This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jon Lambert of The Cannon, Ken Cowan of Enchanted Rock, and Richard Wilson of the University of Houston. Photos courtesy

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 CEO of a community-focused coworking space, a professor joining a major health care research project, and a guest columnist with advice on navigating the energy transition.

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon

Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the growth of The Cannon, including its newest location. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

For the past five years as CEO, Jon Lambert has faced some challenges leading The Cannon — from navigating a global pandemic to the subsequent evolved real estate market. But now, the coworking and community building company is poised for even more growth — especially with its ninth location opening up this month — thanks to its community-driven mission.

The Cannon Memorial opens its doors on Monday, May 13, with a week of free coworking and events. And while the new space, developed in partnership with MetroNational, is open for leasing, Lambert says on the Houston Innovators Podcast the first and foremost, The Cannon is a community.

"The Cannon wasn't created as a real estate play — we got into coworking because as we started supporting the community and asking the question of, 'what can we do for you?,' one of the highlights was, 'hey, we need space to work,'" he says on the show. "For us, we were going to provide space because that's one of the key needs of this community.

"Our measurement of success is not the buildings we have or the occupancy even — it's what's the success of the companies that are part of the community," he continues. Click here to read more.


Ken Cowan, senior vice president of Enchanted Rock

Ken Cowan writes a guest column for InnovationMap. Photo courtesy

As senior vice president of Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based provider of microgrid technology, Ken Cowan has seen how energy resilience has emerged as a key strategy for businesses across industries, as he writes in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Executives must recognize the strategic imperative of investing in resilient energy infrastructure like microgrid systems, which can provide a competitive advantage against organizations that do not have similar measures in place," he writes. "In doing so, they can navigate uncertainty with confidence, set their business up for future success, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before."

In the piece, he explores the value proposition and other benefits to making these changes. Click here to read more.

Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston

Richard Willson (center) and his team are working to develop a mix-and-read antibody measurement system that uses fluorescent materials to determine the amount of antibody present in a sample. Photo via UH.edu

An engineering project at the University of Houston has been selected to join a $10 million effort to bring biopharmaceutical manufacturing into the future. The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL) chose the lab of Richard Willson, Huffington-Woestemeyer Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH, as one of eight development projects that it will fund.

Willson and his team are working to develop a mix-and-read antibody measurement system that uses fluorescent materials to determine the amount of antibody present in a sample. The funding for this project is $200,000. This is the first grant UH has received from NIIMBL.

“In the course of the manufacturing processes, it's important to know the concentration of antibody in your sample and this measurement needs to be made many times in a typical manufacturing process,” said Willson in a press release. In the realm of fluorescents, he is also working to pioneer the use of glow sticks to detect biothreats for the U.S. Navy. His discoveries include a fluorescent material that emits one color of light when excited with another color of light. Click here to read more.

Here's why more and more companies — across industries — are making the switch to sustainable technology. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert on why companies across industries are investing in sustainable energy

guest column

In a modern business landscape characterized by increasing uncertainty and volatility, energy resilience has emerged as a cornerstone of strategic decision-making.

Let's delve deeper into why executives should view energy resilience as one of the best risk management investments they can make.

Mitigating risks and enhancing stability

Investing in energy resilience isn't solely about averting risks; it's about mitigating the potential losses that could arise from energy-related disruptions. It is estimated that half of today’s businesses lack an effective resilience strategy, even though nearly 97 percent of companies have been impacted by a critical risk event.

Whether it's power outages from extreme weather events, grid emergencies from a changing resource mix that is more weather dependent or cyber-attacks, disruptions can inflict substantial financial and reputational damage on businesses. By implementing resilient energy infrastructure and practices, organizations can minimize the impact of such disruptions, ensuring consistent operations even in the face of adversity. As an added benefit, these investments can also contribute to enhancing the stability of our grid infrastructure, benefiting not just individual businesses but the local community and the entire economy.

Improving costs and operational efficiency

Energy resilience also isn't just a defensive strategy; it's also about optimizing costs and operational efficiency to create competitive advantage. By investing in resilient energy infrastructure, such as backup power systems and microgrids, businesses can reduce the downtime associated with energy disruptions, thus avoiding revenue losses and operational inefficiencies.

Additionally, resilient energy solutions often lead to long-term cost savings through increased energy efficiency and reduced reliance on costly backup systems. As circumstances become increasingly uncertain, businesses that prioritize energy resilience can gain a competitive edge by operating more efficiently and cost-effectively than their counterparts.

Ensuring consistent operations amidst uncertainty

In today's rapidly changing business environment, characterized by geopolitical tensions, climate change, and technological advancements, uncertainty has become the new normal. Amidst this uncertainty, ensuring consistent operations is paramount for business continuity and long-term success. Investing in energy resilience provides businesses with the assurance that they can maintain operations even in the face of unforeseen challenges.

Whether it's a sudden power outage from a storm or the grid is stressed and unable to deliver reliable power, resilient energy infrastructure enables organizations to adapt swiftly and continue delivering products and services to customers without interruption.

Enhancing sustainability efforts

In recent years, a growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental stewardship has led to organizations recognizing the importance of reducing their carbon footprint and transitioning towards cleaner, renewable energy sources. Investing in energy resilience provides an opportunity to align sustainability efforts with business objectives.

