Texas Southern University got the greenlight for funding for its flight academy. Photo courtesy of Houston Airport System

Houston City Council approved Houston Airports to use $5.5 million from its Airport Improvement Fund to build the Texas Southern University Flight Academy at Ellington Airport.

The new facility will add to student learning with TSU’s aviation program and internships. Construction will begin in May of 2024 with an expected completion of May 2025.

“The investment in this facility allows Houston to remain at the forefront of supporting the rapid growth of the air transportation industry in the United States,” Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “I am honored that the City of Houston is taking the initiative to build this facility, which will provide numerous opportunities for Houstonians in the future."

TSU expanded its flight training fleet at Ellington Airport with the addition of a new Cessna 172, which brings the university to nine aircrafts that are available to help expand the program.TSU also has a virtual airport laboratory that trains pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport officers.

Construction is expected to begin in May of 2024 with an anticipated completion of May 2025. Rendering courtesy of Houston Airport Systen

The facility will be two acres and built on land accessible to an existing taxi-lane connection. The facility includes a 24,000 square foot aircraft hangar, an 11,000 square feet of aircraft apron, a 4,200 square feet of office/training/classroom space, an 8,000 gallon above-ground aviation fuel tank, and vehicle parking.

“This new facility is a major step toward Texas Southern University becoming the premier destination for training pilots and aviation professionals of the future,” TSU Interim President Mary Evans Sias says in a news release. “Our aviation program has reached heights in achievement that are unprecedented for the state of Texas. We look forward to the future aviators who will come through these doors and leave prepared to seize the opportunities in aviation, which we know are only increasing. We are deeply appreciative of the City of Houston for making this investment into TSU, and we know the return on this investment will be worthwhile.”

The Houston City Council approved a memorandum of agreement this past May for five years between Houston Airports and TSU.

“Houston Airports is a proud partner of TSU as it educates and inspires the next generation of pilots, mechanics and air traffic controllers,” Mario Diaz, director of Aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “From training pilots during World War 1, and NASA astronauts as they prepared to step on the moon, to now training the next generation of aviation professionals, Ellington Airport continues to play a crucial role in Houston’s aviation history.”

Axiom Space's new Houston Spaceport facility is now open. Photo courtesy of Houston Airports

Space tech unicorn opens new 22-acre HQ in the Houston Spaceport

ribbon cutting

The Houston Spaceport has officially celebrated the opening of another facility from a fast-growing space tech company.

Axiom Space has opened its new Assembly Integration and Test Building, which will be the new headquarters for the Houston-based aerospace company at a new 22-acre campus at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport in Southeast Houston. The building will include employee offices, facilities for astronaut training and mission control, testing labs and a high bay production facility to house Axiom Space Station modules currently under construction.

Axiom Space partnered with Jacobs, Turner Construction Company, Savills, and Griffin Partners to expand the company’s headquarters with the Houston spaceport building, which is the tenth spaceport in the nation.

For the first time in Houston’s history, the Space City is now home to the development of human-rated spacecraft with the Axiom Stations modules. Houston Spaceport has laboratory office space like technology incubator space and large-scale hardware production facilities, and is the world’s first urban commercial spaceport.

“These are historically exciting times for us all,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “As the city that helped put men on the moon, Houston continues to lead the way in technology and innovation. Axiom Space has set itself apart from others in the private space industry. Our city – Space City — is leading this second space race. And the work being done in our city will return humanity to the moon in a sustainable way.”

Axiom operates end-to-end missions to the International Space Station. They are also developing its successor, Axiom Station, and building next-generation spacesuits for the moon, low-Earth orbit, and other missions. The company describes itself as “the leading provider of human spaceflight services and developer of human-rated space infrastructure.”

Axiom joins Collins Aerospace and Intuitive Machines as the three tenants of the Houston Spaceport, which is an FAA-licensed, urban commercial spaceport for the aerospace community. Intuitive Machines supports NASA’s $93 billion Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and eventually send humans to Mars.

