This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Luis Silva of AT&T, Devin Dunn of TMC Innovation, and Eric Anderson of SynMax. 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 health tech to data analytics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Luis Silva, vice president and general manager at AT&T

Not everyone is as holly jolly amid the holidays. Image courtesy

In a guest column, Luis Silva, Houston-based vice president and general manager at AT&T, cautions that the holiday season is prime time for hackers and cyber security threats.

"The good news is you can protect yourself from scams and fraud," he writes. "Just remember that cybercriminals don’t discriminate, they can prey on anyone."

In his article, Silva shares the top five ways to guard against cyberthreats.Read more.

Devin Dunn, head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator

Devin Dunn leads TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, which is getting ready to welcome its next cohort in January. Photo via TMC.edu

Earlier this year, Devin Dunn joined TMC Innovation as head of TMC's HealthTech Accelerator, a career move that represented Dunn's move to a different side of the startup world. As an early employee at London-based Huma, Dunn was instrumental in growing the health tech company from its early stages to international market expansion.

"I really like working with the dreamers and helping them work backwards to (figure out) what are the milestones we can work toward to make the grand vision come true in the future," Dunn says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The opportunity to work with different founders on that same journey that we had been through was really appealing." Read more.

Eric Anderson, CTO of SynMax

Houston-based SynMax has closed its first round of funding. Photo courtesy

A Houston-based satellite data analytics company is celebrating an oversubscribed round of recent funding. SynMax announced this week that it closed its seed round at $6 million with an oversubscription of $2 million. The startup is providing geospatial intelligence software as a service to customers within the energy and maritime industries. The technology combines earth observation imagery and key data sources for predictive analytics and artificial intelligence.

Founded in 2021, SynMax is led by CTO Eric Anderson, who previously worked as an analyst at Skylar Capital, according to LinkedIn. Headquartered in Houston, SynMax is hiring employees from all over. Read more.

Not everyone is as holly jolly amid the holidays. Image via Getty Images

Houston expert shares tips for navigating cybersecurity challenges amid the holiday season

guest column

It’s a grinch's cyber-playground, and this holiday season, you’re at risk — even if you think it won’t happen to you.

The good news is you can protect yourself from scams and fraud. Just remember that cybercriminals don’t discriminate, they can prey on anyone.

These statistics may surprise you:

  • Anxiety about having a mobile device hacked differs by demographic; low-income Black women rank mobile security as their number one concern, while the general population ranks mobile security as their third largest concern, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey of more than 3,297 U.S. consumers.
  • 44 percent of millennials have been victims of online crime in the last year and 31 percent admit they share their passwords with others.
  • Romance scams resulted in the most financial losses for adults aged 60 and over
  • Younger consumers took fewest actions after being notified of a data breach affecting their identity/online accounts in Q1 2022
  • Nearly 50 percent of American gamers have experienced a cyberattack on their gaming account or device
  • 47 percent of women who live in cities say their identities and/or data has been compromised in the past 6 months due to lack of home internet protections, compared with 53 percent of city men who say the same thing, according to a recent Recon Analytics survey.

People everywhere, regardless of gender, race, income level, education, or age, deserve to feel safe online. And yet, many aren’t aware how to protect themselves, don’t make it a priority, or wait to act until they are alerted to suspicious activity.

With words like malware, phishing, spoofing, and encryption, learning to protect yourself can feel like a college-level course. But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Top 5 ways to guard against cyberthreats

By following five simple steps, you can start to protect your network, devices and data from many digital threats.

  1. Understand cyberattacks are real. One of the first hacks was documented in 1963 and today, nearly 60 years later, hackers are attacking phones and computers every 39 seconds. Cyberattacks continue to grow in number every year.
  2. Be proactive. Don’t wait for an attack to happen. Monitor your accounts daily so you are the first to know if suspicious activity is occurring. Check with your wireless carrier to see if they have tools to help. AT&T customers can download the free ActiveArmor mobile security app to help block spam calls and secure their personal data. And ask your internet provider about extra layers of security available to you at home. AT&T Fiber customers can access AT&T ActiveArmor internet security features at no additional cost to them.
  3. Step up your mobile security. Mobile devices now account for more than 60 percent of digital fraud. Mobile banking, online shopping, streaming videos and storing documents make our phones a central location for sensitive information. Your wireless carrier may be able to help. AT&T offers advanced security like Public Wi-Fi Protection, Identity Monitoring and Safe Browsing for no extra charge with some of our plans. Check with your carrier to make sure they’re doing what they can to keep you safe.
  4. Protect your passwords. We all know it’s necessary, but not all of us take steps to do it. 68 percent of people admit to using the same password across multiple logins. Using a strong password that differs from site-to-site will help decrease your chances of being hacked. If you struggle with passwords, consider getting a password manager.
  5. Report suspicious text messages. As mobile operators have more success blocking illegal robocalls, scammers have turned to text messages. But now it’s easier than ever to report spam texts to help block and control them. The latest iOS and Android operating systems have a simple reporting feature in their Apple and Google messaging apps.
Dedicate some time to safeguard your information this holiday season. For more cybersecurity resources (regardless of your carrier), visit att.com/CyberAware. If you or someone you know is new to computers or mobile devices, click here for more information on our free digital literacy courses.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

