The National Academy of Inventors has honored four academic inventors in Houston with their annual professional distinction. Photos courtesy

Four professors from the University of Houston and University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have been admitted as fellows to the National Academy of Inventors.

From UH, Vincent Donnelly, Moores professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Christine Ehlig-Economides, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished university chair of Petroleum Engineering, received the Fellows honor, which is the highest professional distinction awarded to academic inventors.

UH now has 39 professors who are either Fellows or Senior Members of the NAI. Donnelly and Ehlig-Economides will be inducted as NAI fellows at the NAI 13th annual meeting on June 18 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“The remarkable contributions of the two new NAI Fellows from the University of Houston have left a lasting imprint, earning them high esteem in their respective fields,” Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president for research and technology at UH, says in a statement. “Their work stands as a testament to the extraordinary impact inventors can have, reflecting a standard of excellence that truly sets them apart.”

Donnelly, who is considered a pioneer in plasma science with applications to microelectronics and nanotechnology, was elevated to Fellow for his research on complex plasma systems used in the making of microchips. Ehlig-Economides was elevated to NAI fellow for her vital research leading to innovative solutions in the energy and industrial fields. Ehlig-Economides was also the first woman in the United States to earn a doctorate degree in petroleum engineering.

Two other Houston instructors from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center will be inducted to the program in the new year. Jeffrey H. Siewerdsen, professor within the department of Imaging Physics and the Division of Diagnostic Imaging, and Anil Sood, professor and vice chair for Translational Research in the Departments of Gynecologic Oncology and Cancer Biology and co-director of the Center for RNA Interference and Non-Coding RNA.

Some other notable Texas honorees among the 2024 appointees include:

  • Mark Benden, Texas A&M University
  • Arumugam Manthiram, the University of Texas at Austin
  • Werner Kuhr, Texas Tech University
  • Balakrishna Haridas, Texas A&M University
  • P.Reddy, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

“This year’s class of NAI Fellows showcases the caliber of researchers that are found within the innovation ecosystem. Each of these individuals are making significant contributions to both science and society through their work,” Dr. Paul R. Sanberg, president of the NAI, says in the release. “This new class, in conjunction with our existing Fellows, are creating innovations that are driving crucial advancements across a variety of disciplines and are stimulating the global and national economy in immeasurable ways as they move these technologies from lab to marketplace.

UH also ranks 60th on the National Academy of Inventors’ list of the top 100 universities for utility patents granted last year in the U.S. In 2022, UH received 32 utility patents. The university explains that utility patents are among the world’s most valuable assets because they give inventors exclusive commercial rights for producing and using their technology.

Six Houston inventors have been recognized with the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia. Photo via Pexels

6 Houston-area inventors named fellows in prestigious program

best in class

The National Academy of Inventors has announced its annual set of NAI Fellows — and six Houstonians make the list of the 164 honorees from 116 research institutions worldwide.

The NAI Fellows Program honors academic inventors "who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society," according to a news release. The appointment is the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia.

The six Houstonians on the list join a group that hold more than 48,000 U.S. patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than one million jobs, per the release. Additionally, $3 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.

These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Zhiqiang An, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: An is the director of the Texas Therapeutics Institute, a drug discovery program operated by the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at Houston. He's also a professor of molecular medicine and holder of the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth.
    • Alex Ignatiev, University of Houston: Ignatiev served as director of two NASA-supported research and technology development centers at the University of Houston and as Lillie Cranz and Hugh Roy Cullen Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
    • David Jaffray, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Jaffray was appointed MD Anderson's first-ever chief technology and digital officer in 2019. He oversees MD Anderson’s Information Services division and Information Security department and is a professor of Radiation Physics with a joint appointment in Imaging Physics.
    • Pei-Yong Shi,The University of Texas Medical Branch: Pei-Yong Shi is a professor and John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Innovations in Molecular Biology Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology;. He's also the Vice Chair for Innovation and Commercialization.
    • Ganesh Thakur, University of Houston: Thakur is a pioneer in carbon capture, utilization and storage and has a patent on forecasting performance of water injection and enhanced oil recovery. His team is continuing to push the research envelope for CCUS employing world-class lab research, simulation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute: Woodside is the Vice President for Research and Director of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core at the Texas Heart Institute. His research centers around the role that cell adhesion plays in cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and the development of novel means to identify and treat these diseases.
    Ten other Texas-based innovators made the list, including:
    • Sanjay Banerjee, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Thomas Boland, The University of Texas at El Paso
    • Joan Brennecke, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Gerard Cote, Texas A&M University
    • Ananth Dodabalapur, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Holloway (Holly) H. Frost Jr., The University of Texas at Arlington
    • James E. Hubbard, Texas A&M University
    • Yi Lu, University of Texas at Austin
    • Samuel Prien, Texas Tech University
    • Earl E. Swartzlander Jr., The University of Texas at Austin
    This year's class will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

