From closing a million-dollar raise to being tapped by Google to serve on a council, Houston entrepreneurs have been busy. Courtesy of Security Gate

Wrapping up March, there's been a lot of innovator and startup news that's slipped through the cracks. From funds closing and incubator applications opening, here's all the news bits you need to know.

SecurityGate closes $1 million fund

Photo via securitygate.io

Houston-based SecurityGate closed its $1 million seed round on March 22. The lead investor was a private investment group in Houston. The startup, a B-to-B, software-as-a-service cybersecurity company, will use the funds to further refine its business and grow its team.

"We're excited our investment team understands the need for digital transformation in the critical infrastructure security space," CEO and co-founder, Ted Gutierrez says.

In February, SecurityGate traveled to Charlotte, North Carolina, to accept the Game Changers award. Gutierrez said being able to bring home that award really spurred the last leg of the raise.

Impact Hub Houston launches with fundraising campaign

Photo via LinkedIn

Houston's Impact Hub, a nonprofit organization focused on impacting change within the world through startups and technologies, has officially launched. The organization also launched its fundraising campaign called 321 Impact.

Led by Grace Rodriguez, Impact Hub Houston will set up shop in a few "pop-up" locations to truly serve all of the city. The first location will soon be announced, Rodriguez writes online.

Impact Hub Houston also announced a few other projects the organization has launched or is working on:

MassChallenge Texas will open Houston application at kick-off event

Photo via greenstreetdowntown.com

MassChallenge Texas announced its first Houston cohort in January, indicating that applications will open sometime in April. Last week, the zero-equity incubator program revealed that applications will open following an April 10th launch party event. The networking event will be at the Four Seasons in downtown Houston and will take place from 6 to 9 pm. Guests can RSVP here, and startups can begin the application process at masschallenge.org/apply to start their application. The application deadline is May 8, 2019 at noon.

Google taps Houston innovator for AI-focused council

Dyan Gibbons

Courtesy of Alice

Google has selected Houston innovator and founder of Trumbull Unmanned, Dyan Gibbens, as a member of its inaugural Advanced Technology Executive Advisory Council focused on AI. The council will meet with Google's executive leadership quarterly throughout 2019, beginning in April. Kent Walker, senior vice president of Global Affairs at Google, introduced Gibbens, and the fellow council members, in a blog post.

"We hope this effort will inform both our own work and the broader technology sector," writes Walker in the post. "In addition to encouraging members to share generalizable learnings in their ongoing activities, we plan to publish a report summarizing the discussions. Council members represent their individual perspectives, and do not speak for their institutions."

Houston to host nationwide pitch competition finals

Photo via celebrasianconference.com

The country's largest Asian organization is concluding its pitch competition in Houston. The contest, called What's Your Pitch: Innovations Meets the Market, is put on by the United States Pan Asian Chamber of Commerce. Chaired by Diane Yoo, former director of the Rice Angel Network, the semifinal and final rounds will take place in Houston on June 4 and 5, respectively. $100,000 work of cash and prizes is on the line. For more info on the contest, click here.

FutureSight AR selected as the only Texas startup for an international program

future sight AR

Courtesy of Future Sight AR

Houston-based Future Sight AR was selected for Magic Leap's Independent Creators Program in the productivity category and was awarded a grant to continue development. The program, which had over 6,500 applicants, will take place through March and some of April. FutureSight AR, which uses artificial reality to make oil and gas construction workers more productive, is the only startup represented from Texas in the program, says co-founder of the company, Lori-Lee Emshey.

Lyft introduces new programs and opportunities in Houston

Courtesy of Lyft

Lyft will bring or expand three driver-focused programs to the Houston market, the company announced this week.

  • Drivers can opt into Lyft Direct, a bank account with no fees that links to a debit card. Rather than cashing their check from Lyft, drivers can instantly access earnings and even receive points for cash back on specific purchases.
  • Lyft will open a Vehicle Service Center, which is a new and improved version of Lyft Hubs. The idea is to have mechanics work on the vehicles of Lyft drivers at cost, rather than the drivers having to pay full-price for their repairs. Also new to the program is the opportunity to provide mobile repair services for drivers on the go.
  • Lyft announced that Houston will have more locations of the Express Drive program, where Lyft drivers can use a rental car and receive subsidized earnings.

Blockchain entrepreneur profiled by Rice University publication

Courtesy of Topl

Houston-based Topl's co-founder, Kim Raath, was featured in a piece for Rice University as a part of the school's Spotlights on Diversity in Engineering. Her company, Topl, uses blockchain technology to connect the dots on industries — from food to oil and gas. To read the feature of how Raath went from backpacking through developing countries to startup founder, click here.

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Short stories will be a regular roundup on InnovationMap. If your company recently closed on a round, received recognition, or has any news, please email Natalie Harms at natalie@innovationmap.com with the information.

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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.