Houston House at SXSW 2024 featured conversations about startup scaling, tips from CEOs, and more. Photo via Allie Danziger/LinkedIn

Houston innovators talked big topics at SXSW 2024 — from the startup scaling and converging industries to the future of work.

Houston House, which was put on by the Greater Houston Partnership on March 11, hosted four panels full of experts from Houston. If you missed the day-long activation, here are some highlights from the experts who each commented on the future of the Bayou City when it comes to startups, technology, innovation, and the next generation's workforce.

"When we think about Houston, we think about access to at-scale infrastructure, amenities, and workforce and talent pools."

— Remington Tonar, co-founder and chief growth officer at Cart.com, says about why the company chose to return its headquarters back to Houston last year. One of these amenities, Tonar explained, is Houston's global airports.

"If New York and Austin had a baby, it would be Houston, because you have friendly people with a big-city culture."

— Mitra Miller, vice president and board member of Houston Angel Network, says, adding that Houston has a cost efficiency to it, which should be at the forefront of founders' minds when considering where to locate.

"We are not only attracting global talents, we are also attracting global wealth and foreign investments because we are the rising city of the future. We are the global launch pad where you can scale internationally very quickly."

— Sunny Zhang, founder of TrueLeap, says adding how there's a redistribution of global workforce happening when you consider ongoing global affairs.

"We overwhelmingly as a company, and my co-founder would agree, knew we had to go the Houston path. And we started funneling a lot more resources here."

— Carolyn Rodz, co-founder and CEO of Hello Alice, says, explaining that the pandemic helped equalize the talent across the country, and this has been to the benefit of cities like Houston.

"Houston is here with arms open, welcoming people and actively recruiting."

— Sean Kelly, co-founder and CEO of Amperon, says, emphasizing how Texas has made moves to being business friendly. Amperon was founded in New York, before moving to Houston a couple years ago.

"There is a revolution starting to happen in Houston right now."

— Trevor Best, co-founder and CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics, says, first commenting on the momentum from Rice University, where his company's technology originates from. But, as he adds, when you compare the ecosystem when the startup was founded in 2019 to where it's at now, "there is so much more happening."

"Houston has a critical mass in terms of aerospace."

— Stephanie Munez Murphy of Aegus Aerospace says, saying specifically that NASA's Johnson Space Center holds some responsibility for that. "JSC is the home of opening up space commercialization."

"There's diversity in industries people are coming from, but also in terms of experience and expertise that (Houstonians) have."

— Robyn Cardwell of Omniscience says, adding that Houston's diversity goes further than just where people originate from. "Houston has all these pieces put together ... for growing and scaling organizations," she adds.

"I've worked with thousands of students in Houston who are actively looking to better themselves and grow their career post college or post high school and go into the workforce."

— Allie Danziger of Ascent Funding says, adding that Gen Z, which is already entering the workforce, is entrepreneurial and ready to change the world. "Seeing the energy of Houstonians is just thrilling," she adds.

"We're working together in the Houston community. ... There are so many opportunities to collaborate but we need conveners." 

— Stacy Putman of INEOS says, adding that within industry there has been a lack of discussion and collaboration because of competition. But, as she's observing, that's changing thanks to conveners at colleges or at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"The opportunity for Houston is that everybody has to step up to be in some way, shape, or form helping us with this."

— Raj Salhotra of Momentum Education says about supporting the future workforce of Houston, including low-income household students.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen, shared his entrepreneurial journey on the SXSW stage this year. Photo courtesy of the Greater Houston Partnership

7 lessons from a Houston-based unicorn startup founder

taking notes

At a fireside chat at SXSW, a Houston founder pulled back the curtain on his entrepreneurial journey that's taken him from an idea of how to make the chemicals industry more sustainable to a company valued at over $2 billion.

Gaurab Chakrabarti, the CEO and co-founder of Solugen, joined the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House at SXSW on Monday, March 13, for a discussion entitled, "Building a Tech Unicorn." In the conversation with Payal Patel, principal of Softeq Ventures, he share the trials and tribulations from the early days of founding Solugen. The company, which has raised over $600 million since its founding in 2016, has an innovative and carbon negative process of creating plant-derived substitutes for petroleum-based products.

The event, which quickly reached capacity with eager SXSW attendees, allowed Chakrabarti to instill advice on several topics — from early customer acquisition and navigating VC investing to finding the right city to grow in and setting up a strong company culture.

Here are seven pieces of startup advice from Chakrabarti's talk.

