UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of the Ion

For the 11th year, Rice University and the University of Houston have teamed up to present their summer student accelerator programs.

UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem.

“The collaboration the University of Houston has with Rice University gives founders in RED Labs and OwlSpark a unique opportunity to grow along their peers in the larger Houston community and really exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that the Houston business ecosystem is known for,” Managing Director of RED Labs Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg says in a news release. “It never fails to surprise me at the end of the summer the relationships built, the support systems created and collaborations produced across our universities. By working together, we empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to work together as they turn their visions into reality and drive positive change in the community.”

The programs conclude with the Bayou Startup Showcase on August 1, an event that's open to the public. Those interested can sign up online for more information.

“We’re celebrating more than just an 11-year partnership; we’re recognizing a dynamic alliance that has been instrumental in fostering entrepreneurship and propelling Houston to the forefront of innovation,” Managing Director of OwlSpark Jessica Fleenor adds. “This partnership exemplifies our dedication to cultivating a thriving environment where entrepreneurs can connect, grow and succeed surrounded by unparalleled resources and support. We are incredibly excited to see these new ventures grow as they join our growing network and are thrilled to host our cohorts at the Ion, positioning us at the core of our city’s vibrant innovation landscape.”

Here are the companies selected for each of the two programs, as outlined in the news release:

University of Houston RED Labs Class 12

  • Root Planters develops smart indoor plant care devices designed to prevent plant death by providing automatic watering, tailored for busy individuals and gardeners looking to maintain plant health with minimal effort.
  • Burb Groceries is an online grocery retailer for people with chronic health conditions.
  • That Dude’s Bakehouse offers premium, half-pound cookies, combining choice ingredients and craftsmanship with the mission of being the best part of somebody’s day
  • Mulligan Bandit aims to redefine golf fashion, offering affordable yet high-quality clothing that seamlessly transitions from the fairway to the streets, reflecting personal style while ensuring durability and comfort.
  • Surreal Vision offers immersive mixed reality solutions that provide dynamic visualization experiences to enhance design collaboration and client presentations.
  • Agave Catering is a catering company focused on providing high-quality, gourmet boxed lunches for professionals on the go.
  • Digitally Marie is a purposeful creative agency dedicated to reducing the opportunity gap for female entrepreneurs. Through our heart-driven approach, we elevate content production embodying their brand perception with unapologetic authenticity.
  • Unison is a personal contact relationship management tool that alleviates the risk of data loss and helps to build more meaningful professional and personal relationships.
  • Brain-eNet is a platform that provides hardware and software tools to enable the development of brain-controlled Internet of Things applications.
  • Pasha Blend Collection specializes in creating modern skincare products that embodies purity, authenticity and inclusivity.
  • Arresting Motion is a brand strategy design consultancy and marketing agency that transforms Houston’s top real estate firms into the brands they deserve.
  • CalliDanna is a consulting company that coaches girls 12 to 18 to help improve their lives professionally and personally.

Rice University OwlSpark Class 12

  • EcoFleet Solutions offers rechargeable electric power units for semitrucks, powering air conditioning and cabin functions during stops without engine idling, cutting fuel costs, maintenance and emissions.
  • Houston Community Print Shop offers printmaking classes and equipment access, focusing on community building and supporting underserved areas.
  • KOQ Agency curates and organizes global tours and live entertainment opportunities for queer and ally artists in drag, music and entertainment.
  • Euvivo Diagnostics is developing a direct-to-consumer test that analyzes cell aging by examining mitochondrial performance and new aging markers, tailored for individuals with mitochondrial disorders.
  • Hair Hub provides a compilation of styling tutorials, educational content, planning tools and a comprehensive database of products tailored for Black hair to provide resources for users to perform cost-efficient DIY haircare.
  • xMAD.ai is a compression-as-a-service platform that democratizes access to LLMs (Large Language Models) by making them faster, more private, cost-effective and accessible to businesses of all sizes.
The seven selected startups will have year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, a non-dilutive $25,000 grant, and access to mentors, corporates, and more from both Greentown and BGS's networks. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

2 Houston startups join inclusive accelerator for sustainability innovation

ready to grow

Two organizations have named the seven startup participants for their accelerator that works to advance BIPOC-led startups in the climatetech space.

Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space named the newest accelerator for the Advancing Climatetech and Clean Energy Leaders Program, or ACCEL. The seven selected startups will have year-long curated curriculum, incubation at Greentown's two locations, a non-dilutive $25,000 grant, and access to mentors, corporates, and more from both Greentown and BGS's networks.

"Building on the momentum and success of our inaugural year, Greentown Labs is proud to welcome this incredible cohort of BIPOC-led startups to Year 2 of ACCEL," Greentown Labs CEO and President Kevin Knobloch says in a news release. "These founders and their teams are developing a dynamic array of much-needed climatetech solutions, and we're privileged to support them on their startup journeys as they advance their technologies and grow their teams."

