At an event at the Ion, OpenStax and Rice University announced a $90 million NSF-backed initiative. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice

An educational technology company based out of Rice University has received $90 million to create and lead a research and development hub for inclusive learning and education research. It's the largest research award in the history of the university.

OpenStax received the grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for a five-year project create the R&D hub called SafeInsights, which "will enable extensive, long-term research on the predictors of effective learning while protecting student privacy," reads a news release from Rice. It's the NSF's largest single investment commitment to national sale education R&D infrastructure.

“We are thrilled to announce an investment of $90 million in SafeInsights, marking a significant step forward in our commitment to advancing scientific research in STEM education,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in the release. “There is an urgent need for research-informed strategies capable of transforming educational systems, empowering our nation’s workforce and propelling discoveries in the science of learning.

"By investing in cutting-edge infrastructure and fostering collaboration among researchers and educators, we are paving the way for transformative discoveries and equitable opportunities for learners across the nation.”

SafeInsights is funded through NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 (Mid-scale RI-2) program and will act as a central hub for 80 partners and collaborating institutions.

“SafeInsights represents a pivotal moment for Rice University and a testament to our nation’s commitment to educational research,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches adds. “It will accelerate student learning through studies that result in more innovative, evidence-based tools and practices.”

Richard Baraniuk, who founded OpenStax and is a Rice professor, will lead SafeInsights. He says he hopes the initiative will allow progress to be made for students learning in various contexts.

“Learning is complex," Baraniuk says in the release. "Research can tackle this complexity and help get the right tools into the hands of educators and students, but to do so, we need reliable information on how students learn. Just as progress in health care research sparked stunning advances in personalized medicine, we need similar precision in education to support all students, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.”

OpenStax awarded $90M to lead NSF research hub for transformational learning and education researchwww.youtube.com

The grant is part of the selective Course & Program Grants program, which supports faculty and staff in U.S. higher education institutions to expand and strengthen STEM innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. Photo via shsu.edu

Houston-area school secures grant to foster STEM innovation, entrepreneurship

fresh funding

Three academics at Sam Houston State University have secured grant funding to support innovation and entrepreneurship at the university across science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Kyle Scott, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, and Bob Milner and Pamela Zelbst, co-directors of the Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship at Sam Houston State University, have been awarded catalytic grant funding from VentureWell, a nonprofit that supports early-stage science and technology innovators. Sam Houston State University’s project was selected from a national pool of applicants.

The grant is part of the selective Course & Program Grants program, which supports faculty and staff in U.S. higher education institutions to expand and strengthen STEM innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystems. The goal for these grants is to assist with “accelerating sustainable and inclusive innovation” according to a news release.VentureWell will also help grantees in a cohort-based community of practice that will provide networking opportunities and assistance.

The grantee teams can use the funds to develop new technology transfer certificate programs for underrepresented STEM student entrepreneurs.

“VentureWell is committed to broadening pathways for science and technology innovators and the faculty supporting them—particularly those from historically underrepresented groups in the field,” said VentureWell President and CEO Phil Weilerstein in a news release . “We are excited to provide these talented grantees with resources and support to create impactful programs and learning experiences on their campuses, in their communities, and in the broader innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.”

Some of the projects the Center for Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship has recently done include a “Robohand” to help a child with Amniotic Band Syndrome (ABS).

The $2.5 million in NSF funding will allow Rice to increase the number of students in the Rice Emerging Scholars Program. Photo via rice.edu

Houston university lands $2.5M grant to expand STEM scholarship program for underserved communities

evolving inclusivity

Rice University will expand its Rice Emerging Scholars Program (RESP) over the next two years thanks to a recent grant from the National Science Foundation.

The $2.5 million in NSF funding will allow Rice to increase the number of scholars the RESP offers from 40 to 50 students this summer and to 60 students in 2025. The program works to address disparities among first-year students and to "assist students in adapting to the challenging pace, depth and rigor of the STEM curricula at Rice" through a six-week summer bridge program and ongoing mentorship, according to a statement from the university. Summer tuition scholarships, housing subsidies and research stipends are also provided.

Rice estimates that roughly 20 percent of its undergraduate population comes from families with limited financial resources, and 12 percent of students are the first in their families to attend college.

“Low-income students, especially those who are first-generation, face unique obstructions to pursuing college STEM degrees,” said Senior associate provost Matthew Taylor, a co-principal investigator on the grant. “RESP and Rice University are committed to eliminating these obstructions and ensuring that all students have the opportunity to thrive and achieve their academic and professional aspirations.”

