Sixteen startup teams pitched at the seventh annual — but first-ever virtual – Bayou Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of OwlSpark and RED Labs

Even despite a global pandemic, two university-based summer startup accelerator programs were determined to continue on. And, that's exactly what they did.

University of Houston's RED Labs and Rice University's OwlSpark pivoted their summer program, which they put on collaboratively, to a virtual approach. On Thursday, August 6, the program's 16 startup teams pitched their projects at the seventh annual Bayou Startup Showcase.

Here are this year's Class 8 presentations:

EVA

Vascular access requires a medical team to use an ultrasound machine to help navigate a needle's precision during the procedure. However, 5 percent of procedures result in an inexact and painful outcome. OwlSpark company, EVA — which stands for Exact Vascular Access, has created a device that works with the ultrasound machine to endure navigation of the needle during the procedure.

CareSafe

Seven million people fall every year, but as great and helpful wearable devices are, they aren't foolproof. CareSafe, a RED Labs company, taps into home WiFi to visualize when a fall occurs and the company can even notify emergency contacts and emergency services.

Ai-Ris

People who live in underserved and rural areas don't have regular access to eye care — which means that these people are exposed to preventable eye diseases. Ai-Ris has created a portable, telemedicine-ready device that can help get these populations access to eye care.

Dividends360

Ninety million people invest in the stock market — and more than half of those investors are self directed and spending several hours a week on planning their investments. RED Labs company Dividends360 is a web-based platform to help the modern investor make his or her decisions in a more efficient way.

FirstGen Solutions

Expecting mothers can't take the majority of medications in the market because the effects of the chemicals on the unborn child is unknown, and testing is limited to costly, inaccurate, and highly regulated animal testing. FirstGen Solutions, an OwlSpark company, is producing a stem cell testing kit for pharmaceutical companies to use as an earlier and easier way to indicate potential risks a medicine could have.

nisa EFFECT

Women undergoing menopause have no control over their hot flashes, which can happen often, last up to 20 minutes, and be debilitating to daily activities. Nisa EFFECT has created a cooling bra so that the 80 percent of women who experience hot flashes during menopause can have a discrete way to cool down.

FreeFuse

Five hundred hours of video content is uploaded every minute, and the sheer oversaturation of the industry makes growing an audience extremely difficult for content producers. Interactive video platform FreeFuse, an OwlSpark company, wants to flip the script and allow content creators to see what its audient wants to see in terms of content.

Morpheus Health

Pharmaceutical companies don't make it easy to find out about side effects medicines can have on its users. Morpheus Health, an OwlSpark company, uses data and patient information to better customize and predict potential side effects a medicine can have. Morpheus's results don't replace prescriptions or doctor consultations, but instead allow the patient to take that information into the consultation room.

Phase Filter

​Changing the air filters is an easily forgotten chore that, if undone, can cause unnecessary air quality issues and a higher electricity bill for homeowners. Phase Filter has designed a self-scrolling air filter that's easy to install and only needs to be changed once a year,

Bloodhound

The OwlSpark and RED Labs summer programs are meant to help early-stage startups figure out their market need and determine whether or not their product is a viable business. The Bloodhound team explains how they came up with their idea for a software that helps detect bleed in surgeries, and then how they realized, after research and mentorship through the program, that it wasn't an idea worth pursuing. Doctors need more help with stopping bleeds than finding them.

Crew Trace Solutions

The Navy needs an upgrade to their accountability practice. That's where Crew Trace Solutions, an OwlSpark company run by two military veterans, comes in. The technology mirrors something like EZ-Tag where personnel onboard are tracked throughout the ship as they pass through sensors set up in doorways around the boat.

VAYL

Everyone dreads the discomfort and disappointment that usually comes with dental appointments. The oral hygiene tools on the market today aren't cutting it, says the VAYL team, a RED Labs company. VAYL has created a device that brushes the entire mouth in an optimal way for time and for cavity prevention.

MoodyCorium

Finding the right moisturizer is a costly and exhausting industry for women. MoodyCorium, an OwlSpark company, is working on a solution so that women can navigate the hundreds of products available on the market.