New location technology will help get emergency responders closer to 911 callers if they are unable to describe their location. Photo courtesy of AT&T

Houston expert: New location-based tech is en route to saving lives

guest column

“911, what’s your location?”

It’s a phrase we’ve heard hundreds of times on TV shows and movies. In real life though, have you ever considered the possibility that this question — one that can mean the difference between life and death — may be hard for the caller to answer? In an emergency, you may not be able to speak. If you’re in a car accident, you may not know where you are. In a disaster, your surroundings may be confusing.

That’s where a new location-based routing feature we call “Locate Before Route” comes in. This summer, AT&T, in collaboration with Intrado, rolled out a first-of-its-kind 911 upgrade across the country that will make it easier for emergency personnel to find and send help to wireless callers.

Roughly 80 percent of 911 calls today are made from cell phones. Before location-based routing, a call would ping a cell phone tower and connect to the dispatch center closest to that tower. But here’s the thing: that cell tower could be up to 10 miles away. Imagine needing help in Deer Park but the dispatcher thinking you may be in Baytown. You could even be in a different county, making it difficult for dispatchers to pinpoint exactly where the call is calling from.

Here’s how it works:

Instead of pinging the closest cell tower, the GPS in your phone connects with the closest 911 dispatch center, meaning emergency operators can locate you within about 55 yards of your position. That’s about half a football field.

This kind of accuracy means public safety can respond faster, especially in situations when a 911 wireless caller doesn’t know or can’t disclose their location.

AT&T is the first wireless carrier to launch location-based routing for all 911 call centers nationwide, whether they’re operating on older technology or NextGen 911. The best part: AT&T customers across the country automatically have access to this service – no action is necessary.

AT&T’s commitment to public safety is longstanding. Following the events of September 11th, we worked to create FirstNet, – the only nationwide communications platform dedicated to public safety and first responders. With nationwide location-based 911 call routing, we are providing our customers with the quickest, most accurate way to call emergency personnel for help when it’s most needed.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

"Hackers are getting ready, so you need to be ready, too." Photo via Getty Images

Houston expert: Prime times for cyber-attacks and how to stay protected

guest columns

October is cybersecurity awareness month. The topic might sound overwhelming, and it certainly can be, but there are a few easy ways we can educate and protect ourselves and our loved ones.

Be mindful of timing

Cyber actors target certain times to strike. Experts warn that holiday weekends like Thanksgiving are some of the most prolific times for scammers, who never take a vacation. They can defraud and monetize their actions with little effort.

Why?

During holiday weekends, many people make plans and shop -- online or on a mobile device -- and document their activities on social media. Holidays also come with an elevated amount of email and financial activity, all conveniently while people are "checked out" or traveling. Inboxes become overloaded with holiday messaging and deals.

Attacking someone's account can go unnoticed longer if that person is away from their computer. Or a hacker might execute a well-timed phishing attack for a Friday afternoon, right before someone goes on vacation.

Imagine planning a getaway to Galveston and an email arrives about your hotel confirmation or coupons to attractions at Pleasure Pier. Something like that might be ignored most of the time, but when you're amped up and packing your bags for vacation, it could be enticing.

Protect yourself 

Now that you have some context of when these attempts could happen, here are a few steps you can take now to protect yourself:


Don't click on suspicious links

If you don't know the sender of a text or email, don't open links they contain. Viruses and malware can start pulling information from your personal accounts. Some may look like they are coming from a friend or coworker. Or if the sender looks like a company you do business with and tells you to click a link or call a number, don't call, or click. Instead, call the customer service number on your regular bill and ask if the message is legitimate. In the case above, it may be an attempt to get personal information or scam you.

