Haleh Ardebili (left) has been appointed as assistant vice president of Entrepreneurship and Startup Ecosystem, and Michael Harold as assistant vice president for Intellectual Property and Industrial Engagements at the University of Houston. Photo via UH

Two professors have assumed new leadership roles in the University of Houston’s Office of Technology, Transfer, and Innovation.

Haleh Ardebili, the Kamel Salama Endowed Professor of Mechanical Engineering, has been named assistant vice president of entrepreneurship and startup ecosystem. Michael Harold, Cullen Engineering Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has been named assistant vice president for intellectual property and industrial engagements.

Ardebili and Harold “are both tested leaders in their respective areas —they are already contributing to our rich academic environment with their knowledge, expertise and commitment to innovation,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for energy and innovation at UH, in a statement. “Having them helm our growing team will help UH continue its culture of innovation and contribution to society.”

In her new role, Ardebili will oversee entrepreneurship and startup efforts at UH. She will direct the startup and entrepreneurship staff within the Office of Technology, Transfer, and Innovation (OTTI).

Ardebili, who joined the university in 2004, previously was director of the Cullen College of Engineering’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative.

In his new role, Harold will lead the university’s technology transfer activities. He will direct the OTTI licensing and IP management staff.

Harold worked at DuPont in various technical and managerial positions between 1993 and 2000. He joined UH in 2000 as chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering. He served as chair until 2008 and again from 2013 to 2020.

“Both positions will play integral roles in increasing faculty engagement, facilitating innovations from research labs to market, and enhancing collaboration with internal and external stakeholders. These appointments underscore UH’s commitment to driving innovation, economic development, and industry partnerships,” the university says in the release.

Seven student-founded startups pitched their business plans at an annual NASA event. Photo via NASA.gov

Student startups pitch out-of-this-world tech at Houston competition

space tank

Several groups of students from all over the United States tapped into technology developed by NASA to create business plans. The teams competed in Houston last week for thousands of dollars, and one team went home with the win.

NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project, or MUREP, hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event, MUREP Innovation and Technology Tech Transfer Idea Competition, or MITTIC, last week at Space Center Houston. Seven teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology.

“Students and faculty members of MITTIC are notably engaging with our agency, but they are helping to fulfill our mission to make the earth a better, safer place creating products and services that will shape the future," says Donna Shafer, associate director at Johnson Space Center.

All seven teams — each led by a minority student — went home with at least $5,000 as a prize for making it to the finals, but one team from the University of Massachusetts at Boston took home first place and a $10,000 prize. The winning team is also invited to join Team Piezo Pace from the University of St. Thomas, Houston, in a visit to NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, for additional look in the innovation and entrepreneurial space.

The judges for the event included: HopeShimabuku, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the Texas Region; MeganOrtiz, project manager at NASA; LawrenceCosby, vice president of IP strategy at JPMorgan Chase & Co; TerikTidwell, director of inclusive innovation at VentureWell; JorgeValdes, program advisor on STEM education and intellectual property at the United States Patent and Trademark Office; WaltUgalde, economic development executive at NASA; and LauraBarron, autonomous systems technology deputy project manager at NASA.

The seven finalist teams — and the technology they are working on — are as follows:

  • Lone Star College - CyFair’s team Aquarius Solutions, which pitched its water purification product, ClearFlow, based off an ammonia removal system developed at NASA
  • Fayetteville State University in North Carolina’s ASAPA team pitched their Autonomous Solar Array Assembly drone technology that’s based on NASA’s Print-assisted Photovoltaic Assembly system for automated printing of solar panels.
  • University of Houston-Clear Lake’s team AstroNOTS has identified a technology to address the safety of wildfire rescue teams. The PyroCap is a emergence fire shelter based on NASA’s Lightweight Flexible Thermal Protection System.
  • Santa Monica College in California’s team, BREATHE, pitched a noninvasive technology to replace traditional mammograms. The device can analyze breath through a NASA-designed sensor.
  • University of Massachusetts-Boston’s winning team, LazerSense Solutions, is working on a technology for smoke and gas detection. The PartaSense device can detect everything from carbon monoxide to black mold. It’s based on NASA’s MPASS IP.
  • Hartnell College in California’s team PanterBotics is working on an zero-emission electric vehicle, the OmniZero, to address climate change. The technology, a modular robotic vehicle, originated at NASA.
  • University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn Innovators, who pitched a thinking cap technology to increase and enhance focus. The wearable device is based on NASA technology ZONE, or Zeroing Out Negative Effects, an analysis from EEG sensors.

A thorough IP audit separates the wheat from the chaff. Image via Getty Images

Why intellectual property audits are make or break for businesses, according to Houston expert

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Every company with a business based in whole or in part on important intellectual property should protect that property with regularly scheduled intellectual property “audits.” Failing to do so may not only endanger valuable, company-owned patents and trademarks, but also make the business less profitable than it could be.

An IP audit is especially critical when a business is being sold, when a company is planning to buy another business, when a patent is being challenged by a competitor, when a company is looking for new financing or going public, and when there is a change in top management or employees in critical positions have left. A regularly scheduled IP audit can prevent panic, confusion and unwelcome surprises when these major events occur, because management will already have a good working knowledge of the status of all intellectual property.

To begin with, a thorough audit separates the wheat from the chaff. Which patents are central to the company’s business and must be carefully maintained in force? Are there other patents that are no longer important or have been superseded by newer developments and can safely be ignored and allowed to lapse?

