Haleh Ardebili (left) has been appointed as assistant vice president of Entrepreneurship and Startup Ecosystem, and Michael Harold as assistant vice president for Intellectual Property and Industrial Engagements at the University of Houston. Photo via UH

Two professors have assumed new leadership roles in the University of Houston’s Office of Technology, Transfer, and Innovation.

Haleh Ardebili, the Kamel Salama Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been named assistant vice president of entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem. Michael Harold, Cullen Engineering Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has been named assistant vice president for intellectual property and industrial engagements.

Ardebili and Harold “are both tested leaders in their respective areas —they are already contributing to our rich academic environment with their knowledge, expertise and commitment to innovation,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, in a statement. “Having them helm our growing team will help UH continue its culture of innovation and contribution to society.”

In her new role, Ardebili will oversee entrepreneurship and startup efforts at UH. She will direct the startup and entrepreneurship staff within the Office of Technology, Transfer, and Innovation (OTTI).

Ardebili, who joined the university in 2004, previously was director of the Cullen College of Engineering’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

In his new role, Harold will lead the university’s technology transfer activities. He will direct the OTTI licensing and IP management staff.

Harold worked at DuPont in various technical and managerial positions between 1993 and 2000. He joined UH in 2000 as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. He served as chair until 2008 and again from 2013 to 2020.

“Both positions will play integral roles in increasing faculty engagement, facilitating innovations from research labs to market, and enhancing collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. These appointments underscore UH’s commitment to driving innovation, economic development, and industry partnerships,” the university says in the release.

Greentown Houston has received funding from the EDA. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Houston energy tech startup incubator secures federal support to accelerate tech entrepreneurship

seeing green

Sixty organizations across the country have received a grant from the United States Department of Commerce — and one recipient is based in Houston.

Greentown Labs, dual located in Houston and Somerville, Massachusetts, has received a grant from the 10th cohort of the Economic Development Administration's “Build to Scale” program for its Houston location. The $53 million of funding was awarded to 60 organizations across 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. All of the programs support technology entrepreneurs across industries.

“The Biden-Harris Administration is Investing in America to help create entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country and put quality, 21st century job opportunities in people’s backyards,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo says in the press release. “The ‘Build to Scale’ program will unlock innovation potential in regions all over the nation, improving our economic competitiveness now, and for decades to come.”

According to the EDA, Greentown, located in a growing innovation district, will receive $400,000 with a $400,000 local match confirmed. The project, named Houston Ion District Investor Activation, is described as a way to create economic opportunity through equitable capital access.

"This project capitalizes on the need for jobs and economic development, especially in communities most vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters," reads the project abstract. "EDA funding will enable the expansion of Greentown’s Investor Program into EDIJ, in partnership with the Ion, to further climate equity and resilience in Houston and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs as the city transitions from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy."

Greentown receives of of the 2023 Capital Challenge Grant Recipients. The other competition, the Venture Challenge, also awarded funding to another Houston organization. The Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation received $741,925 to support the BioWell Start Accelerator Program, which is committed to scaling of bio-industrial startups.

“EDA is proud to partner with this year’s ‘Build to Scale’ grantees as they fuel regional innovation hubs and technology-based economic development strategies throughout the U.S.,” Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo says in the release. “Investing in scalable startups and expanding access entrepreneurial capital will yield good-paying jobs, economic resiliency, and equitable growth in communities throughout America.”

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Every stakeholder should be at the table: industry, city officials, businesses, and most importantly, the local community, to support the expansion of the local 5G network. Photo via Getty Images

Op-Ed: It's time for the greater Houston area to embrace connectivity

guest column

We live in a digital first world where the need for fast, reliable connectivity is not just something people want--it’s a necessity.

Connectivity plays a key role in every facet of life from economic development to public safety. Tomorrow’s innovations will rely on today’s infrastructure. That means cities and states must keep their eyes and efforts firmly fixed on the most up-to-date technology and prepare for modern wireless services, including 5G technology, the fifth-generation wireless system, in order to stay ahead of the curve.

