Taurus Vascular is one step closer to stopping abdominal aortic aneurysms for good. Photo courtesy of TNVC

A Houston biotech company has won the Texas A&M New Ventures Competition (TNVC). Taurus Vascular took home $30,000 for its first-place victory.

Taurus Vascular is working on a new solution to stopping abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA) before they rupture and become potentially fatal. The company arose out of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program. Fellows Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther had a year to bring a company to fruition. The highly qualified team can boast of Kuhn’s more than 40 patents and Lowther’s former role as director of entrepreneurship and innovation at Texas Children’s Hospital.

The competition’s intense process included presenting to commercialization experts across several rounds. In fact, vetting takes four months and includes coaching to help competitors thrive in their pitches.

“As we celebrate the tenth year of the Texas A&M New Ventures Competition, we recognize the significant economic impact these startups have across Texas and their worldwide societal contributions,” says Chris Scotti, TNVC chair, in a news release. “Looking ahead, we are excited to continue fostering innovation and supporting science and engineering-based companies that drive progress and create lasting change.”

In its decade of competitions, TNVC has awarded almost $4 million prizes to startups. This year alone, 27 awards were distributed. Those included investment capital, consulting, legal and engineering services, and other types of support tailored to the winners’ needs.

“We are honored to have won first place at the Texas New Ventures Competition. Competing alongside so many outstanding companies and talented founders makes this recognition even more meaningful and reflects the dedication and hard work of our team at Taurus Vascular,” Kuhn says in a press release. “The financial support and increased visibility from this win will be pivotal for our growth, unlocking new opportunities and partnerships.

"This award strengthens our belief in our mission of reducing endoleak risks in endovascular aortic aneurysm repair and making a positive impact on patient care," he continues. "We are also grateful to Biotex for choosing us as a recipient for their sponsored prize and eagerly anticipate collaborating with them in the next phase of our technology’s development.”

Fewer than 20 percent of patients whose AAAs rupture survive. Kuhn told InnovationMap last year that he hopes to commercialize his technology by 2030. This competition brings patients closer to one day having far better odds when contending with a AAA.

A new innovation out of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Program is enhancing efficacy of a life-saving aortic aneurysm rupture procedure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biodesign innovators ready to spin out startup with life-saving vascular tech

heartbreak healers

Yes, you can die of a broken heart — although it's not in the hyperbolic way you might be thinking. Fewer than 20 percent of people who have an aortic aneurysm rupture survive the event. But aortic aneurysms can be treated if they’re caught before they burst. A new Houston company is devoted to a novel solution to helping patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

That company is Taurus Vascular. As part of the current class of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program, fellows Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther were tasked with creating a biomedical company in a year. The founders started their journey last August. At the end of this month, they'll be kicked out of the nest, Kuhn tells InnovationMap. Taurus is also in Rice University's 2023 cohort of OwlSpark, an ongoing summer program for startups founders from the Rice community.

Kuhn is a biomedical engineer who just scored his forty-fifth patent. The CEO says that he hit it off quickly with his co-founder and COO, Lowther, former director entrepreneurship and innovation at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther co-founded Taurus Vascular as TMC Biodesign fellows. Photos via taurusvascular.com

Members of the Biodesign Program are paid a livable stipend to devote themselves fully to creating a pioneering company. Kuhn says that he became interested in finding a more effective way to heal AAAs during his four and a half years as a project leader at the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center.

“It was ripe for innovation and we landed on a concept of some merit,” he says.

The current standard of care for AAAs is EVAR, or endovascular aneurysm repair, in which a surgeon inserts a stent to relieve pressure on the aneurysm.

“It used to be if you had a AAA, you had a gnarly procedure,” he says, which included a large incision across the abdomen. EVAR eliminated that, but its problem is that it often results in endoleaks. As many as 20 percent of patients need another EVAR within five years.

Taurus Vascular’s technology improves on EVAR by placing a self-deploying stent to create a drainage pathway between the high-pressure aneurysm sac and a low-pressure nearby vein — mitigating the adverse impact of endoleaks that would otherwise cause the aneurysm to continue to grow. The simple solution will allow patients to live longer, healthier lives after their procedure.

Kuhn says that being in Houston has been and will continue to be instrumental in his company’s success. Part of that, of course, is his relatively cosseted status as a founder in the Innovation Biodesign Program. But he says that the industry as a whole has become almost like a family.

“It feels very different from startup life for other industries where it feels competitive,” he explains. "You have to be a little crazy to start a medical device company and there’s a sense that we’re all in the same boat. People are so generous with their time to share resources. I feels like I have 100 co-founders."

Following the end of Taurus Vascular’s time in the program that helped conceived it, its founders will remain in the same building, continuing to work to support their technology. The next step is raising a seed round that will pay for the company’s chronic animal studies. Because Taurus Vascular is producing a Class III medical device, its approval process to get to market is the most stringent the FDA has.

The goal is to be commercial by 2030, says Kuhn. By then, Taurus Vascular will have healed many a heart.

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Houston space tech company reaches major milestone for engine technology

fired up

A Houston company that's creating the next generation of space exploration technology is celebrating a new milestone of one of its technologies.

Intuitive Machines reports that its VR900 completed a full-duration hot-fire test, qualifying it for its IM-2 lunar mission. With the qualification, the company says its VR3500, an engine designed for larger cargo class landers, also advances in development.

The engine technology is designed, 3D-printed, and tested all at Intuitive Machines' Houston facility, which opened in the Houston Spaceport last year.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus says in a news release that the company's goal was to lead the way in scalable deep space engines as the industry heads toward lunar missions.

