This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zach Ellis of South Loop Ventures, Toby Hamilton of Hamilton Health Box, and Ellen Ochoa of NASA. Photos courtesy

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.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Jessica Traver Ingram of IntuiTap, Kelsey Ruger of Hello Alice, Katy Rezvani of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to three Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with a health tech founder, advice from an AI expert, and a cancer-fighting innovator.

Jessica Traver Ingram, CEO and co-founder of IntuiTap

Jessica Traver Ingram, CEO and co-founder of IntuiTap, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share her company's latest milestone. Photo courtesy of IntuiTap

Jessica Traver Ingram has been captivated by the intersection of physics and health care for most of her life, and that passion led her to contributing to the establishment of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Fellowship. After helping make the program a reality, Traver Ingram then participated in it as a fellow.

The program selects fellows and then lets them explore the TMC's member institutions to find ways to innovate within unmet clinical needs, and the inefficiency and challenges with placing epidurals and lumbar punctures caught Traver Ingram and her cohort's eye. The process relies completely on the health care practitioner's ability to feel the spine with their fingers to make the injection.

"We kept watching the inefficiencies of these procedures, and everyone was like, 'you're right, we don't really know why we do it this way,'" Traver Ingram says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's really cool to be outsiders watching and observing, because you just see things other people don't see — and that's in any industry."

With that, IntuiTap was born. Traver Ingram describes its tool, the VerTouch, as a "stud finder for the spine." After years of growing the company, she can also now call it FDA-approved. Read more.


Kelsey Ruger, chief technology and product officer for Hello Alice

AI's true potential lies in its ability to enhance human capabilities, not replace them. Photo courtesy

Ready or not, artificial intelligence is coming. In fact, it's already affecting the workforce.

"With its ability to automate tasks, analyze large amounts of data, and provide detailed insights, AI offers an enormous opportunity for businesses of all sizes," writes Kelsey Ruger, chief technology and product officer for Hello Alice, in a guest column. "However, realizing this potential requires a strategic approach that positions AI as a powerful partner, rather than a replacement for human ingenuity."

Ruger shares how business can unlock AI's full potential via automation, augmentation, and autonomy. Read more.

Katy Rezvani, professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy at MD Anderson Cancer Center

At Rezvani Lab in MD Anderson Cancer Center, scientists train immune cells to fight cancer. Photo courtesy

San Diego-based Replay incorporated a first-in-class engineered TCR-NK cell therapy product company, Syena, using technology developed by Dr. Katy Rezvani at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The company has announced that its first patient has been dosed with an engineered T-Cell Receptor Natural Killer (TCR-NK) cell therapy for relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma.

Rezvani, a professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy, is the force behind MD Anderson’s Rezvani Lab, a group of 55 people, all focused on harnessing natural killer cells to combat cancer.

“Everybody thinks that the immune system is fighting viruses and infections, but I feel our immune system is capable of recognizing and killing abnormal cells or cells that are becoming cancerous and they're very powerful. This whole field of immunotherapy really refers to the power of the immune system,” Rezvani tells InnovationMap. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sean Kelly of Amperon, Amanda Burkhardt of Phiogen, and Mielad Ziaee of UH. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon CEO Sean Kelly joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his company's growth and expansion plans. Photo via LinkedIn

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology." Continue reading.

Amanda Burkhardt, CEO of Phiogen

Spun out of Baylor College of Medicine, Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to pitch at SXSW earlier this month. Photo via LinkedIn

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. Continue reading.

Mielad Ziaee, 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar

Mielad Ziaee, a 20-year-old student at the University of Houston, was tapped for a unique National Institutes of Health program. Photo via UH.edu

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.” Continue reading.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Ryan DuChanois of Solidec and Stephanie Campbell and Diana Murakhovskaya of The Artemis Fund. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Ryan DuChanois, co-founder and CEO at Solidec

Ryan DuChanois pitched his company Solidec at CERAWeek, and took home a prize of $25,000. Photo via Solidec/LinkedIn

For the third year, the Greater Houston Partnership's Houston Energy Transition Institute hosted its startup pitch competition at CERAWeek by S&P Global. A dozen startups walked away with recognition — and three some with cash prizes.

Houston-based Solidec won the top prize for the TEX-E pitches. The company, which is working on a platform to produce chemicals from captured carbon, won first place and $25,000. Ryan DuChanois, co-founder and CEO, pitched at the event.

