This health tech company has made some significant changes in order to keep up with its growth. Photo via Getty Images

With a new CEO and chief operating officer aboard, Houston-based DataJoint is thinking small in order to go big.

Looking ahead to 2022, DataJoint aims to enable hundreds of smaller projects rather than a handful of mega-projects, CEO Dimitri Yatsenko says. DataJoint develops data management software that empowers collaboration in the neuroscience and artificial intelligence sectors.

"Our strategy is to take the lessons that we have learned over the past four years working with major projects with multi-institutional consortia," Yatsenko says, "and translate them into a platform that thousands of labs can use efficiently to accelerate their research and make it more open and rigorous."

Ahead of that shift, the startup has undergone some significant changes, including two moves in the C-suite.

Yatsenko became CEO in February after stints as vice president of R&D and as president. He co-founded the company as Vathes LLC in 2016. Yatsenko succeeded co-founder Edgar Walker, who had been CEO since May 2020 and was vice president of engineering before that.

In tandem with Yatsenko's ascent to CEO, the company brought aboard Jason Kirkpatrick as COO. Kirkpatrick previously was chief financial officer of Houston-based Darcy Partners, an energy industry advisory firm; chief operating officer and chief financial officer of Houston-based Solid Systems CAD Services (SSCS), an IT services company; and senior vice president of finance and general manager of operations at Houston-based SmartVault Corp., a cloud-based document management company.

"Most of our team are scientists and engineers. Recruiting an experienced business leader was a timely step for us, and Jason's vast leadership experience in the software industry and recurring revenue models added a new dimension to our team," Yatsenko says.

Other recent changes include:

  • Converting from an LLC structure to a C corporation structure to enable founders, employees, and future investors to be granted shares of the company's stock.
  • Shortening the business' name to DataJoint from DataJoint Neuro and recently launching its rebranded website.
  • Moving the company's office from the Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute (TMCx) to the Galleria area. The new space will make room for more employees. Yatsenko says the 12-employee startup plans to increase its headcount to 15 to 20 by the end of this year.

Over the past five years, the company's customer base has expanded to include neuroscience institutions such as Princeton University's Princeton Neuroscience Institute and Columbia University's Zuckerman Institute for Brain Science, as well as University College London and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. DataJoint's growth has been fueled in large part by grants from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"The work we are tackling has our team truly excited about the future, particularly the capabilities being offered to the neuroscience community to understand how the brain forms perceptions and generates behavior," Yatsenko says.

Shaun Noorian, founder and CEO of Empower Pharmacy, joined InnovationMap for a Q&A on his rapidly growing compounding pharmacy business. Photo courtesy of Empower Pharmacy

Houston founder talks growth and innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry

Q&A

When Shaun Noorian encountered what he felt was a poorly ran process, as an engineer, he built something better. Now, he runs one of the nation's largest compounding pharmacies that's at a pivotal time for growth.

Headquartered in Houston, Empower Pharmacy is opening two new facilities locally — one debuts later this year and the other in 2022. Ahead of this milestone for his company, Noorian joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about how he decided to start his company and how he's grown it from a small office to two 85,000-square-foot facilities — as well as how Houston has been a big part of his company's success.

InnovationMap: Why did you decide to form Empower Pharmacy?

Shaun Noorian: I initially started Empower Pharmacy as a patient that was frustrated with the medication that I was receiving from a local compounding pharmacy in Houston.

I'd been working as a hydraulic fracturing field engineer at Schlumberger after graduating from college with a degree in mechanical engineering and was injured after several months on the job. I hemorrhaged three of my lower vertebrae and was put into physical therapy to try and fix my back. One of the doctors that was treating me noticed that I was very skinny for my age. I was probably 25 years old at the time. He decided to test my blood for the hormone testosterone, which is responsible for muscle growth and many other important factors in both men and women. The test determined that I had the testosterone level of an elderly man. The doctors sent me to Baylor College of Medicine for MRI blood tests, and they determined that I had a pituitary disorder and that I couldn't create the hormones responsible to tell my body to create testosterone. They put me on testosterone replacement therapy and it completely changed my life. Being testosterone deficient my entire life, I didn't realize what normal should be.When I was put on the medication, it was like a new lease on life. And I became very interested in the medication that I was taking, and how it worked. I studied everything I could. I was getting my medications from a local compounding pharmacy here in Houston, and I wasn't very satisfied with the quality of the service or the costs. Getting these medications was a very large percentage of my, what I was living off of. I couldn't figure out why this medication was so expensive when it cost just a few cents to make.