1. Don’t be near a black hole.

Chakrabarti began his discussion addressing the good luck he's had standing up Solugen. He's the first to admit that luck is an important element to his success, but he says, as a founder, you can set yourself up for luck in a handful of ways.

“You do make your own luck, but you have to be putting in the work to do it," Chakrabarti says, adding that it's not an easy thing to accomplish. “There are things you can be doing to increase your luck surface area."

One of the principals he notes on is not surrounding yourself with black holes. These are people who don't believe in your idea, or your ability to succeed, Chakrabarti explains, referencing a former dean who said he was wasting his talent on his idea for Solugen.

2. The co-founder dynamic is the most important thing.

Early on, Chakrabarti emphasizes how important having a strong co-founder relationship is, crediting Solugen's co-founder and CTO Sean Hunt for being his "intellectual ping-pong partner."

“If you have a co-founder, that is the thing that’s going to make or break your company,” he says. “It’s not your idea, and it’s not your execution — it’s your relationship with your co-founder.”

Hunt and Chakrabarti have been friends for 12 years, Chakrabarti says, and, that foundation and the fact that they've been passionate about their product since day one, has been integral for Solugen's success.

"We had a conviction that we were building something that could be impactful to the rest of the world," he says.

3. Confirm a market of customers early on.

Chakrabarti says that in the early days of starting his company, he didn't have a concept of startup accelerators or other ways to access funding — he just knew he had to get customers to create revenue as soon as possible.

He learned about the growing float spa industry, and how a huge cost for these businesses was peroxide that was used to sanitize the water in the floating pods. Chakrabarti and Hunt had created a small amount of what they were calling bioperoxide that they could sell at a cheaper cost to these spas and still pocket a profit.

“We ended up owning 80 percent of the float spa market,” Chakrabarti says. “That taught us that, ‘wow, there’s something here.”

While it was unglamourous work to call down Texas float spas, his efforts secured Solugen's first 100 or so customers and identified a path to profitability early on.

“Find your niche market that allows you to justify that your technology or product that has a customer basis,” Chakrabarti says on the lesson he learned through this process.

4. Find city-company fit.

While Chakrabarti has lived in Houston most of his life, the reason Solugen is headquartered in Houston is not due to loyalty of his hometown.

In fact, Chakrabarti shared a story of how a potential seed investor asked Chakrabarti and Hunt to move their company to the Bay Area, and the co-founders refused the offer and the investment.

“There’s no way our business could succeed in the Bay Area," Chakrabarti says. He and Hunt firmly believed this at the time — and still do.

“For our business, if you look at the density of chemical engineers, the density of our potential customers, and the density of people who know how to do enzyme engineering, Houston happened to be that perfect trifecta for us," he explains.

He argues that every company — software, hardware, etc. — has an opportunity to find their ideal city-company fit, something that's important to its success.

5. Prove your ability to execute.

When asked about pivots, Chakrabarti told a little-known story of how Solugen started a commercial cleaning brand. The product line was called Ode to Clean, and it was marketed as eco-friendly peroxide wipes. At the time, Solugen was just three employees, and the scrappy team was fulfilling orders and figuring out consumer marketing for the first time.

He says his network was laughing at the idea of Chakrabarti creating this direct-to-consumer cleaning product, and it was funny to him too, but the sales told another story.

At launch, they sold out $1 million of inventory in one week. But that wasn't it.

“Within three months, we got three acquisition offers," Chakrabarti says.

The move led to a brand acquisition of the product line, with the acquirer being the nation's largest cleaning wipe provider. It meant three years of predictable revenue that de-risked the business for new investors — which were now knocking on Solugen's door with their own investment term sheets.

“It told the market more about us as a company,” he says. “It taught the market that Solugen is a company that is going to survive no matter what. … And we’re a team that can execute.”

What started as a silly idea led to Solugen being one step closer to accomplishing its long-term goals.

“That pivot was one of the most important pivots in the company’s history that accelerated our company’s trajectory by four or five years," Chakrabarti says.

6. Adopt and maintain a miso-management style.

There's one lesson Chakrabarti says he learned the hard way, and that was how to manage his company's growing team. He shares that he "let go of the reins a bit" at the company's $400-$500 million point. He says that, while there's this idea that successful business leaders can hire the best talent that allows them to step back from the day-to-day responsibilities, that was not the right move for him.

“Only founders really understand the pain points of the business," Chakrabarti says. "Because it’s emotionally tied to you, you actually feel it."

Rather than a micro or macro-management style, Chakrabarti's describes his leadership as meso-management — something in between.