Taylor created the program with Professor Emeritus of Mathematics Mike Wolf in 2012. It has since worked with more than 400 RESP scholars, according to the program's website. Most (about 79 percent) graduate with STEM degrees and an overwhelming 90 percent of RESP scholars graduate in four years, according to recent data.

“Rice recognizes the challenges faced by students from low-income backgrounds,” Angel Martí, chair and professor of chemistry, faculty director of RESP and principal investigator of the grant, said in a statement. “RESP aims to empower these students to achieve their academic and professional aspirations as future scientists and engineers.”

Earlier this year, the NSF also awarded Rice assistant professor Amanda Marciel $670,406 through its highly competitive CAREER Awards to continue her research in designing branch elastomers.

Marciel was also named to the 2024 cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows through the university's Office of Innovation and The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (or Lilie). The group includes 10 Ph.D. and postdoctoral students who aim to translate research into real-world startups.
The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston receives funding to support diverse cardiovascular researchers

pumping up innovation

University of Houston professors have received a nearly $800,000 grant to create a new summer program that will support diverse future researchers.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided $792,900 in grant funding to Bradley McConnell, professor of pharmacology at the UH College of Pharmacy, and Tho Tran, research assistant professor of chemistry at the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Ten undergraduate students per year will be selected for five years in cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines.

"We are so grateful to be able to provide talented students across the U.S. an opportunity to experience our excellent cardiovascular research environment,” Tran says in a news release. “We want UH-CURE participants to gain confidence in their research abilities through our hands-on approach and the skillset to navigate future challenges through our professional training.”

The goal is to increase students’ interest in cardiovascular research, and students have the opportunity to receive a $6,000 stipend, travel to a globally recognized cardiovascular research conference, and take part in on-campus housing and a food allowance. The summer program will also try to develop research skills, increase awareness of transdisciplinary research, promote diversity and collaborations, cultivate transferable skills necessary for succeeding in graduate school and help facilitate undergraduate students to pursue further training in cardiovascular research.

The program will integrate students into a research lab where they will learn research skills, data analysis, and research integrity. The program will be under the mentorship of a faculty member from across UH’s colleges, and include workshop and enrichment activities.

McConnell and Tran previously formed the American Heart Association-funded UH-HEART pilot program, which focused on cardiovascular research. They expanded on that initiative with UH-CURE, which includes cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines from community engagement and population-based research to basic, translational, and applied research. UH-CURE also helps prepare for careers in cardiovascular research.

“We all know that a diverse environment leads to a much better generation of ideas and solutions,” Tran adds. “We hope to bring that strength to the future of cardiovascular research through our students.”

Tho Tran (left) and Bradley McConnell are professors at UH. Photo via UH.edu

Four Rice University lab-stage innovations are receiving fresh funding to get them closer to commercialization. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice names inaugural recipients of new grant program that's doling out $360,000

Four Houston research projects are splitting hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant funding from Rice University.

After announcing the One Small Step Grant program in September to support Rice-developed, lab-stage innovations, the university has named its inaugural recipients. After receiving nearly 30 applicants, four research projects were selected to share $360,000 in grant funding.

“Being able to fund near-commercial projects represents a leap forward in our mission of supporting the cutting-edge work of our faculty and students and helping bring those to market,” Adrian Trömel, assistant vice president for strategy and investments, says in a news release. “Feedback from industry and investors show that they’re excited on how the One Small Step grants help derisk these technologies, getting them ready to launch. Watch this space for the next generation of leading deeptech companies.”

The selected projects include:

  • PerisBio, developed by Samira Aglhara Fotovat and Samantha Fleury from Rice Professor Omid Veiseh's Lab, focuses on novel, hydrogel-encapsulated engineered "cell factories" for the minimally invasive treatment of endometriosis. The project received a $100,000 award.
  • Solidec, founded by Ryan Duchanois and Yang Xia from Rice Professor Haotian Wang's Lab, is a room temperature, solid-state direct air capture technology. The project received a $100,000 award.
  • HornetX, led by Rice Professor Aditya Mohite's Lab, aims to produce highly stable green hydrogen using a perovskite-based photoelectrochemical cell with leading efficiency. The project received a $80,000 award.
  • Coflux, developed by Jeremy Daum and Alec Ajnsztajn from the labs of Rice Professors Rafael Verduzco and Pulickel Ajayan, focuses on covalent organic framework-based photocatalysts for instream remediation of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) from water. The project received a $80,000 award.

The Office of Innovation created an investment advisory committee — made up of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives across industries — to select these recipients. The grant program was funded by the Office of Innovation, with support from Breakthrough Energy Fellows for climate and energy projects

“The inaugural winners of the One Small Step Grant represent the innovative spirit and dedication to excellence that defines our students and faculty," Rice Chief Innovation Officer Paul Cherukuri says. "We are proud to support these groundbreaking projects on their journey from lab to market."

