tenant, having signed a lease for 65,000 square feet in the first phase. TXRX Labs and Urban Partnerships Community Development teamed up to develop the hub. TXRX contributed $1.25 million in equity, and Urban Partnerships Community Development raised $35.75 million in capital.

Houston-based Stewart Builders is the general contractor for the East End Maker Hub, and Houston-based Method Architecture is the architect of record.

Aside from supplying room for businesses and nonprofits to grow, the hub seeks to provide training and jobs for local residents. Pittman says the hub — located within a tax-advantaged Opportunity Zone — encourages its tenants to hire people who live within a three-mile radius.

"You don't have to go and get a Ph.D. in nuclear science for these jobs to be able to attain really good wages for your family," he says.

Phases two and three of the hub are expected in 2021. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

TXRX's new East End Space will allow them to provide prototyping and manufacturing services to more innovators. Courtesy of TXRX

Houston nonprofit makerspace seeking donations as it prepares to move into its new home

Calling for cash

With grants and public funds secured, Houston-based TXRX Labs as one last round of fundraising to acquire before it's ready to head full-speed ahead into its new location.

TXRX launched a $85,000 fundraising campaign to help get the organization where it needs to be before it moves into its 60,000-square-foot space in the East End Maker Hub in spring or summer of next year. The organization, along with its sister nonprofit, Urban Partnership Community Development Corp., has been selected by the city of Houston for an $18 million award and by the federal government for a $5 million innovation grant.

"In the last two weeks, we were getting close to finalizing funding for the building and came up short," says Lauren Caldarera, development director at TXRX. "We wanted to reach out to our membership at TXRX and the broader Houston community to help see if people will help support this unique offering for Houston."

In order to receive those grants, TXRX needs to submit design materials — a process that they budget to cost $325,000. (TXRX has already procured $240,000.) An anonymous donor agreed to match donations, and the organization has until the end of May to raise. Anyone can donate online.

TXRX is focused on bringing back Houston's East End as a manufacturing hub. As manufacturing jobs left the second, third, and fifth wards, it's created a need for skilled labor, middle class jobs, says Roland von Kurnatowski, executive director of TXRX.

"We're looking to bring together innovative companies in the physical innovation space into the East End and creating these middle class jobs," says von Kurnatowski. "It's a modern approach to combating economic inequalities instead of providing handouts."

TXRX is already making a dent in their mission with their smaller space. The organization has over 400 members and incubates 20 or so companies. The new space will allow TXRX to incubate almost twice that amount, work with 75 companies who need prototyping and manufacturing services, and grow their classes and educational offerings.

"Having this space is critical as Houston moves forward in creating an innovation ecosystem," Caldarera says. "We need a space for people to develop their physical prototypes, have engineers and other experts to coach and mentor them, and create more startups and innovators here."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston innovator joins VC world to increase her social impact

Q&A

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Houston college system plans to open $30M resiliency-focused center

to the rescue

Houston’s initiative to protect the city from catastrophes is getting a big boost from Houston Community College.

The college is developing the Resilience Center of Excellence to aid the city’s resilience campaign. At the heart of this project is the 65,000-square-foot, $30 million Resiliency Operations Center, which will be built on a five-acre site HCC’s Northeast campus. The complex is scheduled to open in 2024.

HCC estimates the operations center will train about 3,000 to 4,000 local first responders, including police officers and firefighters, during the first three years of operation. They’ll be instructed to prepare for, manage, and respond to weather, health and manmade hazards such as hurricanes, floods, fires, chemical spills, and winter freezes.

According to The Texas Tribune, the operations center will include flood-simulation features like a 39-foot-wide swift water rescue channel, a 15-foot-deep dive area, and a 100-foot-long “rocky gorge” of boulders.

The college says the first-in-the-nation Resilience Center of Excellence will enable residents, employers, civic organizations, neighborhoods, and small businesses to obtain education and certification aimed at improving resilience efforts.

“Our objective is to protect the well-being of our citizens and our communities and increase economic stability,” Cesar Maldonado, chancellor of HCC, said when the project was announced.

Among the programs under the Resiliency Center of Excellence umbrella will be non-credit courses focusing on public safety and rescue, disaster management, medical triage, and debris removal.

Meanwhile, the basic Resilience 101 program will be available to businesses and community organizations, and the emergency response program is geared toward individuals, families, and neighborhoods.

HCC’s initiative meshes with the City of Houston’s Resilient Houston, a strategy launched in 2020 that’s designed to protect Houston against disasters. As part of this strategy, the city has hired a chief resilience and sustainability officer, Priya Zachariah.

“Every action we take and investment we make should continue to improve our collective ability to withstand the unexpected shocks and disruptions when they arrive — from hurricanes to global pandemics, to extreme heat or extreme cold,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said last year. “The time is now to stop doing things the way we’ve always done them because the threats are too unpredictable.”

In an InnovationMap guest column published in February 2021, Richard Seline, co-founder of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub, wrote that the focus of resilience initiatives should be pre-disaster risk mitigation.

“There is still work to be done from a legislative and governmental perspective, but more and more innovators — especially in Houston — are proving to be essential in creating a better future for the next historic disaster we will face,” Seline wrote.