3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jim Havelka of InformAI, Christa Westheimer of New Stack Ventures, and Charles Turner of Kare Technologies. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators recently making headlines — from health tech founders to a venture capital rising star.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the difference his technology can make on the health care industry. Photo courtesy of InformAI

InformAI is providing solutions for data optimizations in health care — something that'll allow for better diagnoses and treatment. Jim Havelka shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast last week that his company's success is due to being headquartered in Houston and tied to the Texas Medical Center. The company's team works out of JLABS @ TMC as well as TMC Innovation Institute.

"Those relationships have been very helpful in getting data to build these particular products," Havelka says. "Just the Texas Medical Center alone has roughly 10 million patient encounters every year. The ability to get access to data and, equally important, the medical experts has been a tremendous benefit to InformAI." Click here to read more and stream the podcast.

Christa Westheimer, venture fellow at New Stack Ventures

Need an in with a venture capital firm? This Houstonian has an idea. Photo courtesy

As a venture fellow, Christa Westheimer — who's a student at Rice University — works hard to find startups working on the next great thing. And she realizes there are so many Houston startups seeking funding, so she has some advice: get in touch.

"During my tenure as a venture fellow, I have been sifting through online resources — from Crunchbase and AngelList to LinkedIn — with the hopes of finding a really neat startup that would earn an investment from New Stack Ventures," she writes in a guest column for InnovationMap. Click here to read more.

Charles Turner, founder of Kare Technologies

Charles Turner founded Kare Technologies on the heels of a crisis — and the pandemic has accelerated the company's growth. Photo courtesy of Kare

Charles Turner saw an inefficiency in senior health care staffing — even before the industry was rocked by a pandemic. He founded Kare Technologies to use software to address this problem. In light of COVID-19, the need for better staffing solutions grew across industries and Kare expanded its features to reach hotel and restaurant workers.

"We'd always plan on doing this, and with the advent of COVID we accelerate our development on the hospitality side," Turner says. Click here to read more.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the difference his technology can make on the health care industry. Photo courtesy of InformAI

Houston health tech founder shares the monumental impact data can have on health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 68

Hospitals are processing massive amounts of data on a daily basis — but few are optimizing this information in life-saving capacities. A Houston company is seeking to change that.

InformAI has created several tech products to allow hospitals to tap into their data for game-changing health care.

"The convergence of technology, data, and deep learning has really opened up an avenue to look at large volumes of information and look at patterns that can be helpful in patient diagnosis and treatment planning," says CEO Jim Havelka on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

The InformAI team has developed two platforms that each of the company's tech products works within. One focuses on medical images and looks for subtle patterns of a medical condition, while the other can datamine patient information to identify patient risk predictors.

Currently, InformAI's sinusitis-focused product is undergoing Food and Drug Administration approval. About a quarter of the population has sinus-related issues, and the technology can help treatment and diagnosis, Havelka says.

"The data that we train our algorithms on are equivalent of 30 careers of a typical ear, nose, and throat surgeon. We see 30 times more patients in our training set than an ENT physician would see in a lifetime," Havelka says. "Being able to bring into play the patterns and unique subtleties that this data can bring into the decision making only makes the ENT more productive and more efficient, as well as creates better outcomes for patients."

InformAI has received venture capital support as well as a National Science Foundation award to advance its work. The company hopes to introduce a new round of funding later this year.

Havelka doesn't mince words when it comes to the importance of InformAI being located in Houston. The company's team works out of JLABS @ TMC as well as TMC Innovation Institute.

"Those relationships have been very helpful in getting data to build these particular products," Havelka says. "Just the Texas Medical Center alone has roughly 10 million patient encounters every year. The ability to get access to data and, equally important, the medical experts has been a tremendous benefit to InformAI."

Havelka discusses more about the revolutionary technology InformAI is working on — as well as advice he has for other health tech founders — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


It might come as no surprise that Houston, home to the largest medical center in the world, has many impressive health startups. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

4 Houston health startups to look out for

Health tech

Houston's growing life sciences industry has been a topic of discussion of late — and it's pretty obvious why.

