It's pay day for several Houston-area research teams thanks to two grant programs. Photo via Getty Images

Several health innovation research teams across Houston are celebrating fresh funds to go toward the development of breakthrough technologies and research projects.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, check out who received this crucial funding and how their research and work can change the standard of care across the life science industry.

Reliant doles out $100,000 to two Houston Methodist critical care physician-scientists

Reliant announced that the recipients of the Reliant Innovation Fund will be two individuals within Houston Methodist Center for Critical Care in collaboration with Texas A&M's Engineering Medicine (EnMed) program.

"Meaningful innovation is core to us at Reliant and the work these institutions, physicians and students are doing is truly amazing," says Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant, in a news release. "We appreciate how Houston Methodist is making a lasting difference in our community by continuing to revolutionize medicine and we are honored to support them through the EnMed program."

Dr. Hina Faisal and Dr. Asma Zainab — along with the EnMed students who will support their work — will use the funds to advance their work. An anesthesiologist and critical care physician, Faisal will lead a project on 3-D-simulated virtual reality technology to prevent delirium in critically ill patients. Zainab, who specializes in cardiovascular ICU and focuses on respiratory failure and ventilator use, will lead a project to help personalize care in lung failure, creating models specific to each patient to avoid unnecessary pressure and injury caused by ventilators, per the release.

"Innovation is at the heart of what we do," says Dr. Faisal Masud, director of the Center of Critical Care at Houston Methodist, in the release. "Thanks to Reliant's generous contribution and ongoing support, we are able to seek out new ways to provide the best quality care for our most vulnerable patients while supporting our physicians, our students and their research."

Researchers at Rice University and Texas Medical Center institutions snag grants

Six research teams have received funding from Rice University's Educational and Research Initiatives for Collaborative Health, known as ENRICH. Established in 2016, the program focuses on connecting Rice faculty with TMC institutions to encourage collaboration. Last year, more than a fifth of Rice faculty were engaged in active collaborations with TMC research partners, according to a news release.

"Partnerships with TMC are an institutional priority, and they enable our faculty to translate their research to clinical practice, directly benefiting the Houston community," says Marcia O'Malley, special advisor to the provost on ENRICH and the Thomas Michael Panos Family Professor in Mechanical Engineering, in the release. "ENRICH has been instrumental in facilitating faculty engagement with TMC partners, reducing barriers to collaboration and investing institutional resources in new partnerships."

The Provost's TMC Collaborator Fund awarded $60,000 in grants to:

  • Jason Hafner '98, professor of physics and astronomy at Rice, and Carly Filgueira '09, assistant professor of nanomedicine and cardiovascular surgery at Houston Methodist Research Institute, to explore the development of an optical sensor for clinical detection of cholesterol.
  • Lan Li, assistant professor of history at Rice; Ricardo Ernesto Nuila, associate professor of medicine, medical ethics and health policy at Baylor College of Medicine; and Fady Joudah, a poet, literary translator and physician at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, for a pilot study of community health care access that addresses larger questions about medical racism in Houston.
  • Oleg Igoshin, professor of bioengineering at Rice, and Anna Konovalova, assistant professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston's McGovern Medical School, to explore new targets for antibiotic treatment by probing the feedback loop between two important stress-response pathways in bacteria.
Additionally, Rice ENRICH and Baylor's Interdisciplinary Surgical Technology and Innovation Center (INSTINCT) awarded $60,000 in grants to:
  • Pulickel Ajayan, the Benjamin M. and Mary Greenwood Anderson Professor in Engineering and chair of Rice's Department of Materials Science and Nanoengineering, and Crystal Shin, assistant professor of surgery at Baylor, for development of a self-charging, wireless microsensor capable of detecting changes in flow in blood vessels that have been replaced in heart bypass surgery.
  • Meng Li, Noah Harding Assistant Professor in Statistics at Rice, and Gabriel Loor, associate professor of surgery at Baylor, to study inflammation following lung transplantation and search for the cause of inflammatory responses that differ between men and women.
  • Vaibhav Unhelkar, assistant professor of computer science at Rice, and James Suliburk, associate professor of surgery at Baylor, to explore how artificial intelligence can augment surgical training.


