Here's what MassChallenge companies won big this year. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

Nine startups that went through the 2021 Houston cohort for MassChallenge Texas have received cash prizes from the global accelerator.

Now in its 12th year, Boston-based MassChallenge awarded 39 equity-free cash and investment prizes to 36 early-stage companies from the 2021 virtual programs across Austin, Boston, Houston, and Rhode Island. The startups were recognized at a virtual showcase. Of the 229 companies to go through the program this year, about 70 of those were a part of the Houston cohort, which was announced in June, however none of the nine Houston cohort companies are based in Houston.

Here's which companies from the Houston program received awards:

  • AEROSENS, based in Miami, is a platform able to maximize aircraft cabin security and increase efficiency while reducing costs, using Bluetooth Low Energy sensors and the everyday smartphone or tablet. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Analatom, based in Santa Clara, California, received the $10,000 FM Global Resilience Prize. The company has created an AI Deep Learning inspection technology automatically flag surface defects in images reducing maintenance costs improving inspection quality.
  • Astrileux Corporation, based in La Jolla, California, is accelerating manufacturing of next-gen ICs at 7 nm and smaller increasing power and performance in the era of zettabyte computing. The company scored one of the three top awards — a $100,000 Diamond Award.
  • Card Medic, based in the United Kingdom, received a $50,000 Platinum Award for its innovative digital technology designed to improve communication between healthcare staff and patients, across any barrier.
  • Exum Instruments, based in Denver, is combining high-performance tech with intuitive, seamless operations, Exum is solving materials characterization for a variety of industries. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • Grain4Grain, based in San Antonio, is using proprietary upcycling technology to turn byproducts from alcohol producers into low carb, high fiber flour alternatives at low cost. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.
  • KNWN Technologies, based in DelRay Beach, received the Houston Angel Network Investment Prize as well as a $25,000 Gold Award. The technology provides a new level of identity validation for businesses to know and protect customer identity from enrollment through the life of the relationship.
  • Krtkl, based in San Francisco, is a new high-reliability edge-computing and artificial-intelligence solutions for robotics, sensing, and communications applications. The company received the ISSNL + CASIS Technology in Space Prize.
  • LucyDX, based in Middletown, Delaware, is preventing blindness in diabetics through early detection. The company received a $25,000 Gold Award.

Texas-based Ecliptic Capital will also give out its Investment Prize, but did not announce their winner at the showcase. The organization announced its full list of winners online and at the showcase.

"We designed our process to work with all founders especially those who may be overlooked or underestimated by traditional equity accelerators and investment models. These founders still benefit from and deserve access to accountability, expertise, and a network traditionally often made available only to venture-backed companies," says Siobhan Dullea, CEO of MassChallenge, in the press release. "The 229 startups from this year's cohort demonstrate just how much opportunity exists beyond the closed process of venture when we widen the lens. Congratulations to the winners."

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston this month. Photo via Getty Images

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events in October

where to be

This month, Houstonians have yet another good batch of in-person and online innovation events, and you and your tech network need to know about them.

Here's a roundup of virtual events not to miss this month — like demo days, workshops, conventions, and more.

Note: This post might be updated to add more events.

October 5 — Perfecting Your Pitch

"Zoom in" for The Ion's event, Perfecting your Pitch. DeckLaunch and Fresh Tech Solutionz will discuss the importance and value of your pitch deck when reaching your target audience.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 5-6 — re:3D SBIR Workshop

The purpose of this workshop is to train and equip participants to identify a federal opportunity and apply for an SBIR/STTR.

The event is on Tuesday, October 5, and Wednesday, October 6, beginning at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 6 — Email Marketing: A How To

Join The Cannon's HubSpot for Startups' partners for a fast-paced session covering the key elements of Email Marketing! In this workshop, we'll go over HubSpot's playbook for creating a winning email marketing strategy, generating traffic to your website and converting traffic into leads, and leveraging automation to nurture leads- Email marketing best practices and common mistakes to avoid.