The only difference, Chakrabarti says, is how he manages his board. For that group, he micromanages to ensure that they are doing what's best for his vision for Solugen.

7. Your culture should be polarizing.

Chakrabarti wrapped up his story on talking about hiring and setting up a company culture for Solugen. The company's atmosphere is not for everyone, he explains.

“If you’re not polarizing some people, it’s not a culture,” Chakrabarti says, encouraging founders to create a culture that's not one size fits all.

He says he was attracted to early employees who got mad at the same things he did — that passion is what makes his team different from others.

Three Houston startup founders took the stage to talk product/market fit, customer acquisition, funding, and the rest of the startup journey at a panel at SXSW. Photo courtesy of the GHP

Houston founders demystify startup journey on SXSW panel

Houston innovators podcast episode 177

Editor's note: On Monday at Houston House, a SXSW activation put on by the Greater Houston Partnership, I moderated a panel called “Demystifying the Startup Journey.” Panelists included three Houston founders: Ted Gutierrez, co-founder and CEO of SecurityGate.io, Simone May, co-founder and CTO of Clutch, and Gaurav Khandelwal, founder and CEO of Velostics. The three entrepreneurs discussed their journeys and the challenges they face — from product/market fit and hiring to fundraising and customer acquisition. Listen to the full conversation on this week’s episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast below. Thank you to SXSW and GHP for the recording.


Here's what you missed at Houston House at SXSW. Photos courtesy

Podcast: Houston innovators discuss energy transition, diversity, and health tech at SXSW

Houston innovators podcast episode 125

SXSW has descended on Austin, and while the two-week conference and festival is still going strong, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston-focused activation has wrapped for 2022.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form in 2021, took place Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. The nine panels and two nights of networking covered topics from energy transition and med tech to diversity in venture capital and innovation in aerospace.

For SXSW badge holders, some of the Houston House discussions are available online. However if you’re not out and about at SX and you missed these incredible panels, I spoke to four Houstonians after their discussions to dig a little deeper into some key points from the panels.

Here are the Houston Innovators I spoke with at SXSW:

  • Denise Hamilton, CEO of WatchHerWork
  • Kevin Coker, president and CEO, Proxima
  • Grace Chan, investment associate at bp Ventures
  • Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs

Listen to these conversations below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes, which will return to interview-style conversations featuring Houston guests next Wednesday.

Three Houston innovators discussed the strides the city is making in terms of equitable funding opportunities. Photos courtesy

SXSW panel: What Houston needs to do to develop as an equitable tech ecosystem

houston house

Houston has consistently been recognized as one of the most diverse cities in the country — but is that translating into equitable funding opportunities for diverse founders? A panel at SXSW this year discussed whether or not Houston's playing field is level for people of color within the innovation ecosystem.

"People do business with who they know — and who they like," says Felix Chevalier, co-founder of Urban Capital Network, when the panel was asked where the disconnect is with funding diverse founders. "I think it boils down to a lack of exposure and a lack of relationships."

Chevalier was joined by Jesse Martinez of Resolved Ventures and VamosVentures and Denise Hamilton of WatchHerWork, who moderated the discussion, which was hosted in the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House on Sunday, March 13, at SXSW in Austin.

"We have to look at the pipeline — what the existing ecosystem looks like," says Martinez, who leads the LatinX Alliance, an organization that's relocating its operations to Houston. "We have new funds, new diverse GPs, and we have more investors — and we're building talent. ... We are making great strides, but we still need more of us to be funding our diverse founders."

The key to the equation, the panelists agreed, is education and programming — both for potential investors, like UCN does with its hands-on support for its diverse investor base, and for founders of color who might be more hesitant to plunge by starting a company.

"The way you start to dissolve that fear for folks, for example, who may be in a corporate space but may want to spread their entrepreneur wings, is to just get involved with the ecosystem," Chevalier says. "What ends up happening is you bump into someone you know or someone who is from the same talent you are originally — all you have to do is immerse yourself in the environment."

"The opportunities are out there, but it is incumbent upon in those who want it to put themselves in a position to meet people who are in the environments that are going to help facilitate whatever your objectives are," he continues.

Hamilton explained her experience raising money as a Black woman — investors didn't want to bet on her. It's a chicken and an egg situation, she says, and support for diverse founders in terms of programming and investors focused specifically on underserved communities are going to help break the cycle. It's not about charity, but equitable opportunities.

