The Ion named three corporate partners ahead of its annual innovation-focused festival. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Houston’s Ion innovation hub has recruited three heavyweight corporate partners, the hub announced earlier this week.

The new partners are:

  • Houston-based energy company Occidental (known as Oxy).
  • United Airlines Ventures, the sustainability-focused VC arm of Chicago-based United Airlines. United operates a major hub in Houston.
  • Australia-based Woodside Energy, which maintains an office in Houston.

Oxy, United Airlines Ventures, and Woodside will share their expertise in support of Ion’s mission to transform Houston into a global innovation ecosystem, according to an Ion news release. In addition, they will participate in Ion programming and network with Ion affiliates. Executives from all three of the new partners will serve on the Ion Leadership Advisory Roundtable.

“Welcoming our newest partners into Ion’s ecosystem is a further testament to our momentum in the aerospace and energy transition,” says Jan Odegard, who became executive director of the Ion in 2021 after a year of holding the interim position. “Each organization brings their own culture of innovation that aligns with what we are doing at the Ion.”

Michael Leskinen, president of United Airlines Ventures, says the VC firm believes “the Ion will be the epicenter for Houston’s rapidly growing innovation community — a one-stop shop to share ideas, foster startups, and to develop relationships with Houston’s brightest companies and academia.”

Oxy, United Airlines Ventures, and Woodside join Ion corporate partners such as:

  • Aramco Americas
  • Baker Botts
  • BP
  • Chevron
  • ExxonMobil
  • Global Custom Commerce
  • Intel
  • Microsoft
  • Transocean

The Ion announced the new corporate partners in advance of the second annual Ion Activation Festival, set for May 17-19. The Ion and Rice Management Co. host the festival, which shines a spotlight on entrepreneurship and innovation in Houston.

Activities will take place primarily at the Ion’s 16-acre campus. To register for the festival, visit the Ion’s website.

The inaugural festival, held in 2022, drew more than 2,500 attendees.

The Ion has announced its latest startup-focused program. MediaTech Venture's Houston startup incubator is launching next month. Photo courtesy of the Ion

New Houston incubator launches to support media tech innovation

ready to grow

Houston has a new incoming incubator program for innovators within the media technology space.

The Ion announced a new partnership with MediaTech Ventures, an Austin-based global media industry venture development company, that will bring the MediaTech incubator program to Houston. Applications are open now, and the first cohort will kick off the program in January.

“Modern media has to continually evolve and adapt to new market channels, and with each platform comes the opportunity for innovation to leverage what is possible. It’s why Houston continues to build its market and resources for media technology entrepreneurs and startups looking to make an impact in this constantly evolving space,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in a news release.

“We’re thrilled to partner with MediaTech Ventures to further bolster the startups that are an integral part of our innovation community," he continues.

The 12-week program will help early-stage companies tackle marketing, development, and production with education and mentorship with MediaTech Ventures' startup curriculum and platform. The Ion will house the initiative and startups will have access to the hub for programming and networking.

“Ion is the perfect home for our incubator program,” says Josh Sutton, Houston Program Manager at MediaTech Ventures, in the release. “Our goal is to not only tap into the Ion’s valuable innovation ecosystem both within its four walls and beyond it, but to catalyze the development of media technologies and offer more resources for entrepreneurs looking to advance modern media.”

Founded in 2016 to advance the media technology economy, MediaTech Ventures focuses on "unifying innovation with capital, and validating and scaling technology-enabled media startups," per the news release. The program's startups have raised over $10 million following the completion of the curriculum.

An info session is taking place on December 5 at Second Draught in the Ion, and interested applicants can meet, ask questions, and learn more about the program.

The Ion will house a new innovation hub focused on the future of medicine. Image courtesy of The Ion

Houston Methodist to open health innovation center in the Ion

coming soon

The Houston Methodist healthcare system has teamed up with the Ion innovation hub to open a health care innovation center.

The 1,200-square-foot tech hub is expected to open later this year. It initially will be geared toward activities like entrepreneurial programming, networking, mentoring, and pitching.

