3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Armand Paradis of ComboCurve, Matthew Nojoomi of Ictero Medical, and Ryan McCord of McCord Development. Courtesy photos

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 energy software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Armand Paradis, co-founder of ComboCurve

Armand Paradis joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how his energy software business is scaling rapidly. Photo courtesy

Houston-based ComboCurve is growing rapidly. The energy software company has raised over $60 million in venture capital investment — $50 million of which was closed in the company’s series B round earlier this year. Since the original product launched in May of 2020, CEO and Co-Founder Armand Paradis says the platform has almost 200 companies on it.

“We built something that resonated with the market — and we were super passionate about the product and taking care of our industry,” Paradis says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We don’t want to be the best in oil and gas. We want to be the best software company." Click here to read more.

Matthew Nojoomi, CEO and co-founder of Ictero Medical

This innovative medical device company has closed $6 million for further product development and clinical trials. Image via TMC.edu

Houston-based medical device company Ictero Medical closed its oversubscribed series A at $6 million. The funding round was led by MedTex Ventures, S3 Ventures, and an undisclosed strategic investor. The company's novel cryoablation system was designed to treat high-risk gallstone disease patients and provide a less invasive and lower risk alternative to gallbladder removal surgery — something over 1 million Americans undergo annually.

“Our technology provides an immediate solution for critically ill patients who currently have no good treatment options, and also has the potential to benefit healthier patients who want to avoid surgery,” says Ictero Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Nojoomi in the release. Click here to read more.

Ryan McCord, president of McCord Development

Houston real estate expert shares why he thinks the city is prime for smart city tech and implementation. Photo courtesy

Houston has every tool in its toolkit to be able to emerge as a smart city leader. In a guest column for InnovationMap, Ryan McCord of McCord Development explains the momentum the city already has and the existing smart city opportunities already in town.

"Houston’s diversity, business-friendly environment, and workforce make it a prime candidate to become a smart city. Becoming smarter in our transportation, public safety, sustainability practices, and infrastructure will create a better future for Houstonians." Click here to read more.

This innovative medical device company has closed $6 million for further product development and clinical trials. Image via Getty Images

Houston medical device startup closes $6M series A

money moves

A Houston-based medical device company born out of the Texas Medical Center has closed its series A round of funding.

Ictero Medical's oversubscribed $6 million round was led by MedTex Ventures, S3 Ventures, and an undisclosed strategic investor, according to a news release. The company's novel cryoablation system was designed to treat high-risk gallstone disease patients and provide a less invasive and lower risk alternative to gallbladder removal surgery — something over 1 million Americans undergo annually.

“Our technology provides an immediate solution for critically ill patients who currently have no good treatment options, and also has the potential to benefit healthier patients who want to avoid surgery,” says Ictero Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Nojoomi in the release.

Recently, Ictero Medical entered into a partnership with Houston medical device development firm Biotex. The collaboration provides the company with engineering resources and in-house manufacturing tools. Ictero also received capital support from MedTex Ventures through its Biotex Medical Device Fund.

“We are excited about working with the Ictero team to advance its technology, which we believe can significantly improve patient experiences and outcomes by providing a non-surgical alternative to treating gallbladder disease,” says Biotex CEO Ashok Gowda in the release.

The fresh funds will be put toward further product development and initial clinical testing.

“MedTex Ventures is enthusiastic about Ictero’s novel cryoablation technology and its potential to solve the unmet need of inoperable patients with gallbladder disease,” says John Fichthorn, CIO of MedTex Ventures, in the news release. “Equally important is the team. We believe the combination of Ictero and Biotex’s technical capabilities, alongside the support from key investors with commercial experience, such as S3 Ventures, position the company for long term success.”

Ictero was founded as a part of the Texas Medical Center’s Biodesign Fellowship program in 2018. Since launch, the company has received a Phase I NSF grant and closed a $1 million seed round co-led by the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and Texas HALO Fund.

“Ictero is at the forefront of pioneering cryotherapy for gallstone disease, and S3 Ventures is excited about the potential for Ictero’s novel solution to rapidly bring an impactful outcome to patients,” says Kim Rodriguez, venture partner at S3, in the release. “Our research suggests a substantial opportunity to help patients suffering from gallstone disease who are dependent on drainage catheters or too sick for surgery. We are joining a solid investment syndicate in supporting a very capable team.”