“Today’s celebration is the culmination of teamwork and tenacity, and it underscores a year of historic milestones for Houston Airports,” Mario Diaz, director of Aviation for Houston Airports, says in a news release. “It’s not enough that we operate world-class airports, Houston Airports must also endeavor to progress humanity’s reach out into space. Axiom space solidifies this unique urban center for collaboration and ideation. A place where the brightest minds in the world work closely together to lead us beyond the next frontier of space exploration.”

The Houston Spaceport Development Corp. received $5 million from funds administered by the Governor's Office of Economic Development and Tourism. Axiom Space is valued at $1 billion as of earlier this year, according to Bloomberg. Axiom joins Intuitive Machines, which opened its new Houston Spaceport headquarters earlier this year.

Last week, Axiom Space cut the ribbon on the new facility. Photo courtesy of Houston Airports

Liftoff Houston took place for the 11th year this past weekend. Here's who won prizes. Photo courtesy of the city of Houston

Houston entrepreneurs awarded over $30,000 at annual competition

biz plan

An annual pitch competition put on by the city of Houston named its big winners for this year.

The 11th annual Liftoff Houston Startup Business Plan Competition announced its three winners — and each will receive $10,000 in startup money. The winners are:

  • Teria Johnson's e-commerce sweet and savory pies company, Charleston Kitchen
  • Zoey Barker and Mohammadmehdi Mortazavi’s ExoBraced’s ExoBak, a light-weight exoskeleton to help with back pain and prevent injuries from manual workers
  • Giovanni Garza’s Classic Borrego Retail, which offers high-end cowboy boots.

There were nine finalists that were selected from over 100 applicants and competed in Liftoff’s Pitch Day on November 18, where they were ranked on service, product, and innovation after pitching their businesses to a panel of expert judges.

In the event’s 11 years, 33 winners started businesses in the fields of merchandise/retail, software,education, hardware, hospitality, health and wellness, finance, technology,consulting, and logistics. The yearly event is sponsored by Capital One Bank and administered by the Houston Public Library and the Office of Business Opportunity. Liftoff Houston’s results have reflected the diversity of the city.

“The program is especially significant as data collected from recent competitions shows Liftoff Houston made an impact on populations that have been historically marginalized,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “More than 90 percent of participants identified as people of color, more than 70 percent were female, 44 percent had no college degree, and 54 percent earned less than $50,000 a year.”

Runners received $500 each. They are:

  • Francesca Bonaduc’e De Nigris: Intrecci by Francesca collaborates with artisans around the world, to deliver one-of-a-kind handmade rugs.
  • Diana Tudela and Hailee Trombley’s The Goodest Goodbye: a pet aftercare company that uses cutting-edge technology and environmentally conscious efforts.
  • Diane Nguyen’s Flourishing Nexus LLC: a virtual platform that unites health professionals worldwide.

Liftoff Houston – and our finalists – have also made it this far because of our workshop partners, all who have given us the invaluable gift of their time,” says OBO Director Marsha Murray in a news release. “The business, financial, legal and marketing education they have provided has allowed our participants to plan a roadmap to their success, including the creation of viable business plans.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner, TMC CEO Bill McKeon, Governor Greg Abbott, and others gave their remarks at the TMC3 Collaborative Building opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

Texas Medical Center opens first building in massive Helix Park project

tmc3

For nearly a decade, the Texas Medical Center and its partners have been working on the plans for Helix Park, a 37-acre campus expansion of TMC. As of this week, the first building has opened its doors to the public.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building officially opened today to a crowd of media, public officials, and health care executives. The institutional agnostic, 250,000-square-foot building will anchor Helix Park and house research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Today, we lay the cornerstone of a new campus fully dedicated to streamlining the commercialization of life-changing innovations in medicine and technologies,” William McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, says at the event. “We are incredibly excited to both welcome our founding institutions and industry partners to the Collaborative Building and to invite the community to experience the Helix Park campus and its beautiful parks with a series of special events in the months ahead."

