UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of the Ion

For the 11th year, Rice University and the University of Houston have teamed up to present their summer student accelerator programs.

UH's RED Labs and Rice's OwlSpark will be hosted at the Ion over 11 weeks of programming, networking, and training as each of the 18 participating companies are introduced to Houston's innovation ecosystem.

“The collaboration the University of Houston has with Rice University gives founders in RED Labs and OwlSpark a unique opportunity to grow along their peers in the larger Houston community and really exemplifies the spirit of collaboration that the Houston business ecosystem is known for,” Managing Director of RED Labs Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg says in a news release. “It never fails to surprise me at the end of the summer the relationships built, the support systems created and collaborations produced across our universities. By working together, we empower the next generation of entrepreneurs to work together as they turn their visions into reality and drive positive change in the community.”

The programs conclude with the Bayou Startup Showcase on August 1, an event that's open to the public. Those interested can sign up online for more information.

“We’re celebrating more than just an 11-year partnership; we’re recognizing a dynamic alliance that has been instrumental in fostering entrepreneurship and propelling Houston to the forefront of innovation,” Managing Director of OwlSpark Jessica Fleenor adds. “This partnership exemplifies our dedication to cultivating a thriving environment where entrepreneurs can connect, grow and succeed surrounded by unparalleled resources and support. We are incredibly excited to see these new ventures grow as they join our growing network and are thrilled to host our cohorts at the Ion, positioning us at the core of our city’s vibrant innovation landscape.”

Here are the companies selected for each of the two programs, as outlined in the news release:

University of Houston RED Labs Class 12

  • Root Planters develops smart indoor plant care devices designed to prevent plant death by providing automatic watering, tailored for busy individuals and gardeners looking to maintain plant health with minimal effort.
  • Burb Groceries is an online grocery retailer for people with chronic health conditions.
  • That Dude’s Bakehouse offers premium, half-pound cookies, combining choice ingredients and craftsmanship with the mission of being the best part of somebody’s day
  • Mulligan Bandit aims to redefine golf fashion, offering affordable yet high-quality clothing that seamlessly transitions from the fairway to the streets, reflecting personal style while ensuring durability and comfort.
  • Surreal Vision offers immersive mixed reality solutions that provide dynamic visualization experiences to enhance design collaboration and client presentations.
  • Agave Catering is a catering company focused on providing high-quality, gourmet boxed lunches for professionals on the go.
  • Digitally Marie is a purposeful creative agency dedicated to reducing the opportunity gap for female entrepreneurs. Through our heart-driven approach, we elevate content production embodying their brand perception with unapologetic authenticity.
  • Unison is a personal contact relationship management tool that alleviates the risk of data loss and helps to build more meaningful professional and personal relationships.
  • Brain-eNet is a platform that provides hardware and software tools to enable the development of brain-controlled Internet of Things applications.
  • Pasha Blend Collection specializes in creating modern skincare products that embodies purity, authenticity and inclusivity.
  • Arresting Motion is a brand strategy design consultancy and marketing agency that transforms Houston’s top real estate firms into the brands they deserve.
  • CalliDanna is a consulting company that coaches girls 12 to 18 to help improve their lives professionally and personally.

Rice University OwlSpark Class 12

  • EcoFleet Solutions offers rechargeable electric power units for semitrucks, powering air conditioning and cabin functions during stops without engine idling, cutting fuel costs, maintenance and emissions.
  • Houston Community Print Shop offers printmaking classes and equipment access, focusing on community building and supporting underserved areas.
  • KOQ Agency curates and organizes global tours and live entertainment opportunities for queer and ally artists in drag, music and entertainment.
  • Euvivo Diagnostics is developing a direct-to-consumer test that analyzes cell aging by examining mitochondrial performance and new aging markers, tailored for individuals with mitochondrial disorders.
  • Hair Hub provides a compilation of styling tutorials, educational content, planning tools and a comprehensive database of products tailored for Black hair to provide resources for users to perform cost-efficient DIY haircare.
  • xMAD.ai is a compression-as-a-service platform that democratizes access to LLMs (Large Language Models) by making them faster, more private, cost-effective and accessible to businesses of all sizes.
Samra Nawaz founded WellWorth to tackle the convoluted financial modeling process in upstream oil and gas. Photo courtesy of WellWorth

How this Houston SaaS startup plans to scale with future of energy in mind

houston innovators podcast episode 216

As much as she loves a good Excel spreadsheet, Samra Nawaz had just about had it with the convoluted — and not always completely accurate — process of building financial models within upstream oil and gas.

