Here's who's at the helm of the newly announced Texas Space Commission. Photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor

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.

Texas has been known for ages as a business-friendly state, but one recent report suggests it might be falling from grace. Photo via Getty Images

Texas' business friendliness gets mixed reviews from 2 recent reports

lone star standings

It’s a tale of two views of Texas’ business-friendly reputation. For the first time ever, the Lone Star State has fallen out of the top five in CNBC’s annual ranking of the best states to do business. Meanwhile, Texas tops Business Facilities’ new ranking of the best state business climates.

On July 11, CNBC released the 2023 edition of its ranking of the top states for doing business. The ranking puts Texas at No. 6, leaving the Lone Star State out of the top five for the first time since CNBC launched its study in 2007. Texas appeared at No. 5 in 2022 and No. 4 in 2021. The state finished first in 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2018.

For the second consecutive year, North Carolina leads the CNBC ranking, thus “solidifying its position as an economic powerhouse,” according to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina.

Despite dropping out of the top five, CNBC acknowledges that Texas remains an economic powerhouse.

Texas grabs CNBC’s No. 2 spot, behind Florida, for the best state economy. And the state witnessed year-over-year job growth of four percent through May, the highest rate of any state. Furthermore, Texas ties with California for access to capital, the study says, and snags the No. 2 spot in the workforce category.

Texas’ fall this year includes a slide from No. 15 to No. 24 in the infrastructure category. CNBC mentions the 2021 wintertime collapse of the state’s electric grid in its explanation of the nine-spot drop.

Other knocks against Texas:

  • A decline from No. 21 to No. 35 in the education category.
  • A dip from No. 12 to No. 16 in the cost-of-doing-business category.
  • A plunge from No. 14 to No. 22 for cost of living.
  • A bottom-of-the-barrel ranking in the life, health, and inclusion category, down from No. 49 last year.

In an email to CNBC, an unnamed spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott shrugged off this year’s sixth-place showing.

“People and businesses vote with their feet, and continually they are choosing to move to Texas more than any other state in the country,” the spokesman wrote.

The spokesman cited the state’s national lead in job creation, attracting more than 280 new corporate headquarters since 2015, and its status as a perennial front-runner in economic development projects.

“Texas remains number one because people and businesses are choosing our state over any other for the unmatched competitive advantages we offer: no corporate or personal income taxes, a predictable regulatory climate, and a young, skilled, diverse, and growing workforce,” the spokesman wrote.

While Texas didn’t fare as well in this year’s CNBC study, it can brag about its 2023 designation as Business Facilities magazine’s state with the best business climate. In second place: North Carolina.

“The strength and sustained momentum of the Texas economy made the state a clear choice for [No. 1] in this year’s rankings,” Anne Cosgrove, editorial director of Business Facilities, says in a June 26 statement. “Taking the top spot this year is based not only on the impressive capital investment and job creation numbers, but also for diversity of industries, robust infrastructure, and a business-friendly regulatory and tax climate.”

Abbott took the opportunity to publicize the No. 1 ranking from Business Facilities.

“When businesses succeed, so do Texans — and our business climate ensures that Texas continues to offer world-class educational opportunities, good-paying careers to support families, and endless possibilities to prosper,” Abbott says in a news release.

Texas has seen year-over-year improvement on an annual list that ranks states based on their innovation economies. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Texas rises through the ranks of most innovative states

moving on up

The Lone Star State has again taken a step up on an annual report that ranks the most and least innovative states in the country — this time cracking the top 15.

Texas ranked No. 15 in personal finance site WalletHub's 2023’s Most and Least Innovative States ranking. It's a steady improvement for the state, which ranked No. 16 in 2022 and No. 17 in 2021.

The report analyzed the 50 states and the District of Columbia and how each performed across 22 key metrics, including population of STEM professionals, venture capital investment activity, number of technology companies, patents per capita, and more. The data was pulled from the U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Science Foundation, National Center for Education Statistics, United States Patent and Trademark Office, and other records.

Here's how Texas performed at a glance:

  • No. 18 for share of STEM professionals
  • No. 16 for projected STEM job demand by 2030
  • No. 25 for eighth grade math and science performance
  • No. 21 – for share of science and engineering graduates aged 25 or older
  • No. 13 – for share of technology companies
  • No. 31 – for R&D spending per capita
  • No. 18 – venture capital funding per capita
For the 11th year, Texas won Site Selection Magazine's Governor's Cup, the governor's office announced earlier this year. The award, which Texas has won 19 times since its inception in 1978, recognizes the nation’s top-performing state for job-creating business relocations and expansions.

"Texas truly is America’s economic engine, and we stand apart as a model for the nation. When choosing where to relocate or expand their businesses, more and more innovative industry leaders find themselves at home in our state," Governor Greg Abbott says in a news release about the award.

"I congratulate the exceptional economic development teams at the local, regional, and state level who have worked so diligently to attract and retain these growing businesses and the jobs they create in diverse communities across this great state," he continues.

The most innovative states included the District of Columbia, which ranked at No. 1, followed by Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, and California, respectively. The least innovative state was identified as Mississippi, followed by Louisiana, North Dakota, West Virginia, and Arkansas, respectively.

Source: WalletHub

Access to quality education is a significant contributor to each state's innovation economy, the experts say in the report.

"Investing in education, particularly K-12 but also at the University level, it is no accident that innovative ecosystems develop in states with strong education systems and research universities," says David L. Deeds, professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. "These institutions build strong capable modern workforces that attract capital, and jobs and create innovations. The benefits do not happen overnight, in fact, they take years if not decades, but consider what The UC’s or the University of Texas at Austin have meant for the development of premier innovative ecosystems."

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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.