After growing in Chicago and raising funding, Partum Health selected Houston to expand its femtech platform. Photo via Getty Image

A startup dedicated to comprehensive pregnancy, birth and postpartum care has expanded from its Chicago birthplace to Houston.

Last summer, Partum Health raised $3.1 million in seed funding, which makes it possible for the company to begin a nationwide expansion. That begins in Space City.

“We looked at states where there is work to do on outcomes for maternal health. Texas rose to the top and Houston, in many ways is fairly close to Chicago, our home city. The really thriving healthcare ecosystem attracted us as well,” CEO and Co-Founder Meghan Doyle tells InnovationMap.

As a mom of a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old herself, Doyle says that she experienced the gap firsthand in what’s available to women beyond what her obstetrician or midwife does.

“You had to work really hard to cobble together the care you needed. It was a matter of putting together my personal experiences of realizing it’s not just me, it’s systematic,” says Doyle. “I couldn’t get that problem out of my head.”

Neither could her co-founder and head of operations, Matt Rogers, a father of twins whose family had to navigate the NICU and life-threatening complications. They started working together on the business in earnest during the COVID shutdown and debuted Partum Health at the beginning of 2021.

Partum has begun partnering with obstetricians and midwives to help select complementary care that includes lactation support, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health services, nutrition counseling and doula care. What’s unique about the plan is that, from aiding in behavioral health problems to addressing nutritional issues, the user’s team is distributed around the Houston area and are fully virtual. Physical therapy and other services that must be done in-person may take place either in-home or at third-party locations.

“We’re still in the process of credentialing with insurance companies,” says Doyle.

In Illinois, Partum is already working with BlueCross BlueShield, United Healthcare, Aetna and Cigna for clinical care, so Doyle says she is confident that those companies will soon follow suit in Texas.

While hiring a team in Houston that includes a client care lead, Doyle says that Partum is simultaneously providing services and getting to know the market better. They’re also building more bundled models of care to better assist users in their new landscape.

Doyle and Partum Healthcare participated in the Ignite Healthcare Network’s 2023 program, which concluded last week with a pitch competition. Ignite helps female healthcare founders to connect with mentors and other industry experts that will help them navigate the health tech ecosystem. Doyle was one of nine finalists, but did not place in the top three. But she says the program has helped prepare her for success nonetheless.

“In our world, you’re always pitching,” she admits.

The next steps for Partum include a 2024 rife with expansion. Because building relationships with insurance happens on a state-by-state basis, the company will be able to help women around Texas soon after the company is comfortably established in Houston. The Dallas-Fort Worth area will likely be first, followed by Austin and San Antonio.

“We know there’s a huge gap in access to care that may mean evolving a little bit and reaching out across the state,” Doyle says.

Last month, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported that 90 percent of the state’s pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. With access to care like what Partum provides, those complications could become a thing of the past.

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

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."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ayse McCracken of Ignite Healthcare Network, Paul Cherukuri of Rice University, and Oyetewa Oyerinde of Baylor College of Medicine. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care to academia — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network

Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she's growing her impact on female health tech founders. Photo via LinkedIn

With a decades-long career in health care, Ayse McCracken's most recent professional chapter has been laser focused on finding, supporting, and accelerating female-founded startups in health tech with her nonprofit, Ignite Healthcare Network.

Originally founded in 2017 as a pitch competition, Ignite has evolved to become an active and integral program for female health tech entrepreneurs. Ninety-one founders have graduated from Ignite and gone on to raise over $550 million in funding for their ventures. Currently, Ignite has 19 women in its 2023 cohort, which concludes November 9 with the annual Fire Pitch competition.

"Having an impact in the health care industry and finding solutions is important to me," McCracken says of her passion for Ignite on this week's 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." Read more.

Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University

Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University, has had a busy week. Photo via Rice.edu

If it's seemed like a lot has been happening on Rice University campus this month, it's because it has. This week, Paul Cherukuri, Rice’s vice president for innovation hosted an event announcing the university's Biotech Launch Pad, a new accelerator focused on commercializing health care innovations.

“The Biotech Launch Pad is the first in a series of Rice Moonshots that are hyper-focused on building a ‘speed and scale’ innovation ecosystem across Houston," Cherukuri says. "We at Rice are committed towards driving the Biotech Launch Pad in collaboration with our partners within the Texas Medical Center and the new Helix Park campus.” Read more.

