BrainCheck has raised its latest round of funding. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

A Houston-based tech company that's tackling cognitive health diagnoses with its innovative platform has closed its latest round of funding.

BrainCheck, the cognitive health care platform for physicians, announced the closing of its $10 million series B funding led by Austin-based investors, Next Coast Ventures and S3 Ventures. The funding will be used to expand research and development, including developing a digital therapeutic and enhancing go-to-market capabilities.

BrainCheck's digital platform allows physicians to better assess cognitive function in their patients — whether they are elderly dementia patients or suffering from other cognitive ailments. One in nine adults aged 45 and older report subjective cognitive decline, according to a news release, and one in 14 COVID-19 survivors have neurocognitive disorder.

"We are at the forefront of improving access to cognitive assessment and care," says Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, in the release. "With early diagnosis comes treatment and intervention. These funds will allow us to accelerate the adoption of our platform and work with clinicians to help more patients live better and safer lives, decrease caregiver frustration, and save health systems trillions of dollars. I believe that BrainCheck can help cognitive care evolve the way cancer care has since the 1970s, when chemotherapy was one-size-fits-all."

Katz co-founded the company with neuroscientist David Eagleman in January of 2015. Now, doctors at over 400 neurology, primary care and geriatrics practices — such as Cleveland Clinic, MD Anderson, and Johns Hopkins — are already using BrainCheck's 10-to-15-minute test, which is covered by Medicare and by most private insurers, to conduct cognitive testing. The FDA Class II Software as a Medical Device (SaMD), which means that physicians can facilitate in-person or even an remote assessment of their patients' cognitive function.

"BrainCheck is a breakthrough platform that has the potential to transform how we diagnose and treat cognitive impairment," says Michael Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, in the release. "The combination of technical sophistication and ease of use makes BrainCheck a perfect tool for doctors and health systems everywhere. I'm so impressed by what Dr. Katz and her team have achieved to date and am excited to support the team as they continue to innovate and scale."

Other investors included Nueterra Capital, Tensility Ventures, and True Wealth Ventures, as well as UPMC Enterprises and SelectQuote, which joined on as strategic investors.

"BrainCheck shows promise as a cognitive assessment tool that would allow patients to independently complete the test while allowing physicians to spend more time reviewing the results and planning care with patients," says Dr. Adele Towers, director of risk adjustment at UPMC Enterprises and a geriatric medicine specialist at UPMC, in the release.

BrainCheck closed its $8 million series A round in October of 2019, and the company moved into its new office in Upper Kirby following the raise in early 2020. The startup also has an office in Austin.

Backed by an Austin venture group, Navegate has opened a Houston outpost. Courtesy of Navegate

Digital supply chain tech company expands to Houston

New to Hou

A growing software company backed by Austin-based Next Coast Ventures has set its eyes on a new office in Houston.

Navegate, a digital supply chain technology and services for the middle market with headquarters in Minneapolis and offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Shanghai, announced its new offices in Houston and Kansas City as well as a the beta version of a new software platform. The company now has 100 employees across its six offices.

"At Navegate we have a concierge-level commitment to fulfilling our clients' needs," says Nathan Dey, CEO of Navegate, in a news release. "By establishing Kansas City and Houston offices, we're expanding our footprint to have physical locations in two critical freight hubs. These locations will provide further leverage for both existing and future Navegate clients in their efforts to build best-in-class supply chains."

James Blodgett will lead the Houston office as the key accounts manager. He has more than 35 years of experience in project cargo, according to the release, and notes how important Houston is as a market considering its connection to the port.

"As a hub for cargo and oversized shipments, I'm excited to leverage our new location to strengthen customer relationships as well as grow Navegate's base for project cargo," says Blodgett in the release.

The company has financial support in Texas already. Next Coast Ventures originally got involved with the company last October when Chicago-based Saltspring Capital led Navegate's financing round. Dey, who was previously managing partner at Saltspring Capital, became CEO and chairman of Navegate as part of the recapitalization.

