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

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.

Sixteen startup teams pitched at the seventh annual — but first-ever virtual – Bayou Startup Showcase. Photo courtesy of OwlSpark and RED Labs

University-based summer program presents 16 innovative Houston startup projects

best in class

Even despite a global pandemic, two university-based summer startup accelerator programs were determined to continue on. And, that's exactly what they did.

University of Houston's RED Labs and Rice University's OwlSpark pivoted their summer program, which they put on collaboratively, to a virtual approach. On Thursday, August 6, the program's 16 startup teams pitched their projects at the seventh annual Bayou Startup Showcase.

Here are this year's Class 8 presentations:

EVA

Vascular access requires a medical team to use an ultrasound machine to help navigate a needle's precision during the procedure. However, 5 percent of procedures result in an inexact and painful outcome. OwlSpark company, EVA — which stands for Exact Vascular Access, has created a device that works with the ultrasound machine to endure navigation of the needle during the procedure.

CareSafe

Seven million people fall every year, but as great and helpful wearable devices are, they aren't foolproof. CareSafe, a RED Labs company, taps into home WiFi to visualize when a fall occurs and the company can even notify emergency contacts and emergency services.

Ai-Ris

People who live in underserved and rural areas don't have regular access to eye care — which means that these people are exposed to preventable eye diseases. Ai-Ris has created a portable, telemedicine-ready device that can help get these populations access to eye care.

Dividends360

Ninety million people invest in the stock market — and more than half of those investors are self directed and spending several hours a week on planning their investments. RED Labs company Dividends360 is a web-based platform to help the modern investor make his or her decisions in a more efficient way.

FirstGen Solutions

Expecting mothers can't take the majority of medications in the market because the effects of the chemicals on the unborn child is unknown, and testing is limited to costly, inaccurate, and highly regulated animal testing. FirstGen Solutions, an OwlSpark company, is producing a stem cell testing kit for pharmaceutical companies to use as an earlier and easier way to indicate potential risks a medicine could have.

nisa EFFECT

Women undergoing menopause have no control over their hot flashes, which can happen often, last up to 20 minutes, and be debilitating to daily activities. Nisa EFFECT has created a cooling bra so that the 80 percent of women who experience hot flashes during menopause can have a discrete way to cool down.

FreeFuse

Five hundred hours of video content is uploaded every minute, and the sheer oversaturation of the industry makes growing an audience extremely difficult for content producers. Interactive video platform FreeFuse, an OwlSpark company, wants to flip the script and allow content creators to see what its audient wants to see in terms of content.

Morpheus Health

Pharmaceutical companies don't make it easy to find out about side effects medicines can have on its users. Morpheus Health, an OwlSpark company, uses data and patient information to better customize and predict potential side effects a medicine can have. Morpheus's results don't replace prescriptions or doctor consultations, but instead allow the patient to take that information into the consultation room.

Phase Filter

​Changing the air filters is an easily forgotten chore that, if undone, can cause unnecessary air quality issues and a higher electricity bill for homeowners. Phase Filter has designed a self-scrolling air filter that's easy to install and only needs to be changed once a year,

Bloodhound

The OwlSpark and RED Labs summer programs are meant to help early-stage startups figure out their market need and determine whether or not their product is a viable business. The Bloodhound team explains how they came up with their idea for a software that helps detect bleed in surgeries, and then how they realized, after research and mentorship through the program, that it wasn't an idea worth pursuing. Doctors need more help with stopping bleeds than finding them.

Crew Trace Solutions

The Navy needs an upgrade to their accountability practice. That's where Crew Trace Solutions, an OwlSpark company run by two military veterans, comes in. The technology mirrors something like EZ-Tag where personnel onboard are tracked throughout the ship as they pass through sensors set up in doorways around the boat.

VAYL

Everyone dreads the discomfort and disappointment that usually comes with dental appointments. The oral hygiene tools on the market today aren't cutting it, says the VAYL team, a RED Labs company. VAYL has created a device that brushes the entire mouth in an optimal way for time and for cavity prevention.

MoodyCorium

Finding the right moisturizer is a costly and exhausting industry for women. MoodyCorium, an OwlSpark company, is working on a solution so that women can navigate the hundreds of products available on the market.

ElastEye

Half of the glaucoma patients could have had their disease prevented by better diagnostics — and that's exactly what ElastEye has developed. The RED Labs company has created a non-invasive, early detection device that determines the elasticity of the eye.

BitGrange

Supporting local farmers can be hard — it might raise the price of produce for consumers while orders tend to be smaller than farmers prefer. BItGrange, an OwlSpark company, created an e-commerce platform to allow consumers to go in on purchases together to create a win-win situation for both sides of the transaction.

dext

Simple daily tasks can be overwhelming to stroke survivors and the only solution is exercise and rehabilitation. Dext is a wearable tool to help take that exercise and rehab into a daily, easy to use setting.

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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.

Houston startup secures $10M to expand into rural communities

ready to grow

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.

The company has pioneered a proprietary “small footprint primary care delivery model,” which is considered suitable for rural markets, employer worksites, office buildings, schools, and university campuses. The cost-effective microclinics are “prefabricated facilities” that are designed for primary care services, and employ a hybrid in-person and telemedicine care approach.

Hamilton began his career as a physician before founding Emerus Holdings, which is a micro-hospital system in the Houston area that later moved to private equity.

The recently acquired funding will help expedite the high-touch care model to 98 million Americans in HPSAs, which was a goal for when the company was established during the Covid-19 pandemic. HHB has made partnerships with Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) to provide primary care services both at existing FQHC centers and through new sites in rural areas.

"Hamilton Health Box that was designed to deliver the lowest possible price of primary and preventative care," Hamilton said in a previous interview with Innovation Map. "We built that to be able to take that care to the jobsite and meet the customer where they are at."