The latest cohort from gBETA Houston has been announced and is currently underway at the Downtown Launchpad. Photo courtesy of Downtown Launchpad

Five Houston startups are joining a global accelerator for a seven-week program to strategically grow their businesses.

Houston's gBETA, a part of gener8tor in partnership with the Downtown Launchpad, has launched its spring cohort — the seventh cohort since its launch in Houston in 2019 — this month. The free program lasts seven weeks and connects companies to gener8tor's network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Downtown Launchpad to bring these programs to life and bolster the technology and sustainability industries in Houston,” says Lauren Usher, gener8tor gBETA vice president, in a news release.

gBETA's equity-free model provides coaching for its cohort companies, which are all Houston-based, home-grown.

“It’s exciting to see the seventh cohort of gBETA Houston come together. We’ve seen so much growth from our previous alumni from our program, and we’re excited for that same impact to flourish with this incoming cohort,” says Muriel Foster, gBETA Houston director, in the release.

The ongoing cohort's members include:

  • Adaptagym revolutionizes the fitness and rehabilitation industries by offering a comprehensive and user-friendly platform that caters to the unique needs of all persons on the ability spectrum. The company matches users with the appropriate fitness and allied health professionals. Adaptagym is currently partnering with one clinic and four individuals for beta testing.
  • Circle.ooo is a B2B2C technology company streamlining event tech for small-to-medium event hosts, attendees and sponsors. The app-within-app concept allows event holders to create a free ‘Circle’, and Attendees create a single 'universal profile' digicard to instantly register for any Event without having multiple accounts, profiles or inputting data fields. Circle is a Houston-based Delaware C-Corp, is currently testing v 2.0 of the app, and has 27 customers on their waitlist.
  • Financial Aid Frenzy transforms the way students pay for college, one dollar at a time. Financial Aid Frenzy's crowdfunding platform is tailored to assist students in getting the money needed for their education by connecting them with donors who are passionate about helping them achieve their educational fundraising goals. Financial Aid Frenzy is a Houston-based Delaware C-Corp, with 40 customers interested in the platform.
  • Kash-In Academy utilizes digital “kash” to increase student engagement through monetized lessons and quizzes. With the Kash-In Academy platform, teachers are able to deposit “kash” for positive behavior and academic achievement. Kash-In Academy is approved in 12 school districts servicing 932 teachers and 8,069 students.
  • MendIt’s apparel care marketplace amplifies the choices for consumers to manage their closets more sustainably and empowers retailers with aftercare solutions that elevate their brand. Retailers work with MendIt to offer long-term product care to customers, helping to extend the life of their clothing, save money through reduced returns, and direct capital to local businesses. MendIt’s product is live and available nationwide via shipping, with three local drop-off locations in the Houston market, a waiting list of “menders” across 9 states, and hundreds of garments mended to date.
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kaitlyn Allen of MendIt, Miguel Calatayud of iwi, and Tatiana Fofanova of Koda Health. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from sustainability to health tech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Kaitlyn Allen, founder and chief strategy officer of MendIt

MendIt seeks to reduce textile waste by providing an easy-to-use app to make menders and customizers more accessible. Photo courtesy of MendIt

Kaitlyn Allen thought she had a great idea for a company — something that can help people repair clothing conveniently. And all of the pieces of the strategy already existed. There are plenty of seamstressing businesses around town, but not an easy way to navigate them. “

There’s a disconnect. There’s a market of people who potentially want to mend their clothes, but there’s no easy way of finding or accessing that service,” she says. “With this next generation, you need to meet them where they are.”

And where they are, Allen says, is on their phones.

MendIt is completing a pilot program with one mender — Connect Community in Gulfton area — in partnership with St. Luke's Gethsemane on Bellaire in Sharpstown. She also hopes to tap into a local artist who can help with customization — like embroidery, for instance. Click here to read more.

Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi

Miguel Calatayud, CEO of iwi, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his sustainable business of farming algae for nutritional products. Photo courtesy of iwi

Miguel Calatayud feels like he has the perfect storm of a product. Not only does his company iwi's nutritional supplement have a sustainability focus, it's also just a very competitive product in the marketplace. The company has created a sustainable suite of products from innovative algae farming in the deserts of Texas and New Mexico. These football field-sized farms operate on desert land using just salt water and sand and produce algae sustainably — all while absorbing CO2.

"We've been growing significantly for one main reason," Calatayud says. "It works."

Calatayud shares more about the impact he's making and why Houston is the ideal market for him to do it in on the Houston Innovators podcast.Click here to read more.

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda Health

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, has something to celebrate. The Houston-based startup announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round. The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement.

The Koda team will also use the funds to expand its operations to all 50 states. According to the statement, the team plans to focus on low-resource communities and operating in different languages. Click here to read more.

MendIt seeks to reduce textile waste by providing an easy-to-use app to make menders and customizers more accessible. Photo courtesy of MendIt

Houston startup tackles fast fashion with app that connects users to small business menders

sustainable startup

When Kaitlyn Allen’s grandmother died, she left a green sweater that Allen wanted to keep and wear in memory of her. But the sweater had a hole in it and, in a morbidly ironic fashion, the person Allen would have turned to to mend the sweater was her grandmother.

This sparked an idea for the Houstonian, who thought there might be other people out there with the same mending needs.

“We have two generations of people who don’t know how to sew,” Allen tells InnovationMap. “We did national studies to see where people fall within this, and only 4.2 percent of Americans actually take their clothes to get repaired.”

The rest of people, as one might assume, are just buying new clothes and throwing old items out, contributing to a massive — and growing — carbon footprint. Allen — who’s spent almost a decade running Global Affairs Associates, a sustainability consultancy — decided to look into just how big an impact the textile industry had.

Kaitlyn Allen, who's the founder and chief strategy officer for MendIt, has worked a decade in ESG consulting. Photo via mendit.app

“I learned about how the throw-away culture and fast fashion — the mass production of extraordinarily cheap textiles — leads to all these really humongous environmental problems,” Allen says, citing that the equivalent of a garbage truck full of textiles is landfilled or incinerated every second around the globe.

“It’s a really huge problem, but we don’t really see it in our culture,” Allen continues. “One of the simple things we can do to make an impact is to extend the life of the clothes we already own — mend them, take care of the, and don’t just throw them away after three months.”

In light of this research and the unmet need Allen saw from her own experience, she founded MendIt, a Houston startup that connects users digitally to the local seamstresses and menders. Her first idea of the company was to tap into the gig economy and “Uber-ize” the industry. But she quickly realized there was an opportunity to tap into the small businesses already working within this space. These businesses are usually not digitally savvy and usually women and immigrant-owned. While these businesses already exist, they aren’t tapping into the market need as best as they could, Allen says.

“There’s a disconnect. There’s a market of people who potentially want to mend their clothes, but there’s no easy way of finding or accessing that service,” she says. “With this next generation, you need to meet them where they are.”

And where they are, Allen says, is on their phones.

MendIt is completing a pilot program with one mender — Connect Community in Gulfton area — in partnership with St. Luke's Gethsemane on Bellaire in Sharpstown. She also hopes to tap into a local artist who can help with customization — like embroidery, for instance.

MendIt hopes to take the lessons learned from this pilot and expand within Houston before growing nationally. She’s also looking for partners — menders, retailers, and potential investors — down the road to further grow the business.

“The broader vision is to have every small business in the Unite States that does clothing repair or customization will be registered on the app so that local users can find them where they live and place orders through the app,” she says.

The MendIt app is available now as a part of the company's pilot program. Photo via mendit.app

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.