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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of Houston as a clean energy hub. Photo courtesy of NCV

Climate tech investor says Houston has a multifaceted role to play in the energy transition

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If the city of Houston wants to maintain its moniker of Energy Capital of the World, it has make strides within the energy transition — and that needs to be accomplished in a myriad of ways.

"Houston's role (within the energy transition) is multifaceted," says Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner of New Climate Ventures, on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rubenstein founded New Climate Ventures to fund startups within the sustainability and climate tech space — which includes technologies that address circular economy, sustainably made materials, clean energy, and more.

"We have a talent pool here that fits pretty well in climate tech, alternative materials, and other spaces," he continues. "We have a customer base here that is going to adopt these new technologies."

The fact that Houston's major energy companies — of which there are many in town — will be the customers of emerging clean energy technologies positions the city as a hub for attracting innovative startups. Just last week, Bucha Bio, one of NCV's portfolio companies expanded into Houston. The New-York founded startup creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more.

Rubenstein says Bucha Bio narrowed down its options to San Diego and Houston, before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City for its talent pool. The company, which is a member of Greentown Houston, is now based out of the East End Maker Hub.

"As these technologies are being spun out of labs, Houston has become a destination for these companies," Rubenstein says. "Bucha Bio isn't an irregular occurrence these days."

The missing piece of the puzzle is still venture dollars — and Rubenstein is on a mission to move that needle. This year, NCV is focused on closing its fund and deploying capital into early-staged climate tech companies.

"Our goal is really to watch for transformational change in the industries we're investing in," he says. "We're really excited about the technologies in the space and will continue looking for what's to come."

Rubenstein shares more about New Climate Ventures and the trend that is impact investing on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image courtesy of Bucha Bio

Sustainable biomaterials startup expands to Houston

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A New York-founded biomaterials company has announced the opening of operations in Houston after research found the region's workforce “perfectly suited to biomaterials.”

Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release.

One of these new local hires was Alex Kalin, who joined the company as senior materials scientist from Halliburton.

“It’s a great time to be involved in developing sustainable materials technologies," Kalin says in the release. "Having the opportunity to make a positive impact on the environment was a key factor for me joining Bucha Bio.”

Houston's chemical plant carbon footprint includes 56 gigatons tons of carbon that will be produced from now until 2050 — this number could be shrunk with sustainable alternatives like the one Bucha Bio provides. This potential has been recognized by Greentown Labs.

“Bringing world class energy transition companies like Bucha Bio to Houston is a win-win; not only is Bucha positioned to tap into a diverse talent pool from Universities such as Rice, University of Houston, and Texas A&M, but a wealth of extant talent which is looking to transition their careers; Zimri and his team bring more than technology to Houston, they bring the knowhow, vigor, and network it takes to build meaningful disruptive technology company," says Jason Ethier, senior director of memberships at Greentown Houston.

Last fall, Bucha Bio raised $550,000 in funding led by Houston-based New Climate Ventures with support from SOSV’s IndieBio.

“Bucha Bio’s move to Houston marks a milestone for their ability to keep up with the growing demand for their products and for our shared vision of a clean environment for generations to come," Eric Rubenstein of NCV says.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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

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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

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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.