By integrating renewable energy technologies and energy-efficient practices into their resilience strategies, organizations can not only enhance their environmental performance but also achieve long-term cost savings, ensure regulatory compliance, and build stakeholder trust.

The value of energy resilience for businesses

It is not enough to successfully handle day-to-day operations anymore; organizations need to be prepared for unpredictable events with a reliable energy supply and backup plan. Recently, a hospital in Texas had to evacuate patients and experienced heavy financial losses due to the failure of their traditional diesel generators during an extended outage.

After reevaluating their resiliency strategy, they decided to implement full-facility backup power using Enchanted Rock’s dual-purpose managed microgrid solution, which kept their power on during the next outage and ensured both patient safety and full operational capabilities. Investing in an energy resilience strategy like a microgrid will mitigate these risks and ensure always-on power in times of uncertainty.

A responsible decision for the greater good

Beyond the immediate benefits to individual businesses, investing in energy resilience is also a responsible decision for the greater good. As businesses become increasingly reliant on the grid infrastructure, ensuring its resilience is essential for the stability and reliability of the entire energy ecosystem. By proactively investing in resilient energy solutions, for themselves, businesses also contribute to strengthening the grid infrastructure, reducing the risk of widespread outages, and promoting the overall resilience of the energy system.

Executives must recognize the strategic imperative of investing in resilient energy infrastructure like microgrid systems, which can provide a competitive advantage against organizations that do not have similar measures in place. In doing so, they can navigate uncertainty with confidence, set their business up for future success, and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.

———

Ken Cowan is the senior vice president of Enchanted Rock, a Houston-based provider of microgrid technology.

This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.
Inc. magazine's 2022 Best in Business list recognizes influential and impactful companies. Photo via Getty Images

3 Houston companies rank among best in biz list

better than all the rest

In the season’s spirit of giving, Inc. magazine has named three Houston companies to its 2022 Best in Business list, recognizing companies that put purpose before profit.

The Houston honorees are:

  • Enchanted Rock, a producer of energy microgrids powered by natural gas and renewable natural gas. In a news release, Thomas McAndrew, the company’s founder and CEO, says the Inc. recognition reflects “the dedication and hard work of our employees who work tirelessly to help our customers keep their power on.”
  • Proxima Clinical Research, a contract research organization for the biotech and medtech sectors. Earlier this year, Proxima appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies.
  • Smith, a distributor of electronic components and semiconductors. The company has undertaken several humanitarian relief efforts for Ukraine, including the donation of at least $750,000 worth of electronics to Ukrainian citizens.

Inc. says its Best in Business list recognizes “the most dynamic companies of all sizes and industries that have had an outstanding influence on their communities, their industries, the environment, or society as a whole.”

Rather than relying on criteria tied to sales or funding, Inc.’s editors reviewed companies’ achievements over the past year and focused on how they made a positive difference in the world. They then selected honorees in 55 overall categories, and in age-based, revenue-based, size-based, and impact-based categories.

In all, Inc. named 14 Texas companies to this year’s Best in Business list. Aside from the three Houston companies, they are:

  • Austin-based AlertMedia, which produces emergency communication software
  • Austin-based Halcyon, a provider of security technology
  • Austin-based Matterlab, a communications agency
  • Austin-based Pushnami, which offers an advertising and engagement platform
  • Austin-based ZenBusiness, a provider of business products and services
  • Dallas-based Upkeep Aesthetics, a franchiser of medical spas
  • Fort Worth-based TimelyMD, which delivers virtual health and well-being services for students
  • Frisco-based Lexipol, a provider of policy, training, and wellness services for the public safety sector
  • Irving-based Tricolor Holdings, which sells used cars and extends auto loans to underserved Hispanic consumers
  • Plano-based Improving, a provider of tech consulting and training
  • San Antonio-based AmeriVet Veterinary Partners, an operator of veterinary practices
Houston essentially matched Austin in venture capital funds received in the third quarter of 2018. Getty Images

Houston neck-and-neck with Austin in third quarter venture capital funding reports

It's on

It was a Texas showdown when it came to venture capital funding between Houston and Austin in the third quarter of 2018. According to Crunchbase data, Houston startups pulled in $138.8 million — 39.2 percent of the state's entire VC funding — while Austin startups reported receiving $150.6 million — 42.6 percent of the funds.

"It's something we've never even come close to before and, all of the sudden, boom, we're right there," Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe tells InnovationMap. "I think that's what we are going to continue to see in Houston."

"We're not going to see little wins now. We're going to start seeing big wins."

Before the startup scene can truly celebrate, it's worth noting that the entire state struggled in the third quarter. VCs contributed $353.7 million to Texas startups in 91 known deals, according to the report. That's less than half of what was reported in the second quarter, and, actually, it's less that what Austin alone received in Q2. However, the state is up year-over-year in VC funding by 11 percent, as the state only saw $319.6 million in Q3 of 2017.

Chart courtesy of Crunchbase

Crunchbase reported that the largest four funding rounds in Houston were as follows:

  • OncoResponse (immuno-oncology): $40 million in September
  • ViraCyte (biopharmaceuticals): $30 million in September
  • Enchanted Rock LLC (utilities): $23.6 million in July
  • DNAtriX (cancer treatment): $15.5 million in September
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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.