Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator. Photo courtesy of Goodwill

A major nonprofit and a worldwide corporate leader have teamed up to advance cleantech jobs — and the program has officially celebrated its launch in Houston.

Goodwill Houston, in collaboration with Accenture, BlocPower, and Goodwill Industries International hosted a celebration for the Clean Tech Accelerator, an industry-focused full-time free jobs training program that was originally announced last year. The first cohort graduated earlier this year, and the second is ongoing.

"Through the CTA, we want to shape the future of sustainable energy in Houston by recruiting underrepresented jobseekers and equipping them with technical proficiency, safety and clean tech certifications, and facilitating placement with local employers," a representative from Accenture states in an email. "Following a quiet initial launch, this event was the official kickoff."

The event also demonstrated the opportunities within the CTA program for job seekers to prepare for the most in-demand clean energy careers in Houston. The accelerator is targeting a specific set of advanced energy jobs — the 40 percent that don't require college degrees and and pay more than the median salary in the United States.

According to Accenture and Goodwill, the plan is to grow the program to 20 cities in the next seven years and train an estimated 7,000 job seekers. The program, which was co-designed by Accenture, will be run by Goodwill. Participants identified as under and unemployed individuals and accepted into the program will be compensated as they undergo the training and career placement services.

"As our labor market transitions, we see important opportunities for people to move into more promising roles with better pay. It is essential that we provide the training and other support needed to ensure people capture these opportunities," Steve Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, says in a news release announcing the program. "The Goodwill Clean Tech Accelerator will open doors for people in an expanding industry and provide support to employers who are helping us transition to a more sustainable world."

Speakers included leaders from the participating organizations. Photo courtesy of Accenture

Ignite has announced a new foundation to further its reach in supporting women in health care. Photo via ignitehealthcare.org

Houston health tech accelerator launches nonprofit to spark, support female leaders in the industry

igniting change

For the past few years, a Houston organization has supported nearly 100 female-founded health tech startups with programming, crucial connections, and more. Now, with a newly launched nonprofit arm, the organization is taking it to the next level to bolster women in health care.

Ignite Healthcare Network, which was founded in 2017 by longtime Houston health care professional Ayse McCracken, has created Ignite Health Foundation, a nonprofit foundation, to go beyond startups and technology to support women in health care across the board with networking and events, in-person and virtual programming, professional development, and more.

"The Foundation is a vehicle for major fundraising grants and foundations allowing Ignite to scale the work we do to discover exceptional women leaders and innovators, connect them with an expert community and help them achieve their career goals," McCracken says in a news release.

"This initiative not only amplifies our commitment to inspiring innovation in an untapped resource, female leaders and entrepreneurs but also sets the stage for groundbreaking advancements in healthcare," she adds.

The foundation will accept donations from those who look to level the playing field for women in health care leadership and to support innovative endeavours from female founders. The financial support will go toward all of Ignite's programming

"Join us on the journey and invest in women shaping the future of healthcare to create an inclusive and healthier world," says Sara Speer Selber, chair of Friends of Ignite Health Foundation, in the release.

Last month, Ignite hosted its annual Fire Pitch Competition at the Ion, crowning the award recipients and doling out cash prizes. This year, eight finalists of the 19-company cohort presented at the competition for judges and an audience, and three companies secured top spots and prizes.

In a recent interview with InnovationMap, McCracken spoke to how she's always looking for ways to grow her impact with Ignite.

"Having an impact in the health care industry and finding solutions is important to me," McCracken says of her passion for Ignite on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The second aspect of that is there are so many women in health care, and yet you don't see them in leadership roles."

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. Photo via RioRaiz/Instagram

Innovative Houston nonprofit taps into biotech to preserve ecological biodiversity

conservation tech

For centuries, humans have been negatively impacting the natural world around them. A Houston organization is looking to leave an impact on the environment — but this time for the better.