ElastEye

Half of the glaucoma patients could have had their disease prevented by better diagnostics — and that's exactly what ElastEye has developed. The RED Labs company has created a non-invasive, early detection device that determines the elasticity of the eye.

BitGrange

Supporting local farmers can be hard — it might raise the price of produce for consumers while orders tend to be smaller than farmers prefer. BItGrange, an OwlSpark company, created an e-commerce platform to allow consumers to go in on purchases together to create a win-win situation for both sides of the transaction.

dext

Simple daily tasks can be overwhelming to stroke survivors and the only solution is exercise and rehabilitation. Dext is a wearable tool to help take that exercise and rehab into a daily, easy to use setting.

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Texas nonprofit grants $68.5M to Houston organizations for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.

Houston space company's lunar lander touches down on the moon in historic mission

touchdown

A private lander on Thursday made the first U.S. touchdown on the moon in more than 50 years, but managed just a weak signal back until flight controllers scrambled to gain better contact.

Despite the spotty communication, Intuitive Machines, the company that built and managed the craft, confirmed that it had landed upright. But it did not provide additional details, including whether the lander had reached its intended destination near the moon’s south pole. The company ended its live webcast soon after identifying a lone, weak signal from the lander.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is our equipment is on the surface of the moon,” mission director Tim Crain reported as tension built in the company’s Houston control center.

Added Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus: “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

Data was finally starting to stream in, according to a company announcement two hours after touchdown.

The landing put the U.S. back on the surface for the first time since NASA’s famed Apollo moonwalkers.

Intuitive Machines also became the first private business to pull off a lunar landing, a feat achieved by only five countries. Another U.S. company, Astrobotic Technology, gave it a shot last month, but never made it to the moon, and the lander crashed back to Earth. Both companies are part of a NASA-supported program to kick-start the lunar economy.

Astrobotic was among the first to relay congratulations. “An incredible achievement. We can’t wait to join you on the lunar surface in the near future,” the company said via X, formerly Twitter.

Intuitive Machines “aced the landing of a lifetime,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson tweeted.

The final few hours before touchdown were loaded with extra stress when the lander's laser navigation system failed. The company's flight control team had to press an experimental NASA laser system into action, with the lander taking an extra lap around the moon to allow time for the last-minute switch.

With this change finally in place, Odysseus descended from a moon-skimming orbit and guided itself toward the surface, aiming for a relatively flat spot among all the cliffs and craters near the south pole.

As the designated touchdown time came and went, controllers at the company's command center anxiously awaited a signal from the spacecraft some 250,000 miles (400,000 kilometers) away. After close to 15 minutes, the company announced it had received a weak signal from the lander.

Launched last week, the six-footed carbon fiber and titanium lander — towering 14 feet (4.3 meters) — carried six experiments for NASA. The space agency gave the company $118 million to build and fly the lander, part of its effort to commercialize lunar deliveries ahead of the planned return of astronauts in a few years.

Intuitive Machines' entry is the latest in a series of landing attempts by countries and private outfits looking to explore the moon and, if possible, capitalize on it. Japan scored a lunar landing last month, joining earlier triumphs by Russia, U.S., China and India.

The U.S. bowed out of the lunar landscape in 1972 after NASA's Apollo program put 12 astronauts on the surface. Astrobotic of Pittsburgh gave it a shot last month, but was derailed by a fuel leak that resulted in the lander plunging back through Earth's atmosphere and burning up.

Intuitive Machines’ target was 186 miles (300 kilometers) shy of the south pole, around 80 degrees latitude and closer to the pole than any other spacecraft has come. The site is relatively flat, but surrounded by boulders, hills, cliffs and craters that could hold frozen water, a big part of the allure. The lander was programmed to pick, in real time, the safest spot near the so-called Malapert A crater.

The solar-powered lander was intended to operate for a week, until the long lunar night.

Besides NASA’s tech and navigation experiments, Intuitive Machines sold space on the lander to Columbia Sportswear to fly its newest insulating jacket fabric; sculptor Jeff Koons for 125 mini moon figurines; and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for a set of cameras to capture pictures of the descending lander.