Four Houston accelerators will be working together this summer to advance nearly 30 university-associated startups. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston and Rice University have announced the cohorts for their summer accelerators that advance university-founded startups and small businesses.

The two schools run four programs in tandem with each other every summer for about a decade. There are nearly 30 companies this year being accelerated across the four programs, which are:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • UH's RED Labs is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small businesses.
  • UH's RED Launch is focused on non-tech small businesses.

"A very cool part of the program is that we partner every summer with Rice University's OwlSpark and Blue Launch," says Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg, managing director of RED Labs. "It creates this really incredible network across the universities and allows both schools to bolster and benefit from each other.

"We share staff, we share mentors, we share speakers, we co-host the demo day, and we even share the catering bill," she continues. "It's a really special part of the program that I think has brought endless value to the founders, the universities, and Houston."

The 12-week program takes each of the teams — all of which have a university-affiliated founder, from undergrad to faculty — through key programming and mentorship. The final event includes a pitch day, called the Bayou Startup Showcase, where all of the companies share their business plans they've created through the program.

“I’m excited to support these new ventures with highly curated offerings and rich mentorship, propelling them to commercial success,” said Jessica Fleenor, managing director of BlueLaunch and OwlSpark. "We have built a long-standing culture of advocacy and collaboration, and look forward to upholding that in our largest cohort to date."

The selected companies for the four programs are as follows.

RED Labs (cohort 11)

  • We Felt It 3-D prints customized modifications to mobility devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs that maximizes comfort during use.
  • Zoop makes nutrition easy, clean and sustainable smoothie premixes which can be consumed anywhere and anytime by just mixing it with any of the preferred mixer (Water, Vegan milk, Milk, etc.)
  • Orbit is an application that allows users to understand the stock market through practice and training.
  • Team X is creating a company around nanoporous membrane technologies that recovers metals from wastewater and brine.

OwlSpark (cohort 11)

  • Terradote will manufacture cost-competitive, petroleum-free chemicals using captured carbon dioxide, methane and renewable bio-based materials.
  • Biomethanator’s biofilm bioreactors utilize biomethanation to convert industrial-waste carbon dioxide to methane, which can be used as fuel or in other industrial applications.
  • TaurusVascular is developing a minimally invasive catheter for addressing the most pressing complication of endovascular aortic aneurysm repair: endoleaks.
  • Voythos offers a mobile physician companion that monitors electronic medical records, prompting action and initiating care workflows.
  • AiKYNETIX is developing a video analytics platform for human motion insights, focusing on a mobile running lab for runners and coaches.
  • AllStars is building an affect-sensitive educational tool for self-studying and blended classroom learning.
  • EurekaHub is developing a marketplace where data and research scientists can publish, manage, share and revise analytical models for data sets across diverse applications.
  • ScoutBetter is an end-to-end recruiting platform that connects students with corporate campuses and provides recruiters access to university talent.

RED Launch (cohort 2)

  • CurioSweets is a vegan dessert brand that provides wholesale desserts and services including: consultation; recipe development; and contract baking of their product.
  • SpaceCityVinyl is a vehicle wrapping business that offers a quick and non permanent color change of vehicles.
  • Venus by Design is a handmade jewelry company
  • First Byte Digital consulting firm that helps mom and pop restaurants and non-profits establish a robust online presence by offering a wide range of digital conversion services.
  • 2tinys designs, prints, and cuts stickers with the plan of expanding into art prints and stationery items.
  • Lacey's Art paints dog portrait artwork. They partner with shelters to find models (and provide some help to getting the dog adopted), and then sells the prints.

BlueLaunch (cohort 2)

  • Archway Family Medicine provides medical care to patients through a monthly membership model known as direct primary care.
  • rdy helps communities recover from disasters faster and more equitably by working with local organizations to plan for them.
  • 610Smokehouse is a mobile food service and catering company that serves “Texan Fusion,” a unique cuisine that combines traditional Texas barbecue with diverse Houston food.
  • SerendipityPicnic is a unique picnic with all the goodies and essentials wrapped in a beautiful, lightweight, easy-to-carry and reusable “BlanKIT.”
  • La Mer Macaron offers an assortment of homemade French macarons.
  • TenTwelve provides residential construction and remodeling services.
  • DHA America customizes, designs and sells powder-coated and galvanized fence panels, posts and accessories.
  • All About Baby provides bespoke tableware for babies transitioning to solid foods.
  • MeowPlanet is opening a cat lounge.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.