Established to be a place for academic institution collaboration, the building — designed by Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects — will have wet laboratories, office space, and event facilities. Two venture groups — Portal Innovations and the TMC Venture Fund — will also move into the building.

Each institution will bring in select programs and initiatives. MD Anderson will house two institutions within the new building, including the James P. Allison Institute focused on immunotherapy and the Institute for Data Science in Oncology.

"The future of life sciences in Houston is brighter than ever before as we come together to officially open the TMC3 Collaborative Building,” Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, says. “Our clinicians and scientists work daily to advance innovations in cancer research and care – all of which will be amplified in this new environment within Helix Park that further cultivates collaboration, connectivity, and creativity.”

UTHealth will move its Texas Therapeutics Institute into the facility.

“With a shared commitment to improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities, we are bringing together academics and industry to accelerate discovery and medical breakthroughs,” Dr. Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair at UTHealth Houston, says. “Through the Texas Therapeutics Institute — already a signature collaborative enterprise at UTHealth Houston — our world-renowned leaders in therapeutic antibody development will have the opportunity to work closely with other leading researchers in the Texas Medical Center, greatly enhancing our collective ability to translate discoveries and ideas into effective treatments.”

Texas A&M, which has worked with Houston Methodist to develop its engineering medical program, will operate its Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology in the new space.

“As we open this state-of-the-art facility, we’re opening the door to a new era of collaboration. This building signifies the dismantling of silos to deliver game-changing therapies for the toughest diseases impacting Texans and citizens worldwide,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology has long been a trailblazer in drug discovery, and now, in the heart of this resource-rich ecosystem of the Texas Medical Center, we’re taking it up a notch. By positioning our scientists near their peers and esteemed clinicians, we’re igniting a spark that will fuel innovation and forge dynamic research programs.”

The next aspect of Helix Park to deliver will be the Dynamic One, a 700,000-square-foot industry research facility. Several other buildings, including a hotel, residential tower, and mixed-use building, are expected to deliver over the next few years. The "spine" of the project is six linked green spaces, designed by landscape architect Mikyoung Kim, that form an 18.7-acre campus, which is shaped like a DNA helix, hence the project's name.

At the opening event, leaders discussed the annual impact of over $5.4 billion expected after the campus is completed, and the 23,000 permanent new jobs and 19,000 construction jobs anticipated from Helix Park.

"Texas truly is the home of innovation. Our energy innovations are legendary, as are our innovations in space," says Texas Governor Greg Abbott, naming several of the state's innovative accomplishments. "Long before all of this innovation we're seeing now, Texas was the home of the Texas Medical Center."

Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke to the importance of collaboration.

"Individually, you can do things very well. Collectively, you can be transformational," he says. "One thing about this city, collaboration is the key. When we play well together, and when we build an integrated, robust ecosystem, everyone wins. That's Houston, and that's the way we operate."

Houston City Hall's basement got a major upgrade. Photo via HoustonTX.gov

Photos: City of Houston reveals $4.4M facilities upgrades to repair Hurricane Harvey damage

new and improved

Where some might see just a basement, Mayor Sylvester Turner sees an opportunity to tell a story of Houston's resiliency and dedication to sustainability.

When Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, it left 18 to 20 inches of floodwaters in the basement of Houston City Hall. The city received funding from FEMA to support the $4.4 million renovation project that commenced in 2020. After facing challenges — including a defaulted contractor — the city revealed the new space this week, which was completed by contractor Dunhill Construction.

"The City Hall Basement renovation is a testament to the resilient spirit of Houston," says Turner in the news release. "We encountered some challenges, but we've revitalized this space while preserving our history and embracing innovation. This space truly embodies our commitment to a sustainable future."

The new basement holds conference rooms, training facilities, and a wellness center that was donated by Cigna. The project was focused on implementing sustainability and efficiency and included replacing aging air handling units with more efficient technology, LED lighting equipped with sensors to avoid energy waste, and a sliding floodgate to prevent history from repeating itself should another storm hit Houston.

