This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sunny Zhang of TrueLeap, Jim Dillon of BiVACOR, and Livia Schiavinato Eberlin of Baylor College of Medicine. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: Each week, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — 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.

Sunny Zhang, founder of TrueLeap

Sunny Zhang joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

It's safe to say Sunny Zhang has a handle on the machine and cycle that innovation as a tenured business professor, startup founder, and venture capital investor. An academic at her core, she looks at innovation from the outside in — and inside out — in her various roles.

But there is a throughline for Zhang, and it's observing the innovation cycle. In her 20 years, she's worked closely with startups on the topic.

"My research has always focused on the innovation diffusion process — essentially the psychological and behavioral science of innovation diffusion when a product is introduced in a marketplace. How is that adoption going in a network as a result in many factors — internally and externally in a digital world and in the international and global market," Zhang says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"I've been seeing how innovation works, how products are getting adopted, and the behavioral process in it. We talk about 'go-to market,' but I want to promote 'come-from market.' Identify the problem itself," Zhang says, explaining that as both an academic and life-long learner, this is important to her.

Jim Dillon, CEO of BiVACOR

Jim Dillon has been named CEO of BiVACOR. Photo courtesy of BiVACOR

Houston-based medical device company BiVACOR has brought aboard a new CEO.

Jim Dillon, a longtime executive in the medical device sector, has been hired to lead BiVACOR and join its board of directors. Dillon succeeds former heart surgeon Dr. Thomas Vassiliades, whose appointment as CEO was announced in January 2022.

“Jim’s leadership style, combined with his experience in building high-performance teams as well as expertise in the heart failure field, makes him the ideal person to lead BiVACOR,” Raymond Cohen, chairman of BiVACOR, says in a news release. Continue reading.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin, associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Photo via bcm.edu

An associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine has won a prestigious award for young chemical scientists in the state and secured $3 million in funding to further develop her technology.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December. The award was established by the Houston-based Welch Foundation and recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

Eberlin runs the Eberlin Lab for Medical Mass Spectrometry at BCM and is known for her groundbreaking work in the application of mass spectrometry technologies, which are changing how physicians treat cancer and analyze tissues.

In the same week, Baylor College of Medicine announced that the Eberlin Lab received $3 million in funding from The Marcus Foundation to further develop the MasSpec Pen technology in breast cancer surgeries. Eberlin developed the tool in 2016 while she was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The MasSpec Pen is a device for detecting cancer directly on tissues. Continue reading.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor scientist wins award for young chemists, scores $3M for groundbreaking cancer tech

on the rise

An associate professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine has won a prestigious award for young chemical scientists in the state and secured $3 million in funding to further develop her technology.

Livia Schiavinato Eberlin was named the 2024 recipient of the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research in December. The award was established by the Houston-based Welch Foundation and recognizes the accomplishments of chemical scientists in Texas who are early in their careers. Eberlin will be granted $100,000 for this honor.

Eberlin runs the Eberlin Lab for Medical Mass Spectrometry at BCM and is known for her groundbreaking work in the application of mass spectrometry technologies, which are changing how physicians treat cancer and analyze tissues.

“I firmly believe that Dr. Eberlin’s commitment to transformational chemical research is unparalleled, and her impressive growth over her early independent career points to a bright future of scientific discoveries that will continue to revolutionize the field of chemical and biomedical research and improve treatment for patients,” Dr. Todd Rosengart, chair of Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine and faculty adviser to Dr. Eberlin, says in a statement. “She is highly deserving of this honor.”

In the same week, Baylor College of Medicine announced that the Eberlin Lab received $3 million in funding from The Marcus Foundation to further develop the MasSpec Pen technology in breast cancer surgeries. Eberlin developed the tool in 2016 while she was serving as an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The MasSpec Pen is a device for detecting cancer directly on tissues.

“When I met Dr. Eberlin and understood how the MasSpec Pen could help surgeons and ultimately impact patient lives, it was an easy yes to support the expansion of this innovative tool. It’s absolutely brilliant technology,” says Bernie Marcus, chairman of The Marcus Foundation and co-founder of The Home Depot, in a BCM news release.

The technology is being used in clinical studies at the Texas Medical Center to detect cancer tissue during a surgical operation, which allows doctors to more accurately remove tumor tissue. The fresh funding will help enroll 200 patients at two Houston hospitals: Ben Taub Hospital and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center.

The Eberlin Lab at BCM is also researching ways to provide physicians with better, real-time decision-making tools to help with cancer diagnosis, disease progression, prognosis and treatment strategies, according to BCM.

“The strides Dr. Eberlin has made in her career so far are beyond commendable and make her an ideal choice for the Hackerman Award,” Douglas L. Foshee, director and chair of The Welch Foundation, said in a statement. “Her creative and hardworking nature is fundamentally changing the treatment experience for patients with cancer, not to mention the field of chemistry as a whole.”

Eberlin is originally from Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil, where she earned her undergraduate degree from State University of Campinas. She obtained her graduate degree from Purdue University and a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from Stanford University. In addition to the award from the Welch foundation, she has also received several other prestigious honors, including a Sloan Research Fellowship, Moore Inventor Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship in 2018.

The Welch Foundation has contributed close to $1.1 billion to scientists in Texas since it was founded in 1954. Earlier this year it funded the Welch Center for Advanced Bioactive Materials Crystallization at the University of Houston through its inaugural $5 million Catalyst for Discovery Program Grant.

The nonprofit organization also announced nearly $28 million in grants to Texas institutions over the summer.

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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.