Innovative health tech startups en route to Houston, says new accelerator leader

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

Devin Dunn leads TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, which is getting ready to welcome its next cohort in January. Photo via TMC.edu

For almost a decade the Texas Medical Center has been cultivating health tech innovation by accelerating life science startups. As it has evolved to meet the needs of both its early-stage companies and its member institutions, TMC Innovation has re-evaluated existing programming, introduced new initiatives, and on boarded leaders to represent the organization's mission — the latest of whom, is Devin Dunn.

Earlier this year, Dunn joined TMC Innovation as head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, a career move that represented Dunn's move to a different side of the startup world. As an early employee at London-based Huma, Dunn was instrumental in growing the health tech company from its early stages to international market expansion.

"I really like working with the dreamers and helping them work backwards to (figure out) what are the milestones we can work toward to make the grand vision come true in the future," Dunn says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The opportunity to work with different founders on that same journey that we had been through was really appealing."

Dunn oversees the accelerator, which has evolved from TMCx. The program offers health tech acceleration to two cohorts a year. Each group of startups is selected from around the world and invited to join the program — first at a bootcamp, a week long itinerary of meeting leadership from within TMC Innovation as well as its member institutions, before a smaller group of companies in invited to return to the TMC for six months of hands-on acceleration from the TMC.

Earlier this month, TMC Innovation hosted nine health tech companies at its fall bootcamp. Now, as Dunn explains, the team is extending invites to a select number of those companies and working on a set of objectives for each company to work on when they return to the TMC in January.

"We've had a week to learn about the companies, and they've had a week to learn about us and about Houston, and we'll come back to the table to see if it's a match," Dunn says. "Part of that process is developing a prescription, which is three to four key objectives we co-develop with the founders."

The selected companies will work with TMC Innovation as well as the greater TMC community on these objectives until May, when the whole process starts over with another set of companies in bootcamp. Across the board, Dunn says TMC Innovation is focused on providing support for startups looking for clinical validation — something all companies are challenged with at some point.

"One of the things our program focuses on a lot is opportunities for that clinical validation. How can you work with clinical champions, health systems, and various providers to get the clinical and efficacy data you need to show that your solution really does add value," Dunn says. "That's one of the hallmarks of our program."

Over the past few years, TMC Innovation has expanded its global presence by attracting international cohorts and forming relationships with other countries through what TMC calls their Biobridges. Dunn shares on the show about TMC's latest international initiative with InnovateUK on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

These three health tech startups are moving on in TMCi's accelerator program. Photo courtesy of TMC

TMC names 3 startups to Houston health tech accelerator

onboarding tech

Thee Texas Medical Center named three companies to its accelerator program. The health tech startups will join the program and make key connections to grow their technology and business.

Texas Medical Center Innovation announced this year's cohort for the TMC Innovation Accelerator for HealthTech. The companies attended TMCi's boot camp earlier this year before being named to the cohort.

“It is always exciting to introduce a new group of talented entrepreneurs into our community,” says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. “Each with their own goals, and at their individual stage, we’ll work closely together to help them learn, grow and navigate this rich clinical landscape. We are honored to be the bridge between these innovators and the world’s largest medical city.”

The selected startups include Oxford, United Kingdom-based CardMedic, which joins the program by way of TMC's UK BioBridge, an international partnership established to bring cutting-edge health tech startups to the United States by way of Houston. The company's technology is a digital "One Stop Communication Shop" — an extensive library of pre-written scripts that help staff and patients communicate across any barrier, including language, deafness, cognitive impairment, or disability.

“The opportunity to connect with Texas Medical Center member institutions, understand their problem domain, and in what ways that may differ from the United Kingdom is invaluable. We are really excited about learning from the expert team of strategic advisors at the TMCi Accelerator about areas we needed to focus on to grow our company in the United States,” says Rachael Grimaldi, co-founder and CEO of CardMedic.

Chicago-based CareAdvisors, which helps hospitals and clinical social workers connect patients to the best resources and benefits to address social care needs, also joins the TMCi accelerator. The company's technology, the Social Care Automation tool, enables hospitals to generate revenue from preventive health programs and helps health plans reduce overutilization by putting the focus on preventive care.

Roboligent, based in Austin, designs and manufactures robotic and automated physical therapy exercises for patients with upper and lowers limb musculoskeletal issues. This robotic-assisted rehab help promotes recovery while increasing rehab centers’ operational efficiency.

“Introducing a new and innovative product, especially in the medical device field, is a thorough and collaborative effort,” says Bongsu Kim, founder and CEO of Roboligent, in a news release. “TMC’s HealthTech Accelerator is the perfect place to make connections with experts and stakeholders to help guide us in reaching our next milestone.”

Researchers at the University of Houston are revolutionizing pulsed power systems and traditional MRI machines. Image via Pexels

Houston researchers are developing smaller scaled imaging machines

future of health tech

A team of researchers in Houston are developing the next generation of miniaturized pulsed power systems — a technology that was key to the creation of x-ray machines, then MRI machines, and more.