The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant will have online resources as well as an interactive learning lab at Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA. Photo courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston

YMCA of Greater Houston announces equity-focused innovation center backed by Reliant

it's fun to innovate at the

Houston is the most diverse city in the nation, and the YMCA of Greater Houston is looking to do its part to promote equity innovation by opening a new center.

The Equity Innovation Center Powered by Reliant will be the first of its kind in the region, and it will operate as a space for Houstonians to gather and collaborate.

"The YMCA of Greater Houston vows to stand with our brothers and sisters who are made to feel less safe by the many recent incidents – fighting for health equity in the face of the inequities being laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic and unjust killings," says Stephen Ives, president and CEO, YMCA of Greater Houston, in a press release. "The Y will continue expanding and strengthening its commitment to combat racism, bias, prejudice and inequalities while fighting for justice."

The center will provide resources and activities so that visitors and collaborators can "walk away with a solid learning or unlearning" of social justice issues that are prominent in both Houston and nationally.

Rolling out in three phases, the project's first step is to foster conversations, consulting, and online trainings regarding systemic racial inequities. The next two phases will include setting up an interactive learning lab at Tellepsen Family Downtown YMCA, which would come to fruition by early next year.

The project is made possible by Reliant, a partner of the YMCA of Greater Houston.

"At Reliant, we respect, recognize and celebrate that our differences shape us, and that diversity and inclusion make us stronger. We're committed to powering change and supporting progress in the places where we live and work," says Elizabeth Killinger, president at Reliant, in the release. "By powering the Equity Innovation Center, we hope to further strengthen Houston so we can harness our full potential and make lasting change for future generations."

Reliant has donated $100,000 to the project, which will be distributed in $50,000 commitments over two years. The sum is a part of Reliant and NRG's "Powering Change" initiative, which has committed $1 million to go to organizations that combat racial inequities, injustice, and related violence, according to the release.

"We are grateful Reliant is joining our efforts to implement lasting and meaningful change within our community and beyond. We know that when we work as one, we move people and communities forward," Ives says.

Stephen Ives (left) is the president and CEO of YMCA of Greater Houston, and Elizabeth Killinger is president of Reiliant. Images courtesy

MassChallenge Texas named its top three startups of its inaugural Houston cohort and the Houston Angel Network made an unexpected investment. Courtesy of MassChallenge Texas

MassChallenge Texas wraps up inaugural Houston cohort with top 3 startups and a surprise investment

Cha-ching

A new-to-Houston global accelerator program just concluded its inaugural cohort, naming three top startups and providing a platform for an unexpected prize — an investment.

MassChallenge Texas didn't originally intend to have monetary prizes for this first program, however, thanks to Houston Angel Network, one lucky startup is walking away from the program $40,000 richer.

HAN, one of Houston's oldest and most active group of angel investors, saw pitch decks from most of the companies in the cohort and then invited seven companies to pitch: Ask DOSS, Celise, DoBrain, NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, Sensytec, and Swoovy.

At the September 5 startup showcase event, HAN named Houston-based Sensytec as the winner of the $40,000 investment prize.

The night's other big winners were MassChallenge's top three startups, program: NeuroRescue, Noleus Technologies, and Sensytec, which were selected from the top six startups that were announced a couple weeks in advance.

HAN engaged with the MassChallenge group in a few ways — like mentorship or presenting — but managing director Stephanie Campbell says she knew she wanted to discuss investment opportunities from the very beginning.

"I just think it's really important that when a new group like MassChallenge or any other accelerator come into town that we find ways to fold them into our community and help them be successful," she tells InnovationMap.