Here's what grant funding news stories trended this year on InnovationMap. Photo via Pexels

Money moves: Most-read Houston innovation grant and gift news of 2023

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. Money means a lot to startups and other innovative entities, and while startups are usually scouting venture capital investors, grants and donations are key too. These are the most-read news articles about grants and gifts — be sure to click through to read the full story.

Houston-based battery innovators receive $4M in federal funding

Houston-based Zeta Energy has fresh funding from the government. Image via Zeta Energy

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this week that it was selected to receive $4 million in federal funding for the development of efficient electric vehicle batteries.

The funds come from the U.S. Department of Energy's ARPA-E Electric Vehicles for American Low-Carbon Living, or EVs4ALL, program, which aims to increase the number of EVs on the roads by boosting the country’s supply chain of affordable, convenient, reliable and safe batteries.

Zeta Energy is one of 12 groups in the U.S. to receive funding from the program, which awarded $42 million in total.

“Electric vehicle sales in America have tripled since the start of this Administration and by addressing battery efficiency, resiliency and affordability, the projects announced today will make EVs attractive to even more drivers,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said in a statement released earlier this week. “This is a win-win for our efforts to fight climate change and power America’s clean transportation future with technologies produced by researchers and scientists right here at home.”

Continue reading the article from January.

Fresh off grant, Houston health tech company's AI aims to revolutionize diagnostics, care

InformAI has three AI-based products geared at improving health care. Photo via Getty Images

In Houston, we’re lucky to have top-tier doctors in the Texas Medical Center, ready to treat us with the newest technology. But what about our family members who have to rely on rural hospitals? Thanks to one Houston company, doctors in smaller community hospitals may soon have new tools at their disposal that could improve outcomes for patients around the world.

Since InnovationMap last caught up with Jim Havelka, CEO of InformAI, two years ago, that hope has come far closer to a reality. InformAI is a VC-backed digital health company. Part of JLABS @ TMC innovation facilities, the company uses artificial intelligence to develop both diagnostic tools and clinical outcome predictors. And two of the company’s products will undergo FDA regulatory testing this year.

SinusAI, which helps to detect sinus-related diseases in CT scans, received its CE Mark — the European equivalent of FDA approval — last year and is being sold across the Atlantic today, says Havelka. He adds that in the United States alone, there are roughly 700,000 sinus surgeries that the product is positioned to support.

Continue reading the article from January.

Houston organization announces nearly $28M in Texas research grant funding

The Welch Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit, has doled out fresh funding to research organizations, with over a third being deployed to Houston-area institutions. Photo via Getty Images

Five schools in the Houston area have landed $10.8 million in research grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

The 36 grants were awarded to Rice University, Texas A&M University, the University of Houston, the Baylor College of Medicine, and the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.

In all, the foundation announced nearly $28 million in Texas research grants for 2023. All of the money — in the form of 91 grants for 15 Texas colleges and universities — goes toward chemical research. This year’s total for grant funding matches last year’s total.

“The Welch Foundation continues to emphasize the creative pursuit of basic chemical research,” Adam Kuspa, the foundation’s president and a former dean at the Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. “Our funding allows investigators throughout the state to follow their curiosity and explore the foundations chemical processes.”

Continue reading the article from July.

Seattle biotech co. to move to Houston thanks to $13.3M grant from Texas organization

OncoResponse in partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center received a portion of $73 million the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has doled out this spring. Photo via oncoresponse.com

A biotech company has landed a more than $13 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The nearly $13.3 million grant given to OncoResponse — which is relocating from Seattle to Houston, according to CPRIT's news release — will help the company develop fully human monoclonal antibodies for treatment of cancer that otherwise would not respond to immunotherapy. OncoResponse already has a partnership with MD Anderson Cancer Center, which is one of the company’s investors.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from CPRIT in supporting the potential of our immunotherapy candidate OR502. We greatly appreciate the additional support from our investors as we continue to make significant progress with our drug development efforts advancing immunotherapies derived from clues of Elite Responders,” says Clifford Stocks, CEO of OncoResponse, in a news release.

Continue reading the article from July.

Massive $32M gift from former patient, new UH deal pump big changes into Houston organization

The Texas Heart Institute recently received its largest charitable donation in its history. Photo courtesy of THI

Leadership at The Texas Heart Institute has two major things to celebrate. First, it just received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history.

Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.

"Students will have the chance to develop their skills in the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular conditions and will be taught by outstanding clinical educators,” said Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, president and CEO of The Texas Heart Institute and heart failure specialist at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, in a press release announcing the news.

Continue reading the article from August.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.