The event is on Wednesday, October 6, at 1 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 12-14 — Ignite Healthcare Network's 2021 Fire Pitch: Semi-Finals

Fire Pitch 2021 is Ignite Healthcare Network's 5th annual mini-accelerator program created to encourage innovation in emerging women-led digital health and med-tech companies. The program provides women-led healthcare startups with the unique opportunity to engage with potential customers and investors to assess their solutions and advise them on what they need to build successful businesses.

The summit is Tuesday, October 12, to Thursday, October 14. Click here to register.

October 13 — State of the City Address

This signature event, hosted and produced by Houston First Corporation is an opportunity for community and business leaders to reflect upon the year's challenges and celebrate the city's successes as they hear directly from Houston's CEO.

The event is on Wednesday, October 13, at 11:30 am. Tickets start at $150 and the event is hosted at Hilton Americas-Houston. Click here to register.

October 25 — Climathon 2021 Kick-Off

Impact Hub Houston kicks off Climathon 2021! Come learn about this year's challenges, connect with the teams, and get ready for the week. Impact Hub envisions a more prosperous, inclusive, climate-resilient economy, where finance flows to green projects and activities, and where motivated people are empowered with the skills and capacity they need to take action.

The event is on Monday, October 25, at noon. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-29 - InnovateEnergy Week 2021

Today's energy companies are working with more emerging technology than ever before, with new projects and technology announced daily.

To enable the growth of these technologies and focus on the impact they are having with the digitalization of energy projects, we are bringing together 4 major Summits to Houston for innovation & emerging tech leaders to attend in one place at one time, including;
  • 5th Annual Energy Drone & Robotics Summit
  • 3rd Annual Industrial XR Summit-
  • Energy EdgeTECH & Industrial Digital Twin Summit
  • MethaneTECH Forum

The events run Monday, October 25, through Friday, October 29, at the Woodlands Waterway Marriott Convention Center. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine - The Welch Foundation conference

The Welch Foundation's 64th conference, titled "Frontiers of Brain Science and Medicine," will explore the brain and the new technologies driving fresh insights into this still little-understood organ. The conference is divided into four sessions over two days, featuring presentations from some of the top global researchers in brain science.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 25-26 — Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference

Join the virtual Ken Kennedy AI and Data Science Conference, which will feature invited keynote speakers, technical program, sponsors, student poster presentations, and an outdoor networking reception. This year, expect an exciting lineup of speakers from NASA, IBM, AWS, Human Rights Data Analysis Group, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Rice University.

The conference is Monday, October 25, through Tuesday, October 26. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

Wednesday, October 27, will offer an in-person add-on day to the conference with a technical workshop highlighting deep learning and high-performance computing with Alex Smola, VP of AWS, and Anshumali Shrivastava with Rice University. Workshop registration comes with a small fee. Click here to register.

October 26 — Digital Fight Club: Houston 2021 (Virtual Edition)

Tired of boring Zoom calls? Digital Fight Club is turning the virtual event world on it's head with the first Digital Fight Club, Virtual Edition. Just like IRL, two experts in their fields go up against each other in front of a raucous virtual audience.

The event is Tuesday, October 26, at 6:30 pm. Click here to register.

October 26-27 — Houston DiverseCity Summit

The Houston DiverseCity Summit will inspire action to advance equity and inclusion in the greater Houston region. The Summit offers content for companies and organizations of all sizes with a focus on best practices, peer connection, and first-rate resources to help you mature your diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

The summit is Tuesday, October 26 (in person), and Wednesday, October 27 (online). Click here to register.

October 27 — Energy Tech Night

Each Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today and tomorrow. After the rapid fire pitches, there is a panel of industry leaders having an open discussion on important topics. Presenters include: LiquidFrameworks, Soft Serve, Simetry, eLynx, Inside Petroleum, and GeoNote.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. Tickets start at $50 and the event is hosted at The Heights Theater. Click here to register.

