Portal Innovations announced that Monique Knighten as an executive director in Houston. Photo via LinkedIn

After announcing its expansion into Houston last summer and opening its office in a new Texas Medical Center building, Portal Innovations has named its Houston leader.

Portal Innovations announced that Monique Knighten as an executive director in Houston in a LinkedIn post this week. She has over 15 years of experience in supporting research scientists and clinicians working to develop therapeutics in labs and clinics. According to her LinkedIn, she's served in the position since November.

Prior to her new role at Portal, Knighten worked as a manager level at Sartorius Stedim in Houston for five years. Before that role, she served as a technical sales consultant in Texas at Miltenyi Biotec, primarily in the immuno-oncology therapeutic market in the TMC.

Portal first announced its expansion into Houston in June of last year.

“Houston is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and home to one of the world’s leading cancer research institutions, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,” Portal’s Founder and CEO John Flavin said at the time. “It’s critical for us to open in Texas and leverage nearby pipelines from Rice University, UTHealth Houston, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and others across Houston’s innovative life sciences ecosystem. We’re thrilled to work with TMC to help grow tomorrow’s biotech and medtech leaders.”

Portal's local office is in the Helix Park complex's Collaborative Building, which opened in October. Helix Park is a 37-acre mixed-use campus currently under construction. The institutional agnostic, 250,000-square-foot building will anchor Helix Park and house research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Mayor Sylvester Turner, TMC CEO Bill McKeon, Governor Greg Abbott, and others gave their remarks at the TMC3 Collaborative Building opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

Texas Medical Center opens first building in massive Helix Park project

tmc3

For nearly a decade, the Texas Medical Center and its partners have been working on the plans for Helix Park, a 37-acre campus expansion of TMC. As of this week, the first building has opened its doors to the public.

The TMC3 Collaborative Building officially opened today to a crowd of media, public officials, and health care executives. The institutional agnostic, 250,000-square-foot building will anchor Helix Park and house research initiatives from the four founding partners: Texas Medical Center, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

“Today, we lay the cornerstone of a new campus fully dedicated to streamlining the commercialization of life-changing innovations in medicine and technologies,” William McKeon, president and CEO of TMC, says at the event. “We are incredibly excited to both welcome our founding institutions and industry partners to the Collaborative Building and to invite the community to experience the Helix Park campus and its beautiful parks with a series of special events in the months ahead."

Established to be a place for academic institution collaboration, the building — designed by Boston-based Elkus Manfredi Architects — will have wet laboratories, office space, and event facilities. Two venture groups — Portal Innovations and the TMC Venture Fund — will also move into the building.

Each institution will bring in select programs and initiatives. MD Anderson will house two institutions within the new building, including the James P. Allison Institute focused on immunotherapy and the Institute for Data Science in Oncology.

"The future of life sciences in Houston is brighter than ever before as we come together to officially open the TMC3 Collaborative Building,” Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson, says. “Our clinicians and scientists work daily to advance innovations in cancer research and care – all of which will be amplified in this new environment within Helix Park that further cultivates collaboration, connectivity, and creativity.”

UTHealth will move its Texas Therapeutics Institute into the facility.

“With a shared commitment to improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities, we are bringing together academics and industry to accelerate discovery and medical breakthroughs,” Dr. Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, president and Alkek-Williams Distinguished Chair at UTHealth Houston, says. “Through the Texas Therapeutics Institute — already a signature collaborative enterprise at UTHealth Houston — our world-renowned leaders in therapeutic antibody development will have the opportunity to work closely with other leading researchers in the Texas Medical Center, greatly enhancing our collective ability to translate discoveries and ideas into effective treatments.”

Texas A&M, which has worked with Houston Methodist to develop its engineering medical program, will operate its Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology in the new space.

“As we open this state-of-the-art facility, we’re opening the door to a new era of collaboration. This building signifies the dismantling of silos to deliver game-changing therapies for the toughest diseases impacting Texans and citizens worldwide,” said John Sharp, Chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “Texas A&M Health’s Institute of Biosciences and Technology has long been a trailblazer in drug discovery, and now, in the heart of this resource-rich ecosystem of the Texas Medical Center, we’re taking it up a notch. By positioning our scientists near their peers and esteemed clinicians, we’re igniting a spark that will fuel innovation and forge dynamic research programs.”

The next aspect of Helix Park to deliver will be the Dynamic One, a 700,000-square-foot industry research facility. Several other buildings, including a hotel, residential tower, and mixed-use building, are expected to deliver over the next few years. The "spine" of the project is six linked green spaces, designed by landscape architect Mikyoung Kim, that form an 18.7-acre campus, which is shaped like a DNA helix, hence the project's name.

At the opening event, leaders discussed the annual impact of over $5.4 billion expected after the campus is completed, and the 23,000 permanent new jobs and 19,000 construction jobs anticipated from Helix Park.

"Texas truly is the home of innovation. Our energy innovations are legendary, as are our innovations in space," says Texas Governor Greg Abbott, naming several of the state's innovative accomplishments. "Long before all of this innovation we're seeing now, Texas was the home of the Texas Medical Center."

