From a free workspace competition at The Cannon to a tech company's big acquisition, here are some Houston innovation short stories. Courtesy of The Cannon

It's easy to miss some of Houston's innovation news — there's quite a lot coming out across town. From contests launching out of The Cannon to a Houston tech company making a major acquisition, here are some quick news stories you need to know.

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Onit Inc.makes acquisition

Houston-based contract management software company, Onit Inc., announced the acquisition of SimpleLegal, another legal services software company. The terms of the deal were not made public.

"Onit and SimpleLegal share both a passion for both disrupting the legal technology space and valuing product innovation," says Eric M. Elfman, Onit CEO and co-founder, in a release. "Our shared commitment to elevate legal operations technology is an asset for all of our customers – from rapidly growing startups with their first in-house counsel all the way to the largest, most complex organizations. Together, our goal is to help all legal operations professionals achieve operational excellence on their legal technology journey."

According to the release, all product, support and services will go on without any interruption for customers of both companies. Elfman will serve as the CEO of the merged organization, and Nathan Wenzel, who was the CEO and co-founder of SimpleLegal, has been named the general manager of SimpleLegal.

"Today, corporations spend more than $160 billion on their in-house legal teams. The combination of Onit and SimpleLegal is a game-changer for the legal market and the future of legal operations," says Wenzel in the release. "Our teams are uniquely equipped to help shape the technology that is powering legal departments worldwide. Together, we're looking forward to combining efforts and talent to build and bring to market the next generation of legal operations technology."

The Cannon and Insperity launch startup competition

The Cannon's 120,000-square-foot space is on track to open this summer. Courtesy of The Cannon

The Insperity Innovation Scholarship is back — this time the prize of 6 months of free office space inside The Cannon means the new, 120,000-square-foot space that's set to open in West Houston very soon.

"We are so excited that Insperity has chosen to bring back this year's Innovation Scholarship and will be rewarding another lucky Houston area startup with space in our brand new building," says The Cannon's founder and CEO, Lawson Gow, in a release. "As one of our original partners, we are looking forward to another year of working with Insperity to fulfill a mission that we share — providing Houston area startups with all the resources they need to succeed and establish Houston as an exceptional place to start your business." (Gow is the son of InnovationMap's CEO.)

The applications are open from now until June 5. The finalists will be notified on June 7. All of the finalists will pitch their company to a panel of judges on June 13. Companies based in the Houston area with 3 to 8 employees are eligible. Startups can apply here.

New-to-Houston coworking concept in CITYCENTRE breaks ground

FUSE Dynamic Workspace just announced its new 26,000-square-foot project coming to CITYCENTRE. Photo via workfuse.com

The construction process has officially started this month for Texas-based FUSE Dynamic Workspace's second location in CITYCENTRE. The complex will consist of 26,000 square feet of coworking space in two buildings connected by a bridge, and include an additional 5,000 square feet across four outdoor terraces. The space will have 95 private offices, a coworking café and lounge, dedicated desks, and conference space for up to 100 people.

FUSE strives to provide business professional amenities while also giving back to its community. The first location was in Prosper, Texas.

re:3D wins over $700,000 grant

After just opening a new factory and community space, re:3D was awarded a large grant. Courtesy of re:3D

Houston-based re:3D, which just opened its new 7,000-square-foot community space and factory, recently won a six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation.

The SBIR Phase II grant is for $749,111 to further commercialize the company's Gigabot and increase maker manufacturing through 3D printing with reclaimed plastic and direct drive pellet extrusion, according to an email sent to re:3D's community.

Griddy grows with new partnership

Griddy Energy enables customer pricing transparency. Photo via gogriddy.com

Griddy Energy has signed a strategic partnership with EDF Trading Ltd — a subsidiary of low-carbon energy group EDF Group. Through this partnership, EDF will provide support to Griddy as it expands its services.

"We're thrilled to announce this deal because our focus has always been saving Texans money by connecting them directly to the grid for wholesale electricity rates. This partnership means we can bring the power of wholesale to far more people," Greg Craig, CEO of Griddy, says in a release, "In 2018, Texans paid a combined $20 billion to REPs. Had Texans paid wholesale last year, they would have paid just $14 billion. That means Texans overpaid by a staggering $6 billion last year. Our goal is to get as much of that money back into the hands of Texans in the form of savings — and this partnership with EDF will allow us to do just that."

