This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Tim Neal of AmPd Labs, Sandy Guitar of HX Venture Fund, and Sahir Ali of Modi Ventures. Photos courtesy

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

Tim Neal, CEO of AmPd Labs

Tim Neal is the new CEO of AmPd Labs, a unique additive manufacturing startup in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston entrepreneur Tim Neal joined next-generation additive manufacturing company AmPd Labs as CEO of the company. He tells InnovationMap that he'd always been interested in the additive manufacturing sector, and sees a lot of potential for AmPd Labs in the industrial world in Houston — now more than ever.

“Within additive manufacturing, a lot of people focus on the medical and the aerospace sectors, but the industrial sector has been largely overlooked. Being in Houston, that really resonates,” Neal says. “The technology is now at a place that it can be at this production scale.” Read more.

Sandy Guitar, general partner of HX Venture Fund

Sandy Guitar shares some lessons learned from the fallout of Silicon Valley Bank. Photo via HXVF

In its third year, Venture Houston — taking place on Rice University's campus on September 7 — has a theme of "decarbonization in a digital world," but that's not the only thing different this year. The one-day conference has added on a unique event on September 6 to help engage around 50 investors with over 100 Houston startups.

The new activation is called Capital Connect, and HX Venture Fund will matchmake investors and startups for one-on-one meetings meant to spur collisions and collaboration.

"It's not a pitch competition — it doesn't have the stress of that," Sandy Guitar, general partner of HX Venture Fund, tells InnovationMap. "It's really just a way of connecting with a longer term horizon. We didn't want to limit it just to those who are currently raising, but actually include people who maybe just raised six months ago or are not going to raise for 12 more months, but might still want to be in the room." Read more.

Sahir Ali, founder and general partner of Modi Ventures

Sahir Ali is the founder and general partner of Modi Ventures. Photo courtesy of Modi Ventures

It might be cool to arrive fashionably late to a party, but Houston investor Sahir Ali likes to be early when it comes to new technologies.

"What has been a part of my success and has driven a lot of my profesional, scientific, and financial growth has been being ahead of the curve a little bit in technologies. That is really the basis of the fund," Ali, founder and general partner of Modi Ventures, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Hardware and software have come to a point where now artificial intelligence is ready to go, and I think the biggest benefactor of that is going to be health care and the health and medicine space — and that space is not easy for investors to just jump in right away," he continues. Read more.

Sahir Ali is the founder and general partner of Modi Ventures. Photo courtesy of Modi Ventures

How this Houston investor closed a $32M oversubscribed fund in less than a month

Houston innovators podcast episode 201

It might be cool to arrive fashionably late to a party, but Houston investor Sahir Ali likes to be early when it comes to new technologies.

"What has been a part of my success and has driven a lot of my profesional, scientific, and financial growth has been being ahead of the curve a little bit in technologies. That is really the basis of the fund," Ali, founder and general partner of Modi Ventures, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Hardware and software have come to a point where now artificial intelligence is ready to go, and I think the biggest benefactor of that is going to be health care and the health and medicine space — and that space is not easy for investors to just jump in right away," he continues.

That's why Ali decided to start his own firm, Modi Ventures, with his brother, Amir. The two have invested in a family office capacity before, but raising the initial fund for Modi Ventures was a whole different story. With his background in research, cloud computing, AI, finance, and more across the country, Ali set up the fund in the Houston area where he's from.

"When I see Houston market — and Texas in general — you won't see a lot of funds raising in Houston. ... It's not New York or California where folks do go after a lot of LPs," Ali says. "There are folks who have the appetite, but they are hard to reach."

"The structure that made sense for Houston had to be access that just wasn't available."

From ideation to launch, Ali proceeded to raise the initial fund in one month, accumulating an oversubscribed amount of $32 million. He credits to this in part to the fact that he's the fund's first investor, indicating to other limited partners that he's got skin in the game. He says he also wanted have a very open door with LPs.

"The thing I noticed when a lot of funds pitched to me as a potential LP is that there's a lot of vagaries and a black box effect in VC," he says. "My process was to incorporate transparency and education."

Now with its Tech+Bio Fund I closed, Modi Ventures has already deployed capital to three startups: Amsterdam-based Lapsi Health, Houston-based Starling Medical, and Boston-based Cyberdontics.

But Modi doesn't just invest in startups. The fund is a bit of a hybrid in that it also invests as an LP into other funds. The throughline is that the funds Modi Ventures invests in — as well as the startups — sit at the intersection of AI and health care. The first fund relationships Ali has entered into include Khosla Ventures, Draper Associates, Artis Ventures, and Antler Group — funds that have proven their success in this emerging field.

Ali shares more about why he's focused on this unique tech bio space on the podcast. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

A new Houston firm has closed its inaugural fund to invest in health tech. Photo via Getty Images

New Houston investment firm closes $32M fund, announces 3 portfolio companies

money moves

A new firm has emerged to invest in early-stage tech bio, artificial intelligence, and life sciences.

Modi Ventures announced its inaugural fund, Tech+Bio Fund I, closed at $32 million, an oversubscribed amount. The fund targets companies "shaping the future of humanity," reads a press release from Modi.

“Investing in next generation technologies has always been very lucrative,” says Sahir Ali, general partner of Modi Ventures, in the release. “We are entering an era of software writing software (artificial intelligence), technology that can unravel our individual genetic makeup (gene sequencing), biotech that can reprogram our genes (gene editing), and a fundamental change in how medicine is practiced by leveraging all of the above (precision medicine).

"Tech Bio companies will revolutionize multiple trillion dollar industries, providing early investors with potential for great returns,” he continues.