Many of us have seen television commercials and internet ads touting the benefits 5G will bring, particularly as it relates to speed and reliability. But 5G is much more than speed. It will pave the way for innovation across a broad range of industries, injecting trillions into the global economy and ultimately changing the way we work, get around the city and live our lives. 5G connectivity will be able to process mass amounts of data with little to no latency, a requirement for the technology of tomorrow.

The economic impact will also be significant. A report from Accenture found that 5G will greatly benefit the Texas economy in the next five years, bringing Texas an estimated $235.8 billion in additional sales, $130.5B in new GDP and 1.35M in potential jobs.

Cities that embrace this coming technological boom will find themselves better prepared to tackle challenges and address the needs of their residents. Take public safety for example: 80 percent of 911 calls originate from mobile devices, which rely on a network of infrastructure – towers, small cells and fiber. 5G will enable seamless data transfer between first responders and dispatchers, including the exact location of a call as well as medical history to EMS. It will create a seamless network to properly communicate to other emergency services like fire and police departments. An estimated 10,000 lives could be saved each year if emergency response times were reduced by one minute.

Relevant to Pasadena are the transformations 5G will bring to healthcare and manufacturing. 5G is revolutionizing advanced training for medical professionals and allows more remote post-acute care and home-based models as well as enhanced communication between medical professionals. This will ultimately drive better patient outcomes and cost savings greater than 30 percent. 5G will also increase capacity and security for Pasadena’s wide variety of manufacturers, from chemicals to electronics to food and textiles, as well as create safer, smarter and more efficient processes that will drive continued innovation.

The full potential of 5G requires communications infrastructure–towers, small cells and fiber—and modernized regulations from local and state governments. Without the right infrastructure and policies in place, communities in Texas - like Pasadena - won’t have access to the innovative technology and benefits that 5G will embolden.

Research has found that 78 percent of Texans support their city leadership taking faster action to implement 5G technology. Yet Pasadena city officials have spent countless hours and financial resources since September 2020 fighting a lawsuit to prevent 5G installations in this community. Those dollars could have been spent on real community needs like infrastructure, utilities and public works. Pasadena is now behind its peers across the greater Houston area, where we have witnessed thousands of successful deployments of this necessary communications infrastructure. This puts Pasadena at a disadvantage as a great place to do business and improve the lives of residents.

It’s time for Pasadena to embrace the smart city infrastructure of the future. Other Texas cities like in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, or even neighboring La Porte, have initiated smart policies that have encouraged connectivity in their communities as well as investments from industry. Unfortunately, Pasadena’s connectivity and infrastructure are being impeded by local politics. Every stakeholder should be at the table: industry, city officials, businesses, and most importantly, the local community, to support the expansion of the local 5G network.

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Scott Dunaway is a spokesperson for the Texas 5G Alliance.

Things seem to be ever-so-slowly improving. Courtesy of Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston's post-pandemic economy slowly creeping back, new study says

bouncing back

While COVID-19 cases are alarmingly surging in Texas, here in Houston, businesses are slowly returning to a new normal (for now). So, just how well is the Bayou City recovering economically from the pandemic, compared to other big-city counterparts around the United States and in Texas?

So-so, according to a revealing new report.

A new list, published July 29 by financial advice website SmartAsset, ranks the U.S. cities with the strongest economic recoveries from the pandemic.

SmartAsset looked at five data points for 49 of the largest U.S. cities to determine the economic winners:

  • Percentage change in consumer spending
  • Percentage change in small businesses that are open
  • Percentage change in small business revenue
  • Percentage change in job postings
  • March 2021 unemployment rate

Houston performed slightly better than the studywide average in three of the metrics, (although some of the numbers still look pretty bleak). The Houston stats are:

1. Change in consumer spending (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: 11.7 percent
  • Studywide average: 7.3 percent

2. Change in small businesses open (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: -34.5 percent
  • Studywide average: -32.51 percent

3. Change in small business revenue (January 2020-April 2021)

  • Houston: -36.6 percent
  • Studywide average: -30.9 percent

4. March 2021 unemployment rate

  • Houston: 10.6 percent
  • Studywide average: 6.6 percent

Elsewhere in Texas, The SmartAsset ranking puts Dallas at No. 19, and Fort Worth, at No. 11. Among the most populous cities in the SmartAsset study, Dallas ranks highest. Austin lands at No. 23 for pandemic economic recovery, with San Antonio at No. 38.

