This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Zimri Hinshaw of BUCHA BIO, Kelly Klein of Easter Seals of Greater Houston, ad John Mooz of Hines. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from esports to biomaterials — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Zimri Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of BUCHA BIO, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's planning to scale his biomaterials startup to reduce plastic waste. Photo courtesy of BUCHA BIO

After raising a seed round of funding, BUCHA BIO is gearing up to move into its new facility. The biomaterials company was founded in New York City in 2020, but CEO Zimri T. Hinshaw shares how he started looking for a new headquarters for the company — one that was more affordable, had a solid talent pool, and offered a better quality of life for employees. He narrowed it down from over 20 cities to two — San Diego and Houston — before ultimately deciding on the Bayou City.

Since officially relocating, Hinshaw says he's fully committed to the city's innovation ecosystem. BUCHA BIO has a presence at the University of Houston, Greentown Labs, and the East End Maker Hub — where the startup is building out a new space to fit the growing team.

"By the end of this month, our laboratories will be up and running, we'll have office space adjacent, as well as chemical storage," Hinshaw says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Listen to the episode and read more.

Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston

A nonprofit organization has rolled out an esports platform and event to raise awareness and funding for those with disabilities. Photo via Easter Seals

For many video games is getaway from reality, but for those with disabilities — thanks to a nonprofit organization —gaming can mean a lot more. On Saturday Dec. 3 — International Day of Persons with Disabilities — from 1 to 9 pm, Easter Seals Greater Houston will be joining forces with ES Gaming for the inaugural Game4Access Streamathon.

Gaming helps enhance cognitive skills, motor skills, improve mental well-being, and can help reduce feelings of social isolation due to the interactive nature of playing with others.

“This is really a unique way for (people) to form a community without having to leave their house, and being part of an inclusive environment,” says Kelly Klein, development director of Easter Seals Greater Houston. ”The adaptive equipment and specialized technology just does so many miraculous things for people with disabilities on so many levels — not just gaming. With gaming, it is an entrance into a whole new world.” Read more.

John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines

Levit Green has announced its latest to-be tenant. Photo courtesy

Levit Green, a 53-acre mixed-use life science district next to the Texas Medical Center and expected to deliver this year, has leased approximately 10,000 square feet of commercial lab and office space to Sino Biological Inc. The Bejing-based company is an international reagent supplier and service provider. Houston-based real estate investor, development, and property manager Hines announced the new lease in partnership with 2ML Real Estate Interests and Harrison Street.

“Levit Green was meticulously designed to provide best-in-class life science space that can accommodate a multitude of uses. Welcoming Sino Biological is a testament to the market need for sophisticated, flexible space that allows diversified firms to perform a variety of research,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a press release. “Sino is an excellent addition to the district’s growing life science ecosystem, and we look forward to supporting their continued growth and success.” Read more.Read more.

Hines is doubling down on life science real estate development, the firm recently reported. Image courtesy of Hines

Houston-based real estate giant bets on growing life science sector

shifting focus

An international real estate firm announced recently that it would prioritizing investing in life science industry opportunities when it comes to commercial real estate development.

Houston-based Hines reported that the pandemic has heightened the demand for life science real estate, and the firm explained in a news release that it will be delivering purpose-built life science facilities in growing markets that feature state-of-the-art, operator-driven design and amenities.

“The life sciences sector is experiencing an era of unprecedented growth driven by a rise in both public and private funding combined with a post-pandemic sense of urgency and market opportunity,” says David Steinbach, global CIO at Hines, in the release. “As this industry surges, it is pivotal that developers keep pace by delivering spaces that are as innovative as the tenants occupying them. Hines is dedicated to delivering purpose-built facilities that meet the physical, functional and technological needs of the occupiers.”

When it comes to design, Hines will focus on structural specification and the balance of lab and office space, providing tenants — who are all looking or different types of spaces and amenities — with flexibility and modular design.

ESG is something Hines is reportedly considering top of mind for developers, investors and occupiers, with plans to build efficient assets, source from sustainable energy, and provide low-carbon emission options.

