For the third year, Rice University has tapped 10 Rice Innovation Fellows working in engineering and materials science fields to support. Photo via rice.edu

Rice University has announced its latest cohort of fellows who aim to translate research into real-world startups.

The 2024 cohort of Rice Innovation Fellows is the third of its kind since the university's Office of Innovation and The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (or Lilie) launched the program in 2022. The group includes 10 Ph.D. and postdoctoral students working in engineering and materials science fields.

The program provides personalized mentorship and up to $20,000 equity-free funding.

According to Lilie, the 10 members of the 2024 cohort are:

  • Barclay Jumet, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of mechanical engineering, working under Dan Preston and specializing in mechanics, thermal systems and wearable technologies. InnovationMap covered his recent technology here.
  • Tianshu Zhai, a Ph.D. student studying materials science specializing in hexagonal boron nitride-based thermal interface materials
  • Zachary Kingston, a postdoctoral research associate and lab manager for the Kavraki Lab in the Computer Science department at Rice, working under the direction of Dr. Lydia Kavraki, a pioneer in the field of robot motion planning. Kingston is developing a novel approach to high-performance, low-cost robot motion planning with Wil Thomason.
  • Soobin Cho, a Ph.D. student and co-founder of Duromem, which created the Dual-Role Electrically Conductive Membrane to improve existing water treatment systems
  • Sara Abouelniaj, a Ph.D. candidate in Material Science and Nanoengineering and founder of Graphene Grids LLC, which is exploring opportunities to diversify its range of grid types services offered
  • Alisha Menon, is founding a medical device startup that's developing wireless, AI-enabled patient monitoring devices for babies in the NICU. Her work is being done in collaboration with the Texas Medical Center and Rice, with support from NSF and the Southwest Pediatric Device Consortium.
  • Wil Thomason, a CRA Computing Innovation postdoctoral fellow in the Kavraki Lab at Rice University who is developing low-cost robot motion planning with Kingston
  • Jeremy Daum, a Ph.D. candidate at Rice in the Materials Science department working on a a novel production method to create photocatalysts
  • Jonathan Montes, a Ph.D. candidate in Bioengineering focused on combating neurodegenerative diseases with highly selective neuromodulation
  • Andrew (AJ) Walters, a Ph.D. student in Bioengineering working in the labs of Dr. Caleb Bashor (Rice) and Dr. Scott Olson (UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School) who's building an accessible allogeneic cell therapy to treat inflammation disorders and potentially cancer. He was awarded a three-year NSF Graduate Research Fellowship in 2022.

Over the last three years, Innovation Fellows have brought in more than $6 million in funding for their ventures, according to Rice.

Last year, the cohort of 10 included doctoral and postdoctoral students working in fields from bioengineering and chemistry to civil and environmental engineering.

Late last year, Lilie also announced its new entrepreneurship council known as Lilie’s Leadership Council. The group is made up of 11 successful business leaders with ties to Houston from the likes of co-founder Frank Liu to former Houston Mayor Annise Parker and several other CEOs and board members of successful companies. The council members agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs.

Eleven business leaders were selected for a new entrepreneurship-focused council for Rice University. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University taps 11 Houston business leaders for new entrepreneurship council

leadership council

Rice University has named 11 successful business leaders with ties Houston to its inaugural council focused on entrepreneurship.

Frank Liu, a Rice alumnus and founder of the Rice University Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, or Lilie, recruited the entrepreneurs to the council, and each has agreed to donate time and money to the university’s entrepreneurship programs, according to the university.

Members of the council, known as the Lilie’s Leadership Council or LLC, individuals have experience in a variety of fields, from the industrial and automotive sectors to local government and public radio.

"I owe much of my entrepreneurial success to opportunities I had while at Rice University,” Liu says in a statement. “I can't imagine the heights students today can achieve with the resources that now exist through Lilie. Over the last several years, as the No. 1 ranked Graduate Entrepreneurship program in the country, we have seen exponential growth in student engagement, and we have witnessed the life-changing technologies—tackling big problems in industries like energy and healthcare—bred within Lilie classes and programs. I am thankful for the commitment of Lilie's Leadership Council for propelling these founders from the classroom to the community and building the next generation of Houston's economy.”

