As medicine and technology both advance, these Houston startups are at the forefront of the industry. Getty Images

With the Texas Medical Center at the heart of Houston, health advancement opportunities are endless. Medical breakthroughs are happening across town, but as technology advances, the industry is seeing more and more startups popping up to take new tech tools and applying them to traditional medical devices and procedures.

These five Houston startups are developing the future of the industry — one device at a time.

Portable Therapeutix

For years, Squid Compression has helped ease the pain of patients in doctor's offices. Now, anyone can get the treatment on the go. Photo via squidgo.com

The country is currently in an opiod crisis, and one solution is making pain-relieving devices more accessible to patients. That's what Houston-based startup Portable Therapeutix LLC is trying to do with its drug-free solution to pain called Squid Go. The portable device is designed to ease the pain and swelling of sore joints and muscles using cold therapy and compression therapy. It's a follow-up to the company's Squid Compression, a pain management device launched in 2013 for patients at rehabilitation centers, hospitals, doctor's offices, and the like.

To reap the benefits of Squid Go, a consumer uses the device for just 15 minutes. Squid Go — which combines a cold gel pack with proprietary compression technology — features special air pockets that inflate and deflate, gently massaging the body part needing treatment. That massaging boosts circulation and reduces swelling.

"Increased circulation brings more nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to the area, promoting recovery," says Sam Stolbun, co-founder of Portable Therapeutix. "Meanwhile, [the] gentle compression also drives the pain-relieving cold from the gel pack deeper into the tissues to alleviate soreness and discomfort." Read more about Squid Go here.

Zibrio

Balancing is important throughout your life, and Zibrio has the tools and tips for you to use to stay centered. Pexels

From NASA to your bathroom floor — Katharine Forth has found a new way to track balance. With her company, Zibrio, people can have the everyday ability to figure out how balanced they are.

"The machines typically used for balance measurement can be as large as a telephone booth, so we invented a new way to measure postural control using a much smaller mechanism that fit inside a moon boot," Forth says.

Zibrio is a health company that aims to be the gold standard of measuring balance. The Zibrio scale calculates users' weight like a typical scale and rates their balance on scale of 1 to 10.

The scale gathers data from your weight, your postural control, your muscles and other factors to calculate the rating. Andrea Case-Rogers, chief experience officer at Zibrio, describes a perfect rating of 10 as elusive for most, or "Simone Biles on a good day." Read more about Zibrio here.

Saranas Inc.

Saranas Inc. is testing its technology that can detect and track internal bleeding complications. Getty Images

A Houston-based medical device startup is on a twofold mission to reduce healthcare costs and improve the safety of complex medical procedures involving blood vessels. Saranas Inc. currently in clinical trials for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System, which is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. If all goes well, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will approve Early Bird in 2019, Syed says. Then, the device would be made widely available to medical facilities across the country.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, president and CEO of Saranas. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

Dr. Mehdi Razavi, a cardiologist with the Texas Heart Institute at Houston's Texas Medical Center, invented the device. It's being tested by the institute and other medical facilities in the U.S. As many as 100 patients will participate in the clinical trial, which is expected to last several months. Read more about Saranas and the Early Bird here.

EllieGrid

Courtesy of EllieGrid

Talking the right vitamins and medications at the right times shouldn't seem like more trouble than it's worth. Houston-based EllieGrid is a smart pill box that is easy to organize and stylish to use on the go. Plus, with a growing volume of users, the company is able to use its customer data to track medication compliance.

"What's really neat about EllieGrid is that we are starting to learn users' habits as days go by, so that we can trigger alarms at optimal times," says co-founder and CEO Abe Matamoros at The Cannon's female entrepreneurs pitch night.

For co-founder, Regina Vatterott, the company is about reinventing traditional medical devices that can be clunky or inefficient for daily use.

"We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients," Vatterott says. Read more about EllieGrid here — as well as more about the founder here.

