Earlier this month, Autonomix Medical went public. The company's technology is geared toward treating pain stemming from pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Photo via nasdaq.com

The Woodlands-based medical device company Autonomix Medical grossed more than $11.1 million in its recent IPO.

The company’s stock now trades on the NASDAQ market under the symbol AMIX. On February 1, company officials range the NASDAQ’s closing bell. The stock closed February 5 at $5.60 per share.

The NASDAQ listing “represents a pivotal moment in the growth of our [company] and a significant corporate milestone leading to what we believe will be an exciting future for Autonomix,” says Lori Bisson, the company’s CEO.

In the IPO, Autonomix sold nearly 2.24 million shares of common stock at $5 each. The gross amount raised excludes sales commissions and other expenses.

In a January 19 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Autonomix had eyed gross IPO proceeds of more than $21.2 million — nearly half of what the company actually raised — from the sale of up to 4 million shares.

For the six-month period ended September 30, 2023, Autonomix tallied a net loss of $6.9 million and a deficit of nearly $30.5 million.

Outside investors BioStar Ventures (with a 15 percent pre-IPO stake) and Tricord Holdings (5.5 percent), according to SEC documents. Before the IPO, seven Autonomix executives and directors controlled 50.6 percent of the company’s common stock.

The first medical device being developed by Autonomix, founded in 2014, is a catheter-based microchip that the company says can detect and differentiate neural signals with about 3,000 times greater sensitivity than current technology.

On its website, Autonomix cites a potential $100 billion global market for its technology.

Initially, Autonomix’s technology is geared toward treating pain stemming from pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Other uses for the technology, protected by dozens of patents, include management of post-surgery pain, treatment of high blood pressure, and treatment of organ-related conditions.

A day after the January 29 IPO, Autonomix announced it had wrapped up an $8 million all-stock deal to regain exclusive worldwide rights for use of its technology in the cardiology sector. In December 2021, Autonomix granted a license to Impulse Medical for use of its technology for cardiac purposes. In exchange for 1.6 million Autonomix shares, Impulse sold back those rights to Autonomix.

“Regaining the cardiology rights to our innovative technology broadens our development opportunities and provides further optionality related to our development strategy moving forward. Looking ahead, we remain focused on our pancreatic cancer pain development program and are on track to commence our first-in-human clinical study this quarter,” Bisson says.

Autonomix says its catheter-based sensing technology is designed to sense neural signals associated with pain or disease and then target those nerves for treatment.

“Autonomix believes this technology is a better alternative to the current approaches commonly used today, where doctors either rely on systemic drugs like opioids that lose effectiveness,” say the company, “and have unwanted side effects or treat suspected areas blindly in hopes of hitting the right nerves, an approach that is often inaccurate and can miss the target and even cause collateral damage to surrounding parts of the body.”

Here's what Houston tech and startup news trended this year on InnovationMap in space tech. Image via Getty Images

Top Space City news of 2023: New Houston unicorn, an IPO, spaceport development, and more

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from a space tech company reaching unicorn status to another completing its IPO. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility. Continue reading the full story from May.

Houston space tech startup closes deal to IPO

Intuitive Machines will be listed on Nasdaq beginning February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It's official. This Houston company is live in the public market.

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Continue reading the full story from February.

Houston to host 6 Italian aerospace companies with new program

Six Italian companies are coming to the Space City to accelerate their businesses thanks to a new program. Photo via nasa.gov

It's an Italian invasion in Houston — and it's happening in the name of accelerating innovation within aerospace.

For the first time, Italy has announced an international aerospace-focused program in the United States. The Italian Trade Agency and Italian Space Agency will partner with Space Foundation to launch Space It Up, an initiative that will accelerate six companies in Houston.

“The launch of Space It Up marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to nurturing innovation and facilitating global partnerships," Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian Trade Commissioner of Houston, says in a news release. "This program serves as a testament to the collaborative spirit that defines the aerospace industry. It represents the convergence of Italian ingenuity and Houston's esteemed legacy in space exploration, setting the stage for unprecedented advancements." Continue reading the full story from August.

