4 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Angela Holmes of Mercury Data Science, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich of Sesh Coworking, and Shaun Zhang of the University of Houston. 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 data science to cancer therapeutics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Angela Holmes, CEO of Mercury Data Science

Angela Holmes is the CEO of MDS. Photo via mercuryds.com

A Houston-based AI solutions consultancy has made changes to its C-suite. Dan Watkins is passing on the CEO baton to Angela Holmes, who has served on MDS's board and as COO. As Holmes moves into the top leadership position, Watkins will transition to chief strategy officer and maintain his role on the board of directors.

"It is an exciting time to lead Mercury Data Science as we advance the development of innovative data science platforms at the intersection of biology, behavior, and AI," says Holmes in the release. "I am particularly excited about the demand for our Ergo insights platform for life sciences, allowing scientists to aggregate a vast set of biomedical data to better inform decisions around drug development priorities." Click here to read more.

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, co-founders of Sesh Coworking

Sesh Coworking and its founders Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler are on a roll. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Sesh Coworking, described as Houston’s first female-focused and LGBTQIA+ affirming coworking, has been operating its 2808 Caroline Street location's second-floor space since January, but the first floor, as of this week, is now open to membership and visitors. The new build-out brings the location to over 20,000 square feet of space.

Called The Parlor, the new space includes additional desks, common areas, a wellness room, and a retail pop-up space. Since its inception in early 2020, Sesh has overcome the pandemic-related obstacles in its path and even seen a 60 percent increase in membership with an overall 240 percent increase in sales over the past year.

“Our growth is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Houston’s office and retail industry after the workplace dramatically changed in 2020,” says Maggie Segrich, co-founder of Sesh Coworking, in a news release. “We are ecstatic to welcome current and prospective members to our new, inclusive space.” Click here to read more.

The duo also joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Sesh's growth. Click here to listen.

Shaun Zhang, director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston

A UH professor is fighting cancer with a newly created virus that targets the bad cells and leaves the good ones alone. Photo via UH.edu

A Houston researcher is developing a cancer treatment — called oncolytic virotherapy — that can kill cancer cells while being ineffective to surrounding cells and tissue. Basically, the virus targets the bad guys by "activating an antitumor immune response made of immune cells such as natural killer (NK) cells," according to a news release from the University of Houston.

However exciting this rising OV treatment seems, the early stage development is far from perfect. Shaun Zhang, director of the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston, is hoping his work will help improve OV treatment and make it more effective.

“We have developed a novel strategy that not only can prevent NK cells from clearing the administered oncolytic virus, but also goes one step further by guiding them to attack tumor cells. We took an entirely different approach to create this oncolytic virotherapy by deleting a region of the gene which has been shown to activate the signaling pathway that enables the virus to replicate in normal cells,” Zhang says in the release. Click here to read more.

Sesh Coworking and its founders Maggie Segrich and Meredith Wheeler are on a roll. Photo courtesy of Sesh

With freshly opened inclusive coworking space, Houston founders look to continue momentum

houston innovators podcast episode 142

The origin story of Sesh Coworking is familiar to a lot of startups. Meredith Wheeler was looking for a new business opportunity — and the right network and work environment to do that — when she realized she didn't find anything out there that was what she needed. Then she thought — maybe building that was the next business opportunity she was looking for.

"I knew that I wanted each person who was introduced to our community felt unafraid," Wheeler says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "It's really hard to walk into anywhere where anyone knows each other. I wanted it to feel to people that it was approachable."

Eventually relocating to Houston and syncing up with her now-business partner, Maggie Segrich, Wheeler started hosting pop-up coworking sessions. The meetups evolved into Sesh Coworking's small Montrose space that opened in early 2020.

This year, the duo got to have their dream of a bigger, inclusive coworking space actualized, and both phase one and two of the new Sesh Coworking space has opened in Midtown. Described as Houston’s first female-focused and LGBTQIA+ affirming coworking, Sesh's 2808 Caroline Street location provides its members with over 20,000 square feet of meeting, work, and event space.

With the bigger space, Wheeler and Segrich have the same mission of inclusivity and embracing diversity while growing its membership.

"At the end of the day, what our members really want is a feeling of belonging," Wheeler says. "They might need to get out of the house, and they might need to network a bit more. But what they want is a sense of belonging. Sesh provides that because we are this inclusive community."