University of Houston researchers led by Harish Krishnamoorthy, Cullen College assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, are working to develop the next generation of miniaturized pulsed power systems. X-rays, MRIs, and similar technology are deeply intertwined with the nuclear age and the mid-20th century. Additionally, pulsed power systems have been used to create other military weapons, such as radar systems and rail guns.

The research is was published in IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics. In the paper, the researchers propose creating a mini-pulsed power system that can shrink the system’s energy storage components, such as capacitors, and deliver an immediate surge of power, a recent UH news release summarizes. According to the paper, energy storage can be reduced to less than one-tenth the size of what conventional pulsed power systems use.

“We’re essentially creating a small high-density energy storage machine that will help with reducing the space these machines use, which will save hundreds of thousands of dollars in material costs and improve their reliability,” Krishnamoorthy says.

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) awarded the research team a $1 million grant to build their gallium nitride (GaN)-based miniaturized pulsed power system. The team will be conducting the project alongside scientists from Harvard University and Schlumberger, who are sub-recipients of the grant.

“Initially we’ll make a compact pulsed power supply for extreme environment fluid characterization that can disruptively reduce the cost of downhole well logging tools used in fossil and geothermal energy production. This will be followed by a miniaturized converter suitable for mobile hand-held MRI machines. However, we think that we can extend our technology to make small water-purification systems, pulsed laser systems and pulsed electro-magnetic radiation sources,” says Krishnamoorthy.

DECISIO has fresh funding and a new board member. Photo via decisiohealth.com

Houston health tech company raises $18.5M, appoints new leadership

fresh funding

A Houston-based digital health startup has officially closed its latest funding round and has a new member to its leadership to support the company's next phase.

DECISIO has appointed Major General Elder Granger to the company's board of directors. Dr. Granger is currently president and CEO of The 5Ps LLC, a healthcare, education, and leadership consulting organization.

"Dr. Granger joining our board provides enormous value and validation for our company moving forward," says Dr. John Holcomb, co-CEO and co-founder of DECISIO, says in a news release. "His expertise and leadership in the healthcare industry is a welcome addition to our esteemed group of Board of Directors."

Dr. Granger previously served as the deputy director of TRICARE Management Activity, a Department of Defense field activity responsible for operating the Military Health System as a fully integrated healthcare system providing care for 9.2 million beneficiaries worldwide. He also serves on the board of directors for Cerner Corp., Cigna Corp., and DLH Holdings Corp.

In February, the company officially closed its $18.5 million series B. DECISIO has raised $31.5 million since it was founded in 2013. The funding raised will go toward commercialization, continued product development, and operations growth.

Decisio is a virtual care monitoring software that's based on technology licensed from and developed at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. Using real-time clinical surveillance with data visualization, the DECISIOInsight software can identify risk that helps clinicians make better patient care decisions virtually. In 2015, Decisio Health was approved by the Food and Drug Administration class II medical device, which made it the first FDA-cleared web-native software.

"Virtual Care is the next step beyond traditional telemedicine, which — for many years — was limited to having a teleconference or even just a phone call with a caregiver," Hancock previously told InnovationMap. "Now we can start sharing real-time clinical data with clinicians wherever they happen to be located."

DECISIO's flagship product is called InsightIQ, and earlier this month the company launched a new tool: EnvisionIQ, which provides templated real-time and customized compliance reports to improve operational efficiency.

Dr. Elder Granger previously oversaw the DoE's health care system. Photo courtesy

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startup raises $16M series A round

money moves

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health."

The company is reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed through its digital health program, GIThrive, which equips people with digestive issues with technology, advanced science, and on-demand support. Throughout 2021, Vivante Health grew its client base by 400 percent through the addition of key Fortune 500 clients as well as employer healthcare solutions. Through these partnerships, Vivante's potential member base encompasses over 500,000 covered lives, according to the news release.

Around one in four Americans live with a digestive disease, making for a $136 billion market — and Vivante is addressing this need. The company reported that 87 percent of members stated they better managed their digestive symptoms, according to a recent poll, and 83 percent of members said they felt healthier. From a corporate client side, Vivante allows for reductions in direct medical cost, resulting in a 3 to 1 ROI for a large employer organizations.

"The current experience for individuals with GI disorders is at a minimum inadequate and frustrating, and for many, debilitating. To no surprise, over 40 percent of people with a GI condition are dissatisfied with their care," said Robert Garber, Partner at 7wireVentures. "Vivante is on a mission to change that. We are thrilled to partner with the company at a true inflection point in their growth story and accelerate access to a proven, evidence-based model that drastically improves the consumer experience while reducing costs for employers.

In 2020, Vivante raised a $5.8 million series A1. The company was founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneur Kimon Angelides, who recently launched a new business called FemTec Health.

Breathe easy. HiccAway relieves hiccups instantly. HiccAway/Instagram

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.