"Excel is generally a good tool to automate workflows and build really robust spreadsheets. I live in Excel — I have a spreadsheet for everything," Nawaz says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What Excel is not is a database."

Engineering teams work with massive amounts with data that's too big for Excel, she explains, so finance teams then have to work off of aggregated data to build their financial models. She was ranting about why there isn't a better process to her husband, Vinay Acharya, who suggested that they build it themselves.



After thinking it through together, the duo co-founded WellWorth in 2018. Since then, the company has developed its MVP, completed a few accelerators — Rice University's OwlSpark, MassChallenge, and Softeq Ventures, to name a few — and won this year's Startup Pitch Competition hosted by the Ion.

Now, the bootstrapped startup looks to 2024 to bring on its first venture capital investors and team members — first to thoroughly tackle upstream O&G before expanding into other parts of the energy sector, including renewables.

"We're focusing on a specific workflow, and that is for engineering and finance teams and automating the corporate financial modeling side of the workflow," Nawaz says. "But we also see a lot of the renewables companies sprouting up, and we understand the attention on renewables verticals is only going to increase in the next few years.

"We're building WellWorth in a very modular way, so that when the time is right, we can easily start working with customers in the renewable space as well," she adds.

Nawaz, CEO of WellWorth, shares more about her company's growth plan and the impact the technology has on its early customers on the podcast.

A new innovation out of the Texas Medical Center's Biodesign Program is enhancing efficacy of a life-saving aortic aneurysm rupture procedure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biodesign innovators ready to spin out startup with life-saving vascular tech

heartbreak healers

Yes, you can die of a broken heart — although it's not in the hyperbolic way you might be thinking. Fewer than 20 percent of people who have an aortic aneurysm rupture survive the event. But aortic aneurysms can be treated if they’re caught before they burst. A new Houston company is devoted to a novel solution to helping patients with abdominal aortic aneurysms (AAA).

That company is Taurus Vascular. As part of the current class of the TMC Innovation Biodesign Program, fellows Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther were tasked with creating a biomedical company in a year. The founders started their journey last August. At the end of this month, they'll be kicked out of the nest, Kuhn tells InnovationMap. Taurus is also in Rice University's 2023 cohort of OwlSpark, an ongoing summer program for startups founders from the Rice community.

Kuhn is a biomedical engineer who just scored his forty-fifth patent. The CEO says that he hit it off quickly with his co-founder and COO, Lowther, former director entrepreneurship and innovation at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Matthew Kuhn and Melanie Lowther co-founded Taurus Vascular as TMC Biodesign fellows. Photos via taurusvascular.com

Members of the Biodesign Program are paid a livable stipend to devote themselves fully to creating a pioneering company. Kuhn says that he became interested in finding a more effective way to heal AAAs during his four and a half years as a project leader at the Center for Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center.

“It was ripe for innovation and we landed on a concept of some merit,” he says.

The current standard of care for AAAs is EVAR, or endovascular aneurysm repair, in which a surgeon inserts a stent to relieve pressure on the aneurysm.

“It used to be if you had a AAA, you had a gnarly procedure,” he says, which included a large incision across the abdomen. EVAR eliminated that, but its problem is that it often results in endoleaks. As many as 20 percent of patients need another EVAR within five years.

Taurus Vascular’s technology improves on EVAR by placing a self-deploying stent to create a drainage pathway between the high-pressure aneurysm sac and a low-pressure nearby vein — mitigating the adverse impact of endoleaks that would otherwise cause the aneurysm to continue to grow. The simple solution will allow patients to live longer, healthier lives after their procedure.

Kuhn says that being in Houston has been and will continue to be instrumental in his company’s success. Part of that, of course, is his relatively cosseted status as a founder in the Innovation Biodesign Program. But he says that the industry as a whole has become almost like a family.