Four Houston companies showed the city what they're made of at TMCx's recent Demo Day. Courtesy of TMCx

Houston-based medical device companies pitch at TMCx Demo Day

Local legends

Earlier this month, 16 medical device companies wrapped up their time at the Texas Medical Center's accelerator program and pitched their companies to fellow health professionals, guests, and more. While each made important connections in the local ecosystem during the program, a quarter of the entrepreneurs had roots in Houston already.

Four of the 16 TMCx09 companies that are headquartered in Houston. They have built solutions within sepsis, surgery, and transplant spaces in health care. Here's a little more about the homegrown companies that pitched at the event.

CorInnova

Photo via corinnova.com

The standard practice for acute heart failure patients is very invasive, says William Altman, CEO of CorInnova.

"The problem with existing devices is that they have invasive blood contact," Altman says. "Problem with that is blood contact is bad. It can cause up to 15 percent rate of stroke, which could kill you, and after five to seven days it provides 10 percent rate of blood destruction and has a 47 percent rate of kidney disfunction."

CorInnova's technology features a device that can be easily inserted through a 1-inch incision, and then be used for increase blood pumping by 50 percent.

"Surgeons tell us this is less invasive than minimally invasive aortic valve replacement, which is a widely done surgery, so this promises widespread adoption for our technology as we get it approved," Altman says.

The human prototype is expected to be ready in two years, with the next year being focused on animal studies. CorInnova is raising $12 million to accomplish its goals.

Ictero Medical

Getty Images

An estimated 10 to 15 percent of the United States population will get a gallstone in their lifetime. Should one of those stones cause trouble or blockages, the only solution is to remove the gallbladder completely through surgery. However, Matthew Nojoomi, CEO and co-founder of Ictero Medical, has another idea.

Ictero Medical has created a minimally invasive treatment that uses cryoablation to defunctionize the gallbladder without having to remove it.

"The CholeSafe System not only treats the source of the disease, but it leverages existing clinical workflows that doctors use to access the gallbladder," says Nojoomi, adding that the process only uses mild station and pain control.

The company expects to get to humans in the next two years, and has launched a financing round.

PATH EX

path ex

Photo via tmc.com

Currently, sepsis is hard to identify in patience. Even if a patient is in a hospital, and that hospital knows the patient has sepsis, the individual still has a 38 percent chance of dying, says Sinead Miller, CEO of PATH EX.

"Right now the problems associated with sepsis are very clear," she says. "It's the leading cause of death in our ICUs, and it's also associated with the highest hospital cost and readmission rates."

PATH EX's technology allows medical professionals to better diagnose and treat sepsis. The PATH EX therapeutic device can be hooked up to a patient and flow his or her blood through the machine to capture bacteria, clean and recirculate the blood, and faster diagnose what sort of bacteria the patient has attracted. The device technology is similar to hemo hemodialysis, Miller explains.

The Houston company, which recently won big at the Ignite Healthcare Network's Fire Pitch Competition, was named an honoree within the Johnson and Johnson Breakthrough Medical Technologies Quickfire Challenge.

The company was recently received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration as a breakthrough device technology. PATH EX closed its $615,000 seed round — with plans for a series A next year — and has received $1 million in SBIR grant funding. The company was founded two years ago, and relocated to call Houston HQ this year.

Volumetric

Jordan Miller/Rice University

Volumetric is banking on their technology being among the inventions that will lead the medical industry into the future. The human tissue-printing technology company has created the 3D printer and the "ink" that can create whole organs for transplant.

"We can create complicated vascular architectures inside of soft water-based gels, in this case, mimicking the structure and function of human lung tissue," says Jordan Miller, CEO. "We can oxygenate red blood cells."

The company is commercializing its technology and has three streams of revenue, which as generated almost $1 million in revenue in Volumetric's second year. The company is also in the process of closing its seed round of fundraising.

Earlier this year, the startup, which works out of Rice University, was featured on the cover of Science magazine.

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University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.