PHIOGEN, based at Texas Medical Center Innovation, is headed to Austin next month. Photo courtesy of TMC

Houston biotech startup PHIOGEN is among 45 finalists that will present at this year’s SXSW Pitch showcase in Austin.

PHIOGEN is one of five food, nutrition, and health startups that will participate in the pitch competition, set for March 9 and 10. A panel of judges will listen to the pitches and then pick the winners. Since 2009, SXSW Pitch finalists have raised more than $23.2 billion in funding.

PHIOGEN has developed the world’s first biogenetics technology platform to harness the power of bacteriophages in the fight against serious drug-resistant infections. Bacteriophages — viruses that are found in bacterial cells — “are ubiquitous in the environment and are recognized as the most abundant biological agent on earth,” according to an article published in 2022 by StatPearls.

Founded in 2023, PHIOGEN is a spinoff of the Baylor College of Medicine’s TAILOR Labs. The startup, based at the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Hub, has attracted more than $5 million in funding.

“Nothing about our treatments is fabricated; it boils down to creating natural environments that mimic real-life infections, driving biological changes to create ‘super phages’ against the superbugs,” Amanda Burkardt, CEO of PHIOGEN, said in 2023. “As a result, we receive high-performing phage fighters that are trained and ready to deliver safe and effective treatments for clinical applications.”

Professional services firm KPMG is the main sponsor of SXSW Pitch.

Six of this year’s SXSW Pitch judges are from Houston:

  • Heath Butler of Mercury Fund
  • Jesse Martinez of LSA Global
  • Trevor Purvis of the Houston Astros
  • Anu Puvvada of KPMG
  • Irene Tang of StartOut
  • Nate Thompson of HTX Sports Tech

“2024 is an exciting year for startups, and we are looking forward to showcasing these inspiring companies that are making waves in their respective industries and the world as a whole, as well as help connect them with the resources needed to continue advancing,” says Chris Valentine, producer of SXSW Pitch.

Fresh off a win at the Houston Innovation Awards, RepeatMD has raised funding. Photo by Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

Houston software company raises $50M series A, plans to scale

fresh funding

Just nine months after its seed round, a Houston startup with a software platform for the aesthetic and wellness industry has secured $40 million in venture capital and $10 million in debt facility.

RepeatMD, a SaaS platform, announced today that it's secured $50 million, which includes a $10 million debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank. The round was co-led by Centana Growth Partners and Full In Partners with participation from PROOF and Mercury Fund, which also contributed to the seed round earlier this year.

The mobile ecommerce platform, launched in October 2021 by Phil Sitter, targets practices within the med spa and aesthetics industry. In the United States, the med spa market is slated to hit $19 billion in 2023, according to the company's press release, while the global aesthetics market is forecasted to reach to nearly $332 billion by 2030.

“Even though the aesthetics and wellness industry has continued to innovate a growing range of life-changing treatments, practices continue to face challenges selling treatments and services that are new and unfamiliar to patients,” Sitter, CEO of RepeatMD, says in the release. “Our goal at RepeatMD is to give these practice owners the technology to elevate their patients’ experience. Our platform serves as a med-commerce engine equipped with the same firepower as large retailers to convert sales inside and outside of practice operating hours.”

The fast-growing company, which has over 100 employees and is looking to hire 20 more according to InnovationMap data, has a client base of 2,500 med spas, dermatologists, OBGYNs, and more across all 50 states. The startup won in the Digital Solutions category at the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards, which took place earlier this month.

“Just 9 months ago Mercury provided RepeatMD’s Seed financing round. We have quickly doubled down in its Series A because of the company's massive traction, customer adoption and Phil’s leadership,” Aziz Gilani, managing director of Mercury Fund, says in the release.

In the past year, RepeatMD reports a 2,519 percent increase in Gross Merchandise Value revenue and a 130 percent increase in SaaS revenue.

“As investors in growth-stage vertical SaaS companies, we’ve closely followed the rise of platforms that not only help practitioners run their businesses, but also drive a higher ROI go-to-market motion,” Jacob Cole, principal at Full In Partners, adds. “RepeatMD stood out both for helping clinics access higher-margin, recurring revenue, and for their customer-centric mindset.”

RepeatMD will use the funding to grow its "network of strategic partners, provide further product enhancements, and integrate AI to further amplify the patient shopping experience while scaling its Inbound Revenue Platform," per the release.

Early-stage cell therapy startup March Biosciences has partnered with CTMC. Photo via march.bio

Cancer-fighting startup partners with Houston cell therapy accelerator

marching on

When it came time to name their cell therapy startup, Houston life science innovators simply had to look to their calendar.

