The first of Rice University's new moonshot initiatives, the Rice Biotech Launch Pad was announced on the 61st anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's address at Rice Stadium. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

A new initiative from Rice University is launching with an ambitious goal — to take biotech innovations from concept to clinical trials in five years or less.

The Rice Biotech Launch Pad is a newly announced initiative that will expedite Rice University's health and medical technology innovations. The accelerator, which will occupy 15,000 square feet of space on campus, will be funded through federal grants and donations.

“The Rice Biotech Launch Pad will ensure that our faculty and students have the skills, partnerships, tools and support to create technologies that can transform our city and the world,” Rice President Reginald DesRoches says in a press release. “More importantly, the accelerator will provide a pathway for these creations and discoveries to be turned into medical cures that significantly impact people’s lives. Rice researchers have been doing this for years. This development will allow them to do even more and at a quicker, more efficient pace.”

Leading the program are two seasoned experts: associate professor of bioengineering at Rice, Omid Veiseh, and biotech entrepreneur Paul Wotton, who co-founded Avenge Bio and other startups with technology discovered in Veiseh’s lab. Veiseh will serve as faculty director, and Wotton will lead as executive director. Veiseh says the team behind the new lab will assist faculty in their mission to garner funding — via grants from organizations such as ARPA-H, DARPA and the NIH — as well as creating pathways for licensing revenue for the university.

“We have the infrastructure, financial backing and talent in Houston to do more in creating new medicines to cure disease," Veiseh says in the release. "This is a thriving environment that warrants more attention and dedication to bring forward Houston’s medical discoveries. I am proud to help make this happen.”

The accelerator’s founding advisory council members from Rice are:

  • Paul Cherukuri, Rice’s vice president for innovation.
  • Jacob Robinson, professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering and founder and CEO of Motif Neurotech.
  • Ashok Veeraraghavan, professor of electrical and computer engineering and computer science and co-founder of Synopic.
  • Yael Hochberg, head of the Rice Entrepreneurship Initiative and the Ralph S. O'Connor Professor of Finance and Entrepreneurship at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.

“The Biotech Launch Pad is the first in a series of Rice Moonshots that are hyper-focused on building a ‘speed and scale’ innovation ecosystem across Houston," Cherukuri says. "We at Rice are committed towards driving the Biotech Launch Pad in collaboration with our partners within the Texas Medical Center and the new Helix Park campus.”

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NASA signs 2 public-private lease agreements at Houston campus to promote human space research

ready to launch

NASA and the American Center for Manufacturing and Innovation signed an agreement Thursday, Feb. 29 to lease underutilized land in a 240-acre Exploration Park at the agency's Johnson Space Center in Houston. The deal comes after a similar lease with the Texas A&M University System.

ACMI will enable the development of facilities to enable commercial and defense space manufacturing, while A&M reports that it will develop a facility for human spaceflight research and development.

These two public/private lease agreements allow industry and academia to use NASA Johnson land to create facilities for a collaborative development environment that increases commercial access and enhances the United States' commercial competitiveness in the space and aerospace industries.

“For more than 60 years, NASA Johnson has been the hub of human spaceflight,” NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche says in a news release. “Exploration Park will be the next spoke in the larger wheel of a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only exploration of the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth.”

Calling it the Space Systems Campus, ACMI plans to incorporate an applied research facility partnered with multiple stakeholders across academia, state and local government, the Department of Defense and regional economic development organizations.

"This Space Systems Campus will be a significant component within our objectives for a robust and durable space economy that will benefit not only the nation's efforts to explore the Moon, Mars and the asteroids, but all of humanity as the benefits of space exploration research roll home to Earth," Wyche says of the ACMI deal.

As the home of Mission Control Center for the agency's human space missions, astronaut training, robotics, human health and space medicine, NASA Johnson leads the way for the human exploration. Leveraging this unique role and location, Exploration Park will play a key role in helping the human spaceflight community attain U.S. goals for the commercialization and development of a robust space economy by creating an infrastructure that fosters a multi-use environment where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate with NASA. Exploration Park will create an infrastructure that allows for a multi-use space hardware development environment, where academic researchers, aerospace companies and entrepreneurs can collaborate on space exploration's greatest challenges.

"ACMI Properties will develop this Campus to serve the needs of our future tenants, aerospace industry, the Department of Defense and other significant stakeholders that comprise our ecosystem approach," said Simon Shewmaker, head of development for ACMI Properties. "Our aim is to support human spaceflight missions for the next 40 years and beyond."

NASA issued an announcement for proposals for use of the undeveloped and underutilized land near Saturn Lane on June 9, 2023, and has just completed negotiations with ACMI to formalize the lease agreement. The parcel is outside of Johnson's controlled access area and adjacent to its main campus. NASA will lease the land for 20 years with two 20-year extension options, for a potential of up to 60 years.

In the coming years, NASA and its academic, commercial, and international partners will see the completion of the International Space Station Program, the commercial development of low Earth orbit, and the first human Artemis campaign missions establishing sustainable human presence on the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars.