IM: How did you turn that passion into a business?

SN: I guess like most engineers, I decided I wanted to build — to make my own pharmacy. And make my own drugs and offer them to patients in a manner that I would want to it be from a patient's perspective when dealing with the compound pharmacy. I leased about 100 square feet in the back of the doctor's office. I pretty much converted one of his exam rooms and started my pharmacy there. I hired a pharmacist and did all the technician duties myself. I wanted to apply the patient experience that I would've wanted.

Slowly but surely, patients and prescribers around the area were very happy with the level of service and quality that they were receiving from our pharmacy. And we would get more requests through simple word of mouth and reputation. We grew pretty quickly out of that space and then built out a 1,500-square-foot space in a shopping center a couple of years later.

Following several more expansions and new locations throughout the years, we're now gearing up to open our new facility (7601 N. Sam Houston Parkway W., near the intersection of Highway 249 and Beltway 8), which will be the most advanced compounding pharmacy ever built. It has a lot of automation, and utilizes the same processes and equipment that Big Pharma uses to make their drugs. We're trying to better the system and continue to bring automation into the compounding industry so we can continue to scale and set a standard for the rest of the industry.

IM: What sets your business apart from what else is out there?

SN: We're a pharmacy that wants to do everything in house. We want to integrate our supply chain, and that means removing low value middleman from the health care ecosystem and streamline the medical distribution process. This means being the manufacturer, distributor, and regional pharmacy all in one, so we can really control our supply chain and integrate it. And at the same time, we can really be able to control and customize the consumer experience for both our patients and prescribers in a way that we would want. It's been a lot of fun being able to create your own healthcare ecosystem and building software for that your for patients that I'd want to use.

I'm an engineer. It's more fun talking about my equipment than anything else.

If you walk into a Walgreens, it's a simple repackaging operation. You're taking pills from a big bottle and putting them in a smaller bottle. What differentiates us from them and what's unique about this facility is that it's really built the same way as traditional pharmaceutical manufacturing is built using the same exact processes, systems, layout, etc.

We create our own purified water. We create our own clean, dry compressed air. We create our own clean steam that we use in our compounding processes, which are built to CGMP — current good manufacturing practices — specifications. We adopt a lot of those processes into the facility, and we built the facility around those standards that the FDA requires.

IM: You mentioned a new facility — but Empower is actually opening two new facilities within a year of each other. Tell me about those.

SN: Each facility is a mirror of each other — they are both 85,000 square feet. The one that's opening this year is going to be a pharmacy, so it'll just be dealing with patients. The next one is going to be licensed with the FDA and will work with larger institutions, selling medications in bulk for office use to institutions, hospitals, clinics, and prescribers. They will administer those medications to their patients in office. It's our way of being able to integrate that supply chain, so we can be that one-stop shop. So, physicians don't have to go to different vendors to source their medications — we can be an all-encompassing partner and vendor for them to source all their medical needs.

IN: How else are you expanding your business model?

SN: We've always concentrated on — since the inception of the company — quality, service, and cost. And we're always working to figure out how to increase quality, how to decrease costs, and how to make it easier and more convenient for our customers to use us. Some projects that we've been working on that are set to launch in the next few years is building out our own API – application programming interface – so that our telemedicine and other clients that are using electronic versions of health care record software can easily interface with our systems and vice versa.

IM: How has Houston been for you as a home base for Empower?

SN: I think being in Houston is one of the reasons why we've grown to become the largest compounding pharmacy in the nation. It's really just a lot of luck of being in Houston. I'm sure we're all aware that having the largest medical center in the world in your own backyard is a great way to have more prescribers than pretty much any other city in the country. That definitely helped us and continues to help us grow. Additionally, being the third largest city by population means we have a large workforce to pull a diverse workforce for whatever this company needs. Having a diverse workforce has been integral in our growth. Also, having two schools of pharmacy in our backyard has also helped.

There's a reason why, as we grow, we always stay in Houston. It doesn't make sense for us to go anywhere else. This is a great city and a great state to do business.

IM: Are you hiring?

