Optellum, which has its United States operations based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum , which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia , with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures . Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital , and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients."

The fresh funding will go toward scaling Optellum's operations and commercial launches in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Additionally, the company plans to expand its platform, including providing personalized therapy support using imaging data with molecular data, robotics, and liquid biopsies.

"With this strong support and commitment of highly specialized investors, we are positioned to accelerate commercial deployment in both the UK and the United States to expand our installed base," says Jason Pesterfield, CEO at Optellum, in the release. "Following years of research and clinical trials that have shown the impact of our software on the diagnosis of at-risk lung nodules, we're focused on expanding patient access to this crucial technology and identifying deadly lung cancer faster in more at-risk people. The funding will also boost our research and development with world-leading institutions and partners to progress further innovation."

Optellum's software provides support for physicians making decisions in early lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. The company was launched to provide better diagnostics and early-stage treatment to increase survival rates and improve health outcomes.

Last year, Optellum — whose U.S. headquarters is at Houston's TMC Innovation Institute — announced it would be included in J&J's Lung Cancer Initiative . The startup was a 2019 graduate of the Texas Medical Center's accelerator and its software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic, received FDA clearance, CE-MDR in the EU, and UKCA in the UK.

"Optellum is the latest in a series of companies to channel research from the UK's world-leading universities into commercially viable products that can make a difference to the provision of medical care," says Mercia Investment Director Stephen Johnson in the release. "Having observed Optellum achieve great milestones over the years, we are now excited to become part of their success and apply our experience with scaling up software and deep-tech companies to help accelerate Optellum's impact on patient lives across the world."

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Gowing femtech company chooses Houston for first out-of-state expansion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University of Houston lines up entrepreneurship course featuring Taylor Swift's billion-dollar career

Cougar Red (Taylor's Version)

By any measure, Taylor Swift put on a masterclass with her Eras Tour this year — her Houston stop was a study in three-hours of pop-culture-perfect brand execution and fan frenzy.

Now, University of Houston is taking Tay studies to the next level with a new biz class.

Appropriately dubbed “The Entrepreneurial Genius of Taylor Swift,” the new class is part of the curriculum at coming to the C. T. Bauer College of Business at the University of Houston next spring. Swfities who’re super “ready for it,” however, can get a jump on enrollment now.

Study “the 1” at a No. 1 institution

Though Swifties and Tay (and Travis) fiends will surely soak up every class hour, the program isn’t just for fans, the prof notes in a press statement. And Bauer College offers serious cred for current and new students, as its Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship has long ranked No. 1 in the U.S.

“You definitely don’t have to be a hardcore fan — a Swiftie — to learn and appreciate the entrepreneurial genius that has made Taylor Swift an international phenomenon,” notes Kelly McCormick, the Professor of Practice leading the course, citing Swift’s expertise in marketing, fan engagement, community building, and brand strategies.

Don’t hate, hate, hate, hate, hate on this Tay tutorial

Sure, Swift haters night hate on a Taylor course. But before they do, they should consider that at age 33, Swift boasts an estimated net worth of $1 billion, according to Forbes . And her aforementioned Eras Tour? Swift earned more than $780 million on the U.S. leg alone this year on the tour, which — by current estimates — cues her up to become the highest-grossing female touring artist of all time.

Her Eras Tour concert film also just became the highest-grossing concert film in North America, raking between $95 million to $97 million in ticket sales during its opening weekend — alone.

Taylor Swift Houston 2023 Eras Tour
Swift can flex a $1 billion net worth, per Forbes. Photo by Marco Torres/Marco from Houston


And then of course, her music acumen and savvy. In 2021, Swift smartly re-recorded a version of her album Fearless and launched a series of releases of her back catalog, in order to secure ownership of her first six albums.That move came after the masters (the original recordings) sold for a reported $300 million in 2019.

Here in Houston, as CultureMap reported , the Post-Tay Effect (we’re making that a thing) had a lasting economic effect, notbaly for areas pet and food nonprofits.

Hardcore business aside, the class Still, the course will be Taylor-made for Swifties. McCormick, who also serves as managing director for the university’s startup accelerator RED Labs , has themed each session around a different album — or Era, obvi for fans — of Swift’s career.

What to expect on the “mornin' of your very first day”

So, when students take a deep breath and walk through the door of their very first day (obligatory “ Fifteen ,” callout) they will score friendship bracelet gifts — a huge Swiftie phenomenon — and will be treated to surprise songs during breaks and even Easter eggs hidden in class content. (That’s a clever nod to Swift, who regularly hides clues, callbacks, and “oh yeaaahhhh” moments for fans in her music videos, album artwork, and social media posts).

As for the Tay inspo, McCormick says she has been a Swift fan since the early days of mega-hits “Our Song” and “Love Story.” But like so many who were blown away by the sheer Tay Machine during the Houston Eras Tour stop in April, the professor quickly noted entrepreneurship lessons to be learned over Swift’s in her 17-year career.

Taylor Swift Houston
The professor says Swift's dazzling Eras Tour stop in Houston inspired the class. Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images/Taylor Swift Twitter


“I saw the show and loved it,” McCormick adds. “And I realized I actually didn’t know that much about her career. I became absolutely enamored basically overnight and started getting into her whole discography. Taylor is truly impressive!”

She added: “Never have I ever — like ever — been so engrossed in someone’s career after so little time.” (Should anyone doubt all the Tay references, McCormick’s “never have I ever — like ever” comments is shoutout to Swift’s most popular singles, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” Very clever.)

Travis-Tay included?

But perhaps the top Tay lesson is how to ensure satisfied customers.

“The number one business lesson students can learn from Taylor is the way she treats her fans,” McCormick notes. “She is beloved because she truly does so much to make sure they are happy, appreciated and feel like they are important to her. If every company acted that way about their customers — they’d have way more customers.”

Oh, and, no word — and we didn’t ask, for the record — if Kansas City Chiefs tight end/Swift squeeze Travis Kelce is part of the curriculum. Also no word if, to quote “ Fifteen ,” students will “sit in class next to a redhead named Abigail.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap .