Panelists from the University of Houston and Houston Methodist discussed tech transfer challenges and opportunities for academic innovators. Photo courtesy

Groundbreaking and disruptive innovations across industries are coming out of research institutions, and their commercialization process is very different from other startups.

An expert panel within Technology transfer discussed some of the unique obstacles innovators face as they go from academia into the market — like patenting, funding, the valley of death, and more.

Missed the conversation? Here are eight key moments from the panel that took place at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge on Wednesday, May 19.

This event was hosted by InnovationMap and University of Houston.

“If your technology can immediately impact some industry, I think you should license out your technology. But if you think that the reward is much higher and does not yet match something in the industry, you should go the high risk, high reward path of doing it yourself. That’s a much more challenging. It takes years of work.”

— Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, says on how tech transfer usually happens via those two pathways. Ghasemi explains that it also depends on the academic's passion for the product and interest in becoming an entrepreneur.

“There’s a mismatch in that you can have a really clinically impactful technology but still not have money to develop it into a product.” 

— Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy, says on the different priorities from within academia and within the market.

“What I’ve seen is if you know you want to patent something, tell the right people early. Make sure you have the right players involved. Our tech office already has venture, Pharma, etc. partners that can help with the patent process.”

— Ginny Torno, administrative director of innovation and IT clinical systems at Houston Methodist

“You don’t need to be fully transparent about your technology. As a company, you need to have some secret sauce."

— Ghasemi says on the patent and paper publishing process. Academics are used to publishing their research, but when it comes to business, you need to hold some things close to the chest.

“One of the most important piece the UH Tech Bridge has provided is the wet lab space to develop these technologies a little further toward commercialization. … Wet lab is very precious space in Houston specifically because there isn’t much here.”

— Singh says on how important access to lab space is to the entrepreneur.

"“You’re starting to see more and more organizations that have innovation arms. ... There are a lot of focus on trying to make Houston another innovation hub, and I think there is more support now than even a few years ago.”

— Torno says on what's changed over the past few years, mentioning TMC3 and the Ion.

“Try to serve private capital as soon as possible. The grant money comes, and those are good and will help you prove out your technology. But once you have private money, it shows people care about your product.”

— Ghasemi says as a piece of advice for potential tech transfer entrepreneurs.

“The biggest gap is to arrange for funding — federal, private, etc. — to support during the valley of death.”

— Singh says on the struggle research-based startups, especially in drug discovery, faces as they fight to prove out their product and try to stay afloat financially.

This week's innovators to know roundup includes three experts within the tech transfer space in Houston. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Editor's note: It's a very special edition of the Monday innovators to know series. On Wednesday, all three of today's innovators will join me and InnovationMap for a panel discussing technology transfer — the process in general, what resources are available within their institutions, IP and grant writing, and so much more. Read more about the panelists below and click here to register for the free event.

Ginny Torno, Administrative Director, Innovation and IT Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist

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Ginny Torno has a long career at Houston Methodist, including work within research. Now, she's leading innovation initiatives at the deployment level within the hospital's technology center. Torno can speak to both the research and the implementation done within innovation at Houston Methodist.

Hadi Ghasemi, co-founder of Elemental Coatings and Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston

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Hadi Ghasemi is Cullen associate professor in the department of mechanical engineering at UH. His research interests are in nanotechnology, surface physics, and heat transfer.

In 2018, Ghasemi co-founded Elemental Coatings, formerly SurfEllent, an anti-icing and anti-scaling coatings that aims to make the many problems associated with ice and scale buildup a thing of the past.

Rashim Singh, co-founder of Sanarentero and a research assistant professor of pharmaceutics at the University of Houston College of Pharmacy

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Co-founder of Sanarentero, Rashim Singh is developing therapies for gut-related diseases and disorders. Focused on her company, Singh can speak to the drug discovery process, grant writing, and more within the pharmaceutical space.

From a new solar energy capturing and storing device to stem cell-based pacemakers, here are three game-changing technologies coming out of UH. Getty Images

3 innovative research projects coming out of the University of Houston

research roundup

Across the University of Houston campus, professors and researchers are creating solutions for various problems in several different industries.

From information technology benefiting police officers to stem cell-based pacemakers, here are three game-changing technologies coming out of UH.