Oh, we're always hiring. I think we currently have around 50 positions open and there's everything from pharmacy operations, all the way to manufacturing and marketing to sales, logistics, legal, you name it.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

A software technology coming out of Houston Methodist is revolutionizing a particularly complex type of surgery. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

New software for facial surgery developed at Houston hospital gets FDA approval

game-changing tech

A new technology is helping Houston surgeons with a complicated surgery process — and the software recently got clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The AnatomicAligner, a software program designed to improve planning for craniomaxillofacial surgeries, was developed at Houston Methodist and was funded in part by Houston Methodist's Translational Research Initiative, which is a fund that's dedicating $30 million to product development of promising medical technologies.

The hospital received FDA clearance to market the software, making Houston Methodist a member of an elite group of academic medical centers with an approved medical technology ready for market access, according to a news release.

The technology was developed by Dr. James Xia, professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, and Dr. Jaime Gateno, chair of the Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery and professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

The AnatomicAligner uses computer graphics and modeling technologies to simulate the entire surgery artificially with a goal of allowing surgeons to practice and plan their technique. In addition to TRI funding, Xia and Gateno also received nearly $10 million in funding from the National Institute of Craniofacial and Dental Research, per the release, to develop the methodology and the AnatomicAligner software system.

Craniomaxillofacial surgeries correct congenital and acquired deformities of the skull and face — including those acquired from trauma or congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip and palate.

"Due to the complex nature of the CMF skeleton, it requires extensive presurgical planning," write the researchers in a description of the technology. "Unfortunately, the traditional planning methods, e.g. prediction tracings and simulating surgery on stone models have remained unchanged over the last 50 years."

The researchers have plans to share their findings in order to improve CMF — as well as other orthopedic surgeries — for the world.

"The success of AnatomicAligner will lead to a new class of imaging informatics platform for CMF surgery. This platform can also be transformed to orthopedic surgery and other medical specialties," the description continues. "Once completed, the software will be freely downloaded from internet by research community.

Larry Lawson joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about his startup's recent exit, his role on the boards of five med device companies, his investment activity, and more. Photo courtesy of Larry Lawson

Fresh off a $1.4B exit, this Houston innovator is focused on funding medical device tech

Q&A

Earlier this year, Houston-based serial entrepreneur Larry Lawson celebrated the exit of his medical device company, Preventice Solutions, which he sold to Boston ScientificBoston Scientific in a $1.4 billion deal.

Nowadays, Lawson is laser focused on investing in the Houston innovation ecosystem, particularly in medical device, as well as working on Proxima Clinical Research, a contract research organization in the Texas Medical Center he co-founded with Kevin Coker.

Lawson joined InnovationMap for a Q&A about the exit, his role on the boards of five med device companies, and his investment activity. He also shares how he sees the impact of COVID-19 and where Houston's burgeoning innovation ecosystem is headed.

InnovationMap: Earlier this year you saw an exit for your company Preventice Solutions, a company focused on the development of mobile health solutions and remote monitoring, which was sold to Boston Scientific in a $1.4 billion deal. What did this deal mean to both you and the company?

Larry Lawson: It validated what I started back in 2004. I had an idea, And I moved forward on my idea — in the beginning completely financed that idea myself. I tried to raise funds, and it was very difficult here in Houston back in 2004 to do that. I put my money, you might say, where my mouth was and I started the company and funded it and built it to a point to where we attracted some venture capital from one of the world's largest VC groups out of California called Sequoia Capital. That allowed me to really increase our exposure and our footprint nationally. And it just grew and grew and eventually Boston scientific got interested in the company, along with Merck, a pharmaceutical company, and they bought smaller pieces of the company.

Then at the end of the year of 2020, Boston Scientific made a play to acquire the company completely. Frankly, it have been better. I would have never dreamt that my original company would be worth that much and sell for that much. So it was very nice for not only me, but for many other people that were employed by Preventice, because as a founder of the company, I knew how important it was to share equity with the people that really make the company run and make it run well.

IM: I noticed that you’re on the board of several Houston health tech startups — most of which I’ve covered on InnovationMap. What do you look for in a company before joining the board and what role do you play for the companies’ growth?

LL: First of all, I look at the people who are in the company — from top level executive level all the way down, even including the existing board members of the company. I only invest in medical device companies. That's what I know, and that's why I've spent over 50 years in, and I feel like I know it very well. I do not venture far off of that line or that path at all.

I look for a strong operating group. I look for strong leadership — and if I can bring even stronger leadership and have them get from point A to point B, I like to get involved. Given my medical as the chairman of the company.