“It feels very different from startup life for other industries where it feels competitive,” he explains. "You have to be a little crazy to start a medical device company and there’s a sense that we’re all in the same boat. People are so generous with their time to share resources. I feels like I have 100 co-founders."

Following the end of Taurus Vascular’s time in the program that helped conceived it, its founders will remain in the same building, continuing to work to support their technology. The next step is raising a seed round that will pay for the company’s chronic animal studies. Because Taurus Vascular is producing a Class III medical device, its approval process to get to market is the most stringent the FDA has.

The goal is to be commercial by 2030, says Kuhn. By then, Taurus Vascular will have healed many a heart.

Four Houston accelerators will be working together this summer to advance nearly 30 university-associated startups. Photo via UH.edu

Houston universities reveal teams for summer accelerators

bayou startups

The University of Houston and Rice University have announced the cohorts for their summer accelerators that advance university-founded startups and small businesses.

The two schools run four programs in tandem with each other every summer for about a decade. There are nearly 30 companies this year being accelerated across the four programs, which are:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • UH's RED Labs is focused on early-stage startup teams.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small businesses.
  • UH's RED Launch is focused on non-tech small businesses.

"A very cool part of the program is that we partner every summer with Rice University's OwlSpark and Blue Launch," says Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg, managing director of RED Labs. "It creates this really incredible network across the universities and allows both schools to bolster and benefit from each other.

"We share staff, we share mentors, we share speakers, we co-host the demo day, and we even share the catering bill," she continues. "It's a really special part of the program that I think has brought endless value to the founders, the universities, and Houston."

The 12-week program takes each of the teams — all of which have a university-affiliated founder, from undergrad to faculty — through key programming and mentorship. The final event includes a pitch day, called the Bayou Startup Showcase, where all of the companies share their business plans they've created through the program.

“I’m excited to support these new ventures with highly curated offerings and rich mentorship, propelling them to commercial success,” said Jessica Fleenor, managing director of BlueLaunch and OwlSpark. "We have built a long-standing culture of advocacy and collaboration, and look forward to upholding that in our largest cohort to date."

The selected companies for the four programs are as follows.

RED Labs (cohort 11)

  • We Felt It 3-D prints customized modifications to mobility devices like canes, walkers, and wheelchairs that maximizes comfort during use.
  • Zoop makes nutrition easy, clean and sustainable smoothie premixes which can be consumed anywhere and anytime by just mixing it with any of the preferred mixer (Water, Vegan milk, Milk, etc.)
  • Orbit is an application that allows users to understand the stock market through practice and training.
  • Team X is creating a company around nanoporous membrane technologies that recovers metals from wastewater and brine.

OwlSpark (cohort 11)

  • Terradote will manufacture cost-competitive, petroleum-free chemicals using captured carbon dioxide, methane and renewable bio-based materials.
  • Biomethanator’s biofilm bioreactors utilize biomethanation to convert industrial-waste carbon dioxide to methane, which can be used as fuel or in other industrial applications.
  • TaurusVascular is developing a minimally invasive catheter for addressing the most pressing complication of endovascular aortic aneurysm repair: endoleaks.
  • Voythos offers a mobile physician companion that monitors electronic medical records, prompting action and initiating care workflows.
  • AiKYNETIX is developing a video analytics platform for human motion insights, focusing on a mobile running lab for runners and coaches.
  • AllStars is building an affect-sensitive educational tool for self-studying and blended classroom learning.
  • EurekaHub is developing a marketplace where data and research scientists can publish, manage, share and revise analytical models for data sets across diverse applications.
  • ScoutBetter is an end-to-end recruiting platform that connects students with corporate campuses and provides recruiters access to university talent.

RED Launch (cohort 2)

  • CurioSweets is a vegan dessert brand that provides wholesale desserts and services including: consultation; recipe development; and contract baking of their product.
  • SpaceCityVinyl is a vehicle wrapping business that offers a quick and non permanent color change of vehicles.
  • Venus by Design is a handmade jewelry company
  • First Byte Digital consulting firm that helps mom and pop restaurants and non-profits establish a robust online presence by offering a wide range of digital conversion services.
  • 2tinys designs, prints, and cuts stickers with the plan of expanding into art prints and stationery items.
  • Lacey's Art paints dog portrait artwork. They partner with shelters to find models (and provide some help to getting the dog adopted), and then sells the prints.

