Ayoade Joy Ademuyewo founded Lokum last year to create a solution to better connecting medical specialists with health care facilities nationwide. Photo courtesy of Lokum

Ayoade Joy Ademuyewo says that anesthesiology is “the coolest thing in the world.” That’s why she became a certified registered nurse anesthetist.

And that career, which she says is “the perfect blend of science and art,” led to the creation of her startup, Lokum.

Lokum App is a matchmaking engine that aims to connect Ademuyewo’s peers with jobs. She explains that before her innovation, staffing for nurse anesthetists traditionally owed to job boards 30 years older than she was or to recruitment agencies that left them at a disadvantage.

“I didn't want to use that job board because it was sort of difficult to use and I didn't want to use it and a lot of other people felt the same way,” she recalls.

When a desperate friend asked for her help navigating the terrain of finding CRNA work as an independent contractor, Ademuyewo says the wheels began turning in her mind.

“I just thought, 'Why can't I open up my phone and see all of the available jobs to me, based on my preferences and my skills? And I can easily select from them to go to my next job.' And that's sort of where the questions started. And I just kept asking those questions. And I think about two or three years into asking the questions I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I think I'm starting a company,'” Ademuyewo says.

In the hours that she wasn’t in surgery, the CRNA began doing market research.

“As I was studying the market, and mapping it out, these really complex mind maps started to happen. And it was almost a natural conclusion that the more you understand the problem, the more the solution starts to appear to you,” she explains.

And she saw that the obvious solution was also potentially a big opportunity for her to create something entirely new — neither a job board nor an agency, but something entirely new. Ademuyewo calls Lokum a “matchmaking engine.” It takes the preferences, specialties and skills of CRNAs like her and matches them to jobs that make sense for them. To date, the pilot has connected users with around 200 hospitals and clinics in 20 states.

Fortunately, because there are so few CRNAs in practice, they are a unified bunch.

“It’s a really well-networked profession,” says Ademuyewo. “ I'm lucky to be in a profession where what we do is really special and really specialized.”

Because she was already part of the tight knit community, the founder had no trouble finding pilot customers. She worked with Houston-based Octaria Software to engineer the technical side of the app, as well as another local cybersecurity firm to work on infrastructure.

Lots of big news has come for Ademuyewo in the first half of 2024. She participated in this year’s cohort of the Google for Startups Accelerator Program-North America, which she says helped to gain traction in her fundraising amid a bear market.

The result? Early this month, Lokum announced a raise of $700,000 in pre-seed funding, which will be allocated to improving and enhancing the existing technology. Those funds came from Houston investors including Aileen Allen, of the Houston Angel Network, Mercury, and The Artemis Fund; and Matt Miller, former Liongard product executive, as well as from Houston-based VC firm South Loop Ventures. More came from the non-local JP Morgan and Techstars.

Today, Ademuyewo is devoted full-time to Lokum, though she still practices her favorite combination of science and art on weekends in order to maintain her licensure.

“I will always be clinical, that will never change,” she says. “Part of that is just staying close to the problem and the people who are experiencing it, I think that is exactly the right thing for me to be doing.”

Ayoade Joy Ademuyewo founded Lokum last year to create a solution to better connecting medical specialists with health care facilities nationwide. Photo courtesy of Lokum

Houston innovator raises pre-seed funding for health care staffing platform

just closed

A Houston health care innovator is celebrating an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding to improve on her startup's unique staffing platform.

Ayoade Joy Ademuyewo founded Lokum last year to create a solution to better connecting medical specialists with health care facilities nationwide. The new platform, which cuts out the middleman and lowers staffing costs, raised $700,000 in pre-seed funding that will go toward further development of the technology.

"Healthcare organizations spend $26 billion annually to support a crippling dependence on third-party agencies for connecting with clinical staff," Ademuyewo says in a news release. "Technological solutions that are pointed precisely to streamline and strengthen the relationships between highly specialized clinicians and their future employers are vital to alleviating this detrimental dependance, and central to our mission.

"I'm incredibly proud to have earned the trust of my colleagues, investors, team, and mentors in solving this complex problem."

Ademuyewo raised the round with support from local investors, including Aileen Allen, an adviser and investor associated with the Houston Angel Network, Mercury, and The Artemis Fund; and Matt Miller, former Liongard product executive, as well as from Houston-based VC firm South Loop Ventures. Techstars and JP Morgan also contributed to the round.

"Lokum has found a way to disrupt an organically inefficient and expensive market with an elegant solution that doesn't just save hospitals time and money, but also increases the pool of specialty providers in a market that is consistently strapped for such expertise," Jerry Varnado, venture partner at South Loop Ventures, adds. "This is what disruption in healthcare looks like — scalable commercial solutions that contribute towards better patient care, and we're happy to be part of Lokum's journey."

Ademuyewo has the idea to start Lokum after her experience as an independent contract nurse anesthetist amid the height of the pandemic as she witnessed third-party recruitment agencies take advantage of medical professionals like herself.

Now, the platform's early pilot, which focuses on clinicians in anesthesiology, has served clients across nearly 200 hospitals and surgery centers in 20 states. Ademuyewo also participated in 2024’s cohort for the Google for Startups Accelerator Program-North America, where she spent 10 weeks developing and building her company and platform.

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

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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.