From smart home technology to higher education institutions, these leaders are pushing forward innovation in Houston. Courtesy photos

Another week, another set of Houston innovators to keep your eye on. This week's edition crosses retail technology with higher education — both on this planet and beyond.

From tech that's orbiting the planet to tech that's in your very home, here are the Houston-based innovators to know.

Leah Barton, North American commercial director for Hive

Leah Barton oversees Hive's growing North American efforts from the Houston office. Courtesy of Hive

United Kingdom-based Hive, a smart product company, has bet on Houston as its battle ground for growth in the United States. The company recently tasked Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019 and focus on this growth. Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says. Continue reading the story about Hive and Barton's plans for expansion by clicking here.

David Alexander, director of the Rice University Space Institute

David Alexander of the Rice University Space Institute says Houston's past accomplishments in space aren't all the Space City has to offer. Photo courtesy of Rice University

For David Alexander, director of the Rice University Space Institute, Houston's role in space exploration is far from over. In fact, even though it's been 50 years since Neil Armstrong phoned home to Houston from the moon, he argues that this moment is not all the Space City has to celebrate.

"In Houston, we tend to think of space as a destination, but it really is a resource," he says. "And we need to be thinking about it as a resource." Read the complete interview with Alexander by clicking here.

Paul Pavlou, dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston

Paul Pavlou has been named as the dean of C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston. Courtesy of UH

Success is in the details for this new University of Houston C.T. Bauer College of Business dean, Paul Pavlou, who began his UH career earlier this month. Pavlou has a passion for higher education and the doors it has opened for him.

"My life was transformed by higher education," Pavlou says. "So, I feel the need to give back in terms of helping other students — especially of modest means like myself to do well in life and get a good job."

Pavlou has multidisciplinary efforts on his mind, as well as data and technology integration within the school's programs. To read more about Pavlou, click here.

United Kingdom-based smart technology company, Hive, chose Houston as the city to grow its United States presence. Photo courtesy of Hive

UK-based smart home products company focuses on Houston growth

Home sweet home tech

Hive, a smart product company with headquarters in the United Kingdom, has zoned in on Houston for growth in the United States. Drawn to the city's diverse population and tech growth, the company also has a preexisting connection to Direct Energy, which has a large footprint in Houston.

The two companies are connected under the umbrella of parent company Centrica, which is also based in the U.K. Most recently, the company appointed Leah Barton as North American Commercial Director to serve in the Houston office as of June 2019.

Barton tells InnovationMap that she feels Houston is increasingly becoming an innovation hub.

"We know we've got the technical talent, we've got people who are interested in technology, whether it's from the medical angle, energy angle, aerospace angle," she says.

Hive has been in Houston since 2017, but recently, especially with the appointment of Burton, the company has amped up its Houston presence.

"We're looking for solutions that engage the whole home, so in the 21st century a smart home is a key component of whole-home energy management and comfort management," says Barton.

In May 2019, the company launched security product packs into the Houston market. These packs combine a number of Hive products, including an indoor package, and outdoor package, and a combination pack. The packages include a camera, a light monitoring system, and sensors for doors and windows to capture any activity.

"Those very much had a home automation component to it, but also a peace of mind component," says Barton.

Hive plans to bring the smart products that have done well in its U.K market to its United States markets, including Houston. These products would be focused on ensuring air conditioners, heating units, boilers, are working correctly.

"We've been testing this air conditioning proposition with some of our home service providers within the broader Direct Energy network, that's what we're most excited to launch in the second half of the year," says Barton. "This air conditioning diagnostic product will give people advance warning if their air conditioning is going to run into trouble and will let them address it before it's too late and they are in a 'no cool' situation."

The Houston office is located in Greenway Plaza and the company currently has 25 employees in the United States, most who are based in Houston. Globally, Hive has a team of 500.

The companies most popular product is the smart thermostat, the product which the company was founded around and has remained a top seller. According to the website, the thermostat can be controlled from the user's smartphone. Through the Hive app, which launched in 2013, users can set daily schedules for the temperature as well as turn the unit on and off.

"Over time we've expanded that, we sell our own smart plugs, bulbs, sensors," says Peter Filcek, business development director for Hive. "Customers said they wanted more so we launched absolutely beautiful cameras about two years ago."

"Everything that we have brought to market, everything that we've built, is based on a real deep understanding of the problems and needs that our customers have," Filcek tells InnovationMap.

Hive products are available online anywhere in the United States or Canada.


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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.