"I don't want any charity – I don't want an overabundance of kindness. Scaffold me like you scaffolded Mark Zuckerberg," Hamilton says, giving Facebook as an example of a company that was supported in a way she never had. "If you are going to be in a nascent ecosystem, you need to have structures that explain why your pitch deck has to be efficient, why you need a team. We've got to not focus just on the money piece, but on this whole psychosocial aspect."

With Hamilton's call to Houston's development as an equitable tech ecosystem, the conversation turned to discuss whether or not Houston is ready to provide this support to startups and rise to being the global innovation hub the city wants to be.

"We've got to find our tribe. We have all the pieces," Martinez says. "It's going to take time, and we have to be very intentional. ... It's really about thinking of Houston as a startup itself. How do we act as a team, and bring in partners and investors to make it a thriving ecosystem over time."

It takes commitment, Hamilton says, and that's happening in the Bayou City.

"Everything is not figured out right now — but there's a commitment to figuring it out," she says. "It's not going to be Silicon Valley overnight — it will never be Silicon Valley. Because this is Houston."

Here's everything you should attend at SXSW this year. Photo courtesy of SXSW

Houston innovators: Here's what not to miss at SXSW

Where to be

Headed to SXSW this year and hoping to make meaningful Houston tech and innovation connections and hear from thought leaders? Look no further than these key events and panels.

From meetups to fireside chats, here's everything you need to know about tapping into the Houston innovation ecosystem by way of the Austin festival.

Missing something? Shoot an email to natalie@innovationmap.com for event consideration.

Friday, March 11

ZenBusiness Startup Crawl

Capital Factory is bringing back its Startup Crawl. One hundred startups and partners set up tables to demo their products and talk to thousands of potential customers, investors, and employees who can be found walking from table to table with their beverage of choice. Grab a group of your friends, hit up the Public Lounge presented by Cisco, and find out what happens when the hottest startups come together at the same time and in the same place. The event begins at 5 pm. Click here to learn more.

Saturday, March 12

SXSW Pitch

The 14th annual SXSW Pitch will take place at the Hilton Austin Downtown on Saturday, March 12, and Sunday, March 13. A live audience, as well as a panel of expert judges, will discover advancements in various sectors of emerging technology. The best part – product demonstrations by the most ambitious talents in the world with the creative new ideas to change it. Catch a glimpse of the industry’s future, with a guided tour by our emcees and judges.

Houston-based Case CTRL will pitch within the Enterprise & Smart Data Technology category on Saturday at 11:30 am. For more information, click here.

Sunday, March 13

Houston House

The Greater Houston Partnership's Houston House begins Sunday at 10 am. The line-up of programming, which is available to badge holders at The Line Hotel, is as follows:

  • 10 am: Funding the Next Generation of Diverse Founders — speakers include:
    • Felix Chevalier, Co-Founder, Urban Capital Network
    • Denise Hamilton, Work Futurist and CEO, WatchHerWork
    • Jesse Martinez, Investment Partner/Venture Partner, Resolved Ventures/VamosVentures
  • 11:30 am: Game Changers - The Rise of Sports Tech — speakers include:
    • David Gow, CEO, Gow Media & SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp.
    • Chris Buckner, CEO, Mainline
    • Lori Burgess, Chief Operating Officer, Beasley Esports
    • Ashley Dewalt, Managing Director, DivInc
  • 1 pm: The commercial Space Age is Here — speakers include:
    • Dr. Douglas Terrier, Associate Director for Vision and Strategy, NASA’s Johnson Space Center
    • R. Matthew Ondler, CTO, Axiom Space
    • Timothy Crain, Chief Technology Officer, Intuitive Machines
    • Arturo Machuca, Director, Ellington Airport and Houston Spaceport
  • 2:30 pm: Accelerating Solutions in Medtech — speakers include:
    • Joanna Nathan, Manager, New Ventures, Johnsons & Johnson Center for Device Innovation
    • James Andrew Reinstein, President & CEO, Saranas Inc.
    • Kevin Coker, President & CEO, Proxima
  • 4 pm: Paradigm Shift - Breakthroughs in Cell Technology
    • Jason Bock, VP, Biologics Development, MD Anderson
    • Michael A Curran, Associate Professor / Founder, The UT MD Anderson Cancer Center / ImmunoGenesis, Inc.
    • Larry Hope, New Ventures and Business Development, MD Anderson
  • 5:30 pm: Networking reception
For more information on Houston House, click here.

Founded in Texas

Project W, Artemis Fund, HearstLab, and Beam have teamed up at SXSW to present the second Founded in Texas, a showcase of female founders of seed stage B2B and B2B2C technology companies located in Texas. Founded in Texas will feature 12 founders selected by application and will be an opportunity for investors from across the country to get a glimpse of the innovation and creativity at work in the growing Texas startup ecosystem.

