First Bight Venture's BioWell has received a $741,925 grant to continue supporting bioindustrial startups. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based nonprofit accelerator that works with early-stage synthetic biology startups has secured nearly $750,000 to support its mission.

First Bight Ventures' accelerator, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

The funding will support the BioWell's mission to establish a "vibrant bioeconomy" by helping startups scale and commercialize "through access to a unique combination of pilot bioproduction infrastructure," according to a news release from First Bight.

"Startups at BioWell will gain access to a robust ecosystem, expertise, mentorship, and financial resources essential for successfully commercializing their bio-industrial innovations," BioWell Executive Director Paul Palmer says in the release.

The BioWell is still working toward establishing a physical space and has worked out of the East End Maker Hub in the meantime. The organization has partnered with Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation, or UP CDC, which led the application process on this federal grant.

"BioWell chose to partner with UP CDC for the EDA grant, to continue the successful model that UP CDC has created at the East End Maker Hub for advanced manufacturing. UP CDC looks forward to continuing our partnership with BioWell in the UP CDC's BioCity project that will position Houston at the forefront of bio-manufacturing," UP CDC's CEO Patrick Ezzell says in the release.

First Bight Ventures Founder Veronica Wu established the BioWell to target high-potential startups, which usually have to overcome lack of funding challenges early on.

"Often times, early-stage startups gain momentum and hit important milestones, but ultimately find themselves heading toward the 'Valley of Death,' where progress is made on their enterprise, but no sufficient revenue is generated for the company's stability and longevity," Wu says in the release. "This 'Build to Scale' program's support will help offset these inevitable challenges in our bio-industrial space."

She shares more about her mission for First Bight Ventures on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the interview from March below.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub is coming to the Second Ward. Photo houston.org

$32M resilience-focused hub to rise in Houston's East End

coming soon

A first-of-its-kind manufacturing hub designed to “future proof” residential, commercial, industrial, and public sector infrastructure is coming to Houston.

The 130,000-square-foot Resilience Manufacturing Hub will house functions such as R&D, manufacturing, and assembly for products aimed at improving the resilience of homes, office buildings, warehouses, and other components of the “built environment.”

“We are looking for any product or technology solution that can reduce the impact from the next generation of disasters … by helping people thrive, not just survive, in their own community,” says Richard Seline, co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. The innovation hub is a partner in the manufacturing hub.

Seline says the manufacturing hub, with an estimated price tag of $32 million, will directly employ about 60 people. He expects the facility to either generate or “upskill” about 240 off-site jobs.

The manufacturing hub will be built adjacent to the 300,000-square-foot East End Maker Hub, which is opened in Houston’s Second Ward neighborhood two years ago. Seline says five companies already have expressed interest in being tenants at the manufacturing hub, which is set to open by next summer.

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, opened in the summer of 2021. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We know that the supply chains keep failing over and over again in regard to responding to and rebuilding after disasters. This is a way to address that,” Seline says of the manufacturing hub.

Aside from the innovation hub and East End Maker Hub, partners in the manufacturing venture are the nonprofit Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp. (UPC) and modular construction company VEMAS. UPC is based in Houston, and VEMAS has a Houston office.

“The Resilience Manufacturing Hub is one of four pillars in UPC’s vision for an Invest Houston strategy to grow our economy from within by directly impacting middle-income employment — vital for the 1 million jobs projected as a gap in greater Houston’s long-term competitiveness,” says Patrick Ezzell, president and chairman of UPC and founder of the East End Maker Hub.

The manufacturing hub will work hand in hand with the innovation hub. The innovation hub assesses and addresses risks triggered by climate-produced, manmade, pandemic-related and cybersecurity threats. Hub participants work on innovations aimed at alleviating these risks.

In 2012, the National Academy of Sciences defined resilience as “the ability to prepare and plan for, absorb, recover from, and more successfully adapt to adverse events.” Those events include hurricanes and floods.

The resilience movement got a substantial boost last year thanks to passage of the federal Community Disaster Resilience Zones Act. The law allows for designation of resilience zones in communities that are at high risk of natural disasters and have limited resources. These zones will qualify for federal funding earmarked for resilience efforts.

Harris County scores nearly 98 out of 100 on the National Risk Index, generated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), putting it into the “very high” risk category for natural hazards.

Yet Harris County ekes out a score of 12.73 out of 100 for community resilience, landing it in the “very low” category. This means the county has a poor ability to prepare for natural hazards, adapt to changing conditions, and withstand and recover from disruptions.

Richard Seline is the co-founder and managing director of the Houston-based Resilience Innovation Hub. Photo courtesy

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

Houston-based biomaterials company raises $1.1M to grow team, build new HQ

money moves

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


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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.