Houston-based Steradian Technologies founder Asma Mirza took home third place at the annual awards. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

A female-focused pitch competition named its top health tech startups for the fifth year running.

Ignite Healthcare Network, a Houston nonprofit founded on the mission of supporting women in health care, hosted its annual Fire Pitch Competition on November 9 at the Ion, crowning the award recipients and doling out cash prizes.

This year, Ignite accelerated 19 female health tech founders through its program that connects entrepreneurs with mentors and industry professionals. The program concludes with a select number of finalists presenting at the Fire Pitch event.

This year, eight finalists presented at the competition for judges and an audience:

  • Suchismita Acharya, CEO of Fort Worth-based AyuVis, an immunotherapy platform that's developing treatments and prevention for inflammatory and infectious diseases, specifically of the lung, kidney, skin, eye, and sepsis.
  • Piyush Modak, co-founder, vice president of research and development of New Jersey-based EndoMedix, a technology platform developing engineered biosurgery devices that address clinical needs. The first device based on this platform is PlexiClotTM Absorbable Hemostat for brain and spinal surgery.
  • Somer Baburek, co-founder and CEO of San Antonio-based HERAbiotech, which is developing a non-surgical, molecular diagnostic test for endometriosis.
  • Melissa Bowley, founder of Flourish Care, a B2B health services platform and network addressing maternal health disparities and improve outcomes. The Boston company works with health systems and insurance companies..
  • Patty Lee, co-founder and CEO of Orbit Health, a Munich-based company that uses AI and sensor technologies to develop digital health solutions for the management of Parkinson's.
  • Tawny Hammett, chief revenue officer of New York-based Paloma Health, a patient-focused technology providing holistic approach to thyroid care all from the comfort of home.
  • Meghan Doyle, CEO and co-founder of Chicago-based Partum Health, a company focused on combining specialty reproductive care, including mental health, lactation, nutrition, physical therapy, birth doula support, and more.
  • Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Steradian Technologies, creator of the RUMI, a medical device that's providing diagnostic accessibility.

Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite, and her partners presented several prizes and awards, including naming the winners — EndoMedix won first place, Hera Biotech secured second place, and Steradian Technologies was awarded third place.

In addition to naming the three top companies, the following prizes were doled out:

  • Memorial Hermann presented AyuVis with a certificate indicating interest in a potential partnership.
  • Golden Seeds awarded a $1,000 cash prize and three hours of mentoring to Steradian Technologies.
  • Texas Children's Hospital presented Flourish Care with a certificate indicating interest in a potential partnership.
  • Southwest-Midwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium awarded Hera Biotech with $20,000.
  • Houston Methodist awarded each of the three top companies with mentorship from innovation leadership.
  • JLabs presented EndoMedix with a one-year virtual residency.
  • Donna Peters, founder of The Me Suite and mentor for Ignite, presented Hera Biotech with three coaching sessions.

Last year, Joanna Nathan, CEO of Houston-based Prana Thoracic, won the top award for her company. The company went on to raise a $3 million seed round.

Earlier this year, McCracken sat down with InnovationMap to share how she's grown the program over the past five years — and why she's so passionate about what she does.

"Having an impact in the health care industry and finding solutions is important to me," McCracken says on an episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The second aspect of that is there are so many women in health care, and yet you don't see them in leadership roles."

Meet the female health tech founders being accelerated by Ignite Healthcare this year. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Houston health tech accelerator names annual cohort ahead of its pitch competition

female founders

Last month, a Houston organization dedicated to supporting female founders in health care kicked off its 2023 accelerator with cohort participants from across the country.

Ignite Healthcare Network, based in Houston, is a nonprofit founded on the mission of supporting women in health care. Ignite established its 12-week accelerator program to help advance and connect female health tech founders with mentors and potential clients as their startups scale.

"We have 19 founders doing great work, and we have them matched with three to four advisors helping to mentor them," Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite tells InnovationMap. "We also have a virtual learning program, which is new this year, and we have two sessions of those a week."

The programming is curated to tackle the health tech industry's biggest topics and provide advice for a small group of engaged startups, McCracken explains. In its fifth year now, the program has a large group of partners that are involved.

"We've had 91 companies come through our program in the last fours years," McCracken says. "They've raised over $550 million."