Sesh, as the co-founders describe, is an attractive spot for creatives and business owners seeking a community and flexible environment. Membership is $199 a month for coworkers, and now, thanks to the expansion, Sesh also can provide private office space — even to coworker members.

"To jump into a private office — that's a big difference in pricing for some people, and that means that your business has to grow exponentially to get to that point," Segrich says. "So we try to make sure that all our members have access to private spaces for a few hours a day. We know that budgeting restraints are a big deal."

The Midtown location also has a similar opportunity for growing retail businesses. Just like the other members at Sesh, the shop gives retailers a smaller scale and less risky space compared to the costs associated with opening up their own brick-and-mortar shop.

With the challenges from the pandemic and the construction of the new store behind them, Segrich and Wheeler are already looking to the future for the company.

"First Houston — next, the world," Segrich says. "This location we've definitely set up to be the flagship, so there is definitely more Sesh coming whether that's in Houston, Texas, or somewhere else is yet to be determined.


Sesh's 20,000-square-foot space in Midtown is now completely open. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Photos: Houston coworking spot opens expanded first-floor space

where to work

A female-focused coworking space has officially opened the first floor of its Midtown Houston location after a months-long buildout.

Sesh Coworking, described as Houston’s first female-focused and LGBTQIA+ affirming coworking, has been operating its 2808 Caroline Street location's second-floor space since January, but the first floor, as of this week, is now open to membership and visitors. The new build-out brings the location to over 20,000 square feet of space.

Called The Parlor, the new space includes additional desks, common areas, a wellness room, and a retail pop-up space. Since its inception in early 2020, Sesh has overcome the pandemic-related obstacles in its path and even seen a 60 percent increase in membership with an overall 240 percent increase in sales over the past year.

“Our growth is a testament to the ever-changing landscape of Houston’s office and retail industry after the workplace dramatically changed in 2020,” says Maggie Segrich, co-founder of Sesh Coworking, in a news release. “We are ecstatic to welcome current and prospective members to our new, inclusive space.”

Sesh tapped real estate developer, The Deal Co, to work on the space and provide a catered experience for a diversified membership, including working mothers, the LGBTQIA+ community, and progressive Houstonians, per the news release.

The fully completed space now provides members with:

  • Hassle-free parking
  • 30 offices
  • Three conference rooms
  • Four phone booths
  • Amphitheater
  • Library
  • Studio kitchen
  • Pop-up retail shop for local small businesses
  • Locker rooms with showers
  • Interactive art installations
  • 24/7 access
  • Tech-enabled spaces
  • 15 percent at Weights + Measures, which directly connects to The Parlor

“Our vision is to provide a high-quality experience with a tight-knit community,” said Co-Founder Meredith Wheeler. “The Parlor’s open and collaborative atmosphere will help foster relationships, collaboration and creativity for our members.”

Photo courtesy of Sesh

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dr. Toby Hamilton of Hamilton Health Box, Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich of Sesh Coworking, and Simone Biles of Cerebral. Courtesy photos

4 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 health to coworking — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Dr. Toby Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton is a leader in Houston's health care innovation ecosystem, and he joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his latest endeavor, which is rethinking primary and preventative care. Photo via tmc.edu

Dr. Toby Hamilton has seen Houston establish itself as a leader in health innovation, and he's been a part of that journey too. He started his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, a micro-hospital system in the Houston area which later exited to private equity. He also founded a nonprofit focused on connecting hospital innovation leaders called the Healthcare Innovators Professional Society and led the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign program for two years.

Over the years, he says he's seen the potential develop for Houston to hold a significant role in health care innovation across the world — it's just going to take all hands on deck.

"As a community, if we can get behind that vision and be the place that tests, develops, and creates opportunities, Houston has the potential to be unlike anything in the world," he says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Click here to listen and read more.

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, founders of Sesh Coworking

Co-founders Maggie Segrich (right) opened Sesh with Meredith Wheeler in 2020. Photo courtesy of Sesh

One of Houston's coworking companies is moving on up. Sesh Coworking is moving into a new space that's 10 times as large as its original location — and it's an optimal location too, say Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, founders of Sesh Coworking.