LCC's inaugural cohort includes:

  • Sandy P. Aron: president of Hunington Properties who has served on the boards of the St. Francis Episcopal Day School of Houston, Congregation Beth Israel of Houston and Jones Partnership at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business
  • John Chao, vice president and managing director of Westlake Innovations and board member of Westlake Corp. The Rice alumnus previously served as COO of New York Public Radio and partner in the strategy and finance practice at McKinsey & Co.
  • Shoukat Dhanani, CEO of Sugar Land-based Dhanani Group Inc., a family owned and operated business conglomerate
  • Lorin Gu, founding partner of Recharge Capital and the founding chair of the Global Future Council at the Peterson Institute of International Economics
  • Earl Hesterberg, former CEO of Group 1 Automotive and former group vice president of North America marketing, sales and service for Ford Motor Co., who is currently chairing the capital campaign at Kids Meal Inc. in Houston.
  • Robert T. Ladd, chairman and chief executive of Stellus Capital Investment Corp. who is also chairman of the board of trustees of Rice and a member of the advisory council for the UT Health's McGovern Medical School
  • Frank Liu, co-founder and co-owner of Lovett Industrial and the founder and owner of Lovett Commercial, Lovett Homes and InTown Homes
  • Charlie Meyer, CEO of Lovett Industrial who formerly served as managing director at Hines Interests in Houston and director of construction and development for NewQuest Properties. He currently serves on the board of directors for Generation One and NAIOP Houston.
  • Hong Ogle, president of Bank of America Houston and Southeast/Southwest Division Executive for Bank of America Private Bank who serves on the board of Greater Houston Partnership and Central Houston Inc. and chairs the Bank of America Charitable Foundation in Houston.
  • Annise Parker, Houston’s 61st mayor who is currently CEO of the Victory Fund, a nonprofit devoted to electing pro-equality, pro-choice LGBTQ+ leaders to public office
  • Gary Stein, CEO of Triple-S Steel Holdings who serves on the American Institute of Steel Construction Board and the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors

Over the summer, Lilie and Rice's Office of Innovation also announced its 2023 cohort of Innovation Fellows. The program, open to Rice faculty and doctoral and postdoctoral students, provides support to move innovation out of labs and into commercialization and up to $20,000 in funding.

Earlier this year, Lilie also launched a new startup accelerator program for students called the Summer Venture Studio, which ran from May through August.
These three startups walked away from a pitch competition with thousands of dollars in equity-free prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

3 alumni-founded startups claim cash prizes at Rice University pitch competition

winner, winner

Three startups founded by Rice University graduates have won investment prizes at an annual pitch competition.

The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, or NRLC, welcomed a panel of judges to hear from six alumni-founded startups in the finals last week. The prizes on the line totaled $65,000 in equity-free funding. The event, which is separate from the student version of the competition, is hosted by Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The big winner of the 2022 competition was Rhythio Medical, a preventative heart arrhythmias treatment startup. The company won first place, which included $30,000 in equity-free funding, as well as the Audience Choice Award that came with $1,500.

Taking second place, Synopic, which facilitates faster and more accurate surgical procedures through improved endoscopic vision technology, won $20,000 in equity-free funding. Lastly, Green Room, a platform that streamlines taxes and payments for touring artists, clinched third place and $15,000.

The event, named for Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures. This year's finalists were selected by judges made up of Rice alumni. Three judges — Danielle Conkling, director at Silicon Valley Bank, Paul Manwell, senior director at Google, and Joanna Nathan, manager of new ventures at Johnson & Johnson — listened to and evaluated each company's five-minute pitch and followed up with questions.

Rhythio Medical was founded by CEO Kunal Shah, class of 2022, and Savannah Esteve, who also serves as head of product. The technology includes a surgically injected wire that makes an irregular heart work like a healthy one. It works alongside a traditional implantable cardioverter defibrillator, however, the wire but works to prevent arrhythmias, while ICDs treat arrhythmias with a painful shock to the patient’s heart. The company lists the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Texas at Austin as its research partners.

These six finalists of The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge Championship will pitch on April 20. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University startup pitch competition names 6 finalists

pitch perfect

Six student-founded startups are headed to the finals of a Rice University pitch competition — and this round is where the money is on the line.

The H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, open to undergraduate or graduate students in the spring as well as alumni in the summer, started in 2017 with 15 student-run companies vying for a win. The 2022 edition saw participation from almost 200 students and a record 84 teams. The Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship whittled those entries down and, after the first round of judging on March 24, six teams are headed the the finals.

The startups will make their pitches in-person at Rice University on Wednesday, April 20, starting at 5:30 pm and compete for over $75,000 in equity free funding.