Remember, government agencies, banks, and other legitimate companies will never ask for personal or financial information, like usernames, passwords, PINs, or credit or debit card numbers by unsolicited text message. If someone calls asking for payment or personal information, tell them you'll call them back and go to the official website and call the real number to see if there is an actual issue.

Block spam calls

AT&T blocks or labels about 1 billion robocalls each month, and our patented, automated scanning helps block spam texts. So, while it may seem like your phone is ringing non-stop with spam calls and even spam texts, imagine how many are blocked. To reduce the number of annoying calls you get each day, find a good calling blocking app. The free AT&T Call ProtectSM app includes spam and automatic fraud call blocking, warns you of incoming nuisance calls, lets you customize your robocall protection and even create your own personal block list.

Become Cyber Aware

As hackers and their scams become more sophisticated, it can seem daunting to protect your accounts, devices and information. Don't despair. Learn how to outsmart the bad guys on att.com/cyberaware. You'll find timely news and information, a quiz to assess your personal risk, and valuable advice for real-life situations, such as what to do if you clicked, answered, or opened a potential scam.

With holiday season around the corner, keep in mind that you aren't the only one preparing for time off or a long weekend. Hackers are getting ready, so you need to be ready, too.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

It's hurricane season, and you need to make sure the tech you have is prepared. Photo courtesy of Kinder Institute

Expert: How to ensure your tech is ready for a hurricane in Houston

Guest column

Houstonians are no strangers to hurricanes. We've already seen some activity this summer, and we still have a few months to go. Although we can't prevent every negative situation when it comes to weather, AT&T has picked up a few tried and true tips that can help you stay safe prepared during this hurricane season.

Tips to plan ahead:

  • Save your smartphone's battery life. In case of a power outage, extend your device's battery life by putting it in power-save mode, turning off Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, deleting apps, or putting your phone in Airplane Mode. This may prevent you from using certain features but will ultimately save battery power.
  • Keep your mobile devices charged. Be sure to have another way to charge your smartphone if the power goes out. One option might be using your car's USB port or a USB car charger.
  • Keep your mobile devices dry. Mobile phones can be a critical lifeline during a storm. To protect yours, store it in a water-resistant case, floating waterproof case, or plastic bag. A car charger or back-up battery pack can come in handy. If you have multiple devices to keep charged, consider a multi-port back-up battery pack.
  • Back up important information and protect vital documents. Consistently back up insurance papers, medical information and the like to the Cloud or your computer. With cloud storage, you can access your data from any connected device.
  • Have a family communications plan. Choose someone out of the area as a central contact in case your family is separated. Most importantly, practice your emergency plan in advance.
  • Store emergency contacts in your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station, hospital, and family members.
  • Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation. Because call forwarding is based out of the telephone central office, you will get calls from your landline phone even if your local telephone service is down.
  • Track the storm on your mobile device. If you lose power at your home during a storm, you can use your mobile device to access local weather reports.

Likewise, we take a series of steps to ensure our Houston area network is ready to withstand the storm season each year.

Preparing our network in Houston:

When we know a storm is coming, we immediately assess what is needed to prepare our network. Some of those measures include:

  • Engaging Network Operations Center to monitor the network and partner with local personnel for recovery efforts.
  • Maintaining backup generators at cell sites and switching facilities in case of power loss.
  • Staging portable generators at strategic locations for deployment after an event.
  • Working with State and Federal Emergency Operations Centers to ensure first responders have the mobile connectivity they need before, during and after an event.

Keeping first responders connected:

Communication is critical to rescue and recovery efforts. That's why we were selected by the First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet Authority) – an independent agency within the federal government – to deliver FirstNet® to first responders and the extended public safety community. FirstNet is the only nationwide network built with and for America's first responders. In the Houston area, agencies using FirstNet include Law Enforcement, Fire, EMS, and Emergency Management, among others. FirstNet is used in day-to-day operations and during emergency response, including hurricane preparedness and response. In addition, organizations and agencies that could be called on to help support public safety also use FirstNet. These include healthcare, public works, essential government services, school security, utilities, energy, and transportation that operate in support of primary public safety entities and are critical to the response efforts. Together, these agencies utilize the FirstNet network for broadband connectivity for voice and data to prepare for and respond to hurricane events. FirstNet provides the connectivity they need with:

