The new $16 million Comcast facility is another feather in the cap of Fort Bend County, which is booming with new business. Courtesy of Comcast

At Comcast's new $16 million technology center in Missouri City, technicians for the internet and cable TV provider can "test drive" new product and services at a demo lab and can take classes at Comcast University. It's a far cry from the stereotypical workplace of the "cable guy."

The center represents a cutting-edge expansion for Comcast — and represents yet another feather in the economic-growth cap of Missouri City and Fort Bend County.

On June 19, officials from Comcast, Missouri City government, and the Fort Bend Economic Development Council debuted the 32,000-square-foot center. The center is at 551 Buffalo Lakes Dr., near the intersection of Texas Freeway and Independence Boulevard. Aside from the demo lab and Comcast University classrooms, the center features more than 100 workstations and 15 conference rooms.

The center employs more than 300 technicians, Comcast Business and Xfinity sales professionals. Service technicians install and maintain internet, video, voice, and home security services for residential and business customers in Missouri City and nearby areas, while network technicians build and maintain Comcast's local fiber-optic system.

Employees at the new center previously worked at other offices in the Houston metro area but live in Missouri City and surrounding communities. More than 1,200 people work at Comcast's 10 technology centers throughout the Houston area.

Michael Bybee, director of external communications at Comcast, says Missouri City was picked for the new center because of its strong economic growth and its proximity to major highways and, ultimately, "to bring our employees closer to customers."

Missouri City and Fort Bend County are gaining more potential Comcast customers by the day. From April 2010 to July 2018, the population of Missouri City grew 12.3 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. For Fort Bend County, the population growth rate during the same period stood at 34.7 percent.

Economic growth has accompanied that population growth. Last year, the Comcast center was among several economic development wins scored by Missouri City. An $85 million, 550,000-square-foot Best Buy distribution center and a 200,000-square-foot Warren Valve warehouse and distribution center were two of the other wins.

Fort Bend County as a whole is enjoying economic success. For instance, discount retailer Dollar Tree said in February that it's building a $130 million distribution center on a 140-acre site in Rosenberg that will employ more than 300 people. The company operates more than 1,600 Dollar Tree and Family Dollar stores in Texas.

The 1.2-million-square-foot distribution center, on Spur 10 near Klosterhoff Road, is scheduled to open in the summer of 2020.

"When you have a company like Dollar Tree seeing the opportunity that we offer, it just adds to our strengths and builds on our assets," Bret Gardella, executive director of Rosenberg Development Corp., said in a Dollar Tree news release.

The economic growth in Missouri City, Rosenberg and other places in Fort Bend County isn't likely to subside, at least for the next several decades. A report from the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs predicts Fort Bend County will end up being the state's third-fastest-growing county from 2010 to 2050.

"Fort Bend County has continued to top lists for livability and economic success — and there is no sign of slowing down," the Fort Bend Economic Development Council says on its website. "Residents and businesses agree that there's no place better to live or work."

Contributing to Fort Bend County's draw is the presence of five business parks — two in Missouri City, and one each in Rosenberg, Sugar Land, and Stafford. The council touts Fort Bend County as "the hub for industrial development."

Courtesy of Comcast

Aside from the demo lab and Comcast University classrooms, the center features more than 100 workstations and 15 conference rooms.

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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

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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.