Ali, who's career has been focused on and the intersection of oncology and AI, has a Ph.D. and has worked with Fortune 500 companies across industries. He's joined by Andrew Yang, former presidential candidate and founder of Venture for America, as an adviser.

“Modi Ventures’ goal is to find solutions for some of the world’s most vexing problems that keep people unhealthy or struggling with illnesses that we can address collectively,” Yang says in the release. “The leadership and results that Sahir and his team have already demonstrated are one reason I’m looking forward to being a part of this team as we bring life saving solutions to market and take advantage of AI and new tools to advance the human condition.”

The first three portfolio companies Modi has announced include:

  • Amsterdam-based Lapsi Health, a medical technology company that is screening, diagnosing, treating and monitoring in medicine through sound and auscultation (acquired from stethoscopes).
  • Starling Medical, a Houston-based predictive technology platform for the early detection of bladder health issues.
  • Cyberdontics, an automated dental surgery using advanced imaging, AI, and robotics, that's based in Boston.

The firm announced that it has created partnerships with other investors, including Modi Ventures Khosla Ventures, Section 32, Artis Ventures, Draper Associates, and Antler Group.

“Modi Ventures is investing in healthcare tech companies with immense potential to improve lives and I'm thrilled to be partnering with Sahir and Modi Ventures,” says Tim Draper, founder of Draper Associates, in the release. “Working together we will be able to discover unique and innovative investments to collaborate on.”

Sahir Ali is the general partner of Modi Ventures. Photo courtesy of Modi Ventures

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Houston HR software startup rolls out platform at local hospital system

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More than 14,000 nurses at one of the largest nonprofit health care providers in Texas have access to a new skills and competency management software.

Kahuna Workforce Solutions has officially deployed its platform at Memorial Hermann Health System, consisting of 17 hospitals and more than 250 care delivery sites. The platform will streamline onboarding processes and increase transparency and accessibility for staff.

“Kahuna will enhance our clinical competency experience and fully aligns with our nursing strategy to optimize our processes, prioritize innovation and safety, and excel as a top provider of care and clinical advancement for clinicians,” Bryan Sisk, senior vice president and chief nursing executive for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

“Memorial Hermann is committed to the Houston community and helping to develop the next generation of nurses,” Sisk continues. “The Kahuna platform will help improve the transparency, autonomy and efficiency of our competency management and development processes for our nurses to better support them in their roles, while also ensuring we provide high-quality care for our patients.”

The rollout comes six months after the software-as-a-service company raised a $21 million series B round of funding.

“We are thrilled to work with Memorial Hermann as they enrich all aspects of their clinical competency management practices with Kahuna’s skills management software,” adds Jai Shah, CEO of Kahuna Workforce Solutions. “This collaboration unites two Houston-based organizations and demonstrates a joint commitment to enhancing the standard of health care through digitized competency management in our Houston community and far beyond.”

Houston geothermal company grows Google partnership to provide power to Nevada

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Houston-based Fervo Energy’s geothermal energy soon will help power the world’s most popular website.

Through a first-of-its-kind proposal, Las Vegas-based public utility NV Energy would supply 115 megawatts of geothermal power generated by Fervo for Google’s two data centers in Nevada. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.

In 2021, Google teamed up with Fervo to develop a pilot project for geothermal power in Nevada. Two years later, electricity from this project started flowing into the Nevada grid serving the two Google data centers. Google spent $600 million to build each of the centers, which are in Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb, and Storey County, which is east of Reno.

The proposed agreement with NV Energy would bring about 25 times more geothermal power capacity to the Nevada grid, Google says, and enable more around-the-clock clean power for the search engine company’s Nevada data centers.

A data center gobbles up 10 to 50 times the energy per square foot of floor space that a typical office building does, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

“NV Energy and Google’s partnership to develop new solutions to bring clean … energy technology — like enhanced geothermal — onto Nevada’s grid at this scale is remarkable. This innovative proposal will not be paid for by NV Energy’s other customers but will help ensure all our customers benefit from cleaner, greener energy resources,” Doug Cannon, president and CEO of NV Energy, says in a Google blog post.

Utility regulators still must sign off on the proposal.

“If approved, it provides a blueprint for other utilities and large customers in Nevada to accelerate clean energy goals,” Cannon says.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston data scientist joins medical device startup amid AI evolution in the sector

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 241

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows.



Wilkins, who serves as a mentor and adviser for several startups, has a 20-year career in Houston across all sides of the innovation equation, working first at Baylor College of Medicine before co-founding Mercury Data Science — now OmniScience. Most recently she served as executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University.

This variety in her resume makes her super connective — a benefit to all the startups she works with, she explains. The decision to transition to a startup team means she gets to work hands on in building a technology — while bringing in her experience from other institutions.

"I think I've really learned how to partner with those institutions," she says on the show. "I've really learned how to make those bridges, and that's a big challenge that startups face."

"When we talk about the Houston innovation ecosystem, it's something we should be doing better at because we have so many startups and so many places that would like to use better technology to solve problems," she continues.

Wilkins has data and artificial intelligence on the mind in everything she does, and she even serves on a committee at the state level to learn and provide feedback on how Texas should be regulating AI.

"At the end of the day, the mission is to put together a report and strategy on how we think Texas should think about AI," she explains. "It's beyond just using an algorithm, they need infrastructure."

Colorado is the first state to pass legislation surrounding AI, and Wilkins says all eyes are on how execution of that new law will go.

"We should have technology that can be double checked to make sure we're applying it in a way that's fair across all demographics. It's obvious that we should do that — it's just very hard," she says.