Griddy, which has a huge presence in Texas, provides customers wholesale electricity prices and promises to be open, honest, and transparent. Rather than charging inflated rates, the company only makes a profit from the $9.99 monthly membership fees. Everything else is at cost — no margins, hidden fees, or break fees. Read more about Griddy here.

LetsLaunch and The Cannon team up ahead of a live fundraising event

LetsLaunch, a Houston-based fundraising platform, has teamed up with The Cannon. Courtesy of LetsLaunch

Fundraising for your company could be stressful, but exciting. Now, imaging that process taking place at an event in a face-to-face capacity. LetsLaunch and The Cannon have teamed up to put on a live fundraising event — think of it like a online fundraising platform meets a cocktail party.

The event is set for June 15, and LetsLaunch is taking applications for potential participating startups until May 24. Apply here.

Griddy, lead by CEO Greg Craig, is making a surge in Texas by disrupting the state's outdated electricity plan. Courtesy of Griddy

Electricity startup puts its Houston customers on the grid

Power Player

In 2015, Greg Craig looked into Texas' wholesale energy industry and a light bulb went on over his head. He realized that the way consumers were delivered power was opaque and misleading. The electricity industry is one of the few areas that the tech boom hasn't yet infiltrated. That is, until Griddy came along, launching in Houston in the spring of 2017.

"Technology has changed and bettered everything in life," says Craig, Griddy CEO and co-founder, who compares Griddy to likes of Amazon, Uber, and Costco. "Our thesis was, 'what if we could build a tech platform that would connect the home directly to the grid?'"

Instead of profiting off hidden fees and fixed prices, Griddy provides customers wholesale electricity prices and promises to be open, honest, and transparent. Rather than charging inflated rates, the company only makes a profit from the $9.99 monthly membership fees. Everything else is at cost — no margins, hidden fees, or break fees. This all translates to savings of up to 30 percent, says Craig, who co-founded Griddy with executive chairman, Nick Bain.

Electricity of the future
Griddy customers are connected directly to their smart meter which records electricity use and communicates this information to the home owner's electricity supplier

Customers can download and use the Griddy app and get a by-the-second update of the wholesale price so that they know when the price spikes and it's time to turn off unnecessary energy suckers. The app also offers 36-hour forecast to give consumers an idea of what the wholesale price will be at a specific time.

The mobile aspect of Griddy is a large draw as consumers increasingly use their phones and do everything online or in-app. From the transparent prices to the mobile app, Griddy's features have been well received by millennials, a generation drawn to companies that stand out and are committed to strong corporate values that put the customer first and offer low prices.

This month, Griddy launched a new app, Griddy Guest, that allows non-members a chance to test the benefits of Griddy before becoming a member. "We understand people may be a little cautious of switching to a new type of energy provider so we created Griddy Guest to allow people to access the perks and track their potential savings before completely switching over to becoming a Griddy member," says Craig.

Consumers can use the app for free, view the current wholesale price of electricity and projected prices using your zip code, and receive an estimate of savings from using Griddy in comparison to the average rate for their location, house type, and weather zone.

"We're trying to be disruptive and innovative and do things no one's ever done," Craig tells InnovationMap. "No one's ever done 'we'll tell you exactly what we make,' no one's ever done 'here's real time wholesale,' no one's ever provided mobile app information like this by the second, and now no one's ever done 'be our guest, be our guest, put our service to the test', and now we've done it."

What's next?
Griddy, which is only in Texas, is continuing to spread into deregulated markets with sights set on the East Coast in the first half of 2019, to be closely followed by an international move to the United Kingdom, Australia, and Japan. The company is also pursuing machine-learning artificial intelligence to handle optimal time for power use, a technology that would automatically adjust power use for consumers during price spikes. This type of feature would be connected directly to households, closely monitoring the price of electricity to save consumers even more money.

Overall, Griddy has made a large footprint with its launch in Texas and is currently in 39 different cities within the state. The company hopes to continue to turn consumers to wholesale electricity over traditional overpriced fixed energy plans to disrupt the industry and save individuals money.

Feel the surge

Griddy users can enable push notifications that alert them of surge pricing so they can turn off any large appliances to avoid excess charges.

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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.