October 27 — Houston Startup Showcase Semifinals

The Ion's four semifinalists will come together on the virtual stage and compete for a chance to move on to the finals. Watch the four startups pitch their company and see who the judges will select to move on to the final round and have the opportunity to compete for the prize package.

Presenting Companies:

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 6 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

October 27 — The Ion's Industry Day

The Ion District Team and General Contractor, Gilbane welcomes MWDBE firms to learn more about potential opportunities. The area has $15 million in upcoming construction opportunities. There will be a discussion of The District Garage Construction, Vendor opportunities, Q&A Session, and a Tour of The Ion District.

The event is on Wednesday, October 27, at 4 pm. It's free and happening at The Ion. Click here to register.

October 28 — The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards

The 2021 MassChallenge U.S. Showcase and Awards is a celebration of creativity and innovation coming from the minds of entrepreneurs building game changing businesses that will impact the way we live, work, and play. Check this year's Boston, Rhode Island, Houston & Austin cohorts at the event.

The event is on Thursday, October 28, at 3 pm. It's free and happening online. Click here to register.

Here's who's making the call for the inaugural InnovationMap Awards. Photos courtesy

InnovationMap names judges for inaugural awards program

in the hot seat

It's been two weeks since InnovationMap announced its inaugural awards program presented by Techwave — and the ecosystem is already buzzing with excitement to find out the top innovative companies in town.

The InnovationMap Awards will honor Houston's innovators and their breakthrough technologies across industries. The program and hybrid event — which will take place September 8 — will shine a spotlight on the movers and shakers within Houston's burgeoning innovation community. Nominations are open for the awards now — and the deadline to submit your nomination is July 23.

Click here to nominate a deserving company.

But who will decide this year's finalists and winners for the event? A cohort of eight of the best innovation leaders in the Bayou City. Introducing: The 2021 InnovationMap Awards judges:

Juliana Garaizar, head of Greentown Houston and vice president of Greentown Labs

Courtesy photo

A longtime angel investor and Houston innovation leader, Juliana Garaizar is no stranger to the local ecosystem. Prior to her current role leading Greentown Labs in Houston, she served as director of the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and managing director at the Houston Angel Network. She's also involved with Houston-based Business Angel Minority Association, or baMa, and has worked with Portfolia for over five years.

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

​A leader in Houston innovation for several years now, Jon Nordby oversees Boston-based MassChallenge's entire Texas operation. MassChallenge's global accelerator program supports an annual cohort of startups across industries. Prior to his current role, he served as director of strategy at Houston Exponential and vice president of talent and innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership.

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston

Photo courtesy of Impact Hub Houston

Grace Rodriguez has dedicated herself to helping do-gooders do greater, as her LinkedIn page proudly boasts, and for the past three years, she's been doing that by leading Impact Hub Houston, a locally rooted, globally connected 501c3 nonprofit that champions inclusive, impact-driven innovation. She also co-founded Station Houston in 2016.

Emily Reiser, senior manager of innovation community engagement at the Texas Medical Center

Photo courtesy of TMC Innovation

Emily Reiser is like a switchboard operator for TMC Innovation, where she's worked with health tech startups since 2019. She supports clinicians, innovators, corporate partners, and business advisers who are dedicated to advancing healthcare innovation all while providing a common ground for collaboration, connection, and innovation.

Serafina Lalany, vice president of operations at Houston Exponential

Photo courtesy of Serafina Lalany

Serafina Lalany leads operations at Houston Exponential, the city's nonprofit focused on accelerating the development of Houston's innovation economy. She's also a board member of Diversity Fund Houston — a micro venture fund created to invest in minority tech founders during the "friends and family round."

Alex Gras, managing director at The Cannon

Photo via LinkedIn

After spending eight years in oil and gas, Alex Gras took his management skills to The Cannon Houston — a network of entrepreneurial hubs across Houston. The Cannon is the InnovationMap Awards venue for the September 8 event.