In March, Houston was named the No. 2 top city for an emerging life sciences market, according to CBRE data. Houston was also named the No. 2 city for STEM jobs, per a report from American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center, which cited the city's growing life science industry as a factor. Even Amazon, which recently opened a Tech Hub in Houston, credited the city's life sciences as a reason for Houston's selection.

In fact, according to a report from the Greater Houston Partnership, Houston has over a fifth of the nation's clinical trials last year. With health care innovation abound in town, here are four startups to keep an eye on.

Integrated Bionics

Stephane Smith wants his company, Integrated Bionics, and its sports tech sensor to be a big win for Houston. Courtesy of Integrated Bionics

It may have taken a couple attempts, but Stephane Smith has created a booming sports wearable business that ships products across the United States and the world. Integrate Bionics produces the Titan Sensor — a wearable device that syncs GPS with video and provides athletic metrics at an attainable price. Most of the company's customers are soccer teams primarily in the collegiate space — with some professional and even youth teams. Smith says the company has a firm footing within soccer because that's where this technology really started.

With fresh funds from Houston-based Work America Capital, Integrated Bionics is on a path to scale and grow its product's capabilities.

"We're going to continue relentless innovation — doing things that no one is expecting and helping coaches with things not even on the radar," Smith tells InnovationMap. "We'll going to be rolling out new capabilities and features that have traditionally been relegated to high-end systems or that haven't even existed before."

Read more about Integrated Bionics here.

InformAI

InformAI can use its data technology to help doctors with preventative care and diagnoses. Courtesy of InformAI

Health care is one of the industries where data management might get a "needs improvement" on its report card. Hospitals everywhere have tons of data, and they aren't using it to their full potential. Houston-based InformAI is looking to change this within the Texas Medical Center.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO, started the company in 2017, and created a new technology that allows hospitals and medical establishments better access to its own data – which translates into more effective diagnoses and preventative care. Havelka saw a need within the medical industry for this type of service.

"There were several things missing," says Havelka. "One was access to very large data sets, because it wasn't really until the last five or 10 years that digitalization of data, especially in the healthcare vertical became more widespread and available in a format that's usable. The second convergence was the technology, the ability to process very large data sets."

Read more about InformAI here.

Mental Health Match

Ryan Schwartz realized online dating was easier than finding a therapist. He created a tool to change that. Courtesy of Mental Health Match

If only finding a therapist was as easy as finding a date in a world where dating apps are a dime a dozen. Ryan Schwartz realized as he sat in a coffee shop with a friend making a connection online, it should be that easy.

"In two minutes she could have a profile matching her with a partner potentially for the rest of her life and I was sitting there for hours and hours trying to find a therapist," he recalls. "I thought it should be easier to find a therapist than a life partner. That's what sent me on my journey."

That journey reached a watershed last month when Schwartz launched Mental Health Match, a website designed to pair patients with their ideal therapist. The idea gained traction as Schwartz described it to people he met and found that many said they had experienced similar difficulties in finding the right practitioner for their needs.

Read more about Mental Health Match here.

Lazarus 3D

Lazarus 3D is using 3D printing to help advance surgeons' skills. Photo via laz3d.com

It's 2019 and surgeons are still using the same training tools they have used for decades: produce.

Two Baylor College of Medicine-educated doctors thought that sewing up grapes and slicing bananas was a bit antiquated. Drs. Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld founded Lazarus3D to build a better training model — and layer by layer, they created models of abs and ribs and even hearts with a 3D printer.

"We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that allows us to, overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models of human anatomy," says Jacques, who serves as CEO. "They can be treated just like real tissue."

Read more about Lazarus 3D here.

This four Houstonians saw a need in their industries and — rather than accepting the status quo — found a solution. Courtesy photos

4 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

The crux of innovation is identifying a problem and using your skills to ideate a solution. Each of these four innovators had their "aha" moments that led to their research and development moments, and now to where they are today.

Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld and Jacques Zaneveld, founders of Lazarus 3D

Photo courtesy of Lazarus 3D

It seemed a little antiquated that surgeons were still practicing their techniques on various fruits. Baylor College of Medicine-educated Drs. Jacques Zaneveld and Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld founded Lazarus3D in 2014 to build a better training model — and layer by layer, they created models of abs and ribs and even hearts with a 3D printer.

"We adapted pre-existing 3D printing technology in a novel proprietary way that allows us to, overnight, build soft, silicone or hydrogel models of human anatomy," says Jacques, who serves as CEO. "They can be treated just like real tissue."

Read the full story here.

Guy de Carufel, founder and CEO of Cognitive Space

Photo courtesy of Guy du Carufel

Guy du Carufel knows that in just a matter of years, there will be so many satellites orbiting the early and collecting data, there's not going to be enough people to monitor them. And, frankly, people shouldn't have to. That's why du Carufel created an artificial intelligence-enabled, cloud-based technology that can track and manage each of these satellite clusters on behalf of the cluster's owner.

"We're currently at an inflection point where the satellite industry is expected to grow up to five folds in the next 10 years because of the large companies building up these satellites," du Carufel says. "There are around 2,000 satellites active right now, and that's expected to grow to over 10,000 in the next 10 years."

Read the full story here.

Jim Havelka, founder and CEO of InformAI

Photo courtesy of InformAI

Hospitals and medical centers can be tough places to keep track of data — but that doesn't have to be the case. Jim Havelka founded InformAI to help doctors and health care providers tap into their data to provide better diagnoses and preventative care.

"There were several things missing," says Havelka. "One was access to very large data sets, because it wasn't really until the last five or 10 years that digitalization of data, especially in the health care vertical became more widespread and available in a format that's usable. The second convergence was the technology, the ability to process very large data sets."

InformAI can use its data technology to help doctors with preventative care and diagnoses. Courtesy of InformAI

Houston artificial intelligence startup aims to impact medical field

Data driven

A Houston-based startup has a new technology that allows hospitals and medical establishments better access to its own data – which translates into more effective diagnoses and preventative care.

InformAI — founded by Jim Havelka, CEO, in 2017 — is introducing the technology to the Texas Medical Center. Havelka saw a need within the medical industry for this type of service.

"There were several things missing," says Havelka. "One was access to very large data sets, because it wasn't really until the last five or 10 years that digitalization of data, especially in the healthcare vertical became more widespread and available in a format that's usable. The second convergence was the technology, the ability to process very large data sets."

InformAI currently offers four unique solutions using artificial intelligence and deep learning algorithms: Paranasal Sinus Classifier; Brain Cancer Classifier; Patient Outcome Predictors; and Surgical Risk Predictors.

According to the website, both medical image classifiers assist physicians in detecting the presence of medical conditions. The Paranasal Sinus Classifier detects and distinguishes medical conditions prevalent in the paranasal sinuses. The classifier assists physicians by evaluating sinus medical conditions at the point of care, speeding up radiologist workflow by flagging medical conditions for further review, and providing a triage of pending sinus patient study reviews. The Brain Cancer Classifier focuses on several tumor types and has the potential to provide radiologists and surgeons with additional insights to inform their diagnoses and treatment plans.

In addition to the classifier solutions, the predictors are also key to patient care, as InformAI patient outcome predictors evaluate the risk of adverse outcomes from a surgical procedure.

"Our data set has 275,000 surgical procedures that we can use to look for patterns, and then use that to understand how a patient may react to going through that surgical procedure and that's a very valuable input to surgeons," Havelka tells InnovationMap. Patient outcome risks include mortality, stroke, prolonged ventilation, infection, re-operation, and prolonged hospitalization.