Intelligent Implants

Intelligent Implant's co-founder, Juan Pardo, told the crowd at Demo Day that his company's device allows for 50 percent faster bone growth in patients. Photo by Cody Duty/TMC

Chronic lower back pain can result in a need for spinal fusion surgery — and 40 percent of those surgeries fail, says Juan Pardo, co-founder of Intelligent Implants, which has an office in Houston. Pardo and his team have come up with an implant that tracks post-op healing and introduces electronic stimulation wirelessly.

The device is the same size and shape as the spacer that surgeons currently use, but contains a technology that can deliver electronic stimulation therapy and monitor progress without needing batteries. The doctor is able to adjust treatment remotely, and the device can heal the patient 50 percent faster than the standard care.

Intelligent Implants was announced as the first in-residence company at the Center for Device Innovation by Johnson and Johnson and also launched its large animal studies. The company has a goal to raise $1.6 million, and has already secured $900,000 — $250,000 of which came from the new TMC Venture Fund. Read more about Intelligent Implants and the other Texas companies in its TMC cohort here.

EllieGrid, the smart pillbox, is using user data to ensure medicine compliance. EllieGrid/Instagram

Houston's smart pillbox startup gets even smarter about its users with data tracking technology

update available

What if your pillbox was enabled to use technology to not only notify you to take your medicine, but also predict when you might be likely to miss a dosage. For Houston-based EllieGrid, this hypothetical situation isn't too far from reality.

EllieGrid reimagines the normal pillbox. Rather than sorting your medicine into days and times, which can take a good amount of time, you sort your medicine in its own compartments. Then, once you've programmed the free app with your medicine schedule, you get notifications to your phone when it's time to take your pills. EllieGrid's compartments light up to indicate which medicine to take and how many pills.

"What's really neat about EllieGrid is that we are starting to learn users' habits as days go by, so that we can trigger alarms at optimal times," says co-founder and CEO Abe Matamoros at The Cannon's female entrepreneurs pitch night.

If a user needs to take their medicine between 8 and 10 a.m. every day, the alarm might go off earlier during the week, and later in that bracket of time on the weekends, according to when the user tends to wake up.

While convenient, EllieGrid's ability to track users' compliance actually adds even more value to the company's product — as do the monthly surveys users are invited to take, which helps the company get to know their user and their medical profile.

"We realize that most people go to the doctor once every six months, but a lot can happen during that time," Matamoros says. "But if they get used to this monthly dialogue, that's extremely valuable. And by combining these things, we can really decrease the probability that they stop taking their medicine."

Insurance companies pay pharmacists up to $60 to call patients who haven't picked up their medicine within 30 to 60 days, Matamoros says. But EllieGrid can tell if users failed to take their medication the day of and can notify the user or their family members — and even insurance companies — with much more immediacy.

The startup has seen a growing interest from major players in the retail sector. At the Consumer Technology Association's Consumer Electronics Show in early January, EllieGrid co-founder, Regina Vatterott, says the company received market validation and interest from a few international health-related retail companies. Now, the Houston-based team, which has in the past focused on direct-to-consumer sales, is looking to solidify its infrastructure and supply chain to make sure it can fulfill potential B-to-B orders.

In an interview last year, Vatterott told InnovationMap that the bigger picture that her and her co-founders are trying to do is transform traditional medical devices into consumer-focused health accessories.

"We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients," Vatterott says.

Three female-founded companies pitched to potential investors at The Cannon. Here's why they are ones to watch. Courtesy photos

3 female Houston startup founders to watch in 2019

Leading ladies

The Lone Star State has been deemed a great place for female entrepreneurs to get their feet wet, and Houston's ecosystem is full of these leading ladies. At a pitch party at The Cannon, a coworking space in West Houston, over 100 guests, including Cannon Ventures investors and Cannon members, gathered to hear three of these female founders pitch their companies.

From DNA dating and smart pillboxes to an educational franchise company, these three female-led institutions are ones to watch this year. Here's why.

X&Y Technologies

Brittany Barreto wants X&Y Technologies to be known for its science-based dating expertise. Karla Martin/Pheramor

Now is the time to have a DNA-based technology company, says Brittany Barreto, CEO and co-founder of X&Y Technologies. She launched her genetics-based data app over two years ago, and now she's expanding the brand to include a couples compatibility test and B-to-B software-as-a-service feature, so that other dating apps can utilize her technology.

"Our traction with the dating app was a fantastic way to prove that we are the thought leaders, we have the infrastructure, and we have the algorithm and we've proven that the market is ready to buy a DNA kit to find love," she says in her pitch.

With fundraising plans in 2019, Barreto hopes to launch the expanded company, and says she has already seen a lot of interest in both of the new DNA-based products. Read more about Pheramor's national growth, the X&Y expansion, and how Barreto got her start.

IDEA Lab Kids

Ghazal Qureshi pitched her education franchise company, IDEA Lab Kids, and discussed her plans to double its presence in 2019. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Six years ago, when Ghazal Qureshi wanted an after school program for her kid and their diverse interests, she created it. Now, the interactive programming that focuses on the science, technology, engineering, arts and math activities for kids is a growing franchise opportunity. After launching the franchise model in February 2017, IDEA Lab Kids already has 10 locations, with seven coming on board within the next few months — including a location in Ecuador.

"In 2019, we're looking to double the number of campuses," Qureshi says in her pitch.

What makes IDEA Lab different from its competitors, she says, is the interactive and diversified curriculum that engages all children.

"We know that kids have limited attention spans theses days," Qureshi says. "New technologies and methods are needed every day in order to grasp that attention span, and that is what we are really good at. At any given day, there are drones flying, augmented reality, cooking classes, and more are happening under the roof of an IDEA Lab campus."

In addition to expanding its presence, Qurshi has worked to roll our new products, such as a coding club, updated website registration tools

EllieGrid

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the pillbox with her startup, EllieGrid. Courtesy of EllieGrid

When she was in college, Regina Vatterott fainted on her way to lunch. She had lapsed on taking her medicine and vitamins, which caused an imbalance in her health. She was using a traditional pillbox that was tacky and a pain to organize and starting thinking about a product that was more stylish and used smart technology. She and her cofounders created EllieGrid, a sleek pillbox that syncs to your phone to send you messages when its time to take your meds and allows for an easier organization process.

EllieGrid's reception has been great, and the company is expanding to provide users new tools and technology. For instance, EllieGrid is starting to learn more about when its users take its medicine, which can translate to partnerships with insurence companies that currently pay pharmacies to check in with patients who haven't picked up their medicine.

"For us, Ellie is just the start," Vatterott says in an interview with InnovationMap. "We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices."

Large companies are taking interest in the Houston-based startup. Over the past three weeks, Best Buy, Walmart, CVS Health, and Pelion all reached out and expressed interest in the company, some actually placing orders and setting up trials.

Whether you're pitching your startup in a competition or for capital, here are some expert tips. Getty Images

4 secrets to being pitch perfect from a startup founder

Down pat

One of the things our team at EllieGrid is most famous for is pitching. We have pitched our smart pill box in over 20 business plan competitions, on television, radio, and to so many investors that I have lost count. I can't remember what our first pitch was like but I know it has certainly evolved overtime. You could even say that we A/B tested some of our methods.

When you first organize your thoughts, you want to consider the basics, so before I give my advice, consider these tried-and-true tips.

  • Get to the point — say what your company is in the first 10 seconds
  • Know your audience
  • Shorter usually means better
  • Keep numbers to a minimum
  • Have a clear ask

In order to save you a little time, here are some of the of the lessons I learned the hard way to help you perfect your pitch.

Don't pitch. Tell a story.
I am going to let you in on a little secret: most people don't want to hear your pitch, especially if yours is not the first they have heard that day. Put yourself in their shoes, do you really want to listen to someone ramble on about facts and figures? Chances are, no. Instead, tell a story. Use engaging voices and set the scene. Recall your creative writing classes from high school and how you should mention what it was like in terms of feel, smell, taste, etc. and don't use generic adjectives such as "too small" or "the old way was hard."

