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

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.

Veronica Wu, who moved to Houston from Silicon Valley last year, has launched a new venture capital firm to help accelerate synthetic biology startups. Photo courtesy of First Bight Ventures

Former Apple exec starts Houston-based VC firm focused on synthetic biology

new to hou

Calling all startups with synthetic biology solutions — there's a new venture capital firm looking to invest in you.

Veronica Wu has announced the launch of First Bight Ventures, a new VC firm focused exclusively on early-stage synthetic biology startups.

“Synthetic Biology aims to take parts of natural biology systems to produce organisms/cells/biological systems with novel or enhanced characteristics. It sits at the convergence of technology and biology, and provides us a powerful tool to address some of the biggest challenges humanity faces, like cancer/incurable diseases, sustainability and climate change," Wu says in a news release.

Wu has over 20 years of experience in managerial positions at tech companies like Apple, Tesla, and Motorola, and she served as a founding team member of McKinsey & Company’s Greater China office's business technology practice.

As an investor, Wu has funded 300 early-stage tech companies in the past six years. She's seen her portfolio companies reach major accomplishments, including 34 unicorns, six SPACs, and four IPOs to date, per the release.

She's betting on synthetic biology by launching First Bight Ventures — the first and only VC firm completely devoted to this field. The firm has already struck up a partnership with Ginkgo Bioworks, a leading synthetic biology platform provider.

"The potential applications are far reaching in scope as well as impact.” Wu says. “Presently, we stand at a significant inflection point. Synthetic Biology is to 2022 what the ‘.com’ era was to the 90s.”

Wu is a relative newcomer to Houston. She made the move from Silicon Valley to the Bayou City in the middle of 2021. She plans to leverage Houston's market to incubate these startups locally, according to the release.

“Houston is well positioned to become a major center for synthetic biology with its existing talent, industries, and capital," she says.

These five InnovationMap stories were the most read of 2021. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Here are Houston's top 5 health innovation stories of 2021

2021 in review

Editor's note: As 2021 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. When it came to the health care innovation and technology — whether it's a Q&A with a health tech entrepreneur or a digital health startup raising funds — in Houston, five stories trended among readers.

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

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

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. Click here to read the full article.

Houston founder talks growth and innovation in the pharmaceuticals industry

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

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. Click here to read the full article.

Report: Houston ranks among the worst cities for unnecessary medical treatments

Houston hospitals have been reported to have an excess of unnecessary health care tests and procedures. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Houston boasts of being home to the Texas Medical Center, the world's biggest medical complex. Yet Houston's medical community also holds a distinction that's hardly boast-worthy: It's the worst major metro area in Texas for unnecessary health care tests and procedures.

A study released May 4 by the Lown Institute, a health care think tank, shows hospitals in the Houston area collectively fare worse than their counterparts in Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin for overuse of tests and procedures that the institute says offer little to no benefit.

To come up with its ranking, the institute looked at Medicare data for more than 1 million tests and procedures performed at over 3,100 U.S. hospitals from 2016 to 2018. Among the overused tests and procedures identified in the study are hysterectomy for benign disease, placement of coronary stents for stable heart disease, and diagnostic tests like head imaging for fainting.

"Overuse in American hospitals is a pervasive problem that needs to be addressed," Dr. Vikas Saini, president of the Lown Institute, says in a news release. "Hospitals want to do better, and these objective measures of performance can help them move forward." Click here to read the full article.

These are the 7 newest health tech companies to join TMCx

After a virtual bootcamp, the TMCx team selected seven startups to move forward in the accelerator. Photo courtesy of TMC

Last year, TMCx, the Texas Medical Center's health tech startup accelerator pivoted to digital programming.

The accelerator revamped its program to allow for an initial Bootcamp stage that would bring in a larger group of startups and then, after the boot camp, the program would move forward with a smaller group through the official acceleration process.

"We hosted 21 companies, representing six countries and 10 states, who each engaged with subject matter experts, clinical leaders, and corporate partners," writes Emily Reiser, senior manager of Innovation Community Engagement at TMC Innovation, in a blog post. "Over half of which ended Bootcamp in advanced discussions with hospitals and/or corporate partners." Click here to read the full article.

Houston biotech startup announces merger and $10M series A

A biotech startup focused on developing therapeutics for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases has some big news to share. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company has emerged from stealth mode to announce a merger and a round of financing.

Coya Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotech startup that focuses on creating therapeutics for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases, announced that it has completed a merger with Nicoya Health Inc. and raised $10 million in its series A. The round was led by Florida-based Allele Capital Partners LLC. Howard Berman, founder and board of directors for imaware, has been named CEO of Coya, as well as a member of the company's board of directors.