Hines has already announced this type of facility currently in construction in Houston. Levit Green is a five-story, 270,000-square-foot Phase I lab building that has flexible Class AA quality labs key features required by top life science tenants. According to Hines, Levit Green's building features will include emergency power sources, 33-foot structural bay depths, allowing for an ideal 11-foot lab module, and floorplates more than 55,000 square feet will also enable research and office teams to create efficient configurations that enable teamwork and collaboration.

“Our carefully built team of national life science leasing, design and capital experts has put a tremendous amount of thought and effort into Levit Green’s planning and design. We are confident that our team will deliver one of the highest-quality commercial laboratory assets in the world once complete,” says John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in the release. “We are excited to bring top-tier projects like Levit Green to other highly anticipated, growing markets.”

Boston and San Francisco have become major life science industry hubs, but there are several global cities on the rise that Hines will be targeting, including London, Boulder, Austin, Shanghai Salt Lake City, and Pittsburgh.

Hines’ investment thesis is based on a confluence of factors that are driving the demand within the global landscape for life sciences real estate that are outlined in the new Hines Perspective: “The Potential of Purpose-Built Properties” white paper.

Levit Green is a 270,000-square-foot Phase I lab building adjacent to the Texas Medical Center. Rendering courtesy of Hines

The new building features a waterfront, wharf environment. Rendering courtesy of Hines

Pivotal new waterfront science lab set to cast off in The Medical Center

LEVIT GREEN BLOOMS

The first step of a pivotal new Medical Center district has been revealed. International real estate firm Hines and partner 2ML Real Estate Interests have unveiled the first look at the initial building at Levit Green.

This new, 53-acre life science complex will sit adjacent to the Texas Medical Center. The five-story, 270,000-square-foot Phase I building is designated for life sciences; JLL has been selected as leasing representative for the project, per a press release.

Sitting on the first of several lakes that create Levit Green's oasis, Phase I boasts a sprawling boardwalk environment. Tenants will enjoy waterfront amenities including a 5,800-square foot fitness center and outdoor garden, 7,000-square-foot conference center, 3,500 square feet of café and restaurant space, and on-site parking.

Ground-floor plans include more than 25,000 square feet of lab incubator space, which will provide entrepreneurs and early-stage life science companies top-tier, strategically located laboratory and office space as well as networking opportunities, per a release.

As for the building itself, amenities include: 100-percent-redundant emergency power, enhanced structural vibration attenuation, and augmented mechanical systems. Work on Phase I is slated to begin in the second quarter of this year, with occupancy beginning in Q4.

The 53-acre Levit Green proposed site. Rendering courtesy of Hines

According to data, Houston produces more medical doctorates than any other MSA and generates more research doctorates in the key life science subject areas of biology and physical sciences (chemistry, physics, etc.) than San Francisco, San Diego, and Seattle. Thus, Levit Green promises to solve the real estate demands of arguably the nation's life science capital.

"Houston is quickly emerging as a top life science cluster city and has been able to do so without the purpose-built product established in other locations," said John Mooz, senior managing director at Hines, in a statement. "The Phase I project at Levit Green has been thoughtfully designed from the inside out to include features that are required of a top-tier research environment. We are excited to deliver the highest quality of building that will enable industry leaders to better conduct their critical research."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Levit Green development will feature office, research, residential, retail, and dining components, along with outdoor amenities and green space. Image courtesy of Hines

New development announced to rise alongside Houston's Texas Medical Center

now building

Two Houston-based commercial real estate companies — Hines Interests LP and 2ML Real Estate Interests Inc. — have teamed up to develop a 52-acre life-sciences-anchored, mixed-use project adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

The Levit Green development will feature office, research, residential, retail, and dining components, along with outdoor amenities and green space. In a June 15 release, the developers say Levit Green will sit "at the epicenter of Houston's biotech, corporate life sciences, and medical research hub."

Levit Green will be near the planned TMC³ biomedical research campus. The Hines-2ML project will be built at the northwest corner of Holcombe Boulevard and U.S. Highway 288 on an industrial site that was the headquarters of The Grocery Supply Co. Inc., the predecessor of 2ML.

Being built at a cost of $1.5 billion, the 1.5 million-square-foot, 36-acre TMC³ campus is set for completion in 2022.