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade. Continue reading the full story from August.

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.” Continue reading the full story from August.

FibroBiologics is opening a unique new lab at the University of Houston's Technology Bridge. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston regenerative medicine company opens new lab at UH

cell therapy innovation

Pete O’Heeron wants you to know that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was originally released as a B-side. What does this nugget about Queen have to do with regenerative medicine? For O’Heeron and his company, FibroBiologics, it means everything.

That’s because most scientists consider stem cells the A-side when it comes to the race to curing disease. But FibroBiologics has set its sights on fibroblasts. The most common cell in the body, fibroblasts are the main cell type in connective tissue.

“Everyone was betting on stem cells, and we started betting on fibroblasts,” says O’Heeron, who started the company in 2008 as SpinalCyte. “I think what we're going to see is that fibroblasts are going to end up winning, there are more robust, more that are lower cost cell, they have higher therapeutic values, higher immune modulation. They're just a better overall cell than the than the stem cells.”

Since a neurosurgeon and a dermatologist first introduced O’Heeron to the idea of using fibroblasts to regrow discs in the spine, the company has expanded its reach to include promising treatments for multiple sclerosis and cancer and in wound care. Imagine a world where doctors lay fibroblasts directly onto surgical incisions after surgery, cutting the time for healing in half.

FibroBiologics has organically written and filed more than 320 patents.

“It's quite a unique situation. I don’t think that in other areas of science that you have such a wide open area to go out and patent. It's just it was a brand new area nobody had been working on,” O’Heeron explains.

And soon, investors will be able to own a stake in the impressive work being forged in Houston. FibroBiologics, previously FibroGenesis, was formed in order to go public in a direct NASDAQ listing. The goal is to access the capital necessary to go to human trials. Earlier this year, the company also launched a crowdfunding campaign.

“We’ve had really fantastic results with animals and now we’re ready for humans,” says O’Heeron. “We've done small human trials, but we haven't done the large ones that are going to get the commercialization approval from the FDA.”

With that in mind, the company just signed a deal with University of Houston’s Innovation Center. On Thursday, September 7, FibroBiologics will dedicate the Newlin-Linscomb Lab for Cell Therapies in the UH Technology Bridge. The new lab is named for former player and color commentator for the Houston Rockets, Mike Newlin and his wife, Cindy, as well as Pam and Dan Linscomb, a founding partner of Kuhl-Linscomb, one of the largest wealth management companies in Houston.

Other big local names newly attached to the company are astronaut Kate Rubins and Elizabeth Shpall, the director of the cell therapy laboratory at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Both have joined FibroBiologics as members of its scientific advisory board.

To fill the lab, O’Heeron says that he is adding to his team as quickly as he is able. The barrier is the fact that there are few, if any people in the world with the exact qualifications he’s seeking.

“Anytime you're breaking new scientific ground, you can't really just go out and recruit someone with that background because it really doesn't exist,” he says. But he is willing to teach and challenge scientists who are the right fit, and is hoping to expand the team in the new lab.

But like Queen did in 1975, FibroBiologics is pioneering a category of its own. And that’s something worth betting on.

Coya Therapeutics rang the closing bell at Nasdaq last week, celebrating six months since its IPO, new data from trials, and additions to its team. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston company with revolutionary neurodegenerative disease treatment shares milestones since IPO

ring that bell

After announcing its initial public offering earlier this year, a Houston therapeutics company has celebrated the milestone and announced recent growth as well.

Coya Therapeutics (Nasdaq: COYA) rang the closing bell last week. The clinical-stage biotech company, which has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again, announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO in January.

