4 Houston health startups to look out for

Health tech

It might come as no surprise that Houston, home to the largest medical center in the world, has many impressive health startups. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston's growing life sciences industry has been a topic of discussion of late — and it's pretty obvious why.

In March, Houston was named the No. 2 top city for an emerging life sciences market, according to CBRE data. Houston was also named the No. 2 city for STEM jobs, per a report from American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center, which cited the city's growing life science industry as a factor. Even Amazon, which recently opened a Tech Hub in Houston, credited the city's life sciences as a reason for Houston's selection.

In fact, according to a report from the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston has over a fifth of the nation's clinical trials last year. With health care innovation abound in town, here are four startups to keep an eye on.

Integrated Bionics

Stephane Smith wants his company, Integrated Bionics, and its sports tech sensor to be a big win for Houston. Courtesy of Integrated Bionics

It may have taken a couple attempts, but Stephane Smith has created a booming sports wearable business that ships products across the United States and the world. Integrate Bionics produces the Titan Sensor — a wearable device that syncs GPS with video and provides athletic metrics at an attainable price. Most of the company's customers are soccer teams primarily in the collegiate space — with some professional and even youth teams. Smith says the company has a firm footing within soccer because that's where this technology really started.

With fresh funds from Houston-based Work America Capital, Integrated Bionics is on a path to scale and grow its product's capabilities.

"We're going to continue relentless innovation — doing things that no one is expecting and helping coaches with things not even on the radar," Smith tells InnovationMap. "We'll going to be rolling out new capabilities and features that have traditionally been relegated to high-end systems or that haven't even existed before."

Read more about Integrated Bionics here.

InformAI

InformAI can use its data technology to help doctors with preventative care and diagnoses. Courtesy of InformAI

Health care is one of the industries where data management might get a "needs improvement" on its report card. Hospitals everywhere have tons of data, and they aren't using it to their full potential. Houston-based InformAI is looking to change this within the Texas Medical Center.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO, started the company in 2017, and created a new technology that allows hospitals and medical establishments better access to its own data – which translates into more effective diagnoses and preventative care. Havelka saw a need within the medical industry for this type of service.

"There were several things missing," says Havelka. "One was access to very large data sets, because it wasn't really until the last five or 10 years that digitalization of data, especially in the healthcare vertical became more widespread and available in a format that's usable. The second convergence was the technology, the ability to process very large data sets."

Read more about InformAI here.

Mental Health Match

Ryan Schwartz realized online dating was easier than finding a therapist. He created a tool to change that. Courtesy of Mental Health Match

If only finding a therapist was as easy as finding a date in a world where dating apps are a dime a dozen. Ryan Schwartz realized as he sat in a coffee shop with a friend making a connection online, it should be that easy.

"In two minutes she could have a profile matching her with a partner potentially for the rest of her life and I was sitting there for hours and hours trying to find a therapist," he recalls. "I thought it should be easier to find a therapist than a life partner. That's what sent me on my journey."

That journey reached a watershed last month when Schwartz launched Mental Health Match, a website designed to pair patients with their ideal therapist. The idea gained traction as Schwartz described it to people he met and found that many said they had experienced similar difficulties in finding the right practitioner for their needs.

Read more about Mental Health Match here.

Lazarus 3D

Lazarus 3D is using 3D printing to help advance surgeons' skills. Photo via laz3d.com

It's 2019 and surgeons are still using the same training tools they have used for decades: produce.

Two Baylor College of Medicine-educated doctors thought that sewing up grapes and slicing bananas was a bit antiquated. Drs. Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld founded Lazarus3D to build a better training model — and layer by layer, they created models of abs and ribs and even hearts with a 3D printer.

"We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that allows us to, overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models of human anatomy," says Jacques, who serves as CEO. "They can be treated just like real tissue."

Read more about Lazarus 3D here.

TMCx is introducing a new opportunity for early stage health tech ideas. Courtesy of TMCx

TMC Innovation Institute introduces new early stage programming opportunities for health care workers

Alpha ideas

While the Texas Medical Center's accelerator, TMCx, accepts two cohorts of health care startups a year at various stages of development, the program isn't optimized for early stage ideas for companies.