The space will be modeled after Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub, which opened in 2020. In fact, the new hub will be a smaller “twin” of the existing hub, according to a news release.

Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion, says the collaboration with Houston Methodist “will advance the Ion’s ability to support entrepreneurs and innovators that are already at the Ion as we embark on a new focus in health care innovation.”

Amid the rise of artificial intelligence and other tech advancements, along with the health care sector’s continuing drive to cut costs, one forecast indicates the value of the global market for digital health care will jump from $216.4 billion in 2022 to $441 billion by 2026. That would represent an increase of 104 percent.

Houston Methodist is the Ion’s first health care partner. The Ion already has partnerships in the aerospace and energy sectors.

“We are advancing the evolution of the hospital’s role in health care through digital transformation,” said Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist. “Having a footprint at the Ion will not only provide the Ion’s network and Houston community with a window into what we are doing for patients, consumers and providers, but also gives The Ion community and rising innovators an opportunity to bring its own ingenuity and ideas to life with ours.”

Houston Methodist operates eight hospitals in the Houston area.

The 266,000-square-foot Ion anchors a 16-acre innovation district in Midtown. Rice Management Co. developed the district on behalf of Rice University.

“By enhancing opportunities for our network of academics, businesses, entrepreneurs, and innovators to collaborate across the Ion District and globally, we’re creating a more resilient future economy for our region,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate at Rice Management.

The space will be modeled after Houston Methodist’s Center for Innovation Technology Hub, which opened in 2020. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion, NASA, and Rice University have teamed up to create new programming and collaboration within space innovation in Houston. Photo courtesy of The Ion

New strategic partnership sets out to bolster Houston's space economy

rocket fueled collaboration

The Ion innovation district and NASA’s Johnson Space Center are setting up a pipeline for Houston-area entrepreneurs to share ideas and intellectual property with the space agency.

The Ion and NASA are collaborating with Rice University on the new project, which is aimed at creating events, programming, and initiatives to promote the aerospace sector and the use of NASA technologies in the broader economy.

Vanessa Wyche, director of Johnson Space Center, says in a news release that the alliance will “help NASA solve challenges, develop spinoff technologies, grow minority entrepreneurs, and accelerate innovative and tech-forward solutions in Houston.”

Innovations developed through the new project will propel commercialization of space, Wyche says.

Much of the focus of the new alliance will be on minority-owned businesses, as well as aerospace and tech entrepreneurs. The Ion’s Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises will play a part in this strategy.

As part of the new collaboration, NASA and the Ion will open an application process for interested startups and entrepreneurs in the fall of 2022. The selected applicants will participate in programming through mid-2023.

“NASA’s Johnson Space Center has led the U.S. and the world on an ongoing journey of human exploration, and the Ion is here to accelerate tomorrow’s space endeavors. … Together we will safeguard Houston’s title as ‘Space City’ and advance the global space industry for future missions,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ion.

Houston stands to grab a sizable share of the continuously growing space economy.

A Space Foundation report shows the value of the global space economy rose to $447 billion in 2020, up 4.4 percent from $428 billion in 2019. Morgan Stanley estimates the global space economy could generate revenue of $1 trillion or more by 2040, with satellite broadband representing nearly 40 percent of the sector.

Meanwhile, a report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis indicates the U.S. space economy accounted for $125.9 billion of price-adjusted GDP in 2019.

In Texas, the annual GDP of the space economy is estimated at $11.7 billion. The Perryman Group, a Waco-based economic analysis firm, forecasts this figure could soar to more than $27.3 billion in 2030 and nearly $57.6 billion in 2040.

The Perryman Group says the Texas space economy is expected to expand about 120 percent faster than the U.S. space economy, with the state’s portion of this economy potentially approaching 15 percent by 2040.

“Texas already plays an important role in space exploration and related industries,” the firm says in a report. “With a major public-sector presence, large and growing private-sector initiatives, and aggressive development efforts, the state is likely to significantly increase its share of the [space economy].”

The Ion Prototyping Lab is now open and will be powered by TXRX. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Ion Houston opens unique prototyping lab, names TXRX as partner

new to hou

Midtown Houston's innovation hub has unveiled its latest building feature and named its operation partner for the space.