  • Priority & Preemption: In emergencies and disasters, commercial networks can quickly become congested. That's why FirstNet is the only nationwide network that gives first responders always-on priority and preemption. It puts them at the front of the "communications line."
  • Greater Command & Control: Public safety agencies have access to a fleet of more than 100 dedicated mobile cell sites that link to FirstNet via satellite and do not rely on commercial power availability. New this storm season, there's a giant addition to the FirstNet disaster response arsenal: FirstNet One – an approximately 55-foot aerostat, more commonly known as a blimp. And, to give first responders greater command and control of their network, the FirstNet Response Operations Program aligns with the National Incident Management System to better guide the deployment of these assets.
  • Enhanced Coverage and Capacity: We've also deployed FirstNet Band 14 spectrum. Band 14 is nationwide, high-quality spectrum set aside by the U.S. government specifically for FirstNet. We refer to it as public safety's VIP lane- during an emergency, this band can be cleared and locked just for FirstNet subscribers.

Recovery and relief:

During those unfortunate times when recovery response is needed, our Natural Disaster Recovery program and FirstNet Response Operations Group have technology and equipment to help with relief efforts such as:

  • Mobile cell sites and mobile command centers, like Cell on Wheels (COWs) and Cell on Light Trucks (COLTs)
  • Emergency Communications Vehicles (ECVs)
  • Flying Cell on Wings (Flying COWs)
  • Drones
  • A self-sufficient base camp: complete with sleeping tents, bathrooms, kitchen, laundry facilities, an on-site nurse, and meals ready to eat (MREs)
  • Hazmat equipment and supplies
  • Technology and support trailers to provide infrastructure support and mobile heating ventilation and air conditioning
  • Internal and external resources for initial assessment and recovery efforts

Together, let's have a smart and safe hurricane season.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind. Photo courtesy of AT&T

How 5G and smart cities technology are transforming the city of Houston

guest column

A firefighter stands in front of a burning building in Sunnyside. A drone buzzes overhead to capture video of the parts of the structure they can't get eyes on. Infrared technology helps them see "through" the building to where people may be trapped. Robotic cameras are sent in to provide live video from inside, while a tablet shows blinking dots in real time of where the other firefighters are as they move through the different floors of the building.

An injured civilian is pulled out of the flames. A drone delivers potentially life-saving medication while the paramedics assess the damage. The victim's medical records are shared instantaneously with the hospital, and paramedics are connected live to the emergency room while in-transit. As they make their way to the hospital, traffic signals are a step ahead – lights are green at just the right time on Reed and Almeda, clearing the way for an expedited ride and keeping traffic safe for all until the ambulance arrives at the hospital where medical personnel already know what's needed and are ready to jump into action.

It may sound like something out of a science fiction novel, but much of this is already happening. And the parts that aren't commonplace yet may be a reality very soon. We've heard about smart cities technology for some time, and different cities will adopt technology at different paces, but the pieces are finally coming into place.

What has changed to bring this futuristic world into the present? 5G.

There's a lot of noise out there about 5G, and from a consumer standpoint most of the chatter is about speed. Yes, 5G is faster, but here at AT&T we're quick to point out that speed is only the beginning: The capacity and responsiveness of 5G technology is what makes it revolutionary for use cases like these.

According to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine, 4G technology allows around 2,000 devices all connecting at the same time in a 1-kilometer area (0.386 miles). It's the reason that you might have trouble getting a call or a text to go through when you're at a crowded stadium. The network is ready and willing, but too much demand on one location slows things down.

Think about all the connections necessary in the above scenario. The drones, each firefighter, the robotic camera, the tablets, the ambulance and its equipment, sensors in the building, the hospital and all the people waiting there, the traffic signals… the list goes on. Well, 5G technology enables something called Massive IoT and can mean as many as 1 million devices can be connected in that same kilometer range, according to analyst research reported by CIO Magazine. That's game changing. AT&T has already installed its fastest 5G+ technology at the Toyota Center. Hopefully the next time you're there you'll feel the difference for yourself.

But having all those things talk to each other only makes a real difference if the connection is uninterrupted and in as real time as possible. 5G gives us that, as well. Ultra-low latency reduces response times to milliseconds. And when you add near-zero lag time to all those connections, the future becomes the present.

At AT&T we're passionate about public safety. That's why we created FirstNet, the first dedicated network exclusively for first responders, which ensures that the lines of communication stay open when they're needed the most. Harris Health System and Harris County Juvenile Probation are among the agencies already using the network. Going forward, FirstNet could be a crucial part of smart cities technology as capabilities increase.