The university also recently announced:

  • The Rice University Office of Innovation's newly established the One Small Step Grant program that will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential." Read more.
  • The opening of the Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science, the university's largest core campus research facility. The 250,000-square-foot building is the new home for four key research areas at Rice: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition. The university aims for the space to foster collaboration and innovation between the disciplines. Read more.

Oyetewa Oyerinde, leader of the Skin of Color Clinic and assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine

The Skin of Color Clinic is devoted to the unique needs of patients of all ethnicities. Photo courtesy of BCM

All skin is created equal, but not all skin behaves the same. It’s with this in mind that Baylor Medicine Dermatology has announced the debut of its newest office.

The Skin of Color Clinic is located inside the Jamail Specialty Care Center and is devoted to the unique needs of patients of all ethnicities.

The leader of the Skin of Color Clinic is assistant professor of dermatology, Oyetewa Oyerinde. Dr. Oyerinde, a Howard University and University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine alum, completed her residency training at Harvard University, where she made it to the role of chief resident in her final year.

“I am excited to lead a clinic that addresses skin issues commonly found in underserved populations,” Oyerinde says in a news release. “I want people in Houston to know that there is a place where an expert will know how to care for their specific needs.”Read more.

Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how she's growing her impact on female health tech founders. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston health tech leader to expand accelerator to continue connecting female founders

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 203

With a decades-long career in health care, Ayse McCracken's most recent professional chapter has been laser focused on finding, supporting, and accelerating female-founded startups in health tech with her nonprofit, Ignite Healthcare Network.

Originally founded in 2017 as a pitch competition, Ignite has evolved to become an active and integral program for female health tech entrepreneurs. Ninety-one founders have graduated from Ignite and gone on to raise over $550 million in funding for their ventures. Currently, Ignite has 19 women in its 2023 cohort, which concludes November 9 with the annual Fire Pitch competition.

"Having an impact in the health care industry and finding solutions is important to me," McCracken says of her passion for Ignite on this week's 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."

With Ignite, McCracken is actively seeking out these potential female leaders, and giving them the support — through mentorship, programming, and networking opportunities — they need to grow their business.

Each year, McCracken explains, she's pushing the envelope with what she can accomplish with Ignite. This year, she hosted a new event in Dallas to reach female founders there, and coming soon, Ignite will launch a platform that will extend its relationship with its founders and keep them looped in with potential customers, mentors, investors, and more.

"We're in the process of building our own platform that continues to connect our ecosystem so that we're not just an episode in the journey of an entrepreneur, but that we have the ability to help them along their path," McCracken says. "That path is a rollercoaster for a variety of reasons — whether it's gender or market related — and if we help to provide a community that can provide support for companies that have promise, our goal is to, over time, triple the money that female entrepreneurs are getting."

But McCracken says she wants Ignite to do more than just find investors for her network of founders.

"Success to me isn't just getting people an early stage investment," she explains. "Success to me is getting companies that actually commercialize, get their products in the market, and that they are actually making an impact on health wellbeing, patients, and so forth."

McCracken shares more about the future of Ignite on the podcast. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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.
Three female-founded health tech startups won awards at this year's Ignite Healthcare's Fire Pitch Competition. Photo courtesy of Ignite

Houston health tech startup wins female-focused pitch competition

women in health care

For the fourth year, a Houston-based, female-focused health tech organization has spotlighted the industry's emerging technology entrepreneurs.

Earlier this month, Ignite Healthcare Network’s Accelerator Program hosted its seven women-led digital health startup finalists, narrowed down from over 330 startups, at its annual Fire Pitch Competition. The nonprofit is led by a group of women executives committed to shaping the future of health care.

“The fourth year of Ignite Health’s Accelerator Program has proved to attract more and more women founders of digital tech and med device startups from around the world,” says Ayse McCracken, Ignite's founder, in a news release.

According to McCracken, 22 applicants made it into the program, which launched earlier this year. A group of judges narrowed down that group to seven finalists, before announcing the top three companies for the competition.

Joanna Nathan, CEO of Houston-based Prana Thoracic, won the top award for her company. Stephanie Gravenor, founder of Denver-based Medecipher, and Liane Clamen, founder of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts-based Adaptilens, won second and third, respectively.