Mayor Sylvester Turner spoke to the importance of collaboration.

"Individually, you can do things very well. Collectively, you can be transformational," he says. "One thing about this city, collaboration is the key. When we play well together, and when we build an integrated, robust ecosystem, everyone wins. That's Houston, and that's the way we operate."

A venture capital firm specializing in the life science sector revealed its plans to move into Houston. Rendering courtesy of TMC

Life science investment firm announces expansion into Houston

coming soon

A Chicago-based life science investment firm has announced its expansion into Houston.

Portal Innovations released the news today that it will move into 30,000 square feet of lab and office space in Texas Medical Center's new Helix Park complex's Collaborative Building. Helix Park is a 37-acre mixed-use campus currently under construction. The firm is expected to make the move in the secord quarter of next year.

Portal, along with its capital partners Beacon Capital and ZoE Life Sciences, is expanding into Houston to tap into the more than 4,800 biotech companies that are associated with TMC, per a news release.

“Houston is one of the fastest-growing cities in the U.S., and home to one of the world’s leading cancer research institutions, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center,” says Portal’s Founder and CEO John Flavin in the release. “It’s critical for us to open in Texas and leverage nearby pipelines from Rice University, UTHealth Houston, Texas A&M, University of Houston, Baylor College of Medicine, and others across Houston’s innovative life sciences ecosystem. We’re thrilled to work with TMC to help grow tomorrow’s biotech and medtech leaders.”

For TMC's community, the move means connecting Portal with its network of institutions for mentorship, events, networking, and more.

"TMC has steadily been building an innovation ecosystem in Houston through initiatives like the TMC Venture Fund, our incubator programs, and our global BioBridge relationships," says Bill McKeon, CEO of TMC, in the release. “In Portal, we have a partner with a proven track record of leveraging venture capital funding, expert partners, and strong programming to support dynamic, entrepreneurial businesses at pivotal moments of their growth. We look forward to building on our collective expertise and shared vision to further support the breakthroughs of early-stage life science ventures.”

The TMC3 Collaborative Building is the first completed building expected from the Helix Park development, along with the Dynamic One building anchored by Baylor College of Medicine. Both of which were originally slated to deliver later this year when the project details were revealed in 2022.

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Houston investors back new platform for retail traders looking to follow financial influencers

making a splash

As anyone who witnessed the impact Gamestop's meme stock had on the country already realizes, influential investors can drive momentum within the financial sector. And one company with fresh funding from a Houston firm is betting on that exactly.

CashPool is a new mobile platform that gives everyday investors the opportunity to derive influence from the investment strategies and trades made by trusted and influential stock traders who have built substantial followings on social media platforms. By allowing retail traders the chance to join social media influencers’ various “pools” on its platform, CashPool is primed to change the way the masses acquire wealth.

This is the kind of algorithmic trading aimed at a new generation of investors that gets the attention of early-stage venture capital funds like Houston-based Ten X Labs, a pre-seed angel fund that recently invested in CashPool to help the trading platform continue its mission of transforming the investment landscape.

"We are thrilled to receive funding from Ten X Labs, as it validates our innovative approach to trading and investing," CashPool Founder and CEO Averett Barksdale says in a news release. "This investment will enable us to further enhance our platform, expand our user base and continue to revolutionize the industry. We believe that everyone should have transparent, governed access to profitable trading and investment opportunities, and through CashPool we are making that vision a reality."

Connecting the dots

CashPool is broker agnostic connector, allowing its users to keep their current brokers like Robinhood, Coinbase, Charles Schwab, Acorns, Fidelity, ETRADE, Stash, Sofi and Betterment and creates a seamless investment experience.

“We are that middle piece,” says Barksdale. “So your money stays on whatever brokerage you’ve connected to the platform, and we just execute the trades on your brokerage for you.”

Considering that users’ money remains with their original brokerage, how does CashPool monetize its platform?

“We don’t charge users to execute trades,” says Barksdale. “We charge per pool you join. So, on our platform, strategies are called pools and a user can join as many strategies as they want.”

Financial influencers set the strategies. These are profitable traders who have become influencers on various social media platforms and built-up followings comprised of people who are or are desiring to be retail traders themselves.

“There are a ton of people out there who actually are profitable traders,” says Barksdale. “Same as what we saw happen with GameStop and the whole Reddit situation. That was a financial influencer, right? It just so happens that he had a strategy that he thought would work and it turned out for a while it did work, right?

“We want to not only empower the retail trader, but empower these financial influencers who are profitable as well. Just because it's a whole marketplace out there for it. But a lot of times the retail trader doesn't quite understand who to go with. On our platform, you could see the results of these financial influencers right before your eyes on our platform. So you can see if they're profitable or not, or if someone's just on Instagram or whatever, social media platform posting screenshots but aren’t actually executing those trades.”

Increasing transparency

With trading, past success can be an arbiter for future performance, so with CashPool, users can choose to join the pools of influencers who have documented success as a trader on the platform.