There are plenty of use cases that 5G will continue to enhance: Think live feeds of police body cameras and locations when in a pursuit, helping increase efficiency and accountability. Think about the first responders themselves. Did you know that heart attack is the leading cause of death among firefighters? Vital signs could be monitored allowing alerts to a fire company of an elevated heart rate in their crew, potentially saving the life of a lifesaver.

5G could be the catalyst that leads to the true adoption of autonomous cars, as millions of sensors allow not only vehicle to vehicle communication, but could also integrate pedestrian traffic, making it safer for everyone as we move towards assisted and eventually self-driving vehicles.

Utility grid sensors could allow power companies to plan more effectively for use, pinpoint outages quickly, and use AI to divert energy and heal itself.

And we all know about Houston traffic. What if there's a world coming soon where we could alleviate just 20 percent of the congestion through smart city technology? In an hour commute, you just got 12 minutes back to spend with your family.

The technology is already getting smarter. The cities won't be far behind.

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Luis Silva is vice president and general manager at AT&T.

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City of Houston approves $13M for new security tech at renovated IAH​ terminal

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A new terminal currently under construction at George Bush Intercontinental Airport just got the green light for new security technology.

This week, Houston City Council unanimously approved the funding for the new Mickey Leland International Terminal's security equipment. The Mickey Leland International Terminal Project is part of the $1.43 billion IAH Terminal Redevelopment Program, or ITRP, which is expected to be completed by early next year.

This new IAH International Terminal will feature an International Central Processor, or ICP, with state-of-the-art technology in a 17-lane security checkpoint — among the largest in the country — as well as ticket counters and baggage claim.

“Houston Airports strives to get passengers through TSA Security in 20 minutes or less. Today, we meet that goal at Bush Airport more than 90 percent of the time,” Jim Szczesniak, director of aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “This investment in innovative technology will enhance our efficiency and ensure that our passengers have a world-class experience each time they visit our airports.”

Going through security at IAH is about to be smoother sailing. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

The funding approval came from two ordinances, and the first one appropriates $11.8 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, service, install, and train staff on nine new automated screening lanes, called Scarabee Checkpoint Property Screening Systems, or CPSS.

Per the news release, each of these CCPS automated lanes "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people and bags/hour than existing equipment used today." Currently, Terminal D's TSA is using eight CPSS Lanes, so the additional nine lanes will bring the total to 17 lanes of security.

The other appropriates another $1.2 million from the Airports Improvement Fund to buy, install, maintain, and train staff on six new Advanced Imaging Technology Quick Personnel Security Scanners.

The new scanners, which don't require the traveler to raise their arms, "is capable of screening more than 100 additional people/hour than existing equipment used today," per the release.

“These new security screening machines are faster, have fewer false alarms and have improved detection rates, which creates a safer experience for our passengers and airlines,” Federal Security Director for TSA at IAH Juan Sanchez adds.

The Mickey Leland International Terminal originally opened in 1990 and is currently under renovation. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airports

Texas has the 5th highest health care costs in the nation, Forbes says

dollar signs

A new Forbes Advisor study shedding light on Americans' top financial worries has revealed Texas has the fifth highest health care costs in the nation.

Forbes Advisor's annual report compared all 50 states and Washington, D.C. across nine different metrics to determine which states have the most and least expensive health care costs in 2024.

Factors include the average annual deductibles and premiums for employees using single and family coverage through employer-provided health insurances and the percentage of adults who chose not to see a health care provider due to costs within the last year, among others. Each state was ranked based on its score out of a total 100 possible points.

Texas was No. 5 with a score of 91.38 points. North Carolina was No. 1, followed in order by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Florida.

According to Forbes, out-of-state families considering a move to the Lone Star State should be aware of the state's troubling statistics when it comes to family health care. More specifically, nearly 15 percent of Texas children had families who struggled to pay for their medical bills in the past 12 months, the highest percentage in the nation.

Furthermore, Texans have the highest likelihood in the U.S. to skip seeing a doctor because of cost. The report showed 16 percent of Texas adults chose not to see a doctor in the past 12 months due to the cost of health care.

"Unexpected medical bills and the cost of health care services are the top two financial worries for Americans this year, according to a recent KFF health tracking poll," the report said. "These financial fears have real-world consequences. The high cost of healthcare is leading some Americans to make tough choices—often at the expense of their health."