The 2024 cohort includes:

  • AtmoSpark Technologies, based in Houston, is an atmospheric water generation company with a patented electro-condensation technology, which has a lower energy footprint than that of current water-generation methods.
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Aquasaic is harnessing biology to clean water for planetary and human health.
  • Houston-based Axis Sky Renewablescreates innovative wind solutions, specializing in vertical-axis wind turbines that are less expensive to produce, deploy, and maintain than traditional wind turbines.
  • Carbon Negative Solutions, from Rock Hill, New York, is creating smart-city-ready, carbon-negative concrete products.
  • NYC-based Cellsense develops interactive bio-embellishments that create new possibilities for designers while eliminating microplastics and replacing fossil-fuel-based material at scale.
  • EcoForge, headquartered in Providence, Rhode Island, is a building-material technology company developing affordable, high-performance building materials from local agricultural residues, replacing energy-intensive, fossil-based materials.
  • Boston-based Sankofa Dynamics creates low-cost, eco-friendly solutions for water, air, and energy problems.

The program is supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center,Microsoft's Climate Innovation Fund, Equinor, Barr Foundation.

"These BIPOC-led startups are developing climate technologies that will lead us to a more equitable and sustainable future," MassCEC CEO Dr. Emily Reichert, the former CEO of Greentown, says in the release. "We want ALL climatetech innovators and entrepreneurs to thrive here in Massachusetts. We are proud to support the ACCEL accelerator, created and led by Greentown Labs and Browning the Green Space. The ACCEL program is helping us build a more diverse innovation ecosystem by breaking down barriers and expanding opportunities."

ACCEL was announced in 2022, and the first cohort featured six climatetech startups — two based in Houston.

"Our second year of ACCEL brings together an inspirational and diverse cohort of seven BIPOC-led startups developing tech to accelerate the distribution of climate solutions that address community needs," Browning the Green Space President and Executive Director Kerry Bowie adds. "We are thrilled to continue to strengthen our partnership with Greentown Labs and VentureWell and build on the learnings from the pilot cohort to provide critical support infrastructure for entrepreneurs of color."

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Three of Houston's mayoral candidates shared the stage at Tech Rodeo to talk about how they would lead the city toward greater success within the innovation space. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Overheard: Houston mayoral candidates share their platforms for the city's tech ecosystem

eavesdropping at tech rodeo

It's an election year in Houston, and one of the big topics on the minds of the candidates is how to continue the momentum of Houston's developing innovation ecosystem.

Houston Exponential put three of the declared candidates on the stage yesterday to ask them about their vision for Houston on the final day of Houston Tech Rodeo 2023. HX CEO Natara Branch moderated the discussion with Chris Hollins, Lee Kaplan, and Amanda K. Edwards. Each candidate addressed issues from diversity and equity, the energy transition, and more.

Missed the conversations? Here are a few overheard moments and highlights of the panel.

“It’s integral to our vision for the future of Houston that this is a place where small businesses, entrepreneurs, and creatives can thrive. We want to grow this economy to be one of the strongest economies in the United States — and we know that startups and small businesses are the powerhouse for that.”

— says Chris Hollins, who explains that he's a small business owner himself and also served as interim Harris County Clerk from June 2020 to November 2020, overseeing the 2020 United States presidential election in Harris County.

“Houston has an energy-centric community, and a lot of people who have money have gotten too comfortable investing in just oil and gas. … I understand how hard it is to run a business, and I understand (it) from representing entrepreneurs and investors.”

— says Lee Kaplan, a founding partner at law firm Smyser Kaplan & Veselka LLP.

“One of the things that’s important in a leader is making sure that they understand your issues, but most importantly that they can execute. That has been something that has been chief in concert in the way that I have served in public service, but of course the way that I’ve been a part of the startup economy.“

— says Amanda K. Edwards, who contributed to the establishment of the city’s tech and innovation task force as an at-large Houston City Council member. The task force resulted in the creation of HX Venture Fund and the Innovation District, she explains.

“When we think about cities that have done this really well — Silicon Valley, The Bay Area, Boston, Austin — what’s key in many of those cities is institutions around education. … We have to lean into Rice University and the University of Houston — making these centers for talent, excellence, and innovation so that we’re developing the thinkers, the engineers, the creators of the future, and then we’re giving your businesses a crop of new hires.”

— Hollins says responding to a question about Houston's challenges.

“The thing that I think is the most important for the city is to be rigorous with what we do. We’re not going to get around the fact that it’s hot and we have mosquitos. But we can sell the fact that we have a city that’s improving.”

— Kaplan says on Houston's progress.

“I don’t want to compete or lose to any city in America. When I think about Houston, I’m bullish. I know that we are the place that is home to innovation, and it’s about time that people know us as that."

— Edwards says, referencing how Houston is known nationally for its problems — she gives the example of Hurricane Harvey. “We have major challenges in our city, but we can innovate using our innovation economy to provide answers and solutions to them.”

“Energy has to be a part of our story. We are where we are today because we’re the energy capital of the world. And we know that the energy transition is happening, and if we don’t lean into that, our region stands to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs.”

— Hollins says on the types of emerging tech in Houston.

“You often hear it said that Houston is the most diverse city in the nation, but I pose this challenge: What good is it to be the most diverse if we’re not solving the challenges that diverse communities face? And that includes equity in tech. We have all of the raw ingredients here in the Houston community to make Houston the home of where tech and innovation is diverse and equitable.”

— Edwards says on Houston's diversity and the challenges the city faces.

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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.