“I would argue that March is the best month in Houston,” Sarah Hein tells InnovationMap. “We started talking about putting this company together during COVID, so we were outside a lot. And we actually got together in March.”

That’s why the CEO and her co-founders Max Mamonkin and Malcolm Brenner decided to name their company March Biosciences.

It's a fresh, unstuffy name for a startup that has an innovative take on cancer immunotherapy. Their lead asset is an advanced cellular therapy known as MB-105, an autologous CD5 CAR T cell therapy. For patients with T-cell lymphoma and leukemia who have failed all currently available lines of therapy, the prognosis is understandably extremely poor. But in a phase one study, MB-105 has been proven to safely treat those patients. The phase two study is expected to begin in the first half of 2024.

Hein met Mamonkin at the TMC Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics (ACT), at which the alumna of Resonant Therapeutics and Courier Therapeutics was an entrepreneur in residence.

“It's a perfect example of the opportunities here in Houston where you can go from bench to bedside, essentially, in the same institution. And Baylor has been particularly good at that because of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy,” says Hein.

The serial entrepreneur first came to Houston as a PhD student in molecular and cellular biology at Baylor College of Medicine, but during her studies she became excited by the startup ecosystem in her new hometown. After earning her degree, she became a venture fellow at the Mercury Fund. Her experience in both science and business made her an ideal candidate to take March Biosciences to the next level.

In September, the company announced that it formed a strategic alliance with CTMC (Cell Therapy Manufacturing Center), a joint venture between MD Anderson Cancer Center and National Resilience.

“Our unique risk-sharing model allows us to collaborate with organizations like March Biosciences to accelerate the development and manufacture of innovative cell therapies, like MB-105, and bring them into the clinic with a consistent and scalable manufacturing process,” said CTMC’s CEO, Jason Bock in a press release.

The partnership “has allowed us to move really quickly,” Hein says.

That’s because what CTMC does uniquely well is take early stage companies like March Biosciences and advance them to a state that’s ready for manufacturing in a short time, around 18 months, says Hein.

According to Hein, March Biosciences’ success is a testament to Houston and its world-class medical center.

“It’s a great example of the opportunities you see here in Houston, where we have a technology that was developed by brilliant scientists here in Houston and we can pull together the resources that we need to take it to the next level,” Hein says. "Working with partners here in Houston, we have all the pieces and the community rises to the occasion to support you.”

Here's who's making the call for this year's Houston Innovation Awards. Photos courtesy

Houston Innovation Awards names prestigious panel of judges for 2023 awards

meet the decision makers

Ten Houstonians are in the hot seat for deciding the best companies and individuals in Houston's innovation ecosystem.

InnovationMap has announced its 2023 Houston Innovation Awards judging panel, which includes startup founders, nonprofit leaders, investors, corporate innovators, and more.

The 10 selected judges will evaluate applications from the nearly 400 nominations that were submitted this year. The judges will be using their expertise to evaluate the nominees' applications, which are due to InnovationMap by midnight on October 4.

Read about this year's judges below, and don't forget to secure your tickets to the November 8 event to see who the panel selects as the winners for the annual celebration of Houston innovation.

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential

Houston Exponential was founded to amplify and support the city's innovation ecosystem, and Natara Branch has been leading this initiative since appointed as CEO last year. For the second year, HX is partnering with InnovationMap on the Houston Innovation Awards.

Born in Germany and raised all around Texas, Branch — a University of Houston alumna — previously was the first African American woman to hold a vice president position at the NFL. Based in New York, she oversaw operations in various leadership roles at the NFL for over 18 years.

Barbara J. Burger, former Trailblazer Award recipient

Barbara J. Burger, former vice president of innovation at Chevron and president of Chevron Technology Ventures, was the inaugural recipient of the Trailblazer Award at the 2021 Houston Innovation Awards, which was previously called the InnovationMap Awards.

A self-proclaimed “graduate” from Chevron, she is senior adviser to Lazard, a member of the Greentown Labs Board of Directors, adviser to Syzygy Plasmonics, Epicore Biosystems, and Sparkz Inc., and several other energy transition and philanthropic roles. Burger holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Rochester, a doctoral degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology, and an academic honor MBA in finance from the University of California, Berkeley.

Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at TMC Innovation

As head of the Accelerator for Health Tech at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory, Devin Dunn works hands on with startups — specifically to help them refine their business models and plan to scale — every day.

Prior to joining TMCi, Dunn was an early employee at a London-based digital health startup. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Biological Basis of Behavior and Healthcare Management from the University of Pennsylvania and received her Master’s in Public Health from the University of Texas Health Science Center.

