Thirteen of the 42 teams participating in RBPC 2024 walked away with investment funding. Photo courteys of Rice University

For the 24th year, the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship hosted its Rice Business Plan Competition, facilitating over $1.5 million in investment and cash prizes to the top teams.

The 42 startups competing this year, which were announced earlier this year and included teams from around the world, participated in the three-day event that culminated in a reception on Saturday, April 6. The companies were divided into five categories: Energy, Cleantech and Sustainability; Hard Tech; Life Sciences and Healthcare Solutions; Digital Enterprise; Consumer Products and Services.

“We award the competitors $1 million in prizes, prizes that serve as foundational capital to launch their startup,” RBPC Director Catherine Santamaria says at the awards gala April 6. “That’s a large number of prizes, but the biggest thing our startups leave with is a feeling of generosity and community from this room. This community is always ready and willing to help our founders and support our vision for the competition by investing time, money and resources in these student innovators.”

While all participating teams received $950 for being selected, several teams walked away with thousands in funding, cash, and in-kind prizes. Here's which companies won big.

MesaQuantum, Harvard University — $335,000​

MesaQuantum is developing accurate and precise chip-scale clocks. While not named a finalist, the company secured the most amount of funding across a few prizes:

  • $250,000 OWL Investment Prizes
  • $60,000 nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize
  • $25,000 Jacobs, Intuitive Machines and WRX Companies Rising Stars Space Technology and Commercial Aerospace Cash Prize

Protein Pints, Michigan State University — $251,000

The big winner of the night was Protein Pints, a high-protein, low-sugar, ice cream product from Michigan State University. Not only did the company win first place and the $150,000 GOOSE Capital Investment Grand Prize, as decided by the more than 350 judges, but it won a few other investment prizes, including:

  • $100,000 The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) Texas Angels Investment Prize — Protein Pints, Michigan State University
  • The Eagle Investors Prize
  • $1,000 Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize
  • Mercury Elevator Pitch Competition Prize (Best in Consumer Products)
  • An invitation to Entrepreneur Magazine's elevator pitch show

Osphim, RWTH Aachen University —$201,000

Osphim, a data acquisition and monitoring platform from Germany, won these prizes despite not being named a finalist:

  • $200,000 Goose Capital Investment Prize
  • $1,000 Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize
  • Mercury Elevator Pitch Competition Prize (Best in Digital)

Somnair, Johns Hopkins University — $200,000

Taking second place and a $100,000 from David Anderson, Jon Finger, Anderson Family Fund, Finger Interests, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce was Somnair is a novel non-invasive neurostimulation device for the treatment of obstructive sleep apnea. The company also won:

  • $100,000 Houston Angel Network Investment Prize
  • Mercury Elevator Pitch Competition Prize (Best in Life Science)
  • An invitation to Texas Medical Center's Accelerator Bootcamp
  • An invitation to Entrepreneur Magazine's elevator pitch show

Icorium Engineering Company, University of Kansas — $171,000

Icorium Engineering Company — a chemical engineering startup developing technologies to make sustainable, circular economies a reality for refrigerants and other complex chemical mixtures — won fifth place and a $5,000 prize sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright, EY, Chevron Technology Ventures and Shell Ventures, as well as:

  • $100,000 OWL Investment Prizes
  • $40,000 nCourage Courageous Women Entrepreneur Investment Prize
  • $25,000 from Finger Interests, the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce
  • $1,000 Anbarci Family Company Showcase Prize
  • Mercury Elevator Pitch Competition Prize (Best in Energy, Sustainability)
  • An invitation to Entrepreneur Magazine's elevator pitch show

Informuta, Tulane University — $70,000

Informuta's proprietary technology leverages DNA sequencing to predict if bacteria will respond to different antibiotics or, for the very first time, develop future resistance thus causing treatment failure. The company won fourth place and a $5,000 prize sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright, EY, Chevron Technology Ventures and Shell Ventures.