A stem cell-based biological pacemaker

Photo via of UH.edu

A University of Houston associate professor of pharmacology is contributing to research that's taking stem cells found in fat and transforming them into heart cells to act as biologic pacemaker cells.

"We are reprogramming the cardiac progenitor cell and guiding it to become a conducting cell of the heart to conduct electrical current," says Bradley McConnell in a UH news release. McConnell's work can be found in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology.

The treatment could replace the more than 600,000 electronic pacemakers implanted annually, These devices require regular doctors visits and aren't a permanent solution.

"Batteries will die. Just look at your smartphone," says McConnell. "This biologic pacemaker is better able to adapt to the body and would not have to be maintained by a physician. It is not a foreign object. It would be able to grow with the body and become much more responsive to what the body is doing."

Suchi Raghunathan, doctoral student in the UH Department of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, is the paper's first author, and Robert J. Schwartz, Hugh Roy and Lillian Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of biology and biochemistry, is another one of McConnell's collaborator.

The use of information technology to protect law enforcement

Photo via of UH.edu

A tech-optimized police force is a safe police force, according to new UH research that shows that the use of information technology can cut down on the number of police officers killed or injured in the line of duty by as much as 50 percent.

"The use of IT by police increases the occupational safety of police officers in the field and reduces deaths and assaults against police officers," says C.T. Bauer College of Business Dean Paul A. Pavlou in a news release. Pavlou co-authored a paper on the research that was published in the journal Decision Support Systems.

Pavlou, along with his colleague, Min-Seok Pang of Temple University used FBI, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and U.S. Census data to build a dataset, which tracked IT use and violence against law enforcement from 4,325 U.S. police departments over a six-year period, according to the release.

The study focused on crime intelligence, prediction, and investigation. The potential for IT in the police force had yet to be realized because there hadn't been much research on the subject.

A new solar energy capture and storage technology

Image via of UH.edu

New research coming out of UH has created a new and more efficient way to capture and store solar energy. Rather than using panels that store solar energy through photovoltaic technology, the new method, which is a bit of a hybrid, captures heat from the sun and stores it as thermal energy

The research, which was described in a paper in Joule, reports "a harvesting efficiency of 73% at small-scale operation and as high as 90% at large-scale operation," according to a news release.

The author of the paper, Hadi Ghasemi, is a Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH. He says the potential is greater due to the technology being able to harvest the full spectrum of sunlight. T. Randall Lee, Cullen Distinguished University Chair professor of chemistry, is also a corresponding author.

"During the day, the solar thermal energy can be harvested at temperatures as high as 120 degrees centigrade (about 248 Fahrenheit)," says Lee, who also is a principle investigator for the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. "At night, when there is low or no solar irradiation, the stored energy is harvested by the molecular storage material, which can convert it from a lower energy molecule to a higher energy molecule."

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Climatetech incubator announces C-suite promotion, Houston jobs, and nonprofit transition

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The new year has brought some big news from Greentown Labs.

The Somerville, Massachusetts-based climatetech incubator with its second location at Greentown Houston named a new member to its C-suite, is seeking new Houston team members, and has officially finished its transition into a nonprofit.

Juliana Garaizar, who originally joined Greentown as launch director ahead of the Houston opening in 2021, has been promoted from vice president of innovation to chief development and investment officer.

"I'm refocusing on the Greentown Labs level in a development role, which means fundraising for both locations and potentially new ones," Garaizar tells InnovationMap. "My role is not only development, but also investment. That's something I'm very glad to be pursuing with my investment hat. Access to capital is key for all our members, and I'm going to be in charge of refining and upgrading our investment program."

While she will also maintain her role as head of the Houston incubator, Greentown Houston is also hiring a general manager position to oversee day-to-day and internal operations of the hub. Garaizar says this role will take some of the internal-facing responsibilities off of her plate.

"Now that we are more than 80 members, we need more internal coordination," she explains. "Considering that the goal for Greentown is to grow to more locations, there's going to be more coordination and, I'd say, more autonomy for the Houston campus."

The promotion follows a recent announcement that Emily Reichert, who served as CEO for the company for a decade, has stepped back to become CEO emeritus. Greentown is searching for its next leader and CFO Kevin Taylor is currently serving as interim CEO. Garaizar says the transition is representative of Greentown's future as it grows to more locations and a larger organization.