Rajasekhar Gummadapu, CEO of Techwave

Photo courtesy

Raj Gummadapu is the co-founder of Techwave, the award program's presenting sponsor. An accountant by trade, he has about 17 years of experience with combination of working with "big 5" consulting companies and various midsize to Fortune 100 companies across different industries on various strategic initiatives and global process and systems transformations.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

Photo courtesy

Natalie Harms has been at the helm of InnovationMap — Houston's voice for Innovation — since its inception in October 2018. She oversees all editorial operations of the site and hosts its weekly podcast, the Houston Innovators Podcast.

MassChallenge Texas has named its 2021 cohorts — including 71 companies to accelerate in Houston. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas names the 71 startups that make up its latest Houston cohort

ready to grow

Five Houston-based startups have been accepted into MassChallenge's 50th startup accelerator.

Three of the local startups are part of the program's Houston cohort, and two are part of the Austin cohort. In all, 71 startups from around the world are participating in the new Houston cohort.

Aside from Houston and Austin, there are cohorts in Boston and Rhode Island. This year's MassChallenge class, announced June 28, comprises 229 startups from 20 countries.

The five Houston-based startups in MassChallenge's latest accelerator program are:

  • Church Space, an "Airbnb for churches" that enables churches to rent out space for worship, events, meetings, and ghost kitchens. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Every Shelter, which localizes response and relief efforts for global refugee crises. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Milkify, which freeze-dries breast milk, enabling mothers to carry it in a powdered form. It's part of the Houston cohort.
  • Javari, a music prediction and discovery platform. It's part of the Austin cohort.
  • Netnoids Rx Laboratories, which provides a platform called Spanio that lets individuals and companies test therapeutics. It's part of the Austin cohort.

"At the core of these early stage businesses is the entrepreneurial spirit of their founders. Entrepreneurial spirit is the unique blend of optimism, passion, and drive that gets founders and their businesses through the daunting early days," Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, says in a news release.

Church Space, Every Shelter, and Milkify are among the 71 startups in the new Houston cohort. MassChallenge released the names of 69 of those companies. The two others are in stealth mode. Below are the names of the 69 publicly identified startups.

Energy / clean tech

  • Ener.com
  • SeebeckCell Technologies

General

  • Algdeha
  • Analatom
  • Astrileux
  • DeepCharge
  • Freshspire
  • Grain4Grain
  • Intelligent NanoFiber
  • Lepidext
  • Lodgeur
  • Milkify
  • NanoFlowX
  • Nature Knows
  • NjordFrey
  • ProFish Ghana
  • Solo
  • Stagetime

Health care / life sciences

  • AMF Medical
  • Arcascope
  • CardMedic
  • CaringWire
  • Exposphere Fitness
  • Galileo Innovations
  • Insu Health Design
  • Kismet Technologies
  • LucyDx
  • Newton Tech
  • Nightingale Caring Solutions
  • Nurlabs
  • Refined Imaging
  • Ronawk
  • SafetySit
  • SONOflammation
  • Tender Light Scientific
  • Uniphage
  • WestFace Medical

Social impact

  • Carta Digital
  • Every Shelter
  • Nile Agro Value Chain

Tech

  • Aerosens
  • Areanna AI
  • Church Space
  • CodeLn
  • Cybrik
  • Debtle
  • Edusko Africa
  • Exum Instruments
  • Fanorama Social Media
  • Glo3D.com
  • HintEd
  • Invento Robotics
  • KNWN Technologies
  • Krtki
  • Magos
  • Makeena
  • Manus Robotics
  • ModoScript
  • Notewardy
  • Nuw
  • Otomo
  • Owiwi
  • Patturn
  • Privoce
  • Third Ray
  • Tru-Spot Technologies
  • Yada.ai
  • Xena Intelligence
  • Xiggit

To be selected for the MassChallenge program, startups went through a two-round process that included more than 1,000 judges. During the program, participants will receive tools and advice to grow their businesses.

At the end of this year's program, startups will compete for equity-free cash prizes and grants adding up to $100,000. The prizes and grants will be awarded in October.

Attention Houston female founders — there are two new accelerator programs to have on your radars. Photo via Getty Images

Houston organizations announce two new female founder-focused programs

who runs the world?

