The Artemis Fund has announced that it's closed its second fund. Courtesy photos

A women-led venture capital group based in Houston has closed its second fund to continue its mission of supporting female-founded startups in fintech, commerce, and care.

The Artemis Fund announced its $36 million second fund this month. Co-founded in 2019 by General Partner Stephanie Campbell, General Partner Diana Murakhovskaya, and Venture Partner Leslie Goldman Tepper, the firm has invested in more than 20 female-led startups — with over 60 percent with Black, Latinx, or immigrant leadership.

"Many funds have come to market that focus on diverse founders. Few are also funding the technology to address key barriers faced by overlooked businesses, communities, and families in the U.S.," Artemis leadership writes in a news release.

"Artemis invests in the big personal, every day, economic problems that Silicon Valley doesn’t understand or know how to solve," the release continues. "We see massive opportunity in what many VCs will quickly write off as too small, too fragmented, and too hard to solve. If it keeps families and small business owners up at night, we are likely backing a company solving it."

Artemis Fund II includes support from limited partners Bank of America, Bank of Montreal, TIAA Nuveen’s Churchill Asset Management, Texas Capital Bank, Amazon, The Rockwell Fund, and Ballentine Partners.

“The Artemis Fund is not only breaking down barriers themselves, but they are also investing in companies looking to catalyze change," Hong Ogle, Houston president at Bank of America, says in the release. "Artemis keenly understands how to identify and support diverse entrepreneurs, which ultimately helps us toward achieving our goal to advance economic opportunity for all our communities."

The second fund has already made investments in five startups:

  • Alameda, California-based Hello Divorce, a tech-enabled guide to divorce with research, planning, therapy, and community support.
  • Gemist, based in Los Angeles, provides tech tools to jewelers.
  • West Palm Beach, Florida-based Max Retail, a platform to sell leftover inventory.
  • Payverse, headquartered in Sherman Oaks, California, is a cross border payment processor leveraging their modern processing platform.
  • New York-based Builder's Patch, a software platform that streamlines the process to finance the development and preservation of affordable multifamily housing for CRE lenders and developers.

Eleven business leaders were selected for a new entrepreneurship-focused council for Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University taps 11 Houston business leaders for new entrepreneurship council

leadership council

Rice University has named 11 successful business leaders with ties Houston to its inaugural council focused on entrepreneurship.

Frank Liu, a Rice alumnus and founder of the Rice University Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, recruited the entrepreneurs to the council, and each has agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs, according to the university.

Members of the council, known as the Lilie’s Leadership Council or LLC, individuals have experience in a variety of fields, from the industrial and automotive sectors to local government and public radio.

"I owe much of my entrepreneurial success to opportunities I had while at Rice University,” Liu says in a statement. “I can't imagine the heights students today can achieve with the resources that now exist through Lilie. Over the last several years, as the No. 1 ranked Graduate Entrepreneurship program in the country, we have seen exponential growth in student engagement, and we have witnessed the life-changing technologies—tackling big problems in industries like energy and healthcare—bred within Lilie classes and programs. I am thankful for the commitment of Lilie's Leadership Council for propelling these founders from the classroom to the community and building the next generation of Houston's economy.”

LCC's inaugural cohort includes:

  • Sandy P. Aron: president of Hunington Properties who has served on the boards of the St. Francis Episcopal Day School of Houston, Congregation Beth Israel of Houston and Jones Partnership at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business
  • John Chao, vice president and managing director of Westlake Innovations and board member of Westlake Corp. The Rice alumnus previously served as COO of New York Public Radio and partner in the strategy and finance practice at McKinsey & Co.
  • Shoukat Dhanani, CEO of Sugar Land-based Dhanani Group Inc., a family owned and operated business conglomerate
  • Lorin Gu, founding partner of Recharge Capital and the founding chair of the Global Future Council at the Peterson Institute of International Economics
  • Earl Hesterberg, former CEO of Group 1 Automotive and former group vice president of North America marketing, sales and service for Ford Motor Co., who is currently chairing the capital campaign at Kids Meal Inc. in Houston.
  • Robert T. Ladd, chairman and chief executive of Stellus Capital Investment Corp. who is also chairman of the board of trustees of Rice and a member of the advisory council for the UT Health's McGovern Medical School
  • Frank Liu, co-founder and co-owner of Lovett Industrial and the founder and owner of Lovett Commercial, Lovett Homes and InTown Homes
  • Charlie Meyer, CEO of Lovett Industrial who formerly served as managing director at Hines Interests in Houston and director of construction and development for NewQuest Properties. He currently serves on the board of directors for Generation One and NAIOP Houston.
  • Hong Ogle, president of Bank of America Houston and Southeast/Southwest Division Executive for Bank of America Private Bank who serves on the board of Greater Houston Partnership and Central Houston Inc. and chairs the Bank of America Charitable Foundation in Houston.
  • Annise Parker, Houston’s 61st mayor who is currently CEO of the Victory Fund, a nonprofit devoted to electing pro-equality, pro-choice LGBTQ+ leaders to public office
  • Gary Stein, CEO of Triple-S Steel Holdings who serves on the American Institute of Steel Construction Board and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors

Over the summer, Lilie and Rice's Office of Innovation also announced its 2023 cohort of Innovation Fellows. The program, open to Rice faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students, provides support to move innovation out of labs and into commercialization and up to $20,000 in funding.

Earlier this year, Lilie also launched a new startup accelerator program for students called the Summer Venture Studio, which ran from May through August.
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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.