IM: You started your investment firm in 2018 — what inspired you to create LAWALA Capital and what do you look for in potential portfolio companies?

LL: I really limit my investments to the medical device segment of health care. LAWALA is just me — it's the first two letters of all three of my names: Larry Wayne Lawson. How I got into investing and starting companies is I see opportunity, and I see voids in the industry.

IM: Speaking of, you founded Proxima Clinical Research in 2017, which has a very hands-on approach to accelerating health tech innovation. Why did you decide to start that up?

LL: I saw a void in the clinical research industry, specifically at the medical center here, the largest medical center on the face of the earth. And it was doing all of this attracting all of these companies, all of these health science companies into Houston, and they were building and budding their companies, but there was no centralized clinical research company to be there for them.

I thought, "my gosh, somebody ought to do this." Well, I'm a doer. So, I went to the powers to be at the medical center and got their approval to be the founder of a company, called Proxima Clinical Research, and the key is putting it right there in the heart of the largest medical center in the world.

It's been really, really good for these companies who are coming into Houston to take advantage of the life science growth that's taking place here in Houston.

IM: How did COVID-19 affect the work that you do?

LL: COVID really did not affect our business that greatly. It affected the investments that I was doing. I pulled back and cut my, expenses and that, because I just needed to see, you know, how the COVID thing would shake out. I'm watching my investments a lot closer today, and think that it's affected the startup companies, more because to be a startup company, you have to go out and find investors to invest in your company. And I think that process has been slowed, I won't say considerably, but I think it's been slowed quite a bit over the past year and a half.

It just so happens that in the industry that I've been in, which is patient monitoring — cardiac arrhythmia monitoring — COVID has heightened patient monitoring more than anything else. What we learned from COVID is that we've got to be more in tune ourselves than ever before in monitoring all aspects of ourselves. What has come out of this COVID pandemic is telemedicine, which has struggled for years, now all of a sudden telemedicine is on the tip of everyone's tongue.

And I think that's one reason why you see the big companies — the multinational, multi-billion dollar companies — getting more in patient monitoring.

IM: Houston is home to the largest medical center in the world — but it’s often times not listed as a top city for medical innovation. Is that changing? And if so, how?

LL: When the medical center purchased the old Nabisco building and turned that into a technology center and a startup center, it changed the whole complexion of the device and medical startup community here in Houston. We've had a lot of former development here through MD Anderson in oncology, but we'd never had very much in devices. Now, we have companies coming from Europe and Asia coming to Houston to promote their technology and the devices that they have built.

The Rice Business Plan Competition is the largest in the United States. We fund more startup companies out of RBPC. I'm talking Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley — Houston is number one. And that has a lot to do with what has happened in the medical center over the past seven or eight years.

IM: What more do we need, now that we've come this far to really push us into that innovative healthcare city status?

LL: Well, I think what we need is for investors investing in healthcare and not oil and dirt. For years and years, the whole economy was driven by oil and gas and real estate. And I can remember starting my first company, the early eighties, I went to banks to borrow money to start my first company, and all I wanted was $200,000. Well, that was still a lot of money back then, but they would literally fall asleep on me because they couldn't understand and didn't understand exactly what I wanted to do. And so I wound up having to fund myself use my friends and family as investors, but that's changed quite a bit. The health science community here in Houston is now known all over the world. It's gonna just continue to grow and develop, and I hope to be a part of continue to be a part of it.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

NH Hospital's innovative approach to mental health is based on the patient's biochemical makeup and gene-environment interfaces. Photo courtesy of NH Hospital

Houston health center tackles mental health with customization and tech for innovative solutions

custom health care

There's no one-size-fits-all solution to medical care. NH Hospital is bringing innovative technologies and functional medicine to patients in the Houston area. Using patients' biochemical makeup, the medical provider has created a unique service for Houstonians seeking a multi-pronged approach to behavioral health and substance use disorders.

The past year has been an incubator for mental health issues. Pandemic isolation, social distancing, financial instability, racial reckonings, and a massive death toll have posed an enormous threat to the mental wellbeing of people around the world. Experts predict a long-term spike in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases as society grapples with the tragedies of the last year, but the toll is already here.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4 to 41.5 percent between Aug. 19, 2020, and Feb. 1, 2021.