All of this year's cohort will receive 18 months of free coworking space — six months at MassChallenge, six months at The Cannon, and six months at Station Houston — and the top three startups will receive automatic entry into another MassChallenge cohort. Because no one won a cash prize from MassChallenge directly, all of the startups are eligible to reapply for another program.

"We wanted to make sure that the companies that went through the shortened version of the program this year have the ability to apply next year to any other program," MassChallenge Texas' Houston managing director, Jon Nordby, says.

Next time around, MassChallenge Texas will likely have a longer program with money on the table. That money would be provided by the organization's corporate partners. The city of Houston has put forth $2.5 million to be dealt out over five years, and Houston-based Reliant Energy has become a central partner to MassChallenge.

"We believe in supporting organizations that are pushing the boundaries and really making an impact in the community as well as the economy and the industry," says Elizabeth Killinger, president at NRG Retail and Reliant.

Killinger says next year she expects Reliant to be just as if not more involved with the process. Campbell too says HAN is interested in continuing its work with MassChallenge, and even sees it setting an example for other angel investors to get involved too.

"We're just planting the seed for the next cohort," Campbell says.

MassChallenge Texas named six companies, which will each pitch at a final competition on September 5. Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

MassChallenge Texas names top startups from its inaugural Houston cohort to move on to the final round

best in class

MassChallenge Texas revealed the cream of the crop from its first Houston cohort. The top six startups will now be judged in one final pitch competition on September 5.

"Each of the 25 startups in our first cohort have made incredible progress during this short program and are now better prepared to make impact in Houston, Texas, and beyond," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas in Houston, in a release. "It is our goal to strengthen the local ecosystem through a collaborative community that will attract innovators from around the world to Houston, and the Lone Star State."

The program, which began on July 26, accelerated 25 early-stage companies from around the world with mentorship, corporate partnerships, curriculum, and more. No equity was taken by the program and it's free for the selected companies to attend.

"It is an honor to support the inaugural MassChallenge Texas accelerator in Houston and the incredible journey these startups have been on," says Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant and NRG Retail, in a release. "We're excited to be part of the thriving startup culture in Houston, and we look forward to all that this program will continue to bring to our city."

A panel of judges selected the top six, and now they face off for a set of prizes, which will be revealed at the Houston Finale. According to a spokesperson, the judges ahead of the event will decide on the winning company or companies and delegate prizes as they see fit.

The companies involved with supporting the accelerator include: Southwest Airlines, TMAC, WeWork, Upstream, USAA, BAE Systems, Brex, BHP, Central Houston, City of Houston, Houston Texans, Ingram Micro, Lionstone Investments, Midway, Reliant, San Antonio Spurs, Winstead Attorneys. Event and media partners are Insperity, Mattress Firm, Southwest Research Institute, Juice Consulting and Texas Squared Startup Newsletter.

FloodFrame

Houston-based FloodFrame is a company that provides self-deploying flood protection devices for residential and commercial real estate properties. Read more about the company here.

Mak Studio

Another Houston company — Mak Studio — makes the top startups list. The company provides interior design efforts made easy.

Neuro Rescue Inc.

NeuroRescue Inc. is an Ohio-based company that improves the standard of care used to treat stroke, brain injury, and cardiac arrest to increase neurological outcome by up to forty percent.

Noleus Technologies Inc.

Houston-based Noleus Technologies Inc. — a member of the TMCx07 cohort — has created a solution that reduces swelling in the bowels after operation. The disposable device is inserted into the abdomen at the time of surgery, and folds up like a fan to be removed without another surgery.

Reveal Technologies

Another Houston-based medical device company making it into MC's top 6 companies is Reveal Technologies, which uses a dual camera technology to help the 17 million Americans who suffer from retinal diseases to improve their sight.

Sensytec Inc.

Last but not least is Houston-based Sensytec Inc. The company has a "smart concrete" technology that is making moves in the energy industry.

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

money moves

Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

moon rider

Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

guest column

One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.