"We launched our IPO into one of the toughest biotech capital markets in recent memory and are enormously grateful to all our investors for the confidence they then showed in our prospects," says Howard Berman, CEO and chairman of Coya, in a June 12 letter to stockholders. "I believe that to date, we’ve executed strongly against the goals we then established, and I remain excited about our future."

In the letter, Berman shares some of the recent clinical successes from two treatments — COYA 302, a treatment for ALS, and COYA 301, a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease. Both treatments have seen strong clinical proof of concept data in the respective open-label studies.

Earlier this year, Coya expanded its C-suite to include Dr. Arun Swaminathan as chief business officer. He has over 20 years of hands-on health care business executive experience. Prior to Coya, Swaminathan served in the same role for Actinium Pharmaceuticals.

"Arun is actively engaged in exploring potential strategic opportunities across our portfolio of assets as we believe successful partnering efforts have the potential to enhance our scientific bona fides, leverage our technology into new areas of unmet medical need, and importantly, possibly secure upfront fees and associated non-dilutive funding," Berman writes in the letter. "We look forward to pursuing additional value creation catalysts that further highlight our entrepreneurialism and ability to execute, while maintaining focus on our core assets."

The latest addition to the Coya team is Guillaume Dorothée, who joins the company's scientific advisory board. A leading expert on the role that the immune system and peripheral-central immune crosstalk play in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer's, he's a tenured research director and team head in neuroimmunology at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Paris.

“I am glad and honored to join such eminent scientists on the prestigious SAB of Coya Therapeutics," he says in a June 5 statement from Coya. "I am fully convinced that innovative Treg-based immunomodulatory approaches, as developed by Coya, are highly promising therapeutic strategies for the treatment of neurodegenerative disorders and other neuroinflammatory conditions. I will be happy to help Coya Therapeutics in this exciting endeavor.”

Recently, Berman joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Coya's mission and plan post IPO.


Houston-based Nauticus Robotics founder, Nicolaus Radford, shares the latest from his company and why we're primed for a hardtech movement. Image via LinkedIn

Houston innovator shares difficult journey to IPO, the challenges of hardtech innovation, and more

Q&A

It's been a busy past year or so for Nicolaus Radford, founder and CEO of Nauticus Robotics. He's taken his company public at a difficult time for the market, launched new partnerships with the United States Marine Corps, and even welcomed a new family member.

Originally founded in 2014 as Houston Mechatronics, Nauticus Robotics has designed a fleet of underwater robots and a software platform for autonomous operations. Radford caught up with InnovationMap about these recent milestones for him and the company in an interview.

InnovationMap: Tell me about life after IPO. What’s been surprising for you leading your company through the transition and now on the other side of IPO?

Nicolaus Radford: I'll tell you what, it’s the hardest thing I ever did in my professional career by a factor of 10. Everybody finds their red line once or twice in their career. You know, when you're working 100 hours a week, you're going to bed at 2 am, you're waking up at 6:30 am, you're sleeping three hours a night, right? Everybody's found that moment once in a while and you're like, “okay, I've touched my red line and I would never want to do that again.” This was I knew where my red line was, and I went so far beyond it, I couldn't even see where I thought my red line was. It was a very exceptionally challenging period of time. It took a long to complete the transaction, and the market was just changing under our feet. Rules were and regulations were changing — were we grandfathered in or were we not?

I'm part of some business organizations and, and some of those confidential relationships have turned into friendships. And a couple of them call me and they're like, “we're really worried. We think this is going to be we don't know if you're going to get it done. And we just want you to be aware that you're not you may not get it done.” It is a little scary because once you engage in it, you're running quite a tab with bankers and law firms and all sorts of things. And if you don't complete the deal, it just might kill the company. But we did it. We were one of a few people last year to actually get a deal over the line. I'm very proud of that. I think it speaks to the quality of the deal that we had. The macro economic environment was exceptionally difficult. It remains to be very difficult today. But we had strong backing from our strategic investors and our partners that were already on the cap table. They put a tremendous amount of money into the deal.