Yet for years, the TMC Innovation Institute team has fielded questions from budding entrepreneurs over cold emails — and even LinkedIn.

TMC will launch a new program for these early stage ideas called TMCalpha. Lance Black, associate director of TMCx, announced the program at TMCx's Demo Day on Thursday, June 6.

"Alpha is the first letter in the Greek alphabet. It represents the beginning — the first step in your journey," Black says.

Through monthly events, TMC-affiliated entrepreneurs can meet with the TMCx team, learn startup best practices, pitch to professionals, and receive one-on-one advice.

"It's our mission to support those members in the TMC — those employees, those physicians, those affiliates — that are knee-deep in the problems and have ideas for solutions," he adds.

The details of the program have yet to be revealed, and Black suggested interested parties subscribe to their newsletter.

"Too many good ideas go undeveloped because people don't have a place to turn or know who to talk to," Black says. "Now they do."

Before and after the announcement, 19 different startups pitched to the crowd at the TMC Innovation Institute, representing the end of the accelerator program. The 2019 Digital Health cohort represented the eighth — and most international — cohort within the program.

Three companies within the cohort have announced completed raises totaling over $10 million. However, according to the pitches, that figure is likely even higher.

Houston-based Galen Data is growing its clientbase and just formed two new partnerships with medical device companies. Photo via galendata.com

Houston health care data company grows with new medical device partnerships

Digitizing health

Educated as an engineer, Chris DuPont has stepped outside his professional comfort zone to generate funding for his Houston-based startup, Galen Data Inc. DuPont's pool of technical contacts in Houston is "wide and deep," he says, but his pool of financial contacts had been shallow.

Overcoming obstacles in Houston's business waters, DuPont has raised two rounds of angel funding — he declines to say how much — that have enabled Galen Data to develop and market its cloud-based platform for connecting medical devices to the internet, including pacemakers and glucose monitors. DuPont is the startup's co-founder and CEO. Galen Data's platform meets compliance standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), cybersecurity organizations, and others.

Galen Data's patent-pending technology lets medical device manufacturers tailor the cloud-based software to their unique needs. DuPont says his company's software is geared toward medical devices that are outside, not inside, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. He declines to divulge how many customers the startup has.

Among the startup's customers is San Clemente, California-based Fresca Medical Inc., developer of a device designed to treat sleep apnea.

DuPont says his company's software allows Fresca to perform such tasks as proactively diagnosing problems with the battery in a sleep apnea device or collecting patient data to back up insurance claims. The software even can monitor trends among various medical devices, he says. Galen Data also is helping Fresca develop its mobile app for patients.

Another customer is Friendswood-based Spark Biomedical Inc., developer of a smartphone-connected device, called a neurostimulator, that eases the symptoms of withdrawal from highly addictive opioids.

Hatched within Houston-based Tietronix Software Inc., DuPont's previous employer, Galen Data launched in 2016 but didn't roll out its first product until 2018.

Galen Data's emergence comes as the market for internet-connected mobile health apps keeps growing. One forecast envisions the global space for mobile health exceeding $94 billion by 2023.

"We want to be at the forefront of that technology curve," DuPont says. "We might be six months early, we might be a year early, but it's starting to happen."

Galen Data vies for customers in a largely untapped market, since the majority of medical devices still aren't connected to the internet, according to DuPont. As a whole, medical device makers have been reluctant to delve into connectivity, given the compliance headaches, DuPont says. That's where Galen Data steps in. It's the startup's job, he says, to ensure its tech platform adheres to myriad compliance regulations.

DuPont says a medical device manufacturer easily could spend $250,000 to $500,000 to create its own compliant, connected tech platform similar to Galen Data's offering — and that doesn't include ongoing operational expenses. Galen Data's platform delivers the same benefits at a fraction of that cost, he says.