As the world waits for a moment to exhale after a catastrophic year, NH Hospital keeps busy serving patients struggling with both behavioral health and addiction during the pandemic. Outside of depression and anxiety, the facility also treats bipolar disorder, PTSD, codependency, and postpartum depression by using a multidisciplinary approach.

NH Hospital integrates traditional medicine with functional medicine with a mission of treating the root cause of an issue and not just the symptoms. From providing an on-site chef and nutritionist to stimulating patients with calming acoustic therapy, the facility blends unique treatment modalities that address the whole body rather than an isolated issue.

"With functional medicine, we find other avenues and ways to allow [patients] to heal and to change their behavior," explains Debbie Cormier, CEO of NH Hospital.

Using genetic markers as a roadmap to health

You can build the closet of Carrie Bradshaw's dreams online, buy bespoke cologne based on your body chemistry, monogram jewelry and clothing, and even get a Renaissance-style portrait of your family pet. Tailor-made options are ubiquitous; why not customize medical care?

"For years, the traditional way, we just gave people the same amount of meds, the same diets, the same everything," and wondered why some patients responded better or quicker than others, explains Cormier. For the unlucky patients who didn't get stellar results, she says doctors may have thought "they just have to deal with it" and wait. "We don't feel that you should have to just deal with it," she continues.

When treating a patient, NH Hospital doctors consider the genetic makeup of each patient to create a custom care plan. With tests as simple as a swab of the cheek, the facility can gather biochemical markers that can share valuable medical information like risk factors for diseases.

Cormier believes NH Hospital's ability to look at a patient's genetic background and "treat you as an individual," is a key factor that sets the facility apart. The hospital also focuses on understanding how your genes interact with your environment.

Think of gene-environment interactions as nature vs. nurture, an ideology that research suggests plays significant roles in the outset of mental illness. Genetic and environmental factors interact to influence phenotype, the observable characteristics you exhibit when your genotype and environment interact.

When these factors are off-balance, it can result in undesirable results. A 2001 study of Finnish twins studied the socio-geographic impact on adolescent alcohol use in urban and rural environments. While the frequency of alcohol use was the same in both settings, the factors that led adolescents to drink were entirely different. Genetic factors played a larger role in urban areas, whereas the shared environment had a greater influence in rural settings.

By applying various modalities based on genetic information, doctors aren't going in blind and "know you from the inside out," says Cormier.

When a patient comes in struggling with something as grappling as depression or anxiety, conditions they've seen an uptick in since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors will run a genetic test as well as traditional lab work. Cormier says some potential treatment paths may include photosynthesis therapy, hydration therapy and nutrition.

Dietetics meets tech

NH Hospital helps patients get micronutrient infusions, but its nutrition program provides an integrated approach to fueling the body with the help of a staff chef.

"We only have so much energy every day, and we choose how we use the energy but by getting your diet right, it starts to heal you in all kinds of ways," says Cormier.

While the physical repercussions of a poor diet like diabetes and heart disease are widely known, you may be surprised to hear that nutrition can affect mood disorders and harm brain cells. According to Harvard Health Publishing, refined sugars can lead to brain impairment, depression and oxidative stress — the free radicals produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells. By focusing on a patient's nutrition, "the person has a better chance to heal, not only from the issue that is brought to us but to overall feel good," she says.

Counseling, cryotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation and cocoon therapy therapies are just some of the other methods NH Hospital doctors use to treat their patients.

Cormier recalls the recovery of a patient who was experiencing depression and using a wheelchair due to pain in her knees. She gradually gained the ability to walk without pain again after a months-long treatment plan of cryotherapy and micronutrient infusions.

"She said that we really changed her life because we gave her back her life. Now she's walking a mile a day around her block and she's able to do daily moving. She said she hadn't done that in years," says Cormier.

A mission to heal

Outside of neuropsychology, NH Hospital offers medical detox with monitoring from trained professionals and therapy plans for patients coming off of alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, opioids like fentanyl and other prescription drugs.

Since the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency in 2017, nearly 841,000 people have died of an opioid overdose. Like anxiety and depression, addiction is also on the rise during the pandemic. A CDC survey found that 13 percent of respondents began using drugs during the pandemic or increased their use of illicit substances.

NH Hospital doctors provide micronutrients among other aides to help "build [patients] up] before taking them off the drugs, says Cormier. "We're just trying to make sure the patient feels safe and that if we're doing all these things, we continue to move them in a positive direction instead of just letting them sweat it out," she says.

