U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used SXSW to make the announcement. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop One

30-minute hyperloop from Houston to Dallas on fast track with push from federal government

Looped in

Creation of a transportation-in-a-tube system that promises to whisk passengers from Houston to Dallas in 30 minutes got a big boost March 12 from the federal government.

During an appearance at SXSW, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said she has established a transportation technology council that will aim to clear regulatory and legal roadblocks for the traffic-busting Virgin Hyperloop One concept and similar transit innovations.

In September 2017, the company behind Hyperloop One picked a 640-mile route in Texas for the initiative. The futuristic system — with passengers riding in pods carried through a massive tube — would connect Houston, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Laredo, and San Antonio. Hyperloop One would provide two stops each in the Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas, and one each in Austin, Laredo, and San Antonio.

The north-south leg of Hyperloop One would run between Dallas-Fort Worth and Laredo, while the east-west leg would operate between Houston and San Antonio. As imagined now, a trip between Austin and Dallas would last 19 minutes at speeds up to 670 mph — two to three times faster than high-speed rail and 10 to 15 times faster than traditional rail. A ride from Houston to Austin would take 21 minutes, while a trek from Houston to San Antonio would last 26 minutes.

"Texas is exploring how to make hyperloop a reality at the state and local level, but federal support is a huge key for us to be certified and successful," Ryan Kelly, head of marketing and communications for Virgin Hyperloop One, tells CultureMap. "It is exciting that the federal government is recognizing us as a potential new mode of transportation that can be a leap forward for America. Hopefully, Texas can be a first mover."

Aside from Texas, Virgin Hyperloop One has U.S. projects underway in Colorado, Missouri, and the Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh corridor. Virgin Group, led by Sir Richard Branson, is among the investors in Hyperloop One.

The federal council unveiled at SXSW will help fast-track a first-of-its-kind transportation network in the U.S. that shares components with trains, planes, and self-driving vehicles. Members of the council will explore technological innovations, such as transit tunnels and self-driving vehicles, in the quest to speed up development of Virgin Hyperloop One and other emerging modes of mass transportation.

"Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation that is built for the 21st century," Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, says in a release. "We want to be the company that spearheads the next giant leap forward in transportation here in the United States, but we know we can't do it alone."

Kelly says it's unclear when Texas passengers might be able to travel on Virgin Hyperloop One's network, but the company hopes the first route — wherever it may be — will be ready by the end of 2028.

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This story originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston female-focused health tech pitch competition names top 3 startup founders

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."

New immersive, live-action gaming venue powers up Houston debut

hi, tech

Houston is leveling up its gaming scene with the debut of a new high-tech immersive experience. Called Activate, the indoor venue combines technology and physical activity in 75-minute gaming sessions, which can be played in teams up to five people.

Simply put, the whole place is like stepping inside a live-action arcade.

Activate's first Houston-area location opened softly November 2 at 20225 Katy Frwy., Katy. Official grand opening is set for November 16-17. It is the high-tech brand's sixth location across the country, and second in Texas (behind one in Plano, which opened in spring 2023).

According to a release, the Katy facility spans 9,600 square feet, with 11 different activity rooms offering more than 500 unique games across all difficulty levels. Games include Megagrid, Hoops, Press, Hide, Laser, Strike, Portals, Control, Grid, and more. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) wristbands track participants’ scores and progress.

"Our mission is to fuse technology, movement, and strategy to create a unique interactive gaming experience," says Activate partner Bryce Anderson in the release. "We want guests to bring their closest friends, family, or co-workers and leave with a feeling of achievement, ready to come back for more."

While gaming activities are mostly adult-focused, children aged 13 and younger can participate with adult supervision.

During Activate's soft opening phase through November 15, 10 percent of sales will be donated to Best Buddies International, a nonprofit that provides mentorships for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. (Check the website for limited hours during soft opening.)

After the grand opening November 16-17, Activate will be open daily, 10 am-10 pm. Gaming sessions (75 minutes) are $24.99 Monday-Thursday, and $29.99 Friday-Sunday. Reservations are encouraged.

Activate has been creating live-action gaming experiences for adults since 2019, and has plans for further expansion, they say.

"As we continue expanding Activate across the United States, we are confident our concept will fill a void for interactive entertainment," says Anderson in the release. "We believe the Houston community will embrace this experience and find it both thrilling and challenging."

More information and reservations can be found on the website.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.