"At 15.5 percent, Houston has one of the highest five-year growth rates in life sciences establishments in the United States. Impressive advancements in therapeutics, science, and innovation are driving demand for real estate," John Mooz, senior managing director of Hines, says in the release.

Privately held Hines is a real estate investor, developer, and manager whose portfolio comprises $133.3 billion in assets across 24 countries.

Because Levit Green remains in the master-planning phase, the developers aren't able to provide the project's square footage. They plan to break ground once design work for the initial buildings is finished. The developers decline to disclose a price tag for the project.

"Given the explosive growth and investment in innovation in the life science sector, there is an intense need for state-of-the-art facilities which enable the research required to bring these planned advances into being," Mooz tells InnovationMap in a statement. "As Houston is an ascending life science cluster city, which also includes the world's largest medical center, the need to create facilities that enhance research and development was, to us, obvious."

An initial parcel for Levit Green was purchased by Joe Levit, founder of The Grocers Supply Co., which grew into a major independent wholesaler of groceries in the U.S. and the largest supplier of Hispanic groceries in the U.S. The Levit family owns 2ML.

"Our family has deep roots in the neighborhood, and we believe this development will add tremendous value to the area and the Texas Medical Center," Max Levit, president of 2ML, says in the release.

The Levits entered the retail sector with the purchase of the Gerland's Inc. and Fiesta Mart Inc. grocery chains. In 2014, the family sold its wholesale business and the Grocers Supply name. The following year, the company sold Gerland's and Fiesta Mart.

In conjunction with the sale of the wholesale business and the brand, The Grocers Supply Co. changed its name to 2ML Real Estate Interests. The renamed company controls a portfolio of more than 5.2 million square feet of warehouses, shopping centers, supermarkets, and office buildings. The bulk of 2ML's portfolio is in the Houston area.

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Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

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

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

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

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

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

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

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

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

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

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

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

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

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

Texas organization grants $68.5M to Houston institutions for recruitment, research

Three prominent institutions in Houston will be able to snag a trio of high-profile cancer researchers thanks to $12 million in new funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

The biggest recruitment award — $6 million — went to the University of Texas MD Anderson Center to lure researcher Xiling Shen away from the Terasaki Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Los Angeles.

Shen is chief scientific officer at the nonprofit Terasaki Institute. His lab there studies precision medicine, including treatments for cancer, from a “systems biology perspective.”

He also is co-founder and former CEO of Xilis, a Durham, North Carolina-based oncology therapy startup that raised $70 million in series A funding in 2021. Before joining the institute in 2021, the Stanford University graduate was an associate professor at Duke University in Durham.

Shen and Xilis aren’t strangers to MD Anderson.

In 2023, MD Anderson said it planned to use Xilis’ propriety MicroOrganoSphere (MOS) technology for development of novel cancer therapies.

“Our research suggests the MOS platform has the potential to offer new capabilities and to improve the efficiency of developing innovative drugs and cell therapies over current … models, which we hope will bring medicines to patients more quickly,” Shen said in an MD Anderson news release.

Here are the two other Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) awards that will bring noted cancer researchers to Houston:

  • $4 million to attract David Sarlah to Rice University from the University of Illinois, where he is an associate professor of chemistry. Sarlah’s work includes applying the principles of chemistry to creation of new cancer therapies.
  • $2 million to lure Vishnu Dileep to the Baylor College of Medicine from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he is a postdoctoral fellow. His work includes the study of cancer genomes.

CPRIT also handed out more than $56.5 million in grants and awards to seven institutions in the Houston area. Here’s the rundown:

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center — Nearly $25.6 million
  • Baylor College of Medicine — Nearly $11.5 million
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston — More than $6 million
  • Rice University — $4 million
  • University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston — More than $3.5 million
  • Methodist Hospital Research Institute — More than $3.3 million
  • University of Houston — $1.4 million

Dr. Pavan Reddy, a CPRIT scholar who is a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine and director of its Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Care Center, says the CPRIT funding “will help our investigators take chances and explore bold ideas to make innovative discoveries.”

The Houston-area funding was part of nearly $99 million in grants and awards that CPRIT recently approved.