    "The caliber of this year's class of NAI Fellows is outstanding. Each of these individuals are highly-regarded in their respective fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, president of NAI's board of directors, in the release. "The breadth and scope of their discovery is truly staggering. I'm excited not only see their work continue, but also to see their knowledge influence a new era of science, technology, and innovation worldwide."

    UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

    Houston university claims spot on top 100 institutions for patents

    UH ranked

    The University of Houston ranks among the world's top invention factories.

    A new list from the Intellectual Property Owners Association and the National Academy of Inventors puts UH in a tie for 79th place among the 100 universities around the world that received the most U.S. utility patents in 2020. UH inventors earned 37 utility patents last year.

    The only other Texas schools on the list are the University of Texas at Austin (ranked fourth with 207 patents) and Texas A&M University in College Station (tied for 70th place with 41 patents). The University of California leads the list (597 patents).

    UH has ranked among the world's top 100 patent-receiving universities for the past six years. Utility patents cover new or improved processes, products, or machines. During the federal government's 2020 budget year, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office granted 360,784 utility patents. They're the most common kinds of patents in the U.S.

    "The University of Houston is making critical contributions to science and engineering and hence to society, driven by our overarching goal to improve the quality of life. This ranking reflects our dedication to addressing the most pressing problems faced by society, including energy technology and medical care," Amr Elnashai, vice president and vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH, says in a news release.

    Another testament to UH's patent prowess: Three researchers from the Cullen College of Engineering researchers are senior members of the National Academy of Investors for 2021. They are professors Hien Nguyen, Jeffrey Rimer, and Gangbing Song.

    "Being affiliated with this prestigious organization will afford new opportunities for innovation and expanded research activities by engaging with a global network of highly accomplished inventors," Rimer says.

    UH says a key to its success in moving technology from the lab to the marketplace is the UH Technology Bridge. With 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing, the Technology Bridge houses 28 startups.

    Plans for the Technology Bridge include expanding the 75-acre park into core districts, along with adding build-to-suit facilities. About 35 acres of the Bridge have been developed. So far, the university has invested more than $75 million in the Bridge.

    "Companies taking products from idea to commercialization need expertise ranging from research to licensing to startup formation and operation," Elnashai said of the Bridge. "They need interns in specialized fields, technical and startup consultants, and they often need laboratories with large amounts of space for experimentation, to produce a prototype or to scale their operations. We have all of this to offer."

    In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, local venture groups announce new investments, Houston schools launch programs, and more. Photo via UH.edu

    University of Houston engineers recognized, TMCx company raises funds, and more local innovation news

    short stories

    It's been a horrific week for both the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Millions of residents have lost power and/or water due to a winter storm that brought low temps. For this reason, Houston innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

    In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures make new investments, University of Houston professors make big moves, both Rice University and UH announce new programs, and more.

    TMCx company raises $2 million

    The Texas Medical Center Venture Fund announced its latest investment. Noninvasix Inc., a startup working on novel precision oximetry technology announced it has closed an over-subscribed seed round at $2 million led by the TMC Venture Fund with support from Philips and GPG Ventures. The funds will help the company advance product development and attain FDA clearance.

    "TMC Venture Fund has been a strong supporter of Noninvasix since our initial investment in the company, and we look forward to our continued partnership with them," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "The potential of this platform technology to guide better clinical decision-making and improve outcomes has us excited to be part of the effort that brings the optoacoustic technology to the market."