You know, I look back on it and it's, you know, ringing the Nasdaq bell when we listed, and giving that speech at the podium — it was a surreal moment. I remember when I was standing there looking at the Nauticus logo on the seven-story Nasdaq tower, having as many people in the company as we could bring, and just sharing that moment with all of them, especially my wife, who, I will be very clear about this, I could not have gotten through this moment without her. She is the rock that keeps our family together and my head straight. A little known fact — we had a newborn during this time as well, so that was also very difficult. And and she just handled so much that there's just not another person like her.

I was excited but cautious at the same time. I mean, the life of a CEO of a public company at large, it's all about the process following a process, the regulations, the administration of the public company, the filings, the reportings — it can feel daunting. I have to rise to the occasion to tackle that in this the next stage of the company.

IM: You’re working with the military on a project that adapts Nauticus’s tech for Marine Corps use. What’s it been like working with the military on this project?

NR: We've probably worked with military interests for the last six years, but all of the things that we have been doing have been extremely confidential and hush. Now we've been able to work with customers that have a stronger public facing persona, and the Defense Innovation Unit is one of those. Their charter is it's quite literally looking for commercial technology and adapting that towards military applications, and so it's been nice to be able to show the utility and the application of of a lot of our technology and what we've been working on for so long as it's applied on a broader scale to the big services, whether it's the Navy or the Marine Corps. Both of the programs we’re working on are all about mine countermeasures, and mines are really, really difficult, especially underwater mines. We've been we've been applying all of Nauticus’s broad technology portfolio to being able to search autonomously and being able to identify and neutralize threats in the water. I love that mission because anytime we can remove our service men and women from these situations, that's just the right thing to do. There are those three universal truths — all babies are cute, all puppies are huggable, and all Canadians are nice. But there's a fourth one — nobody wants to defuse an underwater bomb. And so I'm really happy to be working on robotics technologies where that's the case.

IM: The Ion recently announced Nauticus as a new tenant. What’s the strategy behind creating a footprint there?

NR: We've signed the definitive documents with the Ion about our presence there. We’ve been designing it for a while, and now we're starting to build it out. They're giving us temporary space, so we're going to be immediately there. Nauticus was really born from this connection to spaceflight. We started up Nauticus around NASA, and there's an incredible amount of talent here. And people tend to change jobs sometimes, so we were attracting a lot of talent from NASA. Now that NASA has solidified their mission and what they're doing and gained a little traction, we wanted to have more draw from the universities being up in town. Clear Lake, even though we have water access and it's much closer to Galveston where we test a lot, we wanted to be up in town. So, we're creating a bit of an innovation center. There's a lot more collisions downtown with customers and talent, it just made sense that we had to be there. And because we support the city of Houston so much and what they're doing for the startup community and early stage companies like ourselves that, we want to support that.

IM: How would you describe the state of the hardtech sector?

NR: We still need improvement by far. Hardtech companies are still viewed as a bad investment. We're always going out to investor events, and I remember this one investor came up to me and asked me to tell him a little bit about my company. The second he got into the essence of what we do and sussed out that obviously we are not just a software company, he just goes full stop. “Hey, listen, you know, our investment thesis is we only invest in software companies.” I had just kind of had it and I sort of shot back at him and I just said, “that's a rather that's a rather dumb value proposition and pretty shortsighted.” And we parted ways. It just irritates me that that's this is most of everybody's comeback. Like, they're a special class because they only invest in software companies.

I'm sure you've heard of ChatGPT and how that's going to alter the world forever. Now is probably a really shitty time to be a software developer, and I think it's going to place an extra emphasis and value on hard tech companies because I haven't seen ChatGPT run a run a milling machine yet break a piece of metal on a machine or assemble a circuit board. I love that now the position of companies like ours that are in the robotics space where you take this multidisciplinary blend of hardware, software, and electronics toward an application, because I think that is going to start becoming a premium value.