People remember how you made them feel
What is in it for your audience? Is it wealth, power, fame, praise or glory, and/or pleasure? It might sound obvious to make this point when pitching, but I suggest you write out your pitch and highlight exactly where you say what is in it for them, maybe even more than once. Making the audience feel like you are caring about their desires and engaging them in conversation will help you be more memorable.

Come full circle
My favorite technique in any pitch or speech is if the speaker can connect the closing back to something they said at the beginning of their pitch. I enjoy this because sometimes the speaker will leave a question unanswered and then reveal how their solution is the answer in a creative way. This keeps your listeners engaged and connects the pain to your solution. Watch a few TED talks and you will see what I mean.

Pitch to a kid
This is probably the best advice I can give because it is a surefire way to make sure your pitch makes sense to a wide range of listeners. This also forces you to leave out jargon and filler words that you think might make you sound fancy like "innovative" or "disruptive" but actually make you sound like everyone else.

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Regina Vatterott is the COO and co-founder of Ellie Grid, a Houston-based company reinventing medical devices. Read more about Regina here.

From smart pillboxes to innovation incubators, here are three people you need to know this week in innovation. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

One of the cornerstones of InnovationMap is shining a spotlight on the individuals who are leading innovation in Houston, which is why we created a section dedicated to this. Our Featured Innovators section will have a Q&A with a startup owner, entrepreneur, or thought leader every week.

Another weekly article on InnovationMap that's geared toward introducing the city to prominent innovators is a roundup of who's who in the industry — not just the forces to be reckoned with in town, but people whose names you need not forget. Why? Because they've got big plans up their sleeves.

Here are this week's innovators to know, who, it just so happens, are our inaugural Featured Innovators.

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston

Courtesy of Gabriella Rowe

It's been a winding road for Gabriella Rowe, but she's finally made it to a city she adores and in a position she says is her dream job. The New York native has worked in consulting, banking, education, tech, and more, and she has learned a lot of valuable lessons on the way.

Rowe accepted her position as CEO of Station Houston in August — a decision she says took her all of four seconds to make. The acceleration hub has a lot going on ahead of Houston's Innovation District launch, including announcing Station 3.0 in January. Read more about that — and why Rowe says wild horses couldn't drag her out of Houston —in her Featured Innovator piece.

Brian Richards, managing partner at Accenture

Courtesy of Accenture

Brian Richards is in the business of being lightyears ahead of everyone else. His job is to start thinking of solutions for tomorrow's problems, from consulting clients on innovative technologies to serving on the board of Houston Exponential.

In fact, Richards came up with the vision for Accenture's innovation hub before clients even knew they needed it. He also moved to Houston against the advice of many colleagues because he sees the potential this city has as a mecca for innovation. Read more about the hub and his career here.

Regina Vatterott, COO and co-founder of EllieGrid

Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

The idea for Regina Vatterott's smart pillbox, called EllieGrid, hit her in one fell swoop — literally. She fainted on the way to lunch and decided it was time to start taking her health seriously. She created EllieGrid shortly after and realized that medical devices don't have to be clunky or purely functional.

Now, she's got big plans to reinvent the wheel on a few other medical devices by focusing on the user experience, because, as she likes to say, people are always people first, before they are patients. Learn more about EllieGrid here.

Regina Vatterott is thinking outside the traditional pillbox. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

Houston startup founder is reinventing medical devices by thinking outside the pillbox

What's Poppin'

One day in college on her way to lunch with some friends, Regina Vatterott fainted on the sidewalk. It wasn't anything serious, but she had a few vitamin deficiencies and hadn't eaten in a while. After that, she started taking her daily supplements more seriously.

She tried using the traditional pillbox, but it would take her forever to organize. And she hated how her friends would call it, in a loving, playful way, her "old people pillbox."