"Our leadership here is committed to doing what it takes to help people whether they have behavioral, medical, or whatever [condition] brings them through our doors so that we make them have a better life," says Cormier.

Allison Post, manager of innovation partnerships at the Texas Heart Institute, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share what she's focused on in cardiac innovation. Photo courtesy of THI

Newly appointed innovation leader calls for more health care collaboration in Houston

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 80

Allison Post is a professional dot connector for the Texas Heart Institute. Located in the Texas Medical Center and founded in 1962, THI has long had a history of innovation — from Denton Cooley, THI's founder, performing the first artificial heart implementation in 1970.

Now, Post — who was appointed to a newly created position of manager of innovation partnerships — is focused on working with THI's latest generation of cardiac health innovators. She works internally to foster and support THI's brightest inventors as well as externally to make sure the institute is bringing in the best new technologies out there to its patients.

"The whole mission of the Texas Heart Institute is to help our patients. If that means that someone else has an incredible idea we want to jump onboard and bring it to people," Post says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Post, who has a bioengineering background and has worked on both sides of the table as an entrepreneur and a startup mentor, is looking to support breakthrough cardiac innovations within stem cells, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and more. And unfortunately, the cardiac health space has an increasing need to develop new health care solutions.

"Because of the growing burden of heart disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, the unfortunately long list of things that can go wrong with someone's heart means the pressing need for therapies is just growing," she says on the show. "We're trying to keep up and break into things that people haven't done a lot of work on, such as women's heart health."

Another factor in Post's role, which she's had since last fall, is to bring THI further into both the TMC's innovation efforts as well as the greater Houston innovation ecosystem — as well as beyond. To her, Houston has a huge opportunity to lead health care innovation.

"It makes no sense that we aren't the health care leaders yet in med tech development. It should not be Boston, San Francisco, or Minneapolis. It should be Houston," Post says. "We have everything we need to do it. We just need to bring it all together."

The key to getting there, she says, is further collaboration. If there's one thing the world has learned about health care innovation from COVID-19, it's that when experts are rallying behind and collaborating on solutions, the speed of development is much faster.

"The more minds we have the better the solutions I going to be," she says.

Post says that she hopes her work at THI can inspire other institutions to collaborate ‚ since everyone has the same goal of helping patients.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers."

Post shares more about what she's focused on and where THI is headed on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Houston energy blockchain company announces $7.7M in funding, plans to expand to the Middle East

money moves

A Houston-based tech company has announced another round of funding to support its blockchain network growth as well as to establish a presence in the Middle East.

Data Gumbo has closed its series B funding round totaling $7.7 million with follow-on investments led by Equinor Ventures. The round includes participation from Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures and Bay Area and Houston-based venture firm L37. The round's first close was announced in September 2020 at $4 million. The additional funds to close the Series B will be used to scale Data Gumbo to serve demand for GumboNet™ and GumboNet™ ESG. Additionally, Data Gumbo plans to establish a presence in the Middle East to cover expected demand growth in the region.

"The successful close of our series B is continued proof of the efficacy and booming interest in our ability to capture critical cost savings, deliver trust and provide transparency across commercial relationships," says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. "Compounded by the growing demand for transparent, accurate sustainability data and the launch of our automated ESG measurement solution, GumboNet™ ESG, Data Gumbo's trajectory is well-positioned to serve our growing customer base by ensuring economic productivity and value. This infusion of capital will support our expansion efforts as we bring more international users to our network."

With this latest raise, Data Gumbo's total funding raised to date is $18.4 million.

"Data Gumbo's success is marked by a wide variety of business use cases and opportunities for expansion," says Bruce Niven, chief investment officer at Aramco Ventures, in the release. "Our continued investment is a testament to our continued support as the company attracts new customers, experiences further demand for its network and gains traction in new markets."

The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

"Data Gumbo is the market leader for smart contracts backed by blockchain, and the coming year will be a period of exponential growth for the company as they penetrate new industrial markets," says Kemal Farid, partner at L37, in the release. "We believe strongly that GumboNet will become the de facto network for smart contracts across industries for capturing value and solving enormous pain points in contractual relations. Additionally, as companies move to meet increasing sustainability measurement demands and ESG improvements, there is a huge growth path available for Data Gumbo with the launch of GumboNet ESG."

Earlier this year, the company announced its environmental, social and corporate governance tracking and reporting tool.