Software companies tend to attract more equity investment because people have this idea that the scaling costs and the startup costs are lower. Anyone with a keyboard can get online, create a website, and have an e-commerce business. Turns out, that because that’s true, there’s a million out there. What I love about a hardtech company that if you get it right, the cost of trying to compete with that company that figured it out is so high that the negative now begins the benefit. A fast follower is almost impossible.

The VC community sprung up in a post World War II world to help fund the commercialization of the computer and silicon — that's kind of what it originated from. I mean, there was not an investment vehicle that companies that were developing technology in this space could go to and get a loan, couldn't go to the bank. The venture capital world developed to help spawn hard tech investments. And, I hate to break it to you, but one of the most valuable companies in the world was a hard tech company: Tesla. This is a physical world. And I believe the last 50 years were absolutely characterized by the ubiquitous manipulation of the virtual world, but the next 50 years are going to be characterized by the ubiquitous manipulation of the physical world. And that's where we're at.

IM: What’s next for Nauticus?

NR: What’s next is tough to talk about, because I can only talk about what’s already been published. I see Nauticus being the preeminent ocean robotics company. I want Nauticus to be an empire. It starts small but it grows — and it grows in many different ways, and we’re exploring all of those different ways to grow. We’re leading a technology renaissance in the marine space — and that happens only a few times in an industry.

------

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

This month, Mark Walker is celebrating his company's one year anniversary of going public — only the ninth Black-founded business to accomplish this feat on a U.S. stock exchange. Photo courtesy

Houston founder shares how he's using tech to make digital media more effective and equitable

houston innovators podcast episode 173

After working in both sides of the advertising world, Mark Walker thought he could reimagine a platform that would be more efficient and equitable.

Walker co-founded his company, Direct Digital Holdings, an adtech platform, after serving in several roles — from an early hire at Houston digital media startup Questia to business development director at NRG Energy and COO of EBONY Media. He shares on the Houston Innovators Platform how he took this experience in tech, advertising, and media to create his company's platform.

"NRG Energy gave me a top-down view of the value chain, and Ebony gave me a bottoms-up view of the value chain of how media is purchased," Walker says on the show. "At Direct Digital Holdings, we help companies buy and sell media — and we leverage technology to do it. It's really the culmination of both of those experiences."

With over 30,000 publishers on its platform, Direct Digital makes it easier for its core customers — middle market companies looking to buy into the digital media ecosystem — to tap into these opportunities without the tech know-how they might otherwise need. Walker explains that at EBONY, he saw how small to midsize publications — especially the multicultural ones — were being left out on the ad selling side of the equation. The Direct Digital platform bridges the gap on each end.

Founded in 2018 in partnership with Keith Smith, who went through similar professional experiences, Direct Digital went public exactly one year ago after growing the company through strategic M&A activity. Walker says the decision to IPO made the most sense for his company — though it wasn't an easy process. Direct Digital is only the ninth company founded by a Black entrepreneur to go public on a US stock exchange.

"If you think the process is hard — it actually is," Walker says on the journey to IPO. "We were a privately held company, and we knew we had a good growth trajectory and we looked a couple different options. We decided to go public in a very traditional way."

Walker explains there were some risks involved, but the co-founders ultimately decided to shy away from adding in investors who might not have the same ideas for the company's future.

Direct Digital has been a Houston company from the star — despite the city not being home to a booming adtech ecosystem. Instead, Houston — with its collection of Fortune 500 companies and rich diversity — has allowed the business to stand out.

"If you look at and reflect on how our company has been built — from our board of directors to our leadership and management team — we're a majority minority organization all the way across the board," Walker says. "Diversity is very important to us. It's the lifeblood of our business — especially because we're serving publishers in those communities in big way. And moreso, we think you get the best product, thoughts, and ideas from a diverse workforce, and Houston fits right into that mold for us."

Walker shares more about his company's future, advice on IPO, and what all he's watching in adtech — from AI to streaming — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.