These are the six student-led startups that will pitch at the finals are:

AutoEdge

AutoEdge is an artificial intelligence-powered quality assurance platform that assists small and medium manufacturers to quickly detect defects and provide clear actionable items to fix inefficiencies.

Founders:

  • Alfredo Costilla Reyes, Post-Doc – Computer Science, 2023, The DATA Lab led by Professor Ben Hu
  • Kwei-Herng Lai, M.S. – Computer Science
  • Daochen Zha, M.S. – Computer Science

Berman Foods

Berman Foods is a artisanal plant-based cheese and spread creator that uses nutritious ingredients.

Founder: Delaney Berman, MBA, 2022

​EpiFresh 

Another food-focused startup, ​EpiFresh is emphasizing fresher ingredients and less waste. Their healthy and sustainable protein-based coating doubles the shelf-life of fruit and vegetables, reducing waste by delaying decay as it moves from the farm to your fridge.

Founders:

  • Neethu Pottackal, PhD – Materials & Nanoengineering, 2024, Professor Pulickel Ajayan’s Lab
  • Aasha Zinke, Materials & Nano Engineering, 2024

​GradGenius

GradGenius is designed to provide users — those looking for a higher education opportunity — a one-stop-shop experience to selecting schools based on personal interests.

Founders:

  • David Akpakwu, MBA, 2023
  • Chinedum Peter Ezeakacha, MBA, 2023

Guildata

Guildata provides global health organizations with data that shows the greatest return on investment, by reduction in morbidity and mortality, for public health interventions in a non-disease centric approach.

Founders:

  • Stephanie Pons, MBA, 2022
  • Kurt Reece, MBA, 2022
  • Ryan Jensen, MBA, 2022

Helix Earth Technologies

Helix Earth Technologies is helping save our planet by helping power plant operators reduce their plant water use and subsequently reducing their overall operating costs.

Founder: Rawand Rasheed, PhD – Mechanical Engineering, 2023, Professor Daniel Preston’s Lab

Startup success is linked to tactical habits and relationships we foster. Photo via Getty Images

How Houston companies can best learn and navigate startup etiquette

houston voices

We often rely on frameworks, skillsets, and mindsets – many of which we can acquire in the classroom – to prepare us for a successful career. Even at Lilie, we emphasize the importance of entrepreneurial thinking and design processes. Yet we hear repeatedly that this notion of "luck" propelled notable individuals through startup careers and exits.

But after talking with Merci Victoria Grace, Partner at Lightspeed Ventures, I'm confident success isn't mandated by the fortuitous sprinkling of this magical "luck" dust. Rather, success is linked to tactical habits and relationships we foster. Merci, with a degree in fictional writing (doesn't exactly scream Silicon Valley titan), co-founded a venture-backed company at the age of 22. From there, she held various PM roles (Couchsurfing, Gigwalk) and went on to be the first Head of Product at Slack. Most recently she has been on the other side of the table in venture capital.

It wasn't luck that drove her career, rather her grit and other actionable habits. She has been immersed in Silicon Valley for the entirety of her career, and she had some nuggets of wisdom for those who are flirting with the idea of working at an early stage tech company.

Do some soul searching. Corporate v. startup?

A career growing in larger, more established corporates will certainly look different than a career growing at various startups. In order to set yourself up for success, you must ensure your personality is one that would jive within a startup.

Your learning style:

  • Corporates: You like to be told what to do, and taught how to do it. You like to follow processes and standards that are already established and widely accepted. You like to work within the bounds of the current structure. You are not bothered by politics and bureaucracy that may hinder innovation.
  • Startups: You learn by doing. It is easier for you to figure "it" out as you go as opposed to being told what to do. In fact, you may not like being told what to do at all! You aren't intimidated by ambiguity, but rather you like to chart uncharted territory and set up the processes as you go.

Your appetite for growth:

  • Corporate: You want to know what is expected of you, and agree to offer the explicit skills you bring to the table. There are usually no surprises in your job functionalities. And while there are resources and budgets for professional development, growth can be hampered by clearly defined boundaries preventing you from acquiring responsibilities outside of those bounders.
  • Startups: You may not like predictability or routine. You seek out new projects and challenges because you know these stretch opportunities help you grow. You aren't intimidated by doing things that are seen as "outside of your job description." Rather, you are willing to do what it takes for the greater good of the team, and you appreciate the learning opportunity associated with the task.

