BUCHA BIO has raised over $1 million to grow its team, build a new headquarters, and accelerate its go-to-market strategy. Image courtesy of BUCHA BIO

A Houston company that has created a plant-based material that can replace unsustainable conventional leathers and plastics has announced the close of its oversubscribed seed funding round.

BUCHA BIO announced it's raised $1.1 million in seed funding. The round included participation from existing partners New Climate Ventures, Lifely VC, and Beni VC, as well as from new partners Prithvi VC, Asymmetry VC, and investors from the Glasswall Syndicate, including Alwyn Capital, as well as Chris Zarou, CEO & Founder of Visionary Music Group and manager of multi-platinum Grammy-nominated rapper, Logic, the startup reports in a news release.

“I’m excited to back BUCHA BIO’s amazing early market traction," Zarou says in the release. "Their next-gen bio-based materials are game-changing, and their goals align with my personal vision for a more sustainable future within the entertainment industry and beyond.”

The company, which relocated its headquarters from New York to Houston in February, was founded by Zimri T. Hinshaw in 2020 and is based out of the East End Makers Hub and Greentown Houston.

BUCHA BIO has created two bio-based materials using bacterial nanocellulose and other plant-based components. The two materials are SHORAI, which can be used as a leather alternative, and HIKARI, a translucent material that is expected to be formally introduced in November.

The fresh funding will help the company to accelerate its move into the marketplace next year by securing co-manufacturers to scale production. Additionally, the company is growing its team and is hiring for a new supply chain lead as well as some technician roles.

Per the release, BUCHA BIO is working on constructing a new headquarters in Houston that will house a materials development laboratory, prototype manufacturing line, and offices.

BUCHA BIO has the potential to impact several industries from fashion and automotive to construction and electronics. According to the Material Innovation Initiative, the alternative materials industry has seen an increased level of interest from investors who have dedicated over $2 billion into the sector since 2015.

“The time for rapid growth for biomaterials is now," says repeat investor Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner at Houston-based New Climate Ventures, in the release. "BUCHA BIO's team and technical development are advancing hand in hand with the demands of brand partnerships, and we are excited to support them as they capitalize on this global opportunity.”

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

Houston bioprinting startup to be acquired for up to $400M

big move

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

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston expert: How employee groups help Hispanic professionals win in corporate America

guest column

Making a name for yourself in corporate America is no easy task. It is especially hard if you are the first generation in your family to attend college in this country and the first to take a stab at climbing the corporate ladder. The secret behind those who successfully make it to the top is access to a strong support group.

Finding the right support system, one that provides professional and personal mentorship and one that you identify with culturally, can help you navigate the business world and help you achieve your career goals.

Many Hispanic/Latino professionals have found that support system in employee groups, or EGs.

What are EGs and how can they help Hispanic professionals succeed?

EGs are employee-led groups that foster inclusivity and build community. The purpose of the group is to provide personal and professional support to its members, who usually share certain characteristics in common – like being Hispanic, or those who simply have interest in learning about a culture that is not unique to them.

AT&T has 14 EGs, including HACEMOS, which was established in 1988 and is dedicated to supporting Hispanic employees and the communities they live in. There are 36 HACEMOS chapters across the country supporting more than 8,500 members. The Houston chapter currently supports 278 members – all in different phases of their career.

HACEMOS members believe that “Juntos HACEMOS más,” which means “Together we do more.” Under that guiding belief, members work together to support each other in advancing their careers. Through HACEMOS, AT&T employees can participate in various professional development learning opportunities and have access to one- on-one mentorship sessions with members from the leadership team.

For many members, the group offers a safe environment to engage and learn from other professionals who understand their personal and professional hurdles from a cultural point of view.

At a personal level, the support I receive from HACEMOS has helped me to better understand and be proud of my heritage. HACEMOS has embraced my “Latina” identity, encouraging me to continue using my Spanish skills to serve our Latino customers within AT&T.

EGs provide members with a sense of community and belonging. 

Most EGs have a community aspect to them that allow members to work together to address needs in their communities. HACEMOS members in Houston take pride in organizing, volunteering, and participating in various initiatives that provide support to the most vulnerable members of their community.

This year, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the Houston HACEMOS Chapter will be hosting events throughout the city, helping support our youth and instill the importance of continuing their education and striving for success. Our national group is actively volunteering on efforts to help close the digital divide (the gap between people who have reliable internet access and those who do not) which is more likely to impact people of color, especially Hispanic families.

EGs create a win-win for employees and employers. 

EGs are beneficial to employees and employers. It’s true, EG members are engaged and develop strong relationships with their colleagues from other departments resulting in a collaborative environment.

Also, the company benefits from the knowledge and skills EG members gain through the various workshops and learning resources. In addition, EG members serve as brand ambassadors in the community for the company while they participate in community volunteer events.

So, if the company you work for currently does not have an EG you identify with, it’s easy to build your case to launch one. And if your company has an EG you identify with, then I encourage you to join it today – I can ensure you, it will be a rewarding experience that can help you advance your career.

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Erika Portillo is the Houston HACEMOS president for AT&T.

Health tech startup with Houston HQ raises $14M series A

Money moves

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum, which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia, with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures. Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients."

The fresh funding will go toward scaling Optellum's operations and commercial launches in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Additionally, the company plans to expand its platform, including providing personalized therapy support using imaging data with molecular data, robotics, and liquid biopsies.

"With this strong support and commitment of highly specialized investors, we are positioned to accelerate commercial deployment in both the UK and the United States to expand our installed base," says Jason Pesterfield, CEO at Optellum, in the release. "Following years of research and clinical trials that have shown the impact of our software on the diagnosis of at-risk lung nodules, we're focused on expanding patient access to this crucial technology and identifying deadly lung cancer faster in more at-risk people. The funding will also boost our research and development with world-leading institutions and partners to progress further innovation."

Optellum's software provides support for physicians making decisions in early lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. The company was launched to provide better diagnostics and early-stage treatment to increase survival rates and improve health outcomes.

Last year, Optellum — whose U.S. headquarters is at Houston's TMC Innovation Institute — announced it would be included in J&J's Lung Cancer Initiative. The startup was a 2019 graduate of the Texas Medical Center's accelerator and its software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic, received FDA clearance, CE-MDR in the EU, and UKCA in the UK.

"Optellum is the latest in a series of companies to channel research from the UK's world-leading universities into commercially viable products that can make a difference to the provision of medical care," says Mercia Investment Director Stephen Johnson in the release. "Having observed Optellum achieve great milestones over the years, we are now excited to become part of their success and apply our experience with scaling up software and deep-tech companies to help accelerate Optellum's impact on patient lives across the world."