Houston medtech accelerator announces inaugural cohort

future of health care

Five companies have been selected for a brand new accelerator program in Houston. Image via Getty Images

A Houston medical technology organization has announced the inaugural cohort of a new early-stage accelerator.

M1 MedTech, launched this year by Houston-based Proxima Clinical Research, announced its Fall 2022 cohort.

“This initial cohort launches M1 MedTech with an interactive 14-week agenda covering the basics every emerging MedTech business needs to progress from a startup to an established solution in their market,” says Sean Bittner, director of programs at M1 MedTech, in a news release.

The accelerator will equip early-stage startups with storytelling, business plan support, investor connections, FDA guidance, research, and more through one-on-one consultations, workships, and in-kind services.

The first cohort includes five startups, per the release from the company:

  1. Linovasc. Providing a long overdue major update to balloon angioplasty devices in over 50 years, the Linovasc solution offers a safer branch occlusion and aortic stent dilatation using a toroidal balloon that expands the aorta uniformly without the ischemia caused by current treatments. The company is founded by Bruce Addis.
  2. Grapheton. Founded by Sam Kassegne and Bao Nguyen, Grapheton's patented carbon materials work with electrically active devices to improve the longevity and outcome of bioelectric implants in the body. Terry Lingren serves as the CEO of the startup.
    • Rhythio Medical. Founded by Kunal Shah and Savannah Esteve, Rhythio is the first preventative approach to heart arrhythmias.The chief medical officer is Dr. Mehdi Razavi.
      • PONS Technology. An AI cognitive functioning ultrasound device attempting to change the way ultrasound is done, PONS is founded by CEO: Soner Haci and CTO: Ilker Hacihaliloglu.
        • Vivifi Medical. Founded by CEO Tushar Sharma, Vivifi is the first suture-less laparoscopic technology that connects vessels to improve male infertility and benign prostatic hyperplasia. The company's senior R&D engineer is Frida Montoya.

          The program includes support from sponsors and experts from: Proxima Clinical Research, Greenlight Guru, Medrio, Galen Data, Merge Medical Device Studio, Venn Negotiation, Engagement PR & Marketing, Aleberry Creative, and others.

          “This is an amazing opportunity for emerging founders to learn the progression of pipelining their ideas through the FDA and absorb the critical strategies for success early in their business development,” says Isabella Schmitt, principal at M1 MedTech and director of regulatory affairs at Proxima CRO, in the release.

          These three startups walked away from a pitch competition with thousands of dollars in equity-free prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

          3 alumni-founded startups claim cash prizes at Rice University pitch competition

          winner, winner

          Three startups founded by Rice University graduates have won investment prizes at an annual pitch competition.

          The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, or NRLC, welcomed a panel of judges to hear from six alumni-founded startups in the finals last week. The prizes on the line totaled $65,000 in equity-free funding. The event, which is separate from the student version of the competition, is hosted by Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

          The big winner of the 2022 competition was Rhythio Medical, a preventative heart arrhythmias treatment startup. The company won first place, which included $30,000 in equity-free funding, as well as the Audience Choice Award that came with $1,500.

          Taking second place, Synopic, which facilitates faster and more accurate surgical procedures through improved endoscopic vision technology, won $20,000 in equity-free funding. Lastly, Green Room, a platform that streamlines taxes and payments for touring artists, clinched third place and $15,000.

          The event, named for Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures. This year's finalists were selected by judges made up of Rice alumni. Three judges — Danielle Conkling, director at Silicon Valley Bank, Paul Manwell, senior director at Google, and Joanna Nathan, manager of new ventures at Johnson & Johnson — listened to and evaluated each company's five-minute pitch and followed up with questions.

          Rhythio Medical was founded by CEO Kunal Shah, class of 2022, and Savannah Esteve, who also serves as head of product. The technology includes a surgically injected wire that makes an irregular heart work like a healthy one. It works alongside a traditional implantable cardioverter defibrillator, however, the wire but works to prevent arrhythmias, while ICDs treat arrhythmias with a painful shock to the patient’s heart. The company lists the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Texas at Austin as its research partners.

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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.