"The innovation is the ability to use artificial intelligence to augment the capabilities of the physician and flag diagnostics for them to consider," says Havelka. "For example, one of our image classifiers that reads three-dimensional CT head scans has the equivalent of thirty lifetimes of an ENT contained in the AI labeled training dataset. It would take thirty lifetimes of an ENT to see that same number of scans and associated disease state patterns. InformAI currently has 10 full-time employees and works with radiologists-in-residence in building solutions and conducting research. The startup partners with the Texas Medical Center, Nvidia, Amazon, and Microsoft.

"They're quite interested in what we've built because it's really cutting edge technology that we're doing," Havelka tells InnovationMap.

Havelka and his team also work with some of the largest physician groups and imaging companies in the country to build products. "At the end of the day our core competency is the ability to take data, medical images or patient data, and put it into a usable format to assist physicians in making better treatment decisions for patients," says Havelka. "We can flag and detect patterns, disease states, and risk profiles that can improve the decision making of the physicians for the patient.

InformAI has plans to fundraise this year, with a goal of raising $5 million to $6 million in a round.

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Houston-based startup expands hangover product line with new beverage launch

cheers to health

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

Get a glimpse at the schedule and speakers for global healthtech event

Itinerary Time

HealthTech Beyond Borders is coming up August 10-13, 2021, where American healthtech companies can find their perfect match with Chilean collaborators. But what exactly can you expect from the free, virtual event?

Besides answering the question "why Chile?," the seminars will touch on everything from software solutions and medical facility management to healthcare products and services, and even venture capital opportunities.

A curated group of successful Chilean and U.S. healthtech companies are participating, including those that specialize in artificial intelligence, 3-D printing, medical robotics, gene therapies, nanomedicine, neurotechnology, eye care tech, telehealth, imaging diagnostics, wellness and fitness, mental health, and more.

The first day includes such panelists as Matias Gutierrez, CEO of Genosur LLC, and Alberto Rodríguez Navarro from Levita Magnetics.

A discussion on the current healthcare innovation ecosystem in Chile and the region's strengths, as well as developments for key sub-sectors are also on tap.

Day two kicks off with everything you'd want to know about venture capital, and why the U.S. has been the largest for Chilean startups.

Find answers to questions like what do early stage companies need to consider and what steps do they need to take to best prepare themselves to receive funding, as well as what are the important tools for companies to reach VC on each territory?

Day three examines the question "Why the U.S.?" What have Houston, Chicago, and Philadelphia done to become key healthcare hubs in the world, and what role do international partners play in these efforts? Representatives from each city are participating.

Likewise, why do international healthcare companies prioritize your respective markets, and how do these cities support expansion? Learn how the global U.S. private healthcare sector can reach Latin America, and how ProChile — the event's sponsor — can help make these connections.

Registration is now open, so get your free tickets here.

Houston cancer-fighting institution names 10 innovative fellows

curing cancer

A Houston institution has identified 10 researchers moving the needle on curing cancer.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center named 10 "early career" faculty members to its 2021 class of Andrew Sabin Family Fellows. The fellowship was established by philanthropist Andrew Sabin through a $30 million endowment in 2015 and "encourages creativity, innovation and impactful cancer research at MD Anderson in the areas of basic science, clinical, physician-scientist and population and quantitative science," according to a news release.

Sabin has served as a member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors since 2005.

"Researchers at MD Anderson are unmatched in their ability to develop bold tactics aimed at tackling cancer," he says in the release. "My hope is that through our support, we can inspire and assist these brilliant minds in their dedicated work to end cancer."

The program will dole out $100,000 to each fellow over two years. Since its inception, the program has selected and supported 52 fellows specializing in cancer research from basic science to translational research to survivorship.

"Our early career researchers are a pivotal part of the innovative discoveries that fuel our mission to end cancer," says President Peter WT Pisters, in the release. "We are extremely grateful for the generosity of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation in allowing our institution to recruit and retain the highest caliber of young researchers through this fellowship program. Together, we will continue Making Cancer History."

The 2021 class of Sabin Family Fellows includes:

Basic/Translational Scientists

Clinical Researchers

Physician-Scientists

Population/Quantitative Scientists