"This prize will help us scale up our technology from the lab at Rice University and ultimately fulfill our mission of capturing yesterday's emissions and generating tomorrow's fuels," the company writes in a post on LinkedIn. Read more.

Stephanie Campbell and Diana Murakhovskaya, co-founders and general partners of The Artemis Fund

Diana Murakhovskaya and Stephanie Campbell are co-founders of The Artemis Fund, a Houston-based, female founder-focused venture capital firm that just announced its $36 million fund II. Photo courtesy of Artemis

In 2019, Stephanie Campbell saw an opportunity in the market — investing in women-led startups, something that wasn't happening at the volume it should have been.

"When we looked around, we really wanted to solve the problem of why women only receive 2 percent of venture capital," Campbell says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

As angel investors, Campbell and Diana Murakhovskaya, co-founders and general partners of The Artemis Fund, saw tons of promising women-led businesses. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Scott Gale of Halliburton Labs, Amanda Ducach of Ema, and Jon Nordby of Anthropy Partners. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs

Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his call to action for Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week. Photo courtesy of Halliburton Labs

Scott Gale will be the first to admit that hosting a week of curated events targeted to a group of individuals within the tech and energy space isn't a novel idea — Climate Week NYC has been taking over Manhattan for over a decade. But Gale believes Houston deserves to have its own time to shine.

Earlier this month, Halliburton Labs, Rice Alliance, and Greentown Houston announced the inaugural Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 to take place in September, but Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, says he hopes this is just the beginning of Houston organizations coming together to collaborate on the initiative.

"I think we have a really awesome initial coalition. Whether your the fifth company or organization to raise its hand to do something that week or the 50th — it really doesn't matter," Gale says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It really is an open invitation — and I want to make that super clear." Read more.

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of ema

Amanda Ducach, founder of ema, has raised funding. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

A Houston-based startup that's improving health and wellness for women with its artificial intelligence-backed platform has raised a bridge round of funding.

Ema closed its latest bridge round, bringing its total funding to nearly $2 million. The company received investment from Kubera's Venture Capital and Victorum Capital, which joined existing investors Hearst Labs, Wormhole Capital, Acumen America, and Techstars.

Ema strives to deliver "personalized, empathetic, and evidence-based support" to its users through its generative AI technology. The platform has more than 100,000 users, and has expanded into the B2B sector with $100,000 in contracts within just 30 days after pivoting to this model, according to the company.

"Ema was born from a deep-seated belief in the transformative power of AI to make women's health care more accessible and effective," Amanda Ducach, CEO of Ema, says in a news release. "Our recent funding and rapid B2B growth validate our approach and enable us to further our mission." Read more.

Jon Nordby, managing partner at Anthropy Partners

Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantage, says Houston expert Jon Nordby. Photo courtesy

In a new series of guest columna for InnovationMap, Jon Nordby is sharing his observations from years with working with founders.

"My top observation is that the success of founders often hinges on their focus on a specific problem, from the perspective of the problem holder (which is not always their customer) and particularly a problem set they care deeply about," he writes. "This focus is far more impactful than merely having a great idea. Founders with a laser focus on a problem, showed remarkable advantages."

Nordby is the managing partner at Anthropy Partners, a Houston-based investment firm, and professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Houston. Read more.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Emma Konet of Tierra Climate, Cindy Taff of Sage Geosystems, and Clemmie Martin of The Cannon. Photos courtesy

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.

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Houston digital health platform raises additional seed funding from fresh investors

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A Houston-born digital advance care planning company, has secured new funding from some big names.

Koda Health achieved a successful oversubscription of additional seed round funding thanks to the participation of AARP, Memorial Hermann Health System, and the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund. The total amount raised was undisclosed, and the round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital.

The tech platform improves planning for serious illness treatment and end-of-life care using a cloud-based advance care planning, or ACP, platform that pairs with in-house support. Essentially, it allows patients to do their planning ahead and make sure that their wishes are actually put into action. According to Koda Health, this results in an average of $9,500 saved per-patient, as well as improved health outcomes.

"If we’re looking at speed of market adoption, it’s clear that Koda Health is at the forefront of a crucial transformation in Advance Care Planning," says Tatiana Fofanova, PhD, CEO of Koda Health, in a press release. “In just a few years, we’ve built out a product that now serves well over 700,000 patients nationwide for industry giants like Cigna, Privia and Houston Methodist.”

Dr. Desh Mohan, the chief medical officer for Koda Health says that it was important to the company to create strategic partnerships with its investors. In fact, Memorial Hermann isn’t just helping with funding. The hospital system is also collaborating with Koda on a new pilot project.