    The Noninvasix team has created a solution for the safe, accurate and non-invasive monitoring of infant welfare in the neonatal intensive care unit.

    "Brain hypoxia, characterized by restricted blood flow to the brain, accounts for 23 percent of all neonatal deaths worldwide and costs the U.S. healthcare system over $7 billion per year, making the development of an accurate and precise patient monitoring system a top maternal-fetal health priority," says Noninvasix CEO Graham Randall, in the release.

    "Noninvasix's novel solution utilizes optoacoustic monitoring of cerebral venous oxygenation to accurately measure the adequacy of the oxygen supply to a baby's brain in real time."

    The Cannon and the University of Houston launch new partnership

    A UH program has teamed up with a local startup development organization. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

    The Cannon has partnered up with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston to launch a semester-long program that will introduce students to the Startup Development Organization Network.Through the new collaboration, students will have access to new opportunities to interact and connect with professionals and advisers.

    "We couldn't be prouder to partner with the University of Houston and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship to engage with the students that will soon be driving innovation in Houston and beyond," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "UH is widely recognized for its excellence in entrepreneurial education and what Dave Cook and his team have built through The Wolff Center is second to none.

    "The Cannon is excited for the opportunity to play a role in enhancing the entrepreneurial education journey through helping to provide a bridge between world-class academic programming and the commercial entrepreneurial landscape."

    Students at WCE will receive access to The Cannon's online platform, Cannon Connect, as well as access to exclusive events hosted by The Cannon.

    Rice University launches new data science program

    Rice University is now offering a master's in data science beginning in the fall. Photo courtesy of Rice

    Rice University has announced it's creating a Master of Data Science program. The degree is offered through the George R. Brown School of Engineering and managed by the Department of Computer Science. With classes beginning in the fall, applications are now open.

    "The field of data science touches almost every industry in our economy," says Scott Rixner, a professor in the Rice's Department of Computer Science, in a press release. "This degree will provide those seeking to find new careers, or to advance in their current careers, the opportunity to acquire an indispensable skill set and to build future-focused critical expertise that will drive future innovation."

    The 31-credit program will be offer classes both online and face-to-face, according to the release. The courses will deliver the skills needed to collect, evaluate, interpret and present data for effective decision-making across a variety of industries. The new program joins the online Master of Computer Science degree that was launched in 2019.

    "Data science has revolutionized all fields of study and many sectors of the industry where data is central to the scientific or industrial endeavor," says Rice Dean of Engineering Luay Nakhleh, in the release. "Data-driven discovery has complemented hypothesis-driven discovery, and it is here to stay. This degree positions our students for rewarding, life-long careers that provide meaningful impact in design and research in a multitude of industries."

    Houston biotech company with COVID-19 treatment enters agreement with UH

    A UH-founded biotech company has a new partnership to announce. Image via Getty Images

    AuraVax Therapeutics Inc. has entered into an exclusive license agreement with the University of Houston for its intranasal vaccine and therapeutics technology platform. The biotech company is developing novel intranasal vaccines and therapies to help patients defeat debilitating diseases including COVID-19. This new agreement upgrades the optioned intellectual property between UH and AuraVax announced in October.

    The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, similar to FluMist, and was developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

    "We are excited to rapidly expand our relationship with the University of Houston to advance the development of this novel intranasal approach to tackle respiratory viruses. We plan to stop COVID-19 at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform represents a differentiated solution that will lead to a vaccine to create sustained immunity to COVID-19 and other viruses," says Varadarajan, in the news release.

    Chevron Technology Ventures makes latest investment

    CTV has recently invested in a geothermal energy company. Photo via eavor.com

    Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest investment in Eavor Technologies Inc., a Canadian company that closed a $40 million funding round. Eavor is working on a scalable geothermal technology and hopes to power the equivalent of 10 million homes by 2030.

    Eavor-Loop™, Eavor's technology, uses the natural heat of the earth like a battery and is different from what's on the market because of its scalable and transportatable application — as well as because it produces zero emissions.

    Along with CTV, investors included bp Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource1, and Vickers Venture Partners.