"Being able to grow our community at our beautiful original location in Montrose through the pandemic is a testament to the grit and resilience of Houstonians. We are so honored and grateful to be a part of their journey,” says Segrich. “We are excited that our new location in Midtown, near the Innovation District, will provide more Houstonians with the workspace and support they need."

The two-story space is expected to open in two phases. Tenants will first move into the space's second floor in January while the first floor, the larger of the two floors, completes construction and is expected in March. Click here to read more.

Simone Biles, chief impact officer at Cerebral

Houston's favorite gymnast is the chief impact officer on a California-based tech company that's raised $462M. Photo via getcerebral.com

The greatest gymnast of all time has a new title to her many gymnastics accomplishments. Simone Biles recently joined mental health startup Cerebral as chief impact officer, and the company is backed by SoftBank and has a valuation of $4.8 billion.

Biles has been vocal about her passion for mental health. Cerebral was an official sponsor of Biles’ Gold Over America Tour, which took place from September to November, and is an official sponsor of the 2022 Simone Biles International Invitational, a gymnastics competition that will be held January 27-30 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. The Spring-based World Champions Centre, Biles’ home gym, stages the invitational.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health, but for far too long the stigma of mental health has prevented too many people from seeking help,” Biles says in a Cerebral news release. “I have my own challenges with mental health, and therapy has been very empowering for me as I try to be the best person that I can be. I believe everyone should have access to mental health resources, and Cerebral gives me the ability to personalize my mental health care experience.” Click here to read more.

Sesh Coworking's new space is 10 times as big as its previous location. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Exclusive: Houston coworking company plans to move into larger Midtown location

room to grow

A Houston startup with an inclusive approach to coworking has announced where its new location will be and plans to open in its first phase in the new year.

Sesh Coworking, which bills itself as the first female-centered and LGBTQ+-affirming coworking space, has announced its new 20,000-square-foot space at 2808 Caroline St, Suite 100 and 201. The team is all hands on deck to move over the next few weeks and formally beginning operating in the Midtown location in January 2022.

The two-story space is about ten times the size of its original location, which opened in February of 2020. Current and new tenants will move into the space's second floor in January while the first floor, the larger of the two floors, completes construction.

The new space will open in two phases. Image courtesy of Sesh

"Being able to grow our community at our beautiful original location in Montrose through the pandemic is a testament to the grit and resilience of Houstonians. We are so honored and grateful to be a part of their journey,” says Maggie Segrich, founder of Sesh Coworking. “We are excited that our new location in Midtown, near the Innovation District, will provide more Houstonians with the workspace and support they need."

The new location has hassle-free parking in a walkable part of town. In terms of layout, Sesh plans to have 25 offices, three conference rooms, four phone booths, an amphitheater, library, demo kitchen, pop-up retail shop, locker room with showers, and interactive art installations. A huge new perk of the space: 24/7 access for members.

"We plan to offer a robust calendar of programming featuring community partners such as networking events, lunch and learns, breakfast clubs, cooking classes, book clubs, business development and more," the founders tell InnovationMap.

According to Sesh, membership pricing will remain at the current rate of $199 per month, but individuals will now be able to opt into private offices starting at $789 per month for space that can accommodate teams of up to 15 people.

Sesh worked with real estate developer, The Deal Co, to customize the space in order to best meet the needs of its dynamic female and LGBTQ+ members. The new location was funded in part by a crowdfunding campaign, which raised $40,000, which represented the company’s goal. Sesh also received grant funds from the TWU Center for Women Entrepreneurs, an organization aiming to help women grow into successful business owners.

Founders Maggie Segrich (right) opened Sesh with Meredith Wheeler in 2020. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Sesh Coworking has outgrown its space in Montrose. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Houston coworking company launches crowdfund to move to bigger space

sesh we can

A Houston coworking community that's founded by women and for women has announced it's ready to move into a bigger space.

Sesh Coworking, which opened early 2020 by Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to fuel its move into a new space to support its growing membership. The campaign is as unique as the company is itself. Coworkers can commit to offices or desks at a 25 percent discount for six-month prepaid membership, but Sesh tapped fellow Houston companies to add in other perks for crowdfund contributors.

"We're very fortunate to have local businesses who believe in Sesh and our mission," Segrich tells InnovationMap, explaining that these businesses have contributed special products and experiences like a two-hour portrait session, chocolate boxes, jewelry and more. "Realistically, we know not everyone needs coworking, but we realize some may want to show their support and we have other opportunities."