She joined forces with a few like-minded individuals at her school to create a health and wellness accessory, rather than a medical device. They bought craft supplies and hand-glued LED lights to the first prototype of what would become EllieGrid, a smart pillbox that syncs with an app on your phone so that you can easily program your medicinal schedule and receive alerts of when to take what.


EllieGrid is a smart pillbox that syncs with your phone.Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

Vatterott, who was interning at a company that did social media marketing for independent pharmacies nationwide, saw an underserved market of adults who have a need for a product like this. EllieGrid targets the Baby Boomer age and younger, usually between ages 35 and 55.

Now, EllieGrid is growing from its initial presale phase to setting a system in place where Houstonians can find EllieGrid in stores or online.

InnovationMap: You and your team were only college students when you started. How did you get funding?

Regina Vatterott: We started pitching business plan competitions all over the country — even as far as Barcelona. We raised money — and some of it wasn't even money, but resources, like access to 3D printers or free office space. It was an amazing tool for us, and it helped validate us and helped us perfect our business plan. We ended up raising like $200,000 just in business plan competitions.

After that, we knew we had to prove it in market. Last year, we ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. Our goal was to raise $40,000, and we raised around $167,000. In January of this year, we shipped all the products that were preordered on IndieGoGo to 37 different countries.

IM: What's been the biggest challenge?

RV: The very beginning, the challenge was affording our legal fees — it's not something you want to skimp on, but was incredibly expensive. After that, it was simply manufacturing. It's never easy. It's always going to cost three times as much and take three times as long as you expect. With our plastics, we use a process called injection molding, and if the temperature is off, the plastics will dry in a different way and the pieces won't fit together. It's an obnoxious challenge that we're still facing today.

IM: What's next for you or your company?

RV: Right now, we are making that transition from pre-selling products to just regular sales. It's easier said than done because we are making sure that supply chain is efficient and on time. We are finishing up a batch of 1,000 units to work with that we'll just sell on our website. Once we have information on how we can sell these units, we want to work with distributors, so we are working on creating those relationships now.

IM: How has being headquartered in Houston been?

RV: This is a very affordable place and has a lot of resources for startups. I will say our one struggle is there's not a lot of funding for hardware startups — especially for consumers — like ours. That's more in California or New York.

IM: Thinking more long term, what do you have in mind for EllieGrid and your team?

RV: For EllieGrid, we want to implement artificial intelligence. We want to be able to take the data of how the user is interacting with the device and be able to predict when people will forget to take their meds to prevent any issues with medication.

For us, Ellie is just the start. We want to develop more health and wellness accessories that are traditionally known to be medical devices. One example we give is how eyeglasses used to be medical devices, and now glasses are a fashion accessory. We want to do more and more with medical devices because we think that people are always people before they are patients.

IM: What's the worst piece of advice you've received?

RV: In the beginning when we'd pitch this idea to doctors, they would tell us we were wasting our time because patients don't care what a product looks like as long as it works. I don't really get that anymore, because we're proving that wrong now.

The product is available online on the EllieGrid website, and the app is available for download. Courtesy of Regina Vatterott

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Overheard: Local innovation leaders share what they see has changed in Houston for venture investing

Eavesdropping online

Houston's seen a growth in startup and venture investment — even amid the pandemic — and a group of Houston innovators sat down for a virtual event to discuss what's lead to this evolution.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted an installment of its Houston Industry Series focused on Digital Tech on Thursday, September 24. The panel of experts, moderated by Krisha Tracy of Google Cloud, discussed how they've observed the paradigm shift that's occurred in Houston over the past few years — and why.

Missed the discussion? Here are some significant overheard moments from the virtual event.

“I think there really is an interest for venture capital here, both locally and also welcoming it from outside of Houston. … There’s something magical happening in Houston, and [VCs] want a piece of it. I think that magical piece is a renewed interest in collaborating.”