“Koda is uniquely positioned to serve payers, providers and patients,” adds William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center. “We rarely see a company that provides value to all three stakeholders. Seeing Koda launch from our TMCi BioDesign program to the progress they've made with our member institutions and players in the value chain is incredible.”

Beyond the TMC, Koda’s collaboration with AARP goes through the latter’s AgeTech Collaborative. That ecosystem unites founders in the realm of longevity tech to make meaningful change in their field.

"AARP research shows that there is a willingness among older adults in the U.S. to prepare for the end of their lives," says Amelia Hay, VP of Startup Programming and Investments at AgeTech Collaborative. "This indicates a need for more programs and services geared towards ensuring adults take the necessary steps, and AARP is pleased to invest in Koda Health to help address that need."

Koda raised its first seed funding in 2022, a round that totaled $3.5 million. The new round close means that Koda can accelerate its efforts to modernize ACP.

3 affordable Houston neighbors rank among America's 10 safest cities

HIGH PRAISE FOR THE 'BURBS

Crime may be a concern for some Houstonians, but life is a little more relaxed just beyond the city limits.

Three Houston-area suburbs – League City, Sugar Land, and Pearland – were just crowned among the top 10 safest and most affordable cities to live in the U.S., as declared in a new report by GoBankingRates.

The study, "50 Safest and Most Affordable US Cities To Live In," ranked the largest U.S. cities by population based on their cost of living and crime rate averages. Crime rates were determined based on the number of crimes per 1,000 city residents from the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer in 2022, the year with the most recent available data.

League City proudly landed in the No. 4 spot nationally, thanks to its low property and violent crime rates as well as a high median household income. Sugar Land and Pearland weren't too far behind in the top 10, ranking No. 6 and No. 7, respectively. The report emphasized these suburbs all offer "vibrant cultural scenes" and strong job markets for adults, along with great schools and abundant recreational activities for families to enjoy.

A League City household makes a median income of $117,316 annually, with an average mortgage cost of $2,216 per month, the report found. The total monthly cost of living in the family friendly city adds up to $4,157.

There were a total of 1,497 property crimes reported in the city in 2022, and 126 total violent crimes. For context, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the population in League City spans more than 116,000 residents in 2023. That means the city's rate for violent crimes is 1.08 per 1,000 residents, and the property crime rate is 12.85 per 1,000 residents, according to the findings.

Sugar Land's median household income is much higher than League City's, at $132,247 per year. However, so were the average mortgage costs ($2,715 per month) and total monthly cost of living ($4,852).

There were 1,745 property crimes and 97 violent crimes reported in Sugar Land in 2022. That would place Sugar Land's property crime rate at 16.16 per 1,000 city residents, and 0.90 violent crimes per 1,000 residents.

Here's how the report breaks down Pearland's cost of living and crime rate statistics:

  • Median household income: $111,123
  • Household average mortgage cost: $2,257
  • Total monthly cost of living: $4,352
  • Property crimes (reported in 2022): 2,152
  • Property crime per 1,000 residents: 17.09
  • Violent crimes (reported in 2022): 117
  • Violent crime per 1,000 residents: .93

Large Texas cities, such as Houston proper, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio, were all noticeably absent in the ranking. This is likely because – as most Texans are aware – bigger cities often have higher crime rates and higher costs of living than their outlying suburbs.

"Choosing a family-friendly place to live is a significant decision that involves a balancing act between safety and affordability in any big city," the report said. "Whether you’re a young professional, a growing family or a retiree, finding real estate where you feel comfortable — both physically and financially — is crucial for a high quality of life."

Other Texas cities that were ranked in the top 25 safest and most affordable places to live include El Paso (No. 11), McKinney (No. 15), Frisco (No. 16), Laredo (No. 18), Grand Prairie (No. 21), Plano (No. 22), Carrollton (No. 23), and McAllen (No. 24).

The top 10 safest and most affordable U.S. cities to live in are:

  • No. 1 – Elgin, Illinois
  • No. 2 – Cary, North Carolina
  • No. 3 – Gilbert, Arizona
  • No. 4 – League City, Texas
  • No. 5 – Rochester, Minnesota
  • No. 6 – Sugar Land, Texas
  • No. 7 – Pearland, Texas
  • No. 8 – Meridian, Idaho
  • No. 9 – Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
  • No. 10 – Olathe, Kansas
The full report and its methodology can be found on gobankingrates.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.