“On our platform you can't hide,” says Barksdale. “We're connected to their brokerage account, so we see what trades they're making in real time. We also see their performance in real time, and we display that on the platform. That's something that you really can't get around. So if someone on Instagram says they traded this stock, then I made X amount of dollars and had this percentage of return, then you go to the platform and look at your pool and see they didn't do that and were lying the whole time, it’s literally just putting everything out there in the open. We have the kind of transparency that doesn't exist currently right now in the space.”

Broadcasting one’s successes is easy, but what about the losses?

“I thought it was going to be a lot more difficult just thinking, do people really want to show what they're doing?” says Barksdale. “But the thing that I've seen is a lot of these traders are a whole lot more competitive. And the traders who are doing it, they're constantly talking out against people who aren't actually doing it in real life.

“A lot of the traders who are actually profitable, they do live trades every day. But how do users if they should pay to get into a specific trader’s live trading session? Like, how do they know they're profitable already?

“On CashPool, users can see an actual influencer's win rate and say, 'Okay, 86 percent of the time they are profitable, and I could see how many trades they've made in total.' From that standpoint, users can make an educated decision on what pools to join and pay for.”

CashPool users can join as many pools as they see fit, but the cost of each pool’s membership may vary due to the popularity or success percentage rate of the financial influencer.

“You can join as many pools as you want, but what we suggest is you start by joining the pools of influencers that you already follow and trust, that you're already following like on Twitter or YouTube or Instagram or whatever it may be,” says Barksdale. “We are suggesting that you follow them first and you join their pools first. What we do is on the monetization side is we allow the creators on our platform who are the influencers to set their own price for their pool.”

Building a secure network

Outside of who or what to follow, information security is likely a concern for potential users. Financial influencers’ trade information is readily available (win percentages and number of trades, not dollar amounts), but users’ won’t be able to see other users’ information on the platform.

“Currently, we have a list of 10 brokerages who are on board, and then we're working to onboard more as we keep going on,” says Barksdale. “So, we have like your Interactive brokerages, and we also have a few other ones that are UK specific and Canada specific. We would love to have every single brokerage on the platform, but unfortunately, there are a couple that are still kind of playing hard to get, so to speak.”

The first rollout of CashPool is set, but version two will likely include content creation from the financial influencers.

Barksdale, who has a background in product development and experience working at companies like Charles Schwab and Fidelity, is mostly excited about the prospect of CashPool unlocking expert financial strategies for everyone, not just the financial advisors behind the closed doors of Wall Street.

“Yes, my philosophy is that financial health and financial growth should be accessible for all,” says Barksdale. “The thing that gets me is it needs to be responsible. So, for example, RobinHood is a platform that doesn't necessarily care if you are making responsible decisions, they just care that you're trading on that platform.

“Our platform is strictly focused on actually being the place where these retail traders can make responsible decisions centered around investing and trading.”

Tech companies contribute to recovery fund for those affected by Houston storm

helping hands

The past month in Houston has been marked by severe flooding and a sudden storm that left nearly a million residents without power. The Houston Disaster Alliance has established the Severe Weather and Derecho Recovery Fund to help those impacted by the weather.

“The Greater Houston Disaster Alliance was formed so that in times of crisis, there is a swift and efficient response to help those severely impacted begin the process of recovery,” said Stephen Maislin, president and CEO, Greater Houston Community Foundation. “When disaster strikes, it requires a collaborative and coordinated response from the nonprofit, for-profit, public sector, and philanthropic community to ensure the most vulnerable in our region get the help they need to start the recovery and rebuilding process.”

At least a million dollars has been donated to the fund, courtesy of $500,000 from the CenterPoint Energy Foundation and another $500,000 from Comcast. With Houston now a federally declared disaster area by President Joe Biden, impacted residents are able to apply for various grants and aid.

Those still struggling from the weather events should call the 211 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. Assistance is available for housing, utilities, food, elder assistance, and other areas. Crisis counseling is also available.

“Outside of times of disaster, we know that 14 percent of households in our region are struggling on income below the federal poverty line and 31 percent of households in our region are working hard but struggling to make ends meet. It’s these neighbors who are disproportionately impacted when disaster strikes,” said Amanda McMillian, president and CEO, United Way of Greater Houston. “This fund allows us to lift up the most vulnerable who have been impacted by recent weather events to ensure they can not only recover from the immediate crisis, but also prepare themselves for future disasters.”

The derecho storm that hit Houston on Thursday, May 16 had wind gusts up to 100mph. Nearly a million people in the Houston area were left without power, and as of Wednesday CenterPoint was still working to restore electricity to more than 60,000 people. Photos showed that the storm toppled massive power pylons, took down trees, and even ripped the sides off buildings. Miniature tornadoes touched down in parts of the city, adding to the devastation.

The Houston Disaster Alliance was launched in 2023 as a joint effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston to help mitigate the damage of weather crises year-round. This has become increasingly necessary as Houston's weather has become more unpredictable than ever.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.