Noah Fons, senior coordinator of regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership

Working within regional economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership, Noah Fons has the pulse on companies expanding to Houston. Previously, he worked at Houston Exponential, so he also understands Houston's evolving innovation ecosystem. He studied economics at Rice University.

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury Fund

As managing director at Houston-based venture capital firm Mercury, Aziz Gilani focuses on investments in enterprise SaaS, Cloud, and data science startups. He's worked at the firm for over 15 years.

A Kauffman Fellows Program graduate, he received his bachelor's degree from the University of Texas and his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Gilani also serves in advisory roles for the Mayor of Houston’s Tech and Innovation Council, Seed Accelerator Rankings, and SXSW Interactive and is an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business where he teaches a course on venture capital.

Natalie Harms, editor of InnovationMap

For the third year, Natalie Harms will represent InnovationMap on the annual awards judging panel as the founding editor of InnovationMap the host of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Recently named the editor of EnergyCapitalHTX, a newly launched sister site to InnovationMap focused on Houston's role within the energy transition, she reports on innovation, technology, energy transition — and their impact on the city of Houston. A Houston native, she's worked as a business journalist for almost a decade and has a degree in journalism from the University of Houston and a certificate in publishing from New York University.

Moji Karimi, co-founder and CEO of Cemvita Factory

Moji Karimi and his co-founder and sister, Tara Karimi, were honored at last year's Houston Innovation Awards as the winners of the Green Impact Business award. Cemvita Factory, their fast-growing startup, uses biotech to sustainably create materials to lower its customers carbon footprints.

Prior to launching Cemvita in 2018, Karimi held leadership roles at Weatherford and Biota Technology. He serves as a board member for CleanTX and adviser to Houston-based ComboCurve Inc.

Margarita Kelrikh, associate at Latham & Watkins

As associate in the Emerging Companies group at Latham & Watkins in Houston, Margarita Kelrikh has supported the firm's growing startup clients since her appointment last year. Prior to joining the firm, she held in-house counsel positions at a few companies, including WeWork.

She received her bachelor's degree at the University of Chicago and her law degree at Columbia School of Law.

Brad Rossacci, creative director at Accenture

Brad Rossacci is creative director at Accenture, where he's worked since 2018. He also co-founded and co-hosts the Curiosity Podcast. A Texas A&M University alumnus and self-proclaimed "rebellious optimist," Rossacci is passionate about Houston and innovation.

Maggie Segrich, co-founder of Sesh Coworking

As co-founder and CFO of inclusive coworking company, Sesh Coworking, Maggie Segrich is dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of all backgrounds. Last year, Sesh Coworking won the Female-Founded Business category for the Houston Innovation Awards.

She serves as board member for Midtown Management District, where Sesh is located, and board chair for nonprofit, Magpies & Peacocks.

Originally expected to raise $150 million, Mercury's latest fund is the largest raised to date. Photo via mercuryfund.com

Houston-based VC secures oversubscribed $160M fund for early-stage startups

show me the money

A Houston venture capital firm has announce big news of its latest fund.

Mercury, founded in 2005 to invest in startups not based in major tech hubs on either coast, closed its latest fund, Mercury Fund V, at an oversubscribed amount of $160 million. Originally expected to raise $150 million, Fund V is the largest fund Mercury has raised to date.

“We are pleased by the substantial support we received for Fund V from both new and existing investors and thank them for placing their confidence in Mercury,” Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury Fund, says in a news release. “Their support is testament to the strength of our team, proven investment strategy, and the compelling opportunities for innovation that exist in cities across America.”

The fund's limited partners include new and existing investors, including endowments at universities, foundations, and family offices. Mercury reports that several of these LPs are based in the central region of the United States where Mercury invests. California law firm Gunderson Dettmer was the fund formation counsel for Mercury.

Fresh closed, Fund V has already made investments in several companies, including:

  • Houston-based RepeatMD, a patient engagement and fintech platform for medical professionals with non-insurance reimbursed services and products
  • Houston and Cheyenne Wyoming-based financial infrastructure tech platform Brassica, which raised its $8 million seed round in April
  • Polco, a Madison, Wisconsin-based polling platform for local governments, school districts, law enforcement, and state agencies
  • Chicago-based MSPbots, a AI-powered process automation platform for small and mid-sized managed service providers

Mercury's investment model is described as "operationally-focused," and the firm works to provide its portfolio companies with the resources needed to grow rapidly and sustainably. Since 2013, the fund has contributed to creating more than $9 billion of enterprise value across its portfolio of over 50 companies.