Patents should be filed wherever the company’s products are sold and fees on all important patents must be carefully kept up to date. Fees to maintain international patents are often especially expensive but should be updated when necessary, nonetheless. Sometimes, when a company’s trademarks are reviewed, management learns that they have never been federally registered.

Auditors also may find that existing patents are no longer adequate to protect the products that are actually being sold. The products may have “moved on” through further development or application to new uses, but the relevant patents have not. Those patents should be updated immediately with new filings. It’s also critical to determine whether the products made and sold by the company could possibly infringe patents held by competitors—or whether the reverse is true, that other companies’ products are infringing the patents held by the company being audited.

A careful examination of intellectual property can also result in positive developments: auditors may discover that some patents are more valuable than anyone knew and can be licensed to produce another revenue stream for the company—or licensing can be expanded beyond the present level.

Beyond the focus on patents and trademarks, an IP audit should entail a close examination of all contracts and agreements relating to intellectual property. Pinning down exactly who owns the property is just as important as keeping patents up to date. This entails delving into development agreements, nondisclosure agreements, employment agreements, work-for-hire and sales contracts, to make sure ownership of a company’s intellectual property has not been ceded to, or shared with, a third party.

Software is particularly problematic when it comes to inadvertent infringement of the rights of others. What software is being used internally? Where did it come from and what are the limitations on its use? IT professionals don’t always realize that even open-source code requires a license.

This entire process also needs to be applied to analyzing the intellectual property of a prospective acquisition. Investigators may discover that patents belonging to the acquisition are not all appropriate for the acquiring company’s products, fees are not up to date or there are issues with IP ownership or validity. All of these factors may result in substantial savings on the purchase—or a decision not to purchase at all.

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Puja Detjen is an intellectual property attorney and partner in the Houston office of Patterson + Sheridan.

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TMC names latest cohort of health tech innovators for 2024 program

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The Texas Medical Center Innovation has named its new cohort of health tech companies it's currently accelerating.

This first batch of companies for 2024 was selected from last fall's TMC Bootcamp. Eight of the 10 startups from the bootcamp have moved on to the Accelerator for HealthTech.

"Hailing from diverse corners of the globe—from the tech corridors of Texas and California to Ireland and Australia—these companies converge with a shared mission—to move healthcare forward," Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Health Tech, writes in a TMC blog post. "Through personalized mentorship and guidance, these eight companies are able to navigate complex challenges and refine their strategies, while leveraging the expertise of Texas Medical Center ecosystem to validate their innovations and drive real-world impact."

The selected companies include:

  • AcorAI, from Stockholm, Sweden, which is developing a first-of-its-kind, hand-held, scalable medical device for non-invasive intracardiac pressure monitoring to improve heart failure management for more than 64 million patients worldwide.
  • AirSeal, based in St. Louis, Missouri, which has developed a novel serum-based biomarker technology – circulating fatty acid synthase (cFAS) – that can diagnose cardiovascular and peripheral artery disease with high accuracy in both women and men.
  • Foxo, headquartered in Brisbane, Australia, serves as an interoperable tool designed to enhance clinical collaboration across the healthcare ecosystem. It enables secure, two-way communication with features such as video, voice, screen share, file sharing, and real-time messaging.
  • San Francisco-based Knowtex, an artificial intelligence-powered software writes medical documentation for you and assigns correct codes to ensure proper reimbursement.
  • NeuroBell, from Cork, Ireland, which is working on a novel medical device providing portable EEG monitoring with real-time and automated neonatal seizure alerts at the bedside.
  • Perth, Australia-based OncoRes Medical that's developing an intraoperative imaging technology to provide surgeons with real-time assessment of tissue microstructure.
  • From right here in Houston, Steradian Technologies, which has created RUMI, the first noninvasive, fully portable infectious disease diagnostic that costs the price of a latte. It uses novel photon-based detection to collect and diagnose infectious diseases in breath within 30 seconds.
  • TYBR, also based in Houston, created a flowable extracellular matrix hydrogel, crafted to safeguard healing tendons and ligaments from scarring and adhesions. The company originated from the TMCi’s Biodesign fellowship and now has entered into the Accelerator for HealthTech to sharpen its regulatory strategy, particularly in anticipation of FDA conversations.

Applications for the next Accelerator for HealthTech will open in May of this year.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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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.

2 Houston cleantech companies named to top 10 ranking of innovative energy

high impact

A pair of Houston energy startups have been named among the 10 most innovative energy companies for 2024.

Fast Company magazine just placed Fervo Energy and Syzygy Plasmonics on its energy innovation list. In all, 606 companies and organizations across a variety of industries were recognized for “reshaping industries and culture.”

Fervo produces carbon-free geothermal energy. Its existing geothermal project is in Nevada, and it’s building a geothermal project in Utah. The company recently raised $244 million.

“Solar and wind are cheap, but they don’t provide the kind of always-on dispatchable electricity that hydropower, hydrogen, and nuclear do; even at current high prices, enhanced geothermal is still cheaper than those other sources,” Fast Company notes.

The Fast Company accolade comes shortly after Time and Statista named Fervo one of the top greentech companies for 2024.

By relying on light rather than combustion to generate chemical reactions, Syzygy is taking on the use of fossil fuels in the chemical industry, Fast Company points out. Fossil fuels account for about 18 percent of the world’s industrial CO2 emissions.

Fast Company outlines some of Syzygy’s accomplishments in 2023:

  • Gained an undisclosed amount of funding from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
  • Completed its Pearland manufacturing facility.
  • Wrapped up 1,000 cumulative hours of testing on its ammonia-splitting reactor cell, capable of producing 200 kilograms of hydrogen per day.