Johnson already is leading the commercialization of space with the commercial cargo and crew programs and private astronaut missions to the space station. The center also is supporting the development of commercial space stations in low Earth orbit, and lunar-capable commercial spacesuits and lunar landers that will be provided as services to both NASA and the private sector to accelerate human access to space. Through the development of Exploration Park, the center will broaden the scope of the human spaceflight community that is tackling the many difficult challenges ahead.

10+ can't-miss Houston business and innovation events for March

WHERE TO BE

From networking meetups to speaker expert speaker summits, March is filled with opportunities for Houston innovators.

Here's a roundup of events you won't want to miss out on so mark your calendars and register accordingly.

Note: This post may be updated to add more events.

 March 6 — Women's History Month Mixer

Bag Talk and Jem are collaborating to produce a dynamic Rooftop Mixer, designed to bring together entrepreneurs, startups, founders, tech professionals, health experts, and investors.

In honor of Women's History Month, the speaker panel will feature trailblazing women entrepreneurs who have redefined success in their respective fields. Gain invaluable insights, strategies, and inspiration as they share their journeys in business, innovation, and leadership.

This event is Wednesday, March 6, from 6 to 9 pm at Reset. Click here to register.

 March 7 — Energy Workforce of the Future Career Fair & Summit

A variety of Gen-Z speakers will be unpacking the future of working in the energy industry. Take advantage of this unique occasion to showcase your skills, exchange ideas, and build valuable connections. Denise Hamilton will be the keynote speaker followed by a host of other energy innovators.

This event is Thursday, March 7, from 7:30 am to 4 pm at the Briar Club. Click here to register.

 March 7 — GB Spring Mixer 2024

Meet community members, network, and develop relationships with local businesses at this event for Pearland's small business community. This mixer is sponsored by Pearland Innovation Hub, a home for innovation, entrepreneurship and small business growth, custom built for Pearland's business community.

This event is March 7, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

 March 14 — Pi Day With Portal Innovations

TMC Helix Park will host a Pi Day celebration at TMC3. All scientists, researchers, math experts, and innovators are invited to come and recognize the significant impact Pi (3.14) has had in shaping our world today and continuously in the future. Enjoy networking opportunities with Pi bites, games, and prizes.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 12 to 1:30 pm at TMC Helix Park. Click here to register.

 March 14 — FanTechstic Mixer

This event is a mixer for tech professionals and tech enthusiasts. Connect with potential employers, collaborators, and mentors who can shape the trajectory of your career.

This event is Thursday, March 14, from 5:30 to 9:30 at Luxtrium Event Venue. Click here to register.

March 16 — Generative AI: Understanding and Fine Tuning LLM

This webinar dives deep into Generative AI, the game-changer that creates images from text, crafts personalized campaigns, and writes reports in seconds. Attendees will learn the innerworkings of Large Language Models (LLMs), the engines behind this revolution. Learn practical skills, explore real-world use cases, and future-proof your career.

This event is Saturday, March 16, from 10 am to 12 pm at Houston Translations. Click here to register.

March 18-22 — CERAWeek by S&P Global

For the 42nd time, CERAWeek is convening energy leaders from around the world for a conference, this year with its theme of "Multidimensional Energy Transition: Markets, climate, technology and geopolitics" that will zero in on the world's journey to zero-carbon.

The event is Monday, March 18, to Friday, March 22, in Downtown Houston. Click here to register.

March 21 — Global Energy: Qatar's LNG Expansion

At this event, expert panelists will delve into issues of investment partnerships, destination markets for gas supply, and the practicalities of expanding fossil fuel exports amid global decarbonization goals. Qatar is in the midst of expanding its LNG export capacity, increasing from 77 million tons per annum to 126 million by 2027.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy. Click here to register.

March 21 — Energy Underground - Early Design Partnerships

Meet up with renewable energy product developers, service providers, energy transition thought leaders, and more at this networking event. Make industry contacts, secure financing, share deals, or recommend talent looking to enter the energy workforce. This month meeting is open to everyone, but focused on connecting energy software founders with VP's of Operations and Projects at energy companies.

This event is Thursday, March 21, from 11:30 am to 2 pm at The Cannon. Click here to register.

March 26 — Bots & Brews

This is the spring meetup of the Energy Drone / Robotics / Data crowd, with over 200 leaders attending. Enjoy beer, bites and bots. Check out the latest robotics and data / AI tech, while hearing new case studies and connecting with some of the biggest leaders in energy and autonomous systems.

This event is Tuesday, March 26, from 5:30 to 7:45 pm at the Ion. Click here to register.

March 27 — Energy Industry Young Professionals Gumbo Cook-Off & Technology Showcase

Explore cutting-edge products, network with industry professionals, and savor delicious creations in the Gumbo Cook-Off. Make it a night to remember with live music, a beverage garden, and fundraising efforts to support the energy industry and first responders.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 5 to 9 pm at Bad Astronaut Brewing Co. Click here to register.

March 27 — 2024 CultureMap Houston Tastemaker Awards

The CultureMap Tastemaker Awards is an annual celebration of Houston's top restaurant and bar talent, as selected by their peers. Check out this signature in-person tasting event and awards ceremony. Celebrate all of the nominees and the winners, while sampling bites and sipping specialty drinks along the way.

This event is Wednesday, March 27, from 7 to 10 pm at Silver Street Studios. Click here to register.