“Over the past few years there has been a tremendous migration of talent, wealth and know-how to non-coastal venture markets and this surge of economic activity has further accelerated the creation of extraordinary new companies and technology," says Garrou. "As the first venture capital firm to have recognized the attractiveness of these incredible regions a dozen years ago, we are excited to continue sourcing new opportunities to back founders and help these cities continue to grow and thrive.”

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Houston hospital flies in drone delivery service for medical supplies, prescriptions

incoming

A Houston hospital system has announced that it has plans to launch a drone delivery service for specialty prescriptions and medical supplies in 2026.

Memorial Hermann Health System announced that it intends to be the first health care provider in Houston to roll out drone delivery services from San Francisco-based Zipline, a venture capital-backed tech company founded in 2014 that's completed 1 million drone deliveries.

"As a system, we are continuously seeking ways to improve the patient experience and bring greater health and value to the communities we serve. Zipline provides an innovative solution to helping our patients access the medications they need, quickly and conveniently, at no added cost to them," Alec King, executive vice president and CFO for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

Zipline boasts of achieving delivery times seven times faster than traditional car deliveries and can usually drop off packages at a rate of a mile a minute. The drones, called Zips, can navigate any weather conditions and complete their missions with zero emissions.

Per the release, the service will be used to deliver items to patients or supplies or samples between its locations.

"Completing more than one million commercial deliveries has shown us that when you improve health care logistics, you improve every level of the patient experience. It means people get better, faster, more convenient care, even from the comfort of their own home," adds Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Innovators like Memorial Hermann are leading the way to bring better care to the U.S., and it's going to happen much faster than you might expect."

Houston tech founder shines spotlight on small businesses with new awards initiative

houston innovators podcast episode 234

For decades, small businesses have operated in essentially the same manner — handwritten notes to request time off, manual punch cards to clock in, and verbal agreements to swap shifts. And 10 years ago, Houstonian Rushi Patel thought it was time to upgrade these local shops, eateries, and other businesses.

Homebase, which was founded in San Francisco in 2014 and has its largest office in Houston, provides a suite of software tools for employee scheduling, time tracking, communication, and task management for its users, most of which are small businesses.

After a decade of growing its technology and clientbase, Patel, co-founder and COO of the company, explains the unique challenges these small businesses face on the Houston Innovators Podcast — as well as how Homebase helps.

"It's a bit of an orchestra in terms of what entrepreneurs have to do. Your job is to compose a little, but conduct as well," Patel says on the show. "You've built the song of what you want to have happen, but you're conducting lots of different things to make it a reality as a small business owner."



Patel explains how optimizing these personnel aspects of the business frees up founders and managers and improves the employee experience too. Currently, the job market is competitive for these types of businesses, and retention and hiring are major focus points for entrepreneurs.

With 10 years of data and experience of working with small businesses, Homebase introduced a new awards program this week in honor of National Small Business Week. The inaugural Top Local Workplace Awards honored over 50,000 businesses across the country for a range of positive workplace factors — like pay transparency and employee engagement.

"There are over 2 million employee-centric, main street type of businesses in the United States," Patel says, "these are the restaurants, the retailers, and the service providers. They employ north of 70 million people, so there's a lot of impact that these businesses can have. But what we found was they deserve recognition, and there wasn't recognition for the good practices that these employers were doing."

Using its data, which includes over 2.5 million hourly worker data points, Homebase's team implemented the awards to highlight the companies providing their employees — who are in most cases considered a work family, as Patel says — with a great experience.

10+ can't miss Houston business and innovation events for May

WHERE TO BE

From pitching competitions to expert speaker summits, May is chock-full of opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

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


May 2 — State of Houston's Global Economy

Explore the complexities of Houston's global economy, dissect the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead and chart a course for sustainable growth in the years to come at this business conference sponsored by the Greater Houston Partnership. Highlighting the day will be a presentation by the Partnership’s Chief Economist, Patrick Jankowski who will share his insights into the role global trade plays in the region’s growth.

Panel conversation speakers include:
  • Kurt Heim, Vice President of Environmental Advancement, Daikin Comfort
  • Moderator: George Y. Gonzalez, Partner, Haynes Boone, LLP
This event is Thursday, May 2, from 8:15 to 10 am at Partnership Tower. Click here to register.

May 3 — Transformative Healthcare Innovations Across the TMC

This symposium is filled with discussions, presentations, and networking opportunities. Discover the latest advancements in healthcare technology and how they are shaping the future of medicine. The event will be held in person at the TMC3 Collaborative Building, so come ready to engage with industry experts and fellow healthcare enthusiasts.