The startup strives to accomplish its mission with minimal staffing. Between full-timers (including the three co-founders) and contractors, Galen Data employs fewer than 10 people, DuPont says. As needed, Galen Data taps the software development talent at Tietronix, which owns a minority stake in the startup, according to DuPont.

"I'm very, very capital-efficient with our cash," he says. "I don't like layoffs. We'll never have planned layoffs."

If Galen Data continues to achieve its financial goals (it's not profitable yet), DuPont says, the company's workforce could total 20 to 30 within three years. He foresees opening satellite offices in Austin (a tech hub) and Boston (a life sciences hub) at some point.

As for additional products, DuPont wants to eventually build on Galen Data's existing platform by paving the way for data to be securely transferred from medical devices to electronic medical records.

Anchored in Houston, Galen Data hopes to be a player in what DuPont calls "the next biotech corridor of the United States," encompassing not just Houston but Galveston, Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio.

For Galen Data to thrive in that environment, though, it must conquer what DuPont classifies as his biggest hurdle: raising money from investors in a region rooted in the oil and gas industry. In the first quarter of 2019, Houston startups collected less than 6 percent of the venture capital reported throughout Texas — far below what startups in Austin and Dallas reaped during the same period.

Ramping up investment in Galen Data will require educating local investors about the promising potential of the medical device sector, DuPont says. Meanwhile, he's begun hunting for funding outside Texas.

"It's challenging for a startup to raise money in Houston," says DuPont, who praises local entrepreneurs for their support of Galen Data. "We've done it, but it's been hard."

"If Galen is super successful, hopefully we can invest in other early stage companies," DuPont adds. "That's part of the vision."

Galen Concept Video www.youtube.com

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Over $1.4M in prizes awarded at Rice University's student startup competition

RBPC 2021

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

Houston health center working with new study that uses app to track long-term COVID-19 effects

pandemic innovation

Aided by technology, medical sleuths at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are tracking the long-term effects of COVID-19 as part of a national study.

At the heart of the study is an app that allows patients who have shown COVID-19 symptoms and have been tested for COVID-19 to voluntarily share their electronic health records with researchers. The researchers then can monitor long-term symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, depression, and cardiovascular problems.

UTHealth is one of eight U.S. sites for the INSPIRE trial (Innovative Support for Patients with SARS COV-2 Infections Registry). Researchers are recruiting study participants from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. They want to expand recruitment to urgent care clinics in the Houston area.

Aside from accessing patients' data through the Hugo Health platform, UTHealth researchers will ask participants to fill out brief follow-up surveys every three months over the course of 18 months. The study complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the federal law that protects patients' information from being disclosed without their knowledge.

"This is a very novel and important study," Dr. Ryan Huebinger, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School and co-principal investigator of the study, says in a news release.

In a study like this, researchers typically must see a patient in person or at least reach out to them.

"Using this platform is novel because we don't have to schedule additional appointments or ask questions like 'How long were you hospitalized?' – we can automatically see that in their records and survey submissions," Huebinger says.

Mandy Hill, associate professor in the McGovern Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine and the study's co-principal investigator, says about one-fourth of the people in the study will be local residents who didn't test positive for COVID-19.

"That group will be our control group to be able to compare things like prevalence and risk factors," Huebinger says.

Eligible participants must be at least 18 years old, must have experienced COVID-19 symptoms, and must have been tested for COVID-19 in the past four weeks.

"This is not going to be the last pandemic. The more information we can gather across communities now will give us a leg up when the next pandemic happens," Hill says, "so that we can be more prepared to take steps toward prevention."

Researchers hope to sign up at least 300 study participants in Houston. The entire INSPIRE trial seeks to enroll 4,800 participants nationwide. The study is supposed to end in November 2022.

"There's such great potential for numerous research findings to come out of this study. We could find out if people in Houston are suffering from post-COVID-19 symptoms differently than other parts of the country, whether minorities are more affected by long-hauler symptoms, and if certain interventions work better than others," Hill says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is financing the study. Aside from UTHealth, academic institutions involved in the research are:

  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
  • Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
  • University of Washington in Seattle
  • Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Francisco