"Nathan has only been CEO at Navegate for less than a year and he has already done an incredible job of reinvigorating the company's mission to be the industry leader in logistics, strategically growing their global presence and incorporating customer feedback into their platform," says Michael Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures. "Navegate's newly-designed software and commitment to having their experts on the ground in these transportation hubs show their unwavering dedication to their customers — the exact type of hands-on, innovative approach to customer service and product iteration that we strive to invest in."

The company announced that Operations Manager Adam Daugherty will lead the new Kansas City location, and that it will be rolling out a new platform, called Navegate Emerald™. The new user interface is complete with intelligent new shipment tracking and management tools that work with supply chain collaboration. Navegate Emerald has four new applications that allows customization for customers to build their own solutions depending on their needs.

"As we celebrate our 50th year in business, Navegate Emerald has ushered in a renaissance of our technology and our business as a whole," says Dey in the release. "We're thrilled to be able to help add value to our more than 600 clients' processes and transform how they do business through the utilization of these digitally-enabled supply chain tools. The breakthrough business benefits they provide will allow for reduced supply chain costs, better working capital management, improved understanding of capital at risk and more seamless communication with all supply chain constituents.

Three non-Houston investors discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Houston's innovation ecosystem. Getty Images

3 observations about Houston's innovation ecosystem from out-of-town venture capitalists

Zooming out

You'll go cross-eyed looking at the same puzzle for too long, and sometimes it's better to take a step back and introduce some fresh perspectives and ideas from someone not so connected to the matter at hand.

At the second annual HX Capital Summit hosted by Houston Exponential at Rice University, HX gathered three out-of-town venture capital experts to discuss Houston's innovation ecosystem with Sandy Wallis, managing director at the HX Venture Fund. The fund-of-funds focuses on connecting non-local investors to Houston in order to bring new venture opportunities to town. On the panel, the experts discussed their observations about the Bayou City, which can be summed up as follows.

Community engagement and corporate interest are good signs for Houston 

Right off the bat, the panelists agreed that its much more encouraging visiting Houston nowadays than it was in the recent past. Clint Korver, managing director at San Francisco-based Ulu Ventures, has only recently played witness to the city, thanks to his firm's work with HX and the fund of funds.

"I'm just getting to know the Houston community," Korver says. "I'm really intrigued by how much community support there is."

Korver says that, not unlike Houston startups, Bay Area companies find it a challenge getting a foot in the door at major corporations. However, he's observed that Houston-based corporates want a seat at the table of Houston innovation.

"All the corporate attention that's being integrated here is super intriguing," Korver says. "That's our startups' hardest problems."

The other panelists, who are much closer to Houston, echoed Kover's interest in the role corporations play. Venu Shamapant, founding partner at Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners, and Thomas Ball, founder and managing director at Austin-based Next Coast Ventures, have witnessed Houston evolve into what it is today over the past decade or so.

"We've both been coming to Houston over the past 20 years and been investing in startups, and it's been a dramatically different scene even in just the past five years," Shamapant says.

Houston's ecosystem is going to take time

While the panelists remarked on the evolution the city has and the support that large corporations seem to be willing to provide, Houston has other assets that's setting it up for success. The panelists mention a solid pool for talent, impressive educational institutions, and more.

"When I look at Houston, I think it has every ingredient for success, which is why I want to spend time here," Ball says.

Sure, as Ball says, Houston has the ingredients, but what it now needs is the time to cook.

"To me, it's more of just time that it's going to take. We can't bake this Houston cake by turning the thermostat up to 900 degrees in an hour. It's going to take three hours at 300," Ball says, adding that he doesn't know very much about baking. "It will take time. This won't be an overnight success. We're here for the long haul."

Houston has some challenges yet to overcome 

Wrapping up the panel, an audience member asked about the changes Houston still needs to make to really get to the point it needs to be at.

For Korver, the answer was pretty simple. Houston needs a big exit.

"There's this incredible amount of momentum that comes along with a successful company that takes a hold of everyone — the rising tide floats all boats thing," Korver says.