“This validated engine design meets current mission demand and paves the way for our VR3500 engine for cargo delivery such as lunar terrain vehicles, human spaceflight cargo resupply, and other infrastructure delivery," Altemus continues. "We believe we’re in a prime position to build on our successful development and apply that technology toward current contracts and future lunar requirements for infrastructure delivery.”

Earlier this year, Intuitive Machines was one of one of three companies selected for a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Another Houston company has seen success with its engine testing. In March, Venus Aerospace announced that it's successfully ran the first long-duration engine test of their Rotating Detonation Rocket Engine in partnership with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Houston is the most stressed out city in Texas, report finds

deep breaths

Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but a new report by WalletHub shows Houston residents are far more stressed out than any other city in Texas.

Houston ranked No. 18 out of 182 of the largest U.S. cities based on work, financial, family-related, and health and safety stress, according to WalletHub's "Most & Least Stressed Cities in America (2024)" report. 39 relevant metrics were considered in the report, including each city's job security, the share of households behind on bills within the last 12 months, divorce rates, crime rates, among others.

Houston was ranked the most stressed out city in Texas, but it's still far less stressed than many other U.S. cities. Cleveland, Ohio took first place as the most stressed city in America, followed by Detroit, Michigan (No. 2), Baltimore, Maryland (No. 3), Memphis, Tennessee (No. 4), and Gulfport, Mississippi (No. 5).

Out of the four main categories, Houstonians are struggling the most with work-related stress, ranking No. 13 nationally. The report found Houston has the No. 1 highest traffic congestion rate out of all cities in the report. But at least Houston drivers are solidly average, as maintained by a separate Forbes study comparing the worst drivers in America.

Houston workers can rejoice that they live in a city with a generally high level of guaranteed employment, as the city ranked No. 151 in the job security comparison. The city ranked No. 16 nationwide in the metric for the highest average weekly hours worked.

Houston fared best in the financial stress category, coming in at No. 72 nationally, showing that Houstonians aren't as worried about pinching pennies when it comes to maintaining a good quality of life. The city ranked No. 39 in the comparison of highest poverty rates.

Here's how WalletHub quantified Houston's stress levels:

  • No. 17 – Health and safety stress rank (overall)
  • No. 36 – Family stress rank (overall)
  • No. 63 – Unemployment rates
  • No. 81 – Percentage of adults in fair/poor health
  • No. 95 – Divorce rate
  • No. 96 – Percentage of adults with inadequate sleep

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe said in the report that living in particularly arduous cities can play a big role in how stressed a person is, especially when considering uncontrollable circumstances like family problems or work-related issues.

"Cities with high crime rates, weak economies, less effective public health and congested transportation systems naturally lead to elevated stress levels for residents," Happe said.

Happe advised that residents considering a move to a place like Houston should consider how the city's quality of life will impact their mental health, not just their financial wellbeing.

Other Texas cities that ranked among the top 100 most stressed cities in the U.S. are:

  • No. 20 – San Antonio
  • No. 38 – Laredo
  • No. 41 – Dallas
  • No. 47 – Corpus Christi
  • No. 61 – El Paso
  • No. 68 – Fort Worth
  • No. 71 – Brownsville
  • No. 75 – Arlington
  • No. 78 – Grand Prairie
  • No. 88 – Garland
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston cardiac health startup raises $43 million series B to grow AI-backed platform

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that has a product line of software solutions for cardiac health has raised funding.

Octagos Health, the parent company of Atlas AI — a software platform for cardiac devices like pacemakers, defibrillators, ambulatory monitors and consumer wearables — has announced a $43 million series B raise that will bring their technology to many more hearts.

Morgan Stanley Investment Capital led the investment, which also included funds from Mucker Capital and other continuing strategic investors. The goal of the raise is to supply funds to accelerate Atlas AI’s growth across the United States and to expand into other areas of care, including ambulatory monitors, consumer wearables, and sleep.

"This investment will enable us to accelerate enhancements to our platform, in addition to scaling our commercial team and operations. We are currently the only company that helps cardiology practices migrate their historical data from legacy software providers and fully integrates with any EHR (exertion heart rate) system. We do this while enabling customized reporting supported by patient and practice decision-support analytics," says Eric Olsen, COO of Octagos Health, in a press release.

Octagos Health was founded by a team of healthcare pros including CEO Shanti Bansal, a cardiologist and founder of Houston Heart Rhythm, an atrial fibrillation center. The goal was to find a new way to deal with the massive amount of data that clinicians encounter each day in a way that combines software and the work of human doctors.

According to the Octagos Health website, “Our solution allows clinicians to focus on other ways of delivering meaningful healthcare and more efficiently manage their remotely monitored patients.”

It works thanks to customizable reporting features that allow patients’ healthcare teams to get help while monitoring them, but to do it precisely as they would if they were crunching numbers themselves.

"We are excited to partner with Octagos Health and support their vision of transforming cardiac care," says Melissa Daniels, managing director of Morgan Stanley Expansion Capital. "Octagos Health has demonstrated exceptional growth and innovation in a critical area of healthcare. We believe their platform and vertically integrated software and services significantly improve patient care and streamline cardiac monitoring processes for healthcare providers."

Will Hsu, co-founder and partner of Mucker Capital, agrees. “Octagos Health is poised for scale – industry leading gross margins, a very sticky product that doctors and clinical staff love, and a market ready for disruption with artificial intelligence. This is the new wave for diagnostic care,” he says. And with this raise, it will be available to even more clinicians and patients across the country.