"Equinor's recent pilot at the Johan Sverdrup field has demonstrated that GumboNet can create strong value for the partnership," says Gareth Burns, head of Equinor Ventures, in the release. "Our follow-on investment confirms Equinor Ventures' confidence in Data Gumbo's solution for our company and the broader energy industry."

3 Houston startups announce strategic appointments across health tech, materials, and software

short stories

Three Houston tech startups have new hires they're excited about this summer. From new board members to c-level execs, here's who's moving and shaking in Houston innovation.

Former Memorial Hermann CEO joins board of ZIBRIO

This Houston medical device startup has added a big name to its board. Photo courtesy of ZIBRIO

Dan Wolterman, who served as president and CEO of Memorial Hermann Health System for 15 years, has been named to the board of directors of Houston-based ZIBRIO. The health tech company, which was founded based on NASA technology, has developed a device that measures balance.

"We're delighted to have Dan on the team," says Katharine Forth, ZIBRIO CEO and co-founder, in a news release. "He understands ZIBRIO's vision to work across the full continuum of care, empowering older patients and clinicians with quantifiable fall prevention. His experience and enthusiasm will be invaluable in helping us to achieve it."

Falling is the top cause of trauma injury and trauma death across all age groups, according to ZIBRIO's release, and the current cost of falls in people over 65 is $50 billion – which is expected to double.

"ZIBRIO is coming to market at a time when population health and prevention are key for Healthcare systems to generate outcomes. They have a strong team and an elegant solution to a complex problem that will help millions," Wolterman says in the release.

Inhance adds to its C-suite

Inhance Technologies has added an integral member to its leadership. Photo via inhancetechnologies.com

Inhance Technologies, an international provider of polymer material science solutions based in Houston, has named its new CFO. Andrew Leeser, previously at Cimarron Energy, has joined the company to lead global finance, accounting and treasury functions, as well as human resources and information technology.

"I'm delighted to welcome Andrew to the Inhance Technologies family. He has an excellent track record in organizations spanning a range of industries, and I'm sure that his experience will help us continue on our upward trajectory," says Andrew Thompson, president and CEO of Inhance Technologies, in a news release. "We look forward to working with him to build a bright future for the company and our customers as we help them make a conscious choice towards more sustainable plastics."

The company just recently announced its expansion, including another new C-level exec and a new 75,000-square-foot site in St. Louis.

"I'm very pleased to have joined Inhance Technologies and I look forward to helping the organization achieve its goals over the next few years. With the significant growth in demand for our fully recyclable barrier technology Enkaseä, as well as our global expansion, there is no doubt I'm joining the company at an exciting time," says Leeser in the release.

Houston fintech unicorn names new council

Meet the new council dedicated to supporting HighRadius's new platform. Photo via LinkedIn

HighRadius, a Houston-based fintech company that reached unicorn status last year, has announced the members of its advisory council for its new microlearning and community platform Highako Academy.

Bob Shultz, managing partner of Quote-to-Cash Consulting, will serve as chairman of the council.

Other council members include:

  • John LaRocca, Sr. Director of Global Credit, Hitachi Vantara
  • Roger Torneden, Director of Business, Management and Legal Programs for UCLA Extension
  • R. Britt Hastey, Chair, Business Administration Department, Los Angeles City College
  • Bruce Lynn, Managing Partner, the FENG LLC
  • Scott Blakeley, Partner, Blakeley LLP

The council "will identify and improve courseware, certification programs and the methods of delivery based on current and future industry and professional trends," according to an email from the company. Highako Academy is aimed at helping teams and customers develop critical industry skills.

"Our customers have asked us for an online self-service learning platform, and that led us to launch highako.com as a beta platform last year," says Urvish Vashi of HighRadius in a recent release. "With 10,000+ users on the platform and a vibrant partner ecosystem consisting of credit groups, collection agencies, attorneys and industry associations, we see this echoing a larger trend of millennials and Gen Z gravitating towards microlearning platforms."

Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston

Guest column

Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.

Tips to plan ahead:

  • Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
  • Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
  • Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
  • Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.

Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.

Preparing our network in Houston:

When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:

  • Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
  • Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
  • Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
  • Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.

Keeping first responders connected:

Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:

  • Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
  • Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.

Recovery and relief:

During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:

  • Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
  • Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
  • Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
  • Drones
  • A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
  • Hazmat equipment and supplies
  • Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts

Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.