Coya's therapeutics uses innovative work from Dr. Stanley H. Appel, co-director of Houston Methodist Neurological Institute and Chair of the Stanley H. Appel Department of Neurology at Houston Methodist Hospital. The researcher has created a way to "isolate dysfunctional Tregs from a patient, convert them to a highly functional and neuroprotective condition, and expand these cells into the billions for intravenous reinfusion back to the patient," says Berman in a news release. This revolutionary work overcomes previous limitations in the field.

"I'm excited to have the opportunity to lead Coya at such an exciting and pivotal phase of growth," Berman says. "Through our sponsored research program in conjunction with Dr. Appel, we look forward to continuing advancement of this promising work and translating this work into a meaningful therapy for patients." Click here to read the full article.

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Houston synthetic biology VC grows team ahead of foundry launch

future of tech

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

NASA taps Houston companies for revolutionary spacesuit project

gear up

Two startups — including Houston-based Axiom Space — have been tasked with helping NASA gear up for human space exploration at the International Space Station and on the moon as part of a spacesuit deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

NASA recently picked Axiom and Collins Aerospace to help advance spacewalking capabilities in low-earth orbit and on the moon by outfitting astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. While headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins has a significant presence in the Houston Spaceport.

This deal will help support landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as part of NASA’s return to our lunar neighbor. The equipment also will help NASA prepare for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, NASA, Axiom and Collins “will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

Axiom and Collins were chosen under an umbrella contract known as Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS). The contract carries a potential value of $3.5 billion.

Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom, says his company’s “innovative approach to xEVAS spacesuits provides NASA with an evolvable design that enables cost-efficient development, testing, training, deployment, and real-time operations to address a variety of EVA needs and operational scenarios for a range of customers, including NASA.”

Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development, and A-P-T Research.

NASA says Axiom and Collins will own the spacesuits, and are being encouraged to explore non-NASA commercial applications for data and technology they co-develop with the space agency.

The EVA & Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center is managing the xEVAS contract.

NASA astronauts have needed updated spacesuits for years.

“The decades-old spacesuit designs currently in use on the International Space Station are well past their prime. NASA had been working on new suits and showed off a patriotic prototype of a moonwalking outfit — called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU — back in 2019,” according to CNET.

A 2021 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General called out delays in developing the spacesuits that would make a proposed 2024 human moon landing unfeasible, CNET says. Now, Axiom and Collins, instead of NASA, will create the spacesuits. Demonstration-ready spacesuits are supposed to be ready in 2025.

The spacesuit deal is the latest in a string of milestones for Axiom.

Axiom recently broke ground on its new headquarters at Houston Spaceport. There, the company will build Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.

Axiom also recently welcomed home the crew of Axiom Mission 1 after their successful completion of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The crew came back to earth in a SpaceX capsule. The company has signed agreements with several countries, including Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates, for future space missions.

Axiom recently tapped Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei as its first international professional astronaut. He currently is being trained in Houston and will serve as a backup on Axiom Mission 2.

Founded in 2016, Axiom employs more than 500 people, most of whom work in Houston. The company expects its workforce to exceed 1,000 employees by 2023.

To date, Axiom has raised $150 million in venture capital.

Houston sportstech-focused lab wraps up inaugural cohort, opens apps for fall

houston innovators podcast episode 141

Houston is having a moment when it comes to sports. Fresh off the announcement of Houston being selected as a FIFA World Cup host in 2026 and just a year away from hosting another NCAA Final Four, the city is also home to a growing sportstech hub.

And one new Houston company, Pokatok, is hoping it can help support the local sports innovation community. Pokatok, which is part of the same business family as InnovationMap and Gow Media, was founded to create momentum in local sportstech activity, Kate Evinger says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Our mission is to help be a partner with all the exciting things happening in Houston — from the startup entrepreneurship side to the things we're seeing in the sports community — to continue to elevate and uplift the voices here in addition to bringing folks in from all over the world to celebrate the human experience in sports and to continue driving innovation in this space," she says on the show.

One of the ways the company is spurring sports innovation is through Pokatok Labs, a scale-up program for seed and series A startups in the sportstech space. Evinger, who leads the program as director, says the inaugural cohort has wrapped up — and the team is already accepting applications for the fall program, which will run September 20 through November 18.

"We are looking for anything and everything under the sun within sportstech — even if you're the founder of a company that may have ties to sports but you're not sure, we're happy to have that conversation," Evinger says. "It could be nutrition, health and wellness, athlete performance, fan engagement, or smart venue."

Evinger shares more about Pokatok Labs and the potential she sees for Houston to continue evolving as a hub for sports innovation on the podcast.

Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.