"Emily's transition was planned — but, of course, in stealth mode," Garaizar says, adding that Reichert is on the committee that's finding the new CEO. "She thinks scaling is a different animal from putting (Greentown) together, which she did really beautifully."

Garaizar says her new role will include overseeing Greentown's new nonprofit status. She tells InnovationMap that the organization originally was founded as a nonprofit, but converted to a for-profit in order to receive a loan at its first location. Now, with the mission focus Greentown has and the opportunities for grants and funding, it was time to convert back to a nonprofit, Garaizar says.

"When we started fundraising for Houston, everyone was asking why we weren't a nonprofit. That opened the discussion again," she says. "The past year we have been going through that process and we can finally say it has been completed.

"I think it's going to open the door to a lot more collaboration and potential grants," she adds.

Greentown is continuing to grow its team ahead of planned expansion. The organization hasn't yet announced its next location — Garaizar says the primary focus is filling the CEO position first. In Houston, the hub is also looking for an events manager to ensure the incubator is providing key programming for its members, as well as the Houston innovation community as a whole.

Photos: Houston coworking company expands with new location

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Calling all coworkers north of Houston — there's a new spot in town to set up shop.

The Cannon, a coworking company with locations in Houston and Galveston, has expanded north of Houston for the first time. A new Cannon workspace opened at The Park at Fish Creek retail center (618 Fish Creek Thoroughfare) in Montgomery last month. On February 1 at 4 pm, the new community is holding an open house to tour the space.

“The Cannon is a Houston innovation institution, and we meet demand where innovators and entrepreneurs live—in this case, Montgomery County,” says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. “The goal is to grow The Cannon community – and entrepreneurship overall – regionally, via the Fish Creek brick-and mortar space, and to also expand utilization of our digital community platform, Cannon Connect.”

With 8,100 square feet of space, the facility has 19 private offices, three conference rooms, and several gathering and working areas. Memberships — from assigned desks and private space to day passes — are now available. All Fish Creek members receive access to Cannon Connect, a global, digital community platform that provides resources, networking and building blocks for business growth.

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

This Houston entrepreneur is enabling fashion upcycling for more sustainable style

houston innovators podcast episode 170

When shopping online one day, Hannah Le saw a need for a platform that allowed transactions between upcycling fashion designers and shoppers looking for unique, sustainable pieces.

Le created RE.STATEMENT, an online shopping marketplace for upcycled clothing. Before RE.STATEMENT, designers were limited to Etsy, which is focused on handmade pieces, or Poshmark and Depop, which are dedicated to thrift finds. Upcycle fashion designers didn't have their own, unique platform to sell on — and, likewise, shoppers were scattered across sites too.

"These marketplaces are really good for what they do," Le says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, "but, whenever I think of someone looking for something unique and sustainable, it's hard for me to imagine finding that on these marketplaces."

The platform soft launched in December with 25 upcycling designers and over 1,200 buyers that had been on the company's waitlist for almost nine months. Now that the site is live, Le hopes to give both buyers and sellers quick access to transactions.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le explains. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

Le says that she started with buyers to see what exactly they were looking for, then she searched and found the designers looking to sell their pieces, and the current platform is dynamic and flexible to the needs of users within her community.

"Even today, it changes every single day depending on how users are interacting with the website and what sellers are saying that they need — really communicating with buyers and sellers is how the marketplace is evolving," she says.

RE.STATEMENT's ability to quickly evolve has been due to its early stage, Le explains on the show. She's not yet taken on institutional funding or hired anyone else other than tech support. She says this allows her to quickly make changes or try out new things for users.

"For me, there are still so many things I want to prove to myself before I bring others involved," she says. "To start, it's coming up with new opportunities for buyers to interact with the website so that we can keep learning from them."

Le has already proven some success to herself. Last year, she took home one of three prizes offered at the city's Liftoff Houston competition. The contest, which gives Houston entrepreneurs pitch practice and mentorship, awarded RE.STATEMENT $10,000 for winning in the product category.

"I wanted to see how far I could go," Le says of the competition where she got to introduce her business to Mayor Sylvester Turner and a whole new audience of people. "I had pitched before, but this was the first time that I was onstage and I just felt like I belonged there."

Le shares more about her vision for RE.STATEMENT and the integral role Houston plays in her success on the show.