In the category for the percentage of adults who reported 14 or more "mentally unhealthy" days out of a month, who could not seek health care services due to cost, Texas ranked No. 3 in the U.S. with 31.5 percent of adults experiencing these issues.

The report also highlighted the crystal clear inequality in the distribution of health care costs across the U.S.

"In some states, residents face much steeper health care expenses, including higher premiums and deductibles, which make them more likely to delay medical care due to costs," the report said.

For example, Texas' average annual premiums for both plus-one health insurance coverage ($4,626, according to the study) and family coverage ($7,051.33) through employer-provided policies was the No. 4-highest in the nation.

Elsewhere in the U.S.

The state with the most expensive health care costs is North Carolina, with a score of 100 points. 27 percent of adults in North Carolina reported struggling with their mental health who could not seek a doctor due to cost, and 11.3 percent of all adults in the state chose not to see a doctor within the last 12 months because of costs.

Hawaii (No. 50) is the state with the least expensive health care costs, according to Forbes. Hawaii had the lowest percentages of adults struggling with mental health (11.6 percent) and adults who chose not to see a doctor within the last year (5.7 percent). The average annual premium for employees in Hawaii using a family coverage plan through employer-provided health insurance is $5,373.67, and the average annual deductible for the same family coverage plan is $3,115.

The top 10 states with the most expensive health care are:

  • No. 1 – North Carolina
  • No. 2 – South Dakota
  • No. 3 – Nebraska
  • No. 4 – Florida
  • No. 5 – Texas
  • No. 6 – South Carolina
  • No. 7 – Arizona
  • No. 8 – Georgia
  • No. 9 – New Hampshire
  • No. 10 – Louisiana

The full report and its methodology can be found on forbes.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston startup recognized for inclusivity on journey to commercialize next-gen therapeutics

future of medicine

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains.

Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to be in the health and nutrition category at SXSW.

“We did really well, but there was another company that also did really well. And so we were not selected for the pitch competition, which we were a little bummed about because I killed the pitch,” Burkhardt recalls.

But Phiogen is worthy of note, pitch competition or not. The new company spun off from research at Dr. Anthony Maresso’s TAILOR Labs, a personalized phage therapy center at Baylor College of Medicine, last June.

“Our whole goal is to create the next generation of anti-infectives,” says Burkhardt.

That means that the company is making alternatives to antibiotics, but as Burkhardt says, “We’re hoping to be better than antibiotics.”

How does it work? Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria.

“You can imagine them as the predators in the bacteria world, but they don't infect humans. They don't affect animals. They only infect bacteria,” Burkhardt explains.

Phiogen utilizes carefully honed bacteriophages to attack bacteria that include the baddies behind urinary tract infection (UTI), bacteremia (bacteria in the blood), and skin wounds.

The team’s primary focus is on treatment-resistant UTI. One example was a male patient who received Phiogen’s treatment thanks to an emergency-use authorization from the FDA. The gentleman had been suffering from an infection for 20 years. He was treated with Phiogen’s bacteriophage therapy for two weeks and completely cleared his infection with no recurrence.

Amanda Burkhardt is the CEO of Phiogen. Photo via LinkedIn

But Phiogen has its sights set well beyond the first maladies it’s treated. An oft-quoted 2016 report projected that by 2050, 10 million people a year will be dying from drug-resistant infections.

“A lot of scientists call it the silent pandemic because it's happening now, we're living in it, but there's just not as much being said about it because it normally happens to people who are already in the hospital for something else, or it's a comorbidity, but that's not always the case, especially when we're talking about urinary tract infections,” says Burkhardt.

Bacteriophages are important because they can be quickly trained to fight against resistant strains, whereas it takes years and millions of dollars to develop new antibiotics. There are 13 clinical trials that are currently taking place for bacteriophage therapy. Burkhardt estimates that the treatment method will likely gain FDA approval in the next five years.

“The FDA actually has been super flexible on progressing forward. Because they are naturally occurring, there's not really a safety risk with these products,” she says.

And Burkhardt, whose background is in life-science commercialization, says there’s no better place to build Phiogen than in Houston.

“You have Boston, you have the Bay [Area], and you have the Gulf Coast,” she says. “And Houston is cheaper, the people are friendlier, and it’s not a bad place to be in the winter.”

She also mentions the impressive shadow that Helix Park will cast over the ecosystem. Phiogen will move later this year to the new campus — one of the labs selected to join Baylor College of Medicine.

And as for that prize, chances are, it won’t be Phiogen’s last.