The event doled out over $500,000 in total. Jay Goss, general partner of Wavemaker Three-Sixty Health, announced $100,000 investments into four finalists' companies. The finalists receiving this award are:

  • Pamela Bonnett, CEO of Denver-based Ultrasound AI
  • Christine Lum Lung, co-founder and CEO of Fort Collins, Colorado-based Origin Healthcare
  • Pamela Singh, co-founder and CEO of Houston-based CaseCTRL
  • Stephanie Gravenor, founder and CEO of Denver-based Medecipher

The partner organizations participating in this year's accelerator and event included Houston Methodist, Memorial Hermann Health System, Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas Children’s Pediatrics, The Menninger Clinic, HCA, Kindred Healthcare, Aetna, Texas Health Resources, Cook Children’s Hospital, TMC, Golden Seeds, Wavemaker 360 Health, Portfolia, Prosalus, 7Wire, Texas Halo Fund, Unity Point Ventures, and others.

“We are grateful for the support and generosity of our sponsors for helping to make this event possible,” says Cheryl Stavins, Ignite board member and co-chair of the event, in the news release. “Their support and involvement continue to ignite our mission and passion to ensure the success and recognition of women entrepreneurs in healthcare.”

Earlier in the day, Ignite Health hosted a new event called “Women Shaping the Future of Healthcare Luncheon." Eighty female executives, investors, founders, and community leaders gathered to hear from three of Ignite Health’s alumni founders: Somer Baburek, CEO of Hera Biotech, Dr. Liz Clayborne, CEO of Nasaclip, and Amanda Gorman, chief clinical officer of Nest Collaborative.

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Early-stage accelerator returns to Houston, announces finalists

prepare for take-off

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, is returning to Houston for its latest cohort.

The startup competition sponsored by software development company Improving will have its ultimate showdown on February 28. The final competition pairs six startups with six startup consulting companies.

Jason W. Taylor, CodeLaunch president and founder, says CodeLaunch isn’t your typical startup showcase, as it incorporates music acts, comedy, and crowd networking. Mirroring the set-up of a TV show, the six finalists all present their working products in front of an audience amid these performances.

“I would describe CodeLaunch as the next generation of venture-tainment in North America and the greatest startup show on earth,” Taylor explains.

The 2024 Houston CodeLaunch participant startups — and their mentor partners — are as follows:

Prior to pitch day, all six teams will receive hands-on instruction from CodeLaunch mentors on how to construct their pitches and free professional software development from their partners. Taylor says the strong relationships between CodeLaunch and these developers played a major role in setting the competition in Houston.

“We love Houston and we’re back for a third year in a row because the Houston startup ecosystem works together better than other major startup ecosystems I’ve seen,” Taylor says. “We have some great software development partners in Houston that are building code for those startups.”

Last year, Houston-based startup Energy360, with the mentorship and help of Honeycomb Software, took home the Championship belt and a $100,000 investment offer from Cyrannus VC fund for their energy management system Matt Bonasera, Energy360’s enterprise architect, says he is grateful for the entrepreneurial community CodeLaunch provides, in particular the team’s mentor Oleg Lysiak, Honeycomb VP of Partnerships and Business Development.

“I happened along this great community of people who are really passionate about supporting each other,” Bonasera says.

Lysiak agrees that CodeLaunch is an ideal opportunity for young entrepreneurs looking to hone their skills and expand their product capabilities. Lysiak says he is looking forward to defending Honeycomb’s title as top consultant development team.

“My whole philosophy is to connect people and have different collisions and collaborations,” Lysiak says.

Houston startup completes testing, prepares biosimilar insulin drug for clinical trials

next steps

A Houston biotech startup is one step closer to releasing its marquee drug for the global insulin market, which is projected to break the $90 billion threshold by 2029.

rBIO says it recently completed testing of the properties of R-biolin, an insulin drug that’s biologically identical to Novo Nordisk’s Novolin drug. The patent for Novolin about two decades ago. In March 2023, the Dutch drugmaker announced it was slashing the list price of Novolin by 65 percent to $48.20 per vial and $91.09 per FlexPen.

Executives at rBIO are now pursuing a partnership with a contract research organization to manage clinical trials of R-biolin. If those trials go well, R-biolin will seek approval to supply its insulin therapy to diabetes patients around the world.

Washington University in St. Louis is rBIO’s academic partner for the R-biolin project.