For Ball, particularly comparing Houston to other major innovation-focused cities, the issue is that Houston is so spread out.

"To me the one thing I struggle with in Houston is what I would call a density problem," Ball says. "I think you need density here and you need to concentrate your resources in certain places in this city."

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Rice University's edtech company receives $90M to lead NSF research hub

major collaboration

An educational technology company based out of Rice University has received $90 million to create and lead a research and development hub for inclusive learning and education research. It's the largest research award in the history of the university.

OpenStax received the grant funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation for a five-year project create the R&D hub called SafeInsights, which "will enable extensive, long-term research on the predictors of effective learning while protecting student privacy," reads a news release from Rice. It's the NSF's largest single investment commitment to national sale education R&D infrastructure.

“We are thrilled to announce an investment of $90 million in SafeInsights, marking a significant step forward in our commitment to advancing scientific research in STEM education,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan says in the release. “There is an urgent need for research-informed strategies capable of transforming educational systems, empowering our nation’s workforce and propelling discoveries in the science of learning.

"By investing in cutting-edge infrastructure and fostering collaboration among researchers and educators, we are paving the way for transformative discoveries and equitable opportunities for learners across the nation.”

SafeInsights is funded through NSF’s Mid-scale Research Infrastructure-2 (Mid-scale RI-2) program and will act as a central hub for 80 partners and collaborating institutions.

“SafeInsights represents a pivotal moment for Rice University and a testament to our nation’s commitment to educational research,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches adds. “It will accelerate student learning through studies that result in more innovative, evidence-based tools and practices.”

Richard Baraniuk, who founded OpenStax and is a Rice professor, will lead SafeInsights. He says he hopes the initiative will allow progress to be made for students learning in various contexts.

“Learning is complex," Baraniuk says in the release. "Research can tackle this complexity and help get the right tools into the hands of educators and students, but to do so, we need reliable information on how students learn. Just as progress in health care research sparked stunning advances in personalized medicine, we need similar precision in education to support all students, particularly those from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.”

OpenStax awarded $90M to lead NSF research hub for transformational learning and education researchwww.youtube.com

2 Houston startups selected by US military for geothermal projects

hot new recruits

Two clean energy companies in Houston have been recruited for geothermal projects at U.S. military installations.

Fervo Energy is exploring the potential for a geothermal energy system at Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada.

Meanwhile, Sage Geosystems is working on an exploratory geothermal project for the Army’s Fort Bliss post in Texas. The Bliss project is the third U.S. Department of Defense geothermal initiative in the Lone Star State.

“Energy resilience for the U.S. military is essential in an increasingly digital and electric world, and we are pleased to help the U.S. Army and [the Defense Innovation Unit] to support energy resilience at Fort Bliss,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage, says in a news release.

A spokeswoman for Fervo declined to comment.

Andy Sabin, director of the Navy’s Geothermal Program Office, says in a military news release that previous geothermal exploration efforts indicate the Fallon facility “is ideally suited for enhanced geothermal systems to be deployed onsite.”

As for the Fort Bliss project, Michael Jones, a project director in the Army Office of Energy Initiatives, says it’ll combine geothermal technology with innovations from the oil and gas sector.

“This initiative adds to the momentum of Texas as a leader in the ‘geothermal anywhere’ revolution, leveraging the robust oil and gas industry profile in the state,” says Ken Wisian, associate director of the Environmental Division at the U.S. Bureau of Economic Geology.

The Department of Defense kicked off its geothermal initiative in September 2023. Specifically, the Army, Navy, and Defense Innovation Unit launched four exploratory geothermal projects at three U.S. military installations.

One of the three installations is the Air Force’s Joint Base San Antonio. Canada-based geothermal company Eavor is leading the San Antonio project.

Another geothermal company, Atlanta-based Teverra, was tapped for an exploratory geothermal project at the Army’s Fort Wainwright in Alaska. Teverra maintains an office in Houston.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.