    "I am delighted that with the funding closed in this round we can look forward to bringing down the cost of clean, dispatchable power to a universally competitive level – an important milestone for renewable energy," says John Redfern, president and CEO of the company, in a news release. "The involvement of companies such as bp and Chevron represents a fantastic endorsement of our technology, the progress we have made to date and the promise for its global scalability."

    3 UH engineers named to Academy of Inventors

    Three UH engineers have been named senior members of the National Academy of Inventors. Photos via UH.edu

    The National Academy of Inventors have named three University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering researchers senior members for 2021.

    Hien Nguyen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Endowed Chair, William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are among the 61 selected for the distinguishment, according to a press release from UH.

    "This national distinction honoring the research and scholarship of Drs. Nguyen, Rimer and Song is emblematic of the reputation for innovation fostered at the Cullen College of Engineering," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in the release. "I congratulate these three outstanding faculty members for this well-deserved recognition."

    Nguyen works with biomedical data analysis and artificial intelligence, Rimer's expertise in the processes behind crystal growth and formation, and Song researches the development of actuator systems for aerospace, biomedical and oil exploration applications.

    A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

    Aziz Gilani to be recognized nationally

    A Houston investor is being recognized nationally. Photo va mercuryfund.com

    Aziz Gilani, managing director at Houston-based Mercury Fund, was just selected for an award from the National Venture Capital Association. Gilani is being recognized with the Outstanding Service Award for his work last year outlining and explaining the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration to entrepreneurs.

    The award will be presented at NVCA's virtual ceremony on March 9. More info on the award ceremony here.

    The five scientists represent five different academic institutions in Houston. Photo via Getty Images

    5 Houston inventors named fellows of a prestigious international program

    top researchers

    The National Academy of Inventors has recognized 175 scientists from across the world as NAI Fellows — and five of those inventors are based at Houston institutions.

    The program honors academic inventors who, according to NAI, "have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society."

    The five Houston inventors join the ranks of a group of individuals who have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than 19 million jobs, according to the announcement.

    These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Ananth Annapragada of Baylor College of Medicineis professor of radiology and obstetrics and gynecology, vice chief of research and director of basic research at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital as well as a member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
    • Ronald Biediger of the Texas Heart Instituteis associate director of chemistry, Wafic Said Molecular Cardiology Research Laboratories and leading a group of chemists developing small molecule integrin antagonists and agonists for use as therapies, or as adjuncts to cell based therapies, for heart, lung and vascular disease
    • Mark Clarke of the University of Houstonis associate provost for faculty development and faculty affairs at the University of Houston.
    • Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice University is professor and Ph.D of electrical engineering and was named Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 2014 for contributions to the theory and experimentation of wireless systems and networks.
    • Jia Zhou of The University of Texas Medical Branch is professor in the Department Pharmacology and Toxicology focusing on drug discovery of bioactive molecules to probe biological systems or act as potential therapeutic agents in neuroscience, cancer/inflammation, infectious diseases, and other human conditions.

    The new class of inventors will be inducted on June 8 at the 10th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in Tampa, Florida.

    These scientists have already established dozens of patents between the five of them across fields and industries. Clarke specifically holds 13 U.S. patents, seven NASA technology innovation awards, and has founded two life science startup companies to commercialize his technologies, according to a news release from UH.

    "Most faculty inventors, including myself, do not begin their research careers focused on creating or commercializing new technologies, nor do they usually know where to start when presented with such an opportunity," Clarke says in the release. "Helping faculty members and students transition fundamental discoveries into commercially valuable technologies and products is not only a key part of our mission as a Tier One research university, it is critical to our region's economic prosperity and ensuring that the U.S. remains competitive in an innovation-driven global economy."

    From BCM, Annapragada holds 15 patents in the United States and close to 100 worldwide. The majority of his patents are in next generation imaging technologies, CT vascular imaging, and MR molecular imaging, according to a BCM release, and Annapragada is the founder of two active startup companies — Alzeca Inc. and Sensulin LLC.

    UH has been ranked among the top schools for new patents. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

    University of Houston scores spot on top schools in the world for new patents

    put a patent on it

    A Houston school has ranked on a global list that recognizes new utility patents issued. University of Houston tied for No. 75 on the list with 39 utility patents issued in 2019.