The rBIO platform produces insulin at greater yields that traditional manufacturing techniques do. The company is striving to drive down the cost of insulin by 30 percent.

About 38 million Americans have diabetes, with the vast majority being treated for type 2 diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Many people with diabetes must take insulin to control their blood sugar levels.

Research company iHealthcareAnalyst predicts the global market for insulin will surpass the $90 billion mark in 2029.

“There has been a lot of talk in the media about reducing the cost of insulin for diabetic patients, but what is often overlooked is that the domestic demand for insulin will soon outpace the supply, leading to a new host of issues,” Cameron Owen, co-founder and CEO of rBIO, says in a news release.

“We’re dedicated to addressing the growing demand for accessible insulin therapies, and … we’re thrilled to announce the viability of our highly scalable manufacturing process.”

Professionals from the University of California San Diego and Johns Hopkins University established rBIO in 2020. The startup moved its headquarters from San Diego to Houston in 2022.

CEO Cameron Owen and Chief Scientific Officer Deenadayalan Bakthavatsalam work on insulin purification in the Houston lab. Photo courtesy

How AI is changing product management and what you need to know

guest column

For the past 14 months, everyone has been talking about ways artificial intelligence is changing the world, and product management is not an exception. The challenge, as with every new technology, is not only adopting it but understanding what old habits, workflows, and processes are affected by it.

Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users. A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver.

As we dive into 2024, it is obvious that AI tools do not only transform the way we work but also help product managers create products that exceed customer expectation and drive businesses forward.

Market research and trends analysis

As product managers, we process enormous amounts of market data — from reviewing global and industry trend analysis, to social media posts, predictions, competition, and company goals. AI, however, can now replace hours, if not days, of analyzing massive amounts of data in an instant, revealing market trends, anticipating needs, and foreseeing what's coming next. As a result, it is easier to make effective product decisions and identify new market opportunities.

Competitive analysis

Constantly following competitors, reviewing their new releases, product updates, or monitoring reviews to identify competitor strengths and weaknesses is an overwhelming and time consuming task. With AI, you can quickly analyze competitors’ products, pricing, promotions, and feedback. You can easily compare multiple attributes, including metrics, and identify gaps and areas for improvement — all the insights that are otherwise much harder to reveal quickly and efficiently.

Customer and product discovery

Of course, the most intuitive use case that comes to mind is the adoption of AI in product and customer discovery. For example:

  • Use AI for customer segmentation and persona creation to help visualize personas, prioritize user motivations and expectations, and uncover hidden behavior and needs. You can then create and simplify customer questionnaires for interviews and user groups and target customers more accurately.
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data from surveys, support tickets, reviews, and in-person interviews to identify pain points and unmet user needs and help prioritize features for future updates and releases.

Roadmap and sprint management

AI provides value in simplifying roadmap planning and sprint management. Resource optimization is often a gruesome task and AI can help with feature prioritization and resource allocation. It helps teams focus on critical work and increase their productivity. You can even analyze and manage dependencies and improve results across multiple sprints months in advance.

Prototyping and mockup generation

There is no product manager’s routine without multiple mockups, wireframes, and prototypes that explain concepts and collect feedback among stakeholders. AI has become a critical tool in simplifying this process and bringing ideas to life from concept to visualization.

Today, you can use textual or voice descriptions to instantly create multiple visuals with slight variations, run A/B tests and gather valuable feedback at the earliest stage of a product life cycle.

Job search and job interviews

Consider it as a bonus but one of the less obvious but crucial advantages of AI is using it in job search. With the vulnerable and unstable job market, especially for product roles, AI is a valuable assistant. From getting the latest news and updates on a company you want to join, to summarizing insights on the executive team, or company goals, compiling lists of interview questions, and running mock interviews, AI has become a non-judgmental assistant in a distressing and often discouraging job search process.

Use AI to draft cold emails to recruiters and hiring managers, compare your skills to open positions’ requirements, identify gaps, and outline ideas for test assignments.

We already know that AI is not a hype; it is here to stay. However, remember that customers do not consume AI, they consume your product for its value. Customers care whether your product gets their need, solves their problem, and makes their lives easier. The goal of a product manager is to create magic combining human brain capabilities and latest technology. And the best result is with a human at the core of any product.

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Natasha Gorodetsky is the founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, a Houston company that helps early stage and venture-backed startups build products and create impact.