This event is Friday, May 3, from 9 am to 3:30 pm at TMC3 Collaborative Building. Click here to register.

May 6 to 9 — Offshore Technology Conference.

Since 1969, the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) has served as a central hub convening energy professionals from around the world to share ideas and innovations, discuss, debate, and build consensus around the most pressing topics facing the offshore energy sector.

This conference is Monday, May 7, to Thursday, May 9, at NRG Park. Click here to register.

May 7 — Small Business Awards Houston 

This year's awards luncheon event theme will be "The SBA Awards presented by SCORE are going to Space" celebrating Houston's advances into space with two fantastic guest speakers and the optional “How to do business with NASA” workshop. The keynote speakers will be Stephanie Murphy, Aegis Aerospace and Arturo Machuca, Director of the Houston Spaceport.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 11 am to 1:30 pm at Royal Sonesta Galleria Houston. Click here to register.

May 7 — Tech + Tequila Talk: Goal Park Innovation

At the upcoming edition of Tech+Tequila talk, hear the process behind activating public spaces like Goal Park. Specifically, explore how innovation plays a key role in creating a safer and more dynamic environment for the community. Join in discussions on the intersection of art, philanthropy, and urban development, and learn how projects like Goal Park are shaping the future of our cities.

This event is Tuesday, May 7, from 6 to 8 pm at Niels Esperson Building. Click here to register.

May 13 — TECHSPO Houston 2024 Technology Expo

TECHSPO Houston brings together developers, brands, marketers, technology providers, designers, innovators and evangelists looking to set the pace in advancing technology. Watch exhibitors showcase the next generation of advances in technology & innovation, including; Internet, Mobile, AdTech, MarTech and SaaS technologies.

This event is Monday, May 13, from 9 am to 7 pm at Marriott Marquis. Click here to register.

May 14 — An Evening with Johnson & Johnson's Immunology Team

Johnson & Johnson Innovative Medicine Immunology Team will present our strategic priorities in the space as part of our search for promising scientific innovations.

The focus areas of the program include bispecifics for auto-immune and inflammatory diseases, multispecific T-cell engagers for deep cell depletion, and tissue T-Reg / stromal immune modulators. After the programming concludes, there will be an opportunity to network at the reception with industry leaders and like-minded innovators. This networking session will provide attendees with a chance to discuss ideas, and further explore collaboration opportunities

This event is Tuesday, May 14, from 4 to 7 pm at Texas Medical Center. Click here to register.

May 16 — Energy Underground

The Energy Underground is a group of professionals in the Greater Houston area that are accelerating the Energy Transition. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce at this meeting of like-minded innovators.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 12 to 1 pm at the Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 16 — UH Tech Bridge: Innov8Hub Pitch Day

This event is your chance to immerse yourself in the vibrant startup ecosystem, network with industry experts, and discover the next big thing. Get ready to witness groundbreaking ideas and cutting-edge pitches from talented individuals.

This event is Thursday, May 16, from 5 to 7:30 pm at UH Tech Bridge. Click here to register.

May 18 — Create by Getty Images Houston 2024

Head to this event to shoot a variety of ready-to-upload content for your portfolio and enjoy priceless creative development opportunities. Connect with fellow creators, collaborators, and peers to expand your network and build meaningful relationships. Participate in interactive workshops to enhance your skills and knowledge and gain actionable takeaways for creative endeavors.

This event starts Saturday, May 18, at 8:30 am at The Cannon West Houston. Click here to register.

May 22 — Pearland Innovation Hub Anniversary

Come for an evening filled with innovation, creativity, and fun. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet some members, partners, and sponsors of Pearland Innovation Hub.

This event is Wednesday, May 22, from 6 to 8 pm at Spacio.us. Click here to register.

May 28 — Texas Small Business Expo

Texas Small Business Expo is a trade show, educational business to business conference, exhibition & networking event for entrepreneurs, start-ups and anyone that owns a business or looking to start their own business. Learn how to solve challenging business issues by discussing strategies, acquire valuable knowledge from those in your business and connect with top vendors in various industries.

This event is Tuesday, May 28, from 4 to 9 pm at Wakefield Crowbar. Click here to register.

May 29 — Bayou City Bio Pulse at Gensler

Join the GHP for its next Bayou City Bio Pulse, hosted by global architecture, design and planning firm, Gensler. This event will feature panel discussions, tours of Gensler’s space, VR walkthroughs and more.

This event is Wednesday, May 29, from 4 to 6 pm at Gensler's office (2 Houston Center). Click here to register.