The cohort concludes on November 9 with the Fire Pitch Competition at the Ion, where a handful of finalists — selected by Ignite's team of mentors — will present to win the top award.

This year's cohort includes:

  • Somer Baburek, CEO and co-founder of Hera Biotech
  • Sue Carr, president and founder of CarrTech Corp
  • Suchismita Acharya, CEO, chief strategy officer, and co-founder of AyuVis
  • Asma Mirza, CEO and founder of Steradian Technologies
  • J’Vanay Santos, CEO and founder of MyLÚA Health
  • Maureen Brown, CEO and co-founder of Mosie Baby
  • Elizabeth Friedman, president and founder of Safen Medical Products
  • Meghan Doyle, CEO and co-founder of Partum Health
  • Marina Tarasova, COO and co-founder of Paloma Health
  • Melissa Bowley, CEO and founder of Flourish Care
  • Molly Hegarty, CEO and founder of Junum
  • Patty Lee, CEO and co-founder of Orbit Health
  • Piyush Modak, Vice President of R&D and co-founder of EndoMedix
  • Debbie Chen, CEO and founder of Hydrostasis
  • Rachael Grimaldi, CEO and co-founder of CardMedic
  • Rachna Dhamija, CEO of Ejenta
  • Carolyn Treviño Jenkins, CEO and co-founder of We Are Here
  • Lyn Markey, CEO and co-founder of XTremedy
  • Camille O’Malley, CTO and co-founder of XTremedy
Last year, Joanna Nathan, CEO of Houston-based Prana Thoracic, won the top award for her company.
Mara McFadden (left), CEO of Endolumik, took home the top prize at the Ignite Fire Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Houston organization doles out over $775,000 in prizes to women-led health tech startups

and the winner is

After virtual and postponed events, Ignite Healthcare Network finally got to honor its 2021 cohort and name the annual winners.

The Fifth Annual Fire Pitch Competition was slated to take place last November, but was postponed to January. Affected by the Delta and then Omicron variants of COVID-19, the event finally got to return to in-person networking and pitches on Thursday, March 3.

"The opportunity to bring people together is a really different level of engagement and energy," Ayse McCracken, founder and board chair of Ignite, says ahead of the awards event. "We love seeing the energy that's being generated in Houston around innovation — and particularly health care innovation."

Seven companies pitched and three were awarded monetary prizes. Morgantown, West Virginia-based Endolumik, which has developed a patent-pending fluorescence-guided device to improve visualization and safety of robotic and laparoscopic bariatric operations, took home the top prize, which included a total of $500,000 in investment prizes from the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health.

Second place was awarded to Rx Bandz of Locust Valley, New York. The company created the MiniJect, the world’s smallest military-grade auto-injector designed to deliver a wide range of injectable medication, and was awarded $250,000 from the Texas Halo Fund and $25,000 from The Southwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium.

San Antonio-based Hera Biotech took third place and was awarded a pilot program prize with Banner Health. Hera has developed the first non-surgical, tissue-based test capable of diagnosing endometriosis.

Ignite taps into Houston health care institutions to provide opportunities for its cohort of companies. According to a news release, this year’s partner organizations included Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, The Menninger Clinic, Banner Health, Kindred Healthcare, Aetna, Commonwealth Care Alliance, BLUE KC, Hospital for Special Surgery, Summit Health, TMC Ventures, Texas Heart Institute, Golden Seeds, Portfolia, The Artemis Fund, Wavemaker 360 Health, Prosalus Capital Partners, 7Wire Ventures, Texas Halo Fund, Unity Point Ventures and others.

The judges who evaluated the competition’s panel of companies included:

  • Jay Goss, MBA General Partner, Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health
  • Amanda Hammel, Chief Information Officer, Memorial Hermann Health System
  • Karen Hill, MD, MBA, SVP and Chief Medical Officer, Texas Children’s Health Plan
  • Tom Luby, PhD, Director, Texas Medical Center Innovation Institute
  • Fiona Mack, PhD, Head of JLABS @TMC
  • Roberta Schwartz, PhD, EVP and Chief Innovation Officer, Houston Methodist Hospital
  • Andrew Truscott, Global Health Technology Lead, Accenture
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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.