The Ion opened its The Ion Prototyping Lab with the announcement that Houston nonprofit TXRX Labs will be the operator of the lab. The IPL’s 6,500 square-foot space will include access to tools — such as laser cutters, CNC mills and lathes, electronics assembly equipment, and 3D printers — as well as programming, training, and support.

“The Houston community’s growing need for these services has led to our growth from a small community organization to a partnership with Houston’s leading center for innovation, The Ion,” says Roland von Kurnatowski, president of TXRX Labs, in a news release. “With our presence at The Ion and in its Prototyping Lab, we are able to join together innovative ideas and technology to create a social and collaborative space to support tomorrow’s entrepreneurs' needs and challenges.”

Founded in 2008 and based in the East End Maker Hub, TXRX Labs provides community-focused engineering and fabrication services and job training programs. The nonprofit's goal is to make Houston a major 21st-century manufacturing hub.

The new space within the 266,000 square-foot innovation hub was designed by Gensler and is "the largest open corporate and startup-aligned prototyping space in Houston," according to the release.

“As part of Gensler’s contributions to the development of The Ion, we strategically designed the Prototyping Lab to function as a dedicated space for innovators and entrepreneurs to collaborate,” says Vincent Flickinger, senior associate and design director of Gensler Houston. “The Ion Prototyping Lab is equipped with tools for prototyping robotics and other energy focused innovations and cultivates an entirely new way of doing business in a reimagined, historic building and with one of Houston’s fastest-growing innovators, TXRX. We look forward to introducing the IPL’s offerings to the public.”

The IPL is the latest opening for The Ion. Last summer, the hub, which is opened and managed by Rice Management Company, opened its coworking space. The next openings to expect are an investor studio and several restaurant concepts, including Late August, The Lymbar, and more. Common Bond On-The-Go, located on the main floor of the Ion, opened this week too.

“With its close proximity to Houston’s Central Business District and The Texas Medical Center, The Ion is thrilled to provide the Houston tech community the Prototyping Lab operated by TXRX as an essential resource for businesses,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. “The Ion serves as a driver and convener of activity, while TXRX's successful model of hands-on training and technological innovation is being leveraged to jumpstart the activity of entrepreneurs, corporations, and researchers. You think it, we make it.”

Members will have daily access to the IPL from 9 am to 5 pm. The cost of the membership has not been announced, but IPL will offer grant opportunities, per the release. All members must first complete a safety and skills training course.

The Ion has officially opened its coworking space on the second floor of the Midtown building. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

The Ion Houston announces opening of its coworking space

calling all coworkers

The Ion Houston's coworking space — roughly four times the size of a typical Walgreens drugstore — opened this week ready to welcome its pre-leased tenants and potential coworkers alike.

The coworking space, Common Desk, occupies 58,400 square feet on the second floor of The Ion. That represents about one-fifth of the 266,000-square-foot Ion complex.

Amenities at Common Desk include craft coffee from local purveyors, unlimited conference room bookings, access to all shared areas on the second floor, private chat booths, full kitchens, and break areas.

Other tenants at The Ion include Chevron Technology Ventures and Microsoft. The Ion opened earlier this year, occupying the former Sears store in Midtown following a $100 million conversion. It's part of the 16-acre Innovation District, being developed by Rice University and the City of Houston.

"We can't wait for our new Common Desk tenants and members across their network to experience the magic that's being made here," Jan Odegard, executive director of The Ion, says in a news release. "Just as The Ion, alongside developer Rice Management Company, set out to build an innovation community and hub different from anything the nation has ever seen, Common Desk set out to build its biggest and most innovative space yet."

Dallas-based Common Desk specializes in flexible office space. Its location at The Ion is the company's largest flex office space to date.

"Common Desk has joined the ranks of some of the nation's top companies to cultivate an authentic, game-changing community destined to transform Houston's innovation ecoscape," says Dawson Williams, head of growth and partnerships at Common Desk.

Members of the Common Desk location at The Ion also can use the company's three other coworking spaces in Houston, as well as it locations in Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, and North Carolina.