Meredith Wheeler and Maggie Segrich founded Sesh Coworking after years of working from home and feeling the need for a community. Photo courtesy of Sesh

Investors can also snag like Sesh's Houston is Dope AF T-shirts ($35) and naming rights to their plants ($50), phone booths ($1,500) and conference rooms ($10,000). As of publication, Sesh has already raised $11,047 of their $40,000 goal.

The new coworking space is set to be in Midtown, but Sesh hasn't yet announced the specific location. The plan is to open to members at the beginning of 2022. The move will allow Sesh to offer private offices and dedicated desks, as well as other amenities members are looking for.

"These last 18 months have provided us plenty of opportunities to listen and learn from our community which means we have new amenities that we can provide them," Segrich says. "The new location will continue to provide Houstonians the spaces they need to feel inspired, energized, connected, and supported. Our goal is to make sure we provide our community with the space and tools they need to grow and succeed."

Opening right ahead of the pandemic, Sesh Coworking has cultivated an involved and collaborative community at a time when entrepreneurs and small business owners needed community more than ever. But, even outside of the pandemic, Segrich says this was always their plan.

"Sesh never set out to be like other coworking spaces," she says. "We are on a mission to create a work space that isn't just four walls and a door. We began in 2017 by building our community first through pop-ups and then with our current space in Montrose. This new space carries on that tradition and mission of putting community first."

Sesh's current space features a pinkie promise mural so unique and special to the members — but don't worry. Segrich says they are working again with Houston artist Amy Malkan to create a new and improved version of it for the new space.

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Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.

Houston named best city in Texas and No. 11 in U.S. in prestigious report

best in tx

At least according to one new report, Houston is not only the Energy Capital of the World but also the livability capital of Texas.

A new study from Best Cities, powered by Resonance Consultancy, puts Houston at No. 11 among the best cities in the U.S. That’s the top showing among the six Texas cities included in the ranking. Houston appeared at No. 17 on last year’s list.

“Educated, diverse and hard-working, Houston is America’s stealthy powerhouse on the rise,” Best Cities proclaims.

Best Cities notes that while Austin grabs much of the best-city attention, “the promise of the Lone Star State drawing Californians and New Yorkers is quietly being fulfilled in Houston.” The website points out that the Houston metro area has gained nearly 300,000 residents in the past year, thanks to both domestic and international migration.

Here are some of the individual rankings that contribute to Houston’s 11th-place finish:

  • No. 4 for restaurants
  • No. 7 for culture
  • No. 8 for foreign-born population

“Houston is a diverse and vibrant metro where individuals can start a family, grow their business, attend world-class institutions and universities, or be immersed in the 145 languages that are spoken by our residents,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says in a news release. “The quality of life we have in Houston is second to none, and the data we receive from placements such as … Best Cities further reaffirm the strength and resiliency that has come to define this great city of ours.”

A few spots behind Houston on the Best Cities list are No. 14 Dallas and No. 15 Austin.

What lifts Dallas to the No. 14 spot? These are some of the factors cited by Best Cities:

  • Location of more than 10,000 corporate headquarters
  • Strong showing (No. 2) in the airport connectivity category
  • Kudos for the soon-to-be-expanded Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center Dallas
  • Home of the country’s sixth largest LGBTQ+ community
  • Presence of the 28-block, 68-acre Dallas Arts District

Austin comes in at No. 15, one notch behind Dallas.

Best Cities praises Austin as “a place that’s incredibly livable. Talk to any entrepreneur leaving Silicon Valley or Seattle and chances are they’ve considered Austin.”

The website points to a number of Austin’s assets, such as:

  • Growing presence of Fortune 500 headquarters
  • Comparatively low unemployment rate
  • Location of the University of Texas’ flagship campus
  • Status as the Live Music Capital of the World
  • Home of the annual SXSW gathering

Two other Texas cities make the Best Cities list: No. 34 San Antonio and No. 94 McAllen.

Best Cities bases its list of the best U.S. cities on Resonance Consultancy’s combination of statistical performance plus qualitative evaluations by locals and visitors. Those figures are grouped into six main categories. This year’s ranking features 100 U.S. cities. To come up with the ranking, Resonance Consultancy assessed all U.S. metro areas with at least 500,000 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.