Stephanie Campbell, managing director of Houston Angel Network and co-founder of The Artemis Fund. "I think a lot [of this progress] is due to the GHP, Houston Exponential, and the founding of the HX Venture Fund to bring those venture funds to Houston to say, 'what's happening here?'" Campbell adds, saying that this connectivity and collaboration that's happening in Houston VC is unique.

“I think there’s a misconception around all we do is oil and gas and life science in Houston, but when you think about what VC-backable companies look like, they’re tech, they’re B2B SaaS, they’re highly scalable, and they don’t tend to be capital-intensive types of things we see corporate venture backing.”

Campbell says, adding "the connectivity and the interest in VC is really taking off. It's an exciting time to be in Houston and Texas in general."

“Plug and Play’s ventures team is based in Silicon Valley and one thing they enjoy about meeting Houston-based founders is valuations tend to be more reasonable than in the Bay Area."

Payal Patel, director of Plug and Play Tech Center in Houston. "There are gems to be found," she adds.

“I don’t know what it is — if it’s something in the water or just Texans being very friendly, but the investors here share deal flow. It takes a village, and I think we all understand a rising tide lifts all boats."

Patel says on the collaborative nature of Houston. "It's really magical."

“What you’re witnessing is a city that has been waiting for industrial innovation to reach the point where it can be adopted at a really high scale, and that happened around 2017.”

Jon Nordby, managing director at MassChallenge Texas in Houston. Nordby adds that MassChallenge in Houston hasn't been keen on consumer tech, or the "grilled cheese delivery apps," as he describes. "We like companies that are in love with problems, not so much in love with solutions. … We build really meaningful tech."

“Over the last year or two, we’ve seen that sleeping giant get awoken. Open and external innovation is newly adopted by more legacy industries where it wasn’t before — and that’s just created a mountain of opportunities for startups and investors alike.”

Nordby says on the shift toward this meaningful, problem-solving technology, which Houston is full of, as he observes.

Houston's Brené Brown rises strong with new podcast and exclusive Spotify deal

now streaming

For two decades, renowned Houston thought leader and researcher Brené Brown has delved into the human condition, studying and exploring themes such as courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame. Her work has made her a national figure as a five-time New York Times bestselling author and as a host of one of the most popular TED Talks of all time.

Now, Brown is leaping forward with her self-help work with an exclusive new multi-year deal with Spotify. The Houstonian will host a new podcast, "Dare to Lead," which will premiere exclusively on Spotify on October 19, according to a press release. Fans can also look for her beloved "Unlocking Us" podcast to move to Spotify in January 2021.

Brown said in a statement that it was "very important to me to build a podcast home where people could continue to listen for free."

In an added treat for those who love Yacht Rock (and who doesn't, frankly?), Brown is taking over Spotify's Yacht Rock Playlist and has added her favorite tunes (look for smart picks such as Christoper Cross, Doobie Brothers, TOTO, and more).

As for the podcast, "Dare to Lead" will feature conversations with "change-catalysts, culture-shifters and more than a few troublemakers who are innovating, creating, and daring to lead," according to a statement. It mirrors Brown's bestselling book of the same name.

"I've partnered with Spotify because I wanted a home for both podcasts," Brown added, "and I wanted it to be a place that felt collaborative, creative, adventurous, and full of music — like my actual house, where you'd find guitar stands in every room and framed pictures of everyone from Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin to Freddy Fender, Mick Jagger, and Angus Young hanging on my walls."

When she's not overseeing her multimedia brand, podcasting, writing, hosting, and programming Spotify playlists, Brown serves as a research professor at the University of Houston where she holds the Huffington Foundation – Brené Brown Endowed Chair at The Graduate College of Social Work. She is also a visiting professor in management at The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business.

She is also the author of four other No. 1 New York Times bestselling books, including The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and Braving the Wilderness. Her 2010 "The Power of Vulnerability" TED Talk has consistently been rated one of the top five most-watched of all time, with more than 50 million views. She is also the first researcher to have a filmed talk on Netflix; her "The Call to Courage" debuted on the streaming service in 2019.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.