Your career aspirations:

  • Corporate:You most certainly want to be successful, but are willing to take the more traditional route in climbing the corporate ladder. At larger companies, they tend to hire for the role they need to fill, and some tend to do less promoting from within. That makes exponential growth in a short period of time more difficult.
  • Startups: You want to gain leadership experience as soon as possible. You are willing to enter on the ground floor of a startup because you know that being an early employee will allow for rapid growth within the company (if the program is growing). And if that early-stage company is successful, your stint is viewed as a badge of honor which will open up future opportunities.

Startups are for me. Now go gain control of your destiny!

Merci shared insight into how early-stage companies function and how to land a gig at one. There are norms and etiquette we should respect, as well as a mindset we must adopt if we are to be successful within these early-stage companies.

How to get your foot in the door:

  • Use your network! Hiring is HARD, and hiring good talent is even harder. Founders (who are most likely the hiring managers) are juggling many moving parts, and I can guarantee the hiring process is their least favorite part. So, they are going to turn to the people they know because there is a base of trust. So, keep your contacts warm and follow up with them as they are launching new ventures.
  • Don't know many entrepreneurs? Keep tabs on TechCrunch, AngelList, and ProductHunt. Check out companies starting to get traction. Cold email them (…usually name@domain.com…) and ask to connect. Contact them via LinkedIn, Twitter, or other social networks. They are more receptive than you may think.
  • Be direct. Founders are busy, so tell them why you are interested in working with them. And let other folks in your network know as well. Have them keep feelers out.
  • In your conversations, try to identify their pain points. What is keeping them up at night? What are the biggest roadblocks they or the company is facing? And then figure out how your skill set will add value there. Feel it out, but it may require prepped work such as strategy you could present.
  • When connecting and making introductions, use these email tactics:
    • Double opt-in: ask permission to introduce Sally to Kim. Don't just assume Kim is okay with connecting to Sally because Kim is your friend, and so is Sally. Kim doesn't owe Sally anything. Usually, people say yes, but you should ask.
    • Forwardableemail: while your job hunt is consuming your time, don't put the burden on others. If you are Sally and you want Joe to introduce you to Kim, send Joe a thorough email that explains who you are and why you want to talk to Kim. Then, Joe can easily forward that on to Kim. Easy peasy.

Qualities to elude:

  • Working at a startup can be messy. Founders don't have time to micromanage you (or even manage you at all!). Demonstrate that you have the ability to pick up social cues and can execute on [the right] projects and priorities without having to be asked.
  • Have a propensity for action. Act as opposed to asking for permission. You have to be socially intelligent for this to work (see point above), but if you have an idea, try it out, get data, and then propose next steps.
  • Don't complain. Ever. ESPECIALLY not in an interview.
  • Be a team player. Everything is your job. Nothing should be beneath you.
  • Take responsibility for mistakes or missed goals. Startups are ever-evolving and pivoting and learning from failures, you should too.

Be encouraged that there is no magic to the equation. Success within startups and early-stage companies stems from hard work, strong networks, and ensuring there is a good "product-market fit" for you within this world.

------

This article was written by Caitlin Bolanos, senior associate director of Lilie, and originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

editsharetrending_up

The larger the deal, the higher the chances of failure, says this Houston expert. Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert looks into behavioral analytics in private equity, growth equity, and venture capital

houston voices

Study after study puts the failure rate of mergers and acquisitions somewhere between 70 percent and 90 percent (2011, HBR). One KPMG study narrowed the band of M&A failures to 75 percent to 83 percent (2015, KPMG). One constant in the research is that the larger the deal, the higher the chances of failure.

A FAILED MERGER, ACQUISITION, OR DIVESTITURE CAN BE UNDERSTOOD IN 2 WAYS:

  • Qualitative – what the companies had in mind that caused them to merge in the first place doesn't work out that way in the end.
  • Quantitative – shareholders suffer because operating results deteriorate instead of improve.

Deloitte's M&A Trends 2020 reports that 38 percent of PE firms cite revenue and growth improvement strategies as their primary strategy or focus area for driving value in their portfolio companies.

In the same report, EFFECTIVE INTEGRATION is key for the success of the deal. It accounts for 20 percent of a successful transaction, tied for top place with ACCURATELY VALUING A TARGET.

Post-M&A integration is defined as the implementation of changes in functional activities, organizational structures, and cultures of the two organizations to expedite their consolidation into a functional whole. Of course, this all involves people.