Based in Houston, RioRaiz is a 501c3 nonprofit organization charting a unique course in the world of conservation and education. Founded in March of 2021, RioRaiz – meaning "root of the river" in Spanish, a nod to its deep-rooted connection with South American culture – seeks to preserve biodiversity through biotechnology and offer transformative learning experiences to contribute to a healthier planet.

Led by Jeff Carlson, the president and CEO, RioRaiz's mission is driven by three core pillars: conservation, scientific discovery, and education.

Currently, the nonprofit's efforts are focused on regions on the edge of ecological disruption, specifically the East Texas area and the Tropical Andes. In Texas, the organization aims to expand the biome of the Big Thicket National Preserve in Kountze as well as engaging locals by hosting clean-up drives. In the Andes, RioRaiz aspires to establish biological corridors between national parks and natural reserves, diminishing potential disruptions to animal migration patterns.

The timeline for these critical initiatives, Carlson said, hinges on donations.

"We have a list of priorities that is cataloged from input from our scientific collaborators, as well as our ability to deliver on our promises to our donors and supporters,” Carlson said.

Partnerships form a critical role in RioRaiz's work, notably those with academic institutions in the United States and Colombia. One of these collaborations saw Carlson spend three months in Colombia, working with the local Páez tribe, also known as the Nasa, to explore the potential of their traditional medicines for modern treatments.

"We're really excited to learn and to share our techniques and our knowledge," Carlson said, underlining the organization's commitment to partnering with traditional and indigenous knowledge sources.

With its blend of biotechnology, conservation, and education, RioRaiz seeks to inspire a new generation of conservationists. By offering an intimate virtual glimpse into the world's biomes, the nonprofit aims to instill a deep-rooted respect for nature and encourage sustainable action.

"If you expose students to these different kinds of environments at an early age, that might inspire somebody to go into conservation," Carlson said.

With a progressive effort, RioRaiz is harnessing the power of virtual reality to redefine education. The organization uses specialized filming equipment during its expeditions, capturing moments like the discovery of new species or conducting bio surveys. RioRaiz's visually compelling stories will surpass language barriers, transporting students virtually to different biomes. In time, Carlson hopes to distribute pre-loaded systems to communities with limited internet access, taking the classroom to every corner of the world. These virtual reality experiences are expected to launch within the next year.

"We want to bring the rainforest into the classroom," Carlson said.

Through its work, RioRaiz aims to demonstrate that the route to a sustainable future lies not just in face-to-face interactions, but in a global, interconnected approach to education and conservation. Its vision is clear — to grow far beyond traditional reaches, preserving biodiversity and fostering a healthier world.

Houston Methodist has doled out $4.8 million to Houston nonprofits. Photo via TMC.edu

Houston hospital awards third infusion of grant-funding to local nonprofits

funds granted

Houston Methodist has awarded $4.8 million to 50 Houston-area nonprofits as part of its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program, the hospital announced this month.

The funds go toward "addressing the root causes of health inequities experienced by social, racial and ethnic minorities," according to the hospital. An estimated 51,000 Houstonians are expected to be impacted by these dollars.

Of the nonprofits selected, 24 are healthy neighborhood programs, 16 are educational empowerment programs and 14 are economic programs.

The grant program is broken up into two types of funding: The Social Equity Grant and the DEI Grant. Now in its third year, the program has for the first time selected recipients of the Social Equity Grant that all support economic empowerment.

"We know there is a direct correlation between economic stability and health outcomes," Ryane Jackson, vice president, community benefits at Houston Methodist said in a statement. "Without livable wages or employer backed insurance, access to health care can be limited. If we can help those in underserved communities obtain employment and increase their wages in a short amount of time, then we can provide immediate and meaningful change that can potentially be felt for years to come.”