A couple of Houston startup development organizations have recently announced programing and opportunities for female founders looking to advance their businesses.

Impact Hub Houston has announced that it has partnered up with Frost Bank to sponsor eight female founders to participate in Impact Hub's new Accelerate Membership Program. Applications are now open online and once the inaugural cohort is selected, they will receive the program for three months at no cost.

"At Impact Hub we believe the time to act is now. It's why we are excited to launch our new Accelerate Membership," says Maria Trindade, global network development director at Impact Hub Global, in a news release. "Its unique approach combines all the benefits of an enterprise support program with the flexibility that entrepreneurs need; plus its tailored nature makes this intervention highly accessible for entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds who may not be able to dedicate full-time to their business idea."

Impact Hub Houston has also teamed up with MassChallenge for their own initiative supporting female founders in the Houston-Galveston region in partnership with Houston-based Workforce Solutions. The three organizations are collaborating to launch launch a bootcamp to support female founders in the greater Houston region.

"There is unprecedented growth in startup creation as a result of the pandemic and founders from all corners of the world are connecting in this virtual environment to build and scale amazing ideas," says Jon Nordby, managing director of MassChallenge Texas, in a news release. "With these new collaborations, we are also witnessing a massive gap in access to startup development resources. Our partnership with Workforce Solutions and Impact Hub Houston will help female founders build on their existing knowledge to become life-long innovators."

Applications for the bootcamp opened April 1 and will close at 5 pm on April 7 and are available online in both English and Spanish. The industry agnostic program will leverage MassChallenge's acceleration model and Impact Hub Houston's inclusive incubation expertise to accelerate female founders by connecting them with the resources they need to launch and scale high-impact businesses, according to the release.

"As a female founder myself, I'm incredibly excited about this opportunity to support and uplift more women entrepreneurs and women-led businesses in our region," says Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston, in the release. "By now, it's no secret that women, and especially women of color, are under-invested in; and this is our chance to change that by helping more women strengthen their businesses and prepare to seek funding."

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, a Houston startup wins an international COVID-19 innovation competition, The Ion has a new founding partner, and more. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion Houston names new partner, growing startup names new CTO, and more local innovation news

short stories

It's been a busy week with virtual SXSW, spring break, and more. For this reason, some of Houston's innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, a Houston startup grows its C-suite, a local accelerator application deadline looms, the latest news from The Ion, and more.

Baker Botts doubles down on The Ion

The Ion has a new founding partner. Courtesy of Rice University

Houston's rising innovation hub, The Ion, has named Houston-based Baker Botts as the latest founding partner, alongside previously announced partners Microsoft and Chevron Technology Ventures.

"Today's announcement not only solidifies Baker Botts' investment in The Ion and the programs we are activating, but is a commitment to growing Houston's innovation ecosystem," says Jan E. Odegard, interim executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "Baker Botts' work with The Ion has already helped countless entrepreneurs get their work off the ground, and we are excited for their support as we continue to accelerate innovation and connect communities to build sustainable and inclusive economic growth in Houston."

Baker Botts has agreed to the following partnership opportunities with the Ion:

  • Provide in-kind services to this year's Houston Startup Showcase Winner
  • Offer on-site presence to support The Ion's various community members and provide substantive programming to startups
  • Host legal programming and workshops for The Ion's Accelerator Hub members
  • Expand gateway events including The Ion's Family Tech Night and Plaza Tec series

"Given our market-leading strengths in Houston, this is an exciting opportunity for the firm," says John Martin, managing partner of Baker Botts, in the release. "Our participation with The Ion brings together lawyers across our corporate venture capital, energy tech, IP and other practices to work closely with a range of cutting-edge companies at the heart of the Texas startup ecosystem."

GoExpedi recruits new CTO from big tech

GoExpedi has a new CTO. Photo courtesy of GoExpedi

Houston-based GoExpedi — a B2B e-commerce, supply chain and analytics company — recently hired global engineering executive Yang Tang as CTO. Tang has more than 20 years of experience leading technology and product teams at both startups and corporations, including Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) and at Walmart eCommerce's operations.