    The list is created by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association based on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. UH has made the list every year for the past five years.

    "The rankings show that UH continues to make a major contribution to the innovation enterprise on the U.S. and global stage," says Amr Elnashai, vice president/vice chancellor for research and technology transfer at UH.

    "To be in the top 100 universities worldwide for U.S. patents emphasizes that the UH research enterprise has been successfully steered towards impactful research with the potential to address societal challenges."

    A utility patent, known as a patent for invention, is the most commonly referred to type of patent and regards the creation of a new or improved product, process, or machine.

    Two Texas schools ranked above UH on this year's list. The University of Texas ranked at No. 3 with 276 utility patents and Texas A&M University came in a few spots ahead of UH at No. 65 with 44 utility patents issued.

    UH tied with Drexel University in Philadelphia, and the University of California scored the top spot by far with 631 utility patents filed last year. All in all, the ranking finds that 7,873 U.S. utility patents were issued in 2019, which is up from 1,046 patents in 2018.

    UH's Technology Bridge was revamped in 2018 to focus on cultivating innovation and new technologies as they develop from the lab and into the marketplace.

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    Houston ecommerce scale-up company acquires Amazon advertising partner

    all aboard

    A Houston tech company has tapped an Amazon partner in a strategic acquisition and is bringing the company's full team on board.

    Cart.com acquired Ohio-based Amify, a company that provides optimization and advertising solutions. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Cart.com will on board Amify’s entire employee base, including its founder Ethan McAfee, CEO Chris Mehrabi, and COO Christine McCambridge.

    As chief delivery officer, Mehrabi will take the helm of Cart.com’s professional services business and McCambridge will lead Cart.com’s marketplace services team as vice president of marketplace services operations.

    “I’m happy to welcome the entire Amify team to Cart.com and have industry veterans Chris Mehrabi and Christine McCambridge join our leadership team,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “Amify has been widely recognized for their expertise and technology and we’re excited to leverage their experience to help our customers maximize their potential across channels.”

    Cart.com's membership will have access to Amify's proprietary technology platform, including advertising, creative content, supply chain strategy, and analytics. The company, which was founded in 2011, currently supports over 50 global brands and manages approximately $1 billion in gross merchandise value. According to LinkedIn, Amify has over 50 employees.

    “We could not be more excited to join Cart.com and leverage the company’s resources and scale to deliver value to both our customers and employees,” Mehrabi says. “I’m honored to step into the role of Chief Delivery Officer and contribute to Cart.com’s incredible growth story and innovative reputation.”

    Founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com provides comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure for online merchants. The company raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

    Earlier this year, Tariq sat down with the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about how the company is currently in scale-up mode.

    Houston health tech innovator collaborates on promising medical device funded by DOD

    team work

    The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

    The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

    The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect.

    The team working on this new research seeks to minimize near-eventualities like blood clot formation, blood damage, and driveline complications such as infection and limitations in mobility. The four institutions will try to innovate with a device featuring new engineering designs, antithrombotic slippery hydrophilic coatings (SLIC), wireless power transfer systems, and magnetically levitated driving systems.

    Wang and her team believe that the non-contact-bearing technology will help to decrease the risk of blood clotting and damage when implanting an LVAD. The IDEA Lab will test the efficacy and safety of the SLIC LVAD developed by the multi-institutional team with a lab-bench-based blood flow loop, but also in preclinical models.

    “The Texas Heart Institute continues to be a leading center for innovation in mechanical circulatory support systems,” said Joseph G. Rogers, MD, the president and CEO of THI, in a press release.

    “This award will further the development and testing of the SLIC LVAD, a device intended to provide an option for a vulnerable patient population and another tool in the armamentarium of the heart failure teams worldwide.”

    If it works as hypothesized, the SLIC LVAD will improve upon current LVAD technology, which will boost quality of life for countless heart patients. But the innovation won’t stop there. Technologies that IDEA Lab is testing include wireless power transfer for medical devices and coatings to reduce blood clotting could find applications in many other technologies that could help patients live longer, healthier lives.

    Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

    Houston innovators podcast episode 230

    Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

    As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

    "Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."



    An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

    "While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

    Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

    "We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

    Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.