Seven student-founded startups pitched their business plans at an annual NASA event. Photo via NASA.gov

Several groups of students from all over the United States tapped into technology developed by NASA to create business plans. The teams competed in Houston last week for thousands of dollars, and one team went home with the win.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, or MUREP, hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event, MUREP Innovation and Technology Tech Transfer Idea Competition, or MITTIC, last week at Space Center Houston. Seven teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology.

“Students and faculty members of MITTIC are notably engaging with our agency, but they are helping to fulfill our mission to make the earth a better, safer place creating products and services that will shape the future," says Donna Shafer, associate director at Johnson Space Center.

All seven teams — each led by a minority student — went home with at least $5,000 as a prize for making it to the finals, but one team from the University of Massachusetts at Boston took home first place and a $10,000 prize. The winning team is also invited to join Team Piezo Pace from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, in a visit to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, for additional look in the innovation and entrepreneurial space.

The judges for the event included: HopeShimabuku, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the Texas Region; MeganOrtiz, project manager at NASA; LawrenceCosby, vice president of IP strategy at JPMorgan Chase & Co; TerikTidwell, director of inclusive innovation at VentureWell; JorgeValdes, program advisor on STEM education and intellectual property at the United States Patent and Trademark Office; WaltUgalde, economic development executive at NASA; and LauraBarron, autonomous systems technology deputy project manager at NASA.

The seven finalist teams — and the technology they are working on — are as follows:

  • Lone Star College - CyFair’s team Aquarius Solutions, which pitched its water purification product, ClearFlow, based off an ammonia removal system developed at NASA
  • Fayetteville State University in North Carolina’s ASAPA team pitched their Autonomous Solar Array Assembly drone technology that’s based on NASA’s Print-assisted Photovoltaic Assembly system for automated printing of solar panels.
  • University of Houston-Clear Lake’s team AstroNOTS has identified a technology to address the safety of wildfire rescue teams. The PyroCap is a emergence fire shelter based on NASA’s Lightweight Flexible Thermal Protection System.
  • Santa Monica College in California’s team, BREATHE, pitched a noninvasive technology to replace traditional mammograms. The device can analyze breath through a NASA-designed sensor.
  • University of Massachusetts-Boston’s winning team, LazerSense Solutions, is working on a technology for smoke and gas detection. The PartaSense device can detect everything from carbon monoxide to black mold. It’s based on NASA’s MPASS IP.
  • Hartnell College in California’s team PanterBotics is working on an zero-emission electric vehicle, the OmniZero, to address climate change. The technology, a modular robotic vehicle, originated at NASA.
  • University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn Innovators, who pitched a thinking cap technology to increase and enhance focus. The wearable device is based on NASA technology ZONE, or Zeroing Out Negative Effects, an analysis from EEG sensors.

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Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

future of space

Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

“Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

“Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

"Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

  • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
  • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
  • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
  • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
  • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

  • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
  • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
  • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
  • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
  • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.