The project also incorporated 18 pieces of Houston-focused art by artists including Mark Chen, Syd Moen, Nancy Newberry, and David Reinfeld. The 49 Houston mayor portraits, which were rescued by a staffer during the storm, were conserved, reframed, and rehung.

The space will also be the home to Houston's first walk-in 311 center, per the release, and the 311’s Continuity of Operations Plan, or COOP, and will be a secondary location in case the main call center fails.

With the completion of the project, the city has a few more upgrades — including additional training facilities, the mayor's dining room, and kitchen — coming soon and set to be completed in November.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner celebrated the opening of the renovated City Hall basement that was damaged in Hurricane Harvey. 

Photo via houstontx.gov

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the grant recipients last week. Photo via evolvehouston.org

13 initiatives receive grant funding from new EV-focused, Houston-led program

driving toward net-zero

Evolve Houston awarded its inaugural microgrants this week to 13 groups, neighborhoods and an individual working to make electric vehicles accessible to all Houstonians.

Launched in 2022, Evolve's eMobility Microgrant Initiative supports community efforts that propose electric vehicle, micro-mobility and charging infrastructure projects in some of Houston's most underserved neighborhoods. The grants ranged from $10,000 to $15,000.

Shell, NRG, CenterPoint, the University of Houston, and the city of Houston are partners in Evolve Houston. GM and bp America helped found the microgrant program.

“The eMobility Microgrant Initiative is a culmination of my vision and the collaborative efforts from many individuals and corporate supporters who recognize the importance of the transition to electric transportation,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a statement. “The grant winners we recognized today are trailblazers in their communities, leveraging EV technology to residents in neighborhoods that have been historically underserved.”

Winners of the Round 1 eMobility Microgrants and their proposed projects included:

  • Alliance for Multicultural Community Services: Adding a charging station for the Gulfton area and a youth advocacy initiative
  • Third Ward Real Estate Council & Northern Third Ward Neighborhood Implementation Project: Introducing an interactive “mobility hub” to show what EV infrastructure would look like in Third Ward
  • Coalition of Community Organizations: Bringing eBikes and a charging station in the Fifth Ward
  • Edison Arts Foundation: Installing an EV charging station and green energy awareness at the Edison Center in Fort Bend
  • GROW: Promoting green energy careers to youth in underserved communities through EV education and outreach events
  • Hiram Clarke Fort Bend Houston Redevelopment Authority: Brining a bike share program to Southwest Houston
  • Houston Southeast: Expanding its existing rideshare program that offers free and reduced rides in partnership with Uber EV fleet of electric vehicles
  • Pangea Charging: Adding EV chargers to two Complete Communities apartment complexes/buildings
  • RYDE: Brining a free micro-transit service in the Third Ward, including two electric shuttles that could serve more than 1,000 passengers per month
  • Shawn R. Owens: Introducing a new eBike food delivery service, called Electric Eats, to bring food from from the Third Ward food pantries to the area's senior, underserved and immobile residents
  • South Union Community Development Corporation: Creating a workforce development program for green energy careers
  • The Reflections of Christ's Kingdom (The R.O.C.K.) Church–BroadwayCampus: Adding a DC-Fast charger in the South Houston/Hobby Airport area
  • University of Houston-Downtown: Installing a no-cost EV charging station on campus

“This program is designed to provide launch funding to community-based, EV ecosystem-related projects," says Evolve Houston President and Executive Director Casey Brown. "We see significant opportunities to make meaningful progress by using an exciting new technology that is centered around community-based direction. Our governance system puts the community in charge and knows that the ideas of those that know their communities best will carry the greatest impact.”

Applications for the second round of microgrants are now open.Information can be found here. The application deadline is Friday, September 22, 2023.

Evolve Houston was founded in 2019 through Houston's Climate Action Plan. The nonprofit relaunched in 2022, naming Brown as its new president and executive director. The organization's main goal is to improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas and to accelerate EV adoption so that half of all new vehicles sold in the Houston area would be EVs by 2030.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.