The event begins at 9 am at Relay Coworking (Springdale General) with investor feedback. A brunch follows at 11:30 am. For more information, click here.

SXSW Official 3D Printing Hangout

Houston-based re:3D invites you to celebrate the Texas 3D Printing community with some bomb brews and primo prints at the Draught House Pub & Brewery during SXSW. Connect with fellow 3D printing enthusiasts and innovators, and bring your 3D printers and 3D prints and share what you've been up to.

The event begins at noon and runs until 3 pm. Click here for more information.

Monday, March 14

Houston House

Monday is day two of the GHP's Houston House, and the programming also begins at 10 am for badge holders at The Line Hotel.

  • 10 am: Funding the Global Energy Transition — speakers include:
    • Hossam Elbadawy, Managing Director and Technology Partner, SCF Partners
    • Shawn Cumberland, Managing Partner, EnCap Investments L.P.
    • Grace Chan, Investment Associate, bp Ventures
    • Vidisha Prasad, Managing Partner, Adya Partners
  • 11:30 am: Dream Team - Corporates and Startups in Climatetech — speakers include:
    • Andrea Course, Venture Principal, Shell Ventures
    • Dale Winger, Managing Director, Halliburton Labs
    • Michael Wheeler, Senior Investment Manager, Equinor Ventures
    • Dawn James, Director, Global Industry Strategy- Energy & Sustainability, Microsoft Corp
  • 1 pm: Tech Powering the Global Energy Transition — speakers include:
    • Trevor Best, CEO, Syzygy Plasmonics
    • Moji Karimi, CEO, Cemvita Factory Inc.
    • Federico Marques, Founder & CEO, Moonflower Technologies
    • Jane Stricker, SVP, Energy Transition, Executive Director Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), Greater Houston Partnership
  • 2:30 pm: Roadmap to an Equitable Energy Transition
    • John Hall, President and CEO, Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC)
    • Dana Harmon, Executive Advisor, Texas Energy Poverty Research Institute(TEPRI)
    • Jane Stricker, SVP, Energy Transition, Executive Director Houston Energy Transition Initiative (HETI), Greater Houston Partnership
  • 4 pm: Transition on Tap, hosted by Lara Cottingham, Chief of Staff, Greentown Labs
  • 5:30 pm: Networking reception

Shell House at SXSW 2022

Shell House at SXSW activation in Antone’s in downtown Austin will share how business, government and society can collaborate to achieve net zero. Guests can sit in on talks, ask experts energy questions, relax in the Recharge & Refuel Lounge and participate in an interactive experience that highlights how decisions about home and travel can impact the US reaching net zero by 2050.

Some notable Houstonians involved in this activation include:

  • Katie Mehnert, founder and CEO of ALLY Energy is moderating the "Wake Up Call: Women in Tech & Innovation" panel at 9:30 am on Monday.
  • Sidd Gupta, CEO of Nesh, and Tim Marx, president of Topl and Venture Partner at Baird Capital, will join the panel "What I Wish I Had Known: The Start-Up’s Tale of Working with Big Companies" at 4 pm on Monday.

Baker Botts: How Innovation is Confronting Global Challenges

Join Baker Botts and several thought leaders for an afternoon discussing today’s emerging & disruptive technologies and the current investment landscape at our third annual SXSW event. The fireside chat begins at 3 pm, with a panel discussion at 4 pm. The event wraps up with a networking reception at 5 pm. A badge is not required to attend.

The event will be at Hotel Van Zandt (605 Davis St.) For more information, click here.

Tuesday, March 15

Shell House at SXSW 2022

Shell House continues at Antone's Tuesday. Some must-see Houston innovators include:

  • Lara Cottingham, chief of staff at Greentown Labs, and Siddhartha Sachdeva, founder & CEO of Innowatts will be on the "Net-Zero Heroes: How Entrepreneurs Will Lead the Way in Decarbonization" panel.

Meet Houston's Top Tech Founders

Want to know how Houston is setting itself up to be the next hub for tech innovation? This networking event will shine a spotlight on the amazing innovation coming out of Houston by bringing in a number of founders from Houston's fastest-growing startups together with several great VCs around the nation to participate in a joint conversation about founding tech startups.

The event will take place at 11:30 am to 12:30 pm at Hilton Austin Downtown, Room 408. The meetup is hosted by Sandy Guitar, managing director of HX Venture Fund, and Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy Plasmonics. Click here for more information.

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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.