BlueLaunch (cohort 2)

  • Archway Family Medicine provides medical care to patients through a monthly membership model known as direct primary care.
  • rdy helps communities recover from disasters faster and more equitably by working with local organizations to plan for them.
  • 610Smokehouse is a mobile food service and catering company that serves “Texan Fusion,” a unique cuisine that combines traditional Texas barbecue with diverse Houston food.
  • SerendipityPicnic is a unique picnic with all the goodies and essentials wrapped in a beautiful, lightweight, easy-to-carry and reusable “BlanKIT.”
  • La Mer Macaron offers an assortment of homemade French macarons.
  • TenTwelve provides residential construction and remodeling services.
  • DHA America customizes, designs and sells powder-coated and galvanized fence panels, posts and accessories.
  • All About Baby provides bespoke tableware for babies transitioning to solid foods.
  • MeowPlanet is opening a cat lounge.

CodeLaunch named its winner — and more Houston innovation news. Photo courtesy of Honeycomb

Houston startup secures bank partnership, energy tech co. wins competition, and more

short stories

Houston startup founders have been moving and shaking in the local innovation ecosystem — from being recognized for their out-of-this-world innovation to big wins.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston company snags a major partnership, an energy tech startup wins big on stage, and more.

The Postage gets a new partner

The Postage platform will be available to AmBank Company's employees, customers, and their families. Photo courtesy of The Postage

A Houston tech platform that streamlines estate and legacy planning has entered into a partnership with AmBank Company — American State Bank, American Investment & Trust, and Perspective Insurance — in Sioux Center, Iowa. The bank will deliver The Postage's services to its employees, customers, and their families.

The Postage unique platform allows users important information organizational tools, as well as state-specific will document creation. The technology also allows users to share meaningful family memories, write future messages, and collaborate with loved ones of their choosing.

"Community is at the core of everything American State Bank does. They exemplify that by supporting their customers through the myriad of choices that arise while navigating their financial lives. The Postage fits right into that, and we are thrilled to share our platform with their employees and customers in their planning and organization efforts," says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage, in a news release. "We hope to grow awareness of the family-driven digital solution and provide AmBank's customers the opportunity to gain control and safeguard their critical information. We look forward to providing AmBank's customers with the guidance they need to protect their wealth and wisdom now and for generations to come."

The partnership, which rolled out last month, was announced as American State Bank and the family of brands celebrated 50 years of business.

"Our commitment to delivering outstanding service and top-notch products to our customers, colleagues, and community has been unwavering for over half a century," says Joel Westra, AmBank first vice president. "This partnership allows us to extend our digital services while staying true to our core values of connection and community.

"Our team has witnessed the struggles of families coping with losing a loved one, we recognized the need for a service like The Postage," he continues. "Far too often, people are uncertain about the next steps, the whereabouts of important documents, and even their loved one's final wishes. We recognize that to prevent these challenges, families need help navigating difficult conversations and guidance on how to get started with their planning, which The Postage provides."

E360 wins Houston startup competition

E360 and Honeycomb Software share the win at the 2023 Houston CodeLaunch event. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

CodeLaunch, a traveling seed-stage accelerator, hosted its second Houston startup pitch competition last week, and a Houston energy efficiency startup emerged victorious.

E360 won the top prize at the event on March 2. The program paired six finalists with consultant development teams to pitch and compete for up to $150,000. The startup's technology is a holistic building solution that monitors both the energy efficiency and indoor air quality of commercial buildings.

“The goal I pursued at CodeLaunch was to meet industry leaders and investors who can help take the product to the next level," says Mat Bonassera, chief enterprise architect at E360, in a news release. “The vast majority of buildings are both incredibly inefficient as well as dangerous to their occupants, due to the dangerous levels of compounds in the air.

"We solve both these complex problems at the same time," he continues. "This is unheard of in our industry. We do this by monitoring vast sums of IOT data and then using Machine Learning and real-time monitoring we adjust the building to optimize its performance. This is a revolutionary way to look at commercial buildings."