Common Desk's coworking space has several options for leasing. Photos courtesy of Common Desk

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Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.

Houston biotech company expands leadership as it commercializes sustainable products

joining the team

Houston-based biotech company Cemvita recently tapped two executives to help commercialize its sustainable fuel made from carbon waste.

Nádia Skorupa Parachin came aboard as vice president of industrial biotechnology, and Phil Garcia was promoted to vice president of commercialization.

Parachin most recently oversaw several projects at Boston-based biotech company Ginkjo Bioworks. She previously co-founded Brazilian biotech startup Integra Bioprocessos.

Parachin will lead the Cemvita team that’s developing technology for production of bio-manufactured oil.

“It’s a fantastic moment, as we’re poised to take our prototyping to the next level, and all under the innovative direction of our co-founder Tara Karimi,” Parachin says in a news release. “We will be bringing something truly remarkable to market and ensuring it’s cost-effective.”

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita, says the hiring of Parachin represents “the natural next step” toward commercializing the startup’s carbon-to-oil process.

“Her background prepared her to bring the best out of the scientists at the inflection point of commercialization — really bringing things to life,” says Moji Karimi, Tara’s brother.

Parachin joins Garcia on Cemvita’s executive team.

Before being promoted to vice president of commercialization, Garcia was the startup’s commercial director and business development manager. He has a background in engineering and business development.

Founded in 2017, Cemvita recently announced a breakthrough that enables production of large quantities of oil derived from carbon waste.

In 2023, United Airlines agreed to buy up to one billion gallons of sustainable aviation fuel from Cemvita’s first full-scale plant over the course of 20 years.

Cemvita’s investors include the UAV Sustainable Flight Fund, an investment arm of Chicago-based United; Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based energy company Occidental Petroleum; and Japanese equipment and machinery manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 logistics startup founder, a marketing expert, and a solar energy innovator.

Matthew Costello, CEO and co-founder of Voyager Portal

Houston logistics SaaS innovator is making waves with its expanded maritime shipping platform. Photo courtesy of Voyager

For several years now, Matthew Costello has been navigating the maritime shipping industry looking for problems to solve for customers with his company, Voyager Portal.

Initially, that meant designing a software platform to enhance communications and organization of the many massive and intricate global shipments happening every day. Founded in 2018 by Costello and COO Bret Smart, Voyager Portal became a integral tool for the industry that helps users manage the full lifecycle of their voyages — from planning to delivery.

"The software landscape has changed tremendously in the maritime space. Back in 2018, we were one of a small handful of technology startups in this space," Costello, who serves as CEO of Voyager, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Now that's changed. ... There's really a huge wave of innovation happening in maritime right now." Read more.

Arielle Rogg, principal and founder of Rogg Enterprises

Arielle Rogg writes in a guest column for InnovationMap about AI in the workforce. Photo via LinkedIn

Arielle Rogg isn't worried about artificial intelligence coming for her job. In fact, she has three reasons why, and she outlines them in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"The advent of AI pushes us humans to acquire new skills and hone our existing abilities so we can work alongside these evolving technologies in a collaborative fashion. AI augments human capabilities rather than replacing us. I believe it will help our society embrace lifelong learning, creating new industries and jobs that have never existed before," she writes in the piece. Read more.

Nathan Childress, founder of Solar Slice

Solar Slice Founder Nathan Childress says his new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet. Photo via LinkedIn

Nuclear engineer and entrepreneur Nathan Childress wants consumers to capture their own ray of sunlight to brighten the prospect of making clean energy a bigger part of the power grid. That's why he founded Solar Slice. The new venture offers a fulfilling way to encourage and promote solar energy and a greener planet.

Although trained in nuclear power plant design, solar power drew his interest as a cheaper and more accessible alternative, and Childress tells InnovationMap that he thinks that the transition to cleaner energy, in Texas especially, needs to step up.

Recent studies show that 80 to 90 percent of the money invested into fighting climate change “aren’t going to things that people actually consider helpful,” Childress says, adding that “they’re more just projects that sound good, that are not actually taking any action." Read more.