"After an extensive search to find one of the most accomplished product leaders of our time, we are excited to introduce Tang as the new head of our technical operations and state-of-the-art supply chain model," says Tim Neal, GoExpedi's CEO, in a news release. "His history of excellence in the e-commerce space is beyond reproach. He brings unparalleled expertise having managed global projects with an emphasis on e-commerce development and digital engineering for some of the world's most reputable brands. With his leadership, vision, and technical expertise, we are primed to launch into the next stage of our company's development as we expand our offering of new digital and consumer-friendly solutions."

In his position, Tang will oversee the design and execution of GoExpedi's technology, product, and data roadmaps.

"I am pleased to help the manufacturing and energy industries reimagine industrial supply chain with the brightest minds in technology, MRO procurement and oil and gas," says Tang in the release. "I was fortunate to contribute to the e-commerce renaissance that exploded in the consumer space over the last few years and am eager to apply what I have learned to the industrial sector. I look forward to collaborating with the team at GoExpedi to drive continuous improvements in all aspects of the industrial supply chain."

Last fall, GoExpedi closed a $25 million series C round with plans to hire.

Houston startup named a winner at $6M COVID-testing competition

Houston-based Steradian Technologies, Inc. was named among the winners ofXPRIZERapid Covid Testing competition, an international innovation challenge that called for solutions for high-quality, affordable COVID-19 testing.

"We are extremely excited to create high-tech diagnostic solutions that are rapid, inexpensive, and accurate to create healthcare accessibility and equity for everyone, irrespective of any financial, geopolitical, or socioeconomic barriers. COVID-19 detection is our near-term goal, and we're looking forward to the possibilities of ubiquitous testing for all," says Asma Mirza, CEO and co-founder of Steradian Technologies, in a news release.

Steradian Technologies is "developing a product that created human super-sight via the startup's proprietary optics," according to the release, and pivoted its technology to create the RUMI diagnostic system, which uses Steradian's technology to look at photonics to detect disease biomarkers within a user's breath within 30-seconds.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that we need to be more prepared as a nation and as a global community for future viral threats. The rapid development of vaccines has been achieved through incorporating new technologies, and diagnostic tech needs to do the same. Our goal has been just that. We wanted to create a diagnostic tool that could be fast, accurate, and easy to use and could be widely deployed," says John Marino, co-founder and chief of product development, in the release. "We know that COVID-19 won't be the last threat of this kind and are developing a solution that can easily adapt to any new pathogen. We are extremely grateful to have been recognized by XPRIZE for our effort."

Houston entrepreneur to pitch with Techstars

Amanda Ducach, founder and CEO of SocialMama

Amanda Ducach, founder of SocialMama, is expecting to pitch at Techstars Austin. Photo courtesy of SocialMama

Houston-based consumer tech company, SocialMama, which connects mothers virtually via an app, was accepted into the Techstars Austin program for 2021. Founder Amanda Ducach will be presenting at the recently announced Techstars Austin virtual Demo Day on March 24.

SocialMama's Techstar Austin cohort colleagues include: BallBox, Inc (Chicago, IL), Enlightapp (Fargo, ND), Fêtefully (Dallas, TX), hampr (Lafayette, LA), Kousso (Charlotte, NC), Livo (Coral Gables, FL), Mowies (Medellin, Colombia), Nutritional Freedom (Austin, TX), and Talk Howdy (Austin, TX).

Registration is free and open online.

MassChallenge Houston's applications open for two more weeks

Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge Texas has opened applications for it's next cohort in Houston. The equity-free, no-cost program is seeking startups across industries that have raised less than $1 million in funding and less than $2 million in revenue to apply. The program provides startups mentorship, corporate partnerships, curriculum, and more.

The deadline to apply is March 31 by midnight. If interested, entrepreneurs can apply for free with the code "MC21INNOMAP." Click here to learn more and apply.

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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.