Capital IDEA Houston is a local nonprofit that’s received the Social Equity Grant. The organization helps low-wage workers find living-wage careers. Capital IDEA plans to use the funds to support Black and Hispanic Women in health care professions and launch a pilot program that will assist women with an associate degree who are interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Another recipient, Compudopt, will focus on digital literacy training to low income African American and Hispanics, while Montrose Center will use the funds to support its Seniors Preparing for Rainbow Years program at the Law Harrington Senior Living Center. Other recipients include Avondale House, BakerRipley, Interfaith Caring Ministries, Kids Meals Inc., and the Tejano Center for Community Concerns. Click here to find a full list.

DEI is at the forefront of Houston Methodist's vision for the future of health care. In a recent interview with InnovationMap, Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist, shared how linked diversity and innovation are to her.

"I think we're in a very interesting time when we think about how health care looks. It's changing drastically and so people have a lot more options for where they choose to get their health care and who their providers are," she tells InnovationMap. "So I think that the thought of the patient comes first is really going to be the key of understanding how do we tackle health equity."

Since launching Houston Methodist's DEI Grant Program has awarded more than $11 million to 83 Houston-area nonprofits. Last year it awarded $4.6 million to 59 organizations. Click here to see who else has been awarded funding through the program.
This year's first round of grants will be announced in May and the company plans to make additional announcements throughout the year. Photo via Getty Images

Comcast announces another $1M investment to support digital equity in Houston

funds granted

Internet giant Comcast announced this month that it will invest another $1 million in the Houston-area to "shrink the local digital divide" in 2023.

A large portion of the investment will go toward 60 nonprofits and organizations that help Houstonians gain internet access and improve digital skills for the workforce.

This year's first round of grants will be announced in May and the company plans to make additional announcements throughout the year.

Comcast is considering programs that focus on the following areas:

  • Connectivity and adoption of internet and digital tools
  • Digital skills in the workforce
  • Entrepreneurship

The funds will also be used to support Houston organizations that raise awareness about low-cost internet connectivity programs like Internet Essentials and the federal government’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

"As we expand our next-generation network across southeast Texas, we’re here to be good neighbors. We’re here to support and uplift the communities we’re honored to do business in by teaming up with trusted partners to invest in programs that make a difference,” Ralph Martinez, Comcast Texas’ Regional Senior Vice President, said in a statement.

The investment from Comcast is part of the company's $1 billion initiative that aims to advance digital equity in the country, Project UP. The initiative has helped set up Comcast Lift Zones that provide free, high-capacity WiFi to students and families and has awarded funds to groups in other cities like Atlanta and Philadelphia.

Comcast deployed its first $1 million investment focused on Houston's digital equity last year, initially awarding funds to eight organizations like United Way, Dress for Success and The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Houston.

This year, 32 nonprofits providing essential services to Houstonians will receive grant funding from Houston Methodist. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston hospital system grants $6.8M to community nonprofits

access granted

A Houston-area hospital system has announced the latest recipients of its grant program, benefiting nonprofits that are providing essential services to Houstonians.

Houston Methodist announced this month the 32 local nonprofit organizations receiving more than $6.8 million in community grants as a part of the Community Benefits Grant Program. This year, these nonprofits will give access to health care services to more than 188,000 individuals in underserved communities in the Greater Houston area.

“For three decades, the Houston Methodist Community Benefits Grant Program has helped create pathways to care for some of the most vulnerable in the Greater Houston community who often are struggling to afford basic necessities,” says Ryane Jackson, vice president of community benefits at Houston Methodist, in a news release.

Since the program's inception, it's provided $168 million to 82 local charities.

“Access to high quality health care is one of many issues that our community faces, and this grant helps makes much-needed health care resources affordable and accessible," she continues. "I’m proud that we can continue to partner with local organizations focused on expanding the health and well-being of all Houstonians.”

Houston Methodist announced the full list of this year’s Community Benefits grant awardees online.

Last year, Houston Methodist announced grants to 59 Houston-area nonprofit organizations totalling more than $4.6 million thanks to the Houston Methodist Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Grant Program.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

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

who's who

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.