Only one other Texas city, El Paso, appears in the top 20 (No. 8). Salt Lake City, Utah tops the list.

University of Houston's Bauer College of Business recently analyzed Houston's pandemic recovery. In its report, the Bauer study notes a bigger bounce-back in the U.S. than Houston — and that oil and gas downturns selectively hurt Houston more than the rest of Texas.

In some good news, the Bauer study reports the biggest sectors that have the biggest recoveries: healthcare, retail, and food service.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Despite the hit on the economy from the pandemic, Houston's prosperous economic development activity from 2020 has earned it a top spot on a new nationwide ranking. Photo via Getty Images

The future of Houston's economy shines bright, according to new report

we're No. 3

The Houston metro area shed 141,300 jobs last year — the worst one-year job loss ever recorded in the region — and the area's unemployment rate peaked at 14.3 percent last April. But, according to a new ranking, there's at least one bright spot in Houston's economy.

Site Selection magazine's latest report shines a bright light on last year's economic development activity in the Houston area and on the future of the region's economy. The area ranks No. 3 among major U.S. metro areas for the number of economic development projects secured last year (213). Houston shares the top 10 with two other Texas metro areas: Dallas-Fort Worth (ranked second with 262 projects) and Austin (tied for No. 6 with 84 projects). Chicago claimed the top spot, landing 327 economic development projects last year.

Site Selection lists several Houston-area projects among the top projects that Texas gained last year, including:

Measured another way, Houston ranked sixth for the number of economic development projects per capita last year (32.8) among major metro areas. Austin grabbed the No. 2 spot (43.2 projects per capita), and Dallas-Fort Worth appeared at No. 3 (37.7 projects per capita).

In remarks January 26 at the 2021 annual meeting of the Greater Houston Partnership, board Chairwoman Amy Chronis cited the 1,000-job Axiom Space project as one of last year's economic highlights for the region.

"This is a game-changing project for Houston as we position our region as one of the country's leading tech hubs," Chronis said. "It is the type of catalytic project that will drive meaningful growth of the commercial aerospace sector in Houston."

Chronis noted that Houston already is home to nearly 23,000 aerospace manufacturing professionals, along with more than 500 aerospace and aviation companies and institutions, "but the potential is so much greater."

"The space race is shifting to a commercially funded and operated industry, and it is critical that Houston maintains our leadership position," Chronis said.

NASA announced the Axiom Space project — the world's first commercial space station — in January 2020. Axiom Space aims to begin attaching its space modules to the International Space Station in 2024.

"NASA has once again recognized the hard work, talent, and experience of Houstonians as we expand the International Space Station and promote commercial opportunities in space," U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, said in a release touting the Axiom Space project.

Just last month, Axiom Space raised $130 million in a Series B round led by London-based investment firm C5 Capital. The funding will go toward bulking up the company's workforce and developing the space station.

Rob Meyerson, operating partner at C5 and a new member of Axiom Space's board of directors, called the company "a force in the space sector," and the startup's space station "the infrastructure upon which we will build many new businesses in space" and a launchpad for exploration of the moon and Mars.

"Axiom's work to develop a commercial destination in space is a critical step for NASA to meet its long-term needs for astronaut training, scientific research, and technology demonstrations in low-Earth orbit," Jim Bridenstine, a Rice University graduate who resigned earlier this year as NASA administrator, said in January 2020. "We are transforming the way NASA works with industry to benefit the global economy and advance space exploration."

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

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

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

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

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

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.