Moreover, Aon Hewitt research shows that:

  • There is a 23 percent increase in "actively disengaged employees" after a change event – even if no one's job is affected.
  • It takes about three years to return to pre-merger engagement levels.

With these figures, it is startling that there is not more focus on talent. Executives attribute 72 percent of their company's value to their employees, yet a mere 12 percent of companies align their talent strategy with their business strategy (Predictive Index, The 2020 State of Talent Optimization).

HOW ARE INVESTORS IN THE PRIVATE MARKET CHANGING THE TIDE?

According to Mike Zani, CEO of The Predictive Index, "When you look at the world of PE, growth equity, and to a lesser extent, VC, we are starting to see more talent officers, someone on staff to assist with strategic HR challenges with their portfolio." For example, Vista Equity has a consulting division that is solely focused on the talent and people analytics of its portfolio companies. They go beyond just finding the right executives, they have proprietary analytics tools to add value.

THERE ARE THREE USE CASES FOR ANALYTICS WITHIN THE PRIVATE MARKET:

1. Due Diligence

"One of the most powerful ways behavioral analytics are used for due diligence is understanding the strengths and blind spots of the future leadership team. It's about applying analytical rigor to the people side of the business to create a nuanced understanding of individual and team dynamics so you can be intentional about how to enable and de-risk the execution of future growth plans. We surface people challenges and opportunities early in the process so our clients can put strategies in place for effective change management and talent optimization." Heather Haas, President, ADVISA.

After signing a letter of intent, a consultant can assess the leadership team with behavioral, cognitive, and organizational assessments. In the process of evaluating leadership fit, consultants may identify gaps between the leadership abilities needed and those present in the executive team, and investors must focus attention on closing those gaps. It is much easier to suggest fixing them before the deal is closed, where investors can work with the company to create leadership development or hiring plans. If investors discover that the executive team lacks financial or operational excellence 6 months after close, it is going to be much harder to communicate that in a positive, forward-looking way.

Predictive Index isn't the only tool used for due diligence. Specialty consulting firms that provide due diligence support with people analytics include GH Smart, Green Peak Partners, Korn Ferry, and Deloitte. They use a host of tools ranging from Hogan assessments to proprietary software. "Out of the 150 PE clients with The Predictive Index," Zani says "about 1/3 are using it in due diligence regularly."

2. Post-Deal Value Creation

Effective M&A integration accounts for 20 percent of the success of a deal. As I mentioned in the last post, behavioral analytics can provide insights that allow each person to easily understand how their new team members are wired. This can drastically reduce the time it takes to build cohesion among the group and make for more effective collaboration as project teams are regularly assembled and reassembled. Put simply, instead of using our energy to try to figure each other out, we cut through the noise so we can run faster.

3. Scale

The use of behavioral analytics for hiring is nothing new. With an infusion of cash, one of the first thing a company does in response to growth goals is to hire. People data can help companies scale quickly and with confidence. Max Yoder, CEO and Founder of Lessonly shares about Predictive Index, "Now, every time we hire, we use the assessments as another tool in our toolkit. The results will never decide whether a person gets hired or not, but they do provide guidance as to whom should be in sales, whom should be in client experience, whom should sit in a quiet space, and whom thrives on commotion."

Even with such impressive results, still there are two schools of thought when it comes to how much control private market firms want to have over the operations of their portfolio companies. General Catalyst, the PE firm that invested in Predictive Index, in particular, says they don't want to be the management team. Kirk Arnold, Executive In Residence, General Catalyst says "We're very founder supportive. We invest in entrepreneurs and innovators and work to support them. We share feedback and insights with those teams – and encourage them to The Predictive Index toolset to help them scale effectively. But we don't force any of our teams to invest in any particular tool or strategy. We believe great businesses are built by great teams, and we believe that PI can help companies excel in team building – but we look to the leadership team to make those investment decisions based on their needs and culture.

Prior to becoming a Predictive Index Consultant, I spent five years integrating acquisitions. I only had access to PI for the very last year. It was so powerful in building dream teams that I wished I had known about it sooner. Areas I used PI heavily was in post-deal value creation as well as scaling. In my current practice, I spend about 20 percent of my time performing due diligence for start-ups as well as working with them to round out their team from a data-driven perspective.

------

This article was written by Wendy Fong, founder and principal of Chief Gigs, and originally appeared on Liu Idea Lab for Innovation & Entrepreneurship's blog.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

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.