E360 shares the win with its partner development team Honeycomb Software, an international custom software development company. The provided hands-on support to E360 scale during a two-day hackathon held February 25 and 26.

“The desire to promote energy efficiency of the buildings and the sustainability in business influenced our decision of whom to work with during the Hackathon," says Oleksandr Semeniuk, CEO of Honeycomb Software, in the release. "Our team worked tirelessly to expand the functionality of E360, and this victory is a testament to their hard work and dedication."

Axiom named among most innovative companies

KBR is one of Axiom Space's partners on its new NASA-sanctioned ISS project. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

Fast Company named it's 50 most innovative companies — and Axiom Space, a Houston-based commercial, full-service orbital mission provider, was named No. 49 on the list. It was also recognized as one of the most innovative space tech companies "for going to space without a chaperone," per the magazine.

The article recognized several of Axiom's accomplishments, including:

  • Managing the first all-private mission to the International Space Station in April of 2022. The mission sent a four-person crew into space for 17 days.
  • Developing plans to expand the international community of space explorers, including Italy, Canada, New Zealand, and others.
  • Building a module to attach to the ISS, which is progress toward the world’s first commercial free-floating space station.

“In the space business, there’s a big focus on the transportation, the rockets,” Michael Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom, tells Fast Company. “But if you think about the railroads that were built across the U.S., they were built to serve a destination. Without a reason to go somewhere, they wouldn’t exist. We’re building the destination in space—the real estate to allow multiple businesses to operate in low-Earth orbit and take advantage of the microgravity environment.”

NASA also makes the ranking for "showing that a public space program can still do big things," according to the list.

Calling all student-founded startups and businesses

Rice and UH have programs for startup and small business entrepreneurs. Photo via uh.edu

Rice University and the University of Houston have upcoming deadlines for their summer accelerators. The summer programs all operate in coordination with each other and offer support for student, faculty, or staff founders and their startups and small businesses.

The four programs, and their focus and application deadlines, are as follows:

  • Rice's OwlSpark is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one Rice student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's RedLabs is focused on early-stage startup teams with at least one UH student, faculty, or staff founders to grow from innovation to commercialization. Apply by March 31.
  • Rice's BlueLaunch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at Rice. Apply by March 13.
  • UH's Red Launch is focused on non-tech small business entrepreneurs who are either student, faculty, or staff at UH. Apply by March 31.

Rice University and the University of Houston have opened applications for its inaugural cohort for a new small business accelerators. Photo by Hero Images

2 Houston universities team up to premiere small business accelerators

apply now

After years of supporting university-affiliated tech startups, two Houston colleges are launching a new program to support small businesses.

University of Houston and Rice University have announced two new programs — RED Launch and BlueLaunch, respectively — to run alongside its tech startup programs. While RED Labs and OwlSpark are geared toward technology startups, RED Launch and BlueLaunch focus on small businesses. The programs are open to University of Houston and Rice University affiliates who are interested in starting or growing a small business.

"Since inception, RED Labs programming focused mostly on tech entrepreneurship," says Kelly McCormick, managing director of RED Labs. "A few years ago, we began to build out course offerings at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship for students interested in small businesses.

"Through those courses, I saw incredible engagement and enthusiasm from students interested in starting a small business, but recognized the need for intensive support beyond classes," she continues.

McCormick says that last summer, UH piloted the first iteration of RED Launch with a small group of UH students, and now UH has brought in Rice to the initiative as well.

"This year, we formalized and will expand the program, and we’re teaming up with the Rice Alliance at Rice University to make the program even stronger," she says.

The two organizations have been working together each summer on accelerating student-run startups for about a decade now, and these new programs are just the next step for the collaborators.

Applications for the program are due April 1. UH Cougars can apply by clicking here, and Rice Owls can submit their application here. For 12 weeks this summer, selected participants will receive comprehensive training and mentorship, access to resources, and at the conclusion of the program, the opportunity to showcase their businesses to the greater Houston community. The small business accelerators will tackle business necessities in the following areas: accounting, finance, legal, marketing, and sales.

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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.