  • $40,000 Pearland EDC Spirit of Entrepreneurship Cash Prize
  • $25,000 from Finger Interests, the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce

EndoShunt Medical, Harvard University — $55,000

EndoShunt created a rapid, targeted blood flow control device to be use in emergency or trauma settings. The company won sixth place and the $5,000 prize, sponsored by Norton Rose Fulbright, EY, Chevron Technology Ventures and Shell Ventures, as well as:

  • $25,000 Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium Pediatric Device Cash Prize
  • $25,000 from Finger Interests, the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce

Power2Polymers, RWTH Aachen University —$50,000

Tackling the challenge of forever chemicals, Power2Polymers is creating safe alternatives free of forever chemicals. The German company took third place and the $50,000 investment sponsored by Finger Interests, the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce. The company also won the Mercury Elevator Pitch Competition Prize (Best Overall).

D.Sole, Carnegie Mellon University — $30,000

D. Sole won the wild card ticket to the finals and took seventh place. The company is advancing the development of remote patient monitoring in podiatry with foot insoles designed for the early detection and monitoring of diabetic foot complications, such as ulcers and deformities. They also won $30,000 from Finger Interests, the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation, Greg Novak and Tracy Druce.

Other prizes:

  • $25,000 New Climate Ventures Sustainable Investment Prize went to Oxylus Energy from Yale University
  • $25,000 Dream Big Ventures Latino Entrepreneur Investment Prize went to Dendritic Health AI from Northwestern University
  • $25,000 NOV Energy Technology Innovation Cash Prize went to LiQuidium from the University of Houston
  • $25,000 Urban Capital Network Diversity Investment Prize in Partnership with South Loop Venture Investment Prize went to TouchStone from University of California, Berkeley

Brad Burke has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures within Rice University's Office of Innovation. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Houston innovation leader named to new role to drive strategy, programming

supporting innovators

A longtime Houston innovation leader has added a new title to his role at Rice University.

Brad Burke, who has served as executive director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship for 20 years, has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures, the university announced this week. He will take on this new role within the Office of Innovation, as well as continue leading the Rice Alliance.

Rice's Office of Innovation, which was established in 2022 with the appointment of Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President for Innovation Paul Cherukuri, exists to support new and innovative initiatives and technologies from the Rice community with mentorship, funding, pilots, and more.

“The Rice Alliance has played a key role over the past two decades in building Rice’s reputation as a leading institution for innovation and entrepreneurship,” Cherukuri says in a news release. “We are thrilled to have Brad Burke join the Office of Innovation to support our faculty and students in commercializing their inventions.”

Burke has played a major role in the collaboration of Houston for the past 20 years leading the Rice Alliance, which coordinates many event programs and accelerators — including the Rice Business Plan Competition, energy and life science forums, the Clean Energy Accelerator, Owl Spark, Blue Launch, and more.

Last year, Burke received the Outstanding Contributions to Advancing Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education Award at the 2023 Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education. He also accepted the 2023 Trailblazer Award at the Houston Innovation Awards.

Last fall, Rice University's Office of Innovation established the One Small Step Grant — named for Neil Armstrong's first words spoken from Tranquility Base just several years after JFK's speech at Rice. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.

The Office of Innovation also grew its team last August with the appointment of Houston materials scientist-turned-entrepreneur Adrian Trömel as its new assistant vice president for strategy and investments.

In 2022, Brad Burke joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the work he and his team do at Rice Alliance.


This year, seven of the 10 most-promising life science companies are based in Houston. Photo courtesy of Rice Alliance

Houston startups dominate ‘most-promising’ companies announcement at annual event

on the list

Rice University played host this week to the 12th annual Texas Life Science Forum, where life science leaders and startup founders could network, learn and present pitches on their solutions to a wide array of health-related issues.

Hosted by Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and BioHouston on November 7, the event brought together more than 600 attendees for a series of keynote speakers and panels. This year, 45 early-stage therapeutic, diagnostic, medical device and digital health companies—many of which are based in Houston—also pitched their concepts.

Fort Worth-based AyuVis Research walked away from the event with the two top recognitions: The Michael E. DeBakey Memorial Life Science Award and the People's Choice Award. The company, which has developed a small molecule immunotherapy targeting bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD) in preterm neonates and other respiratory disorders. The company is raising a $20 million Series A round to support its clinical development and is slated to pitch at IGNITE Health’s Fire Pitch 2023 today, November 9, at the Ion.

Each year the Rice Alliance and BioHouston also name its 10 most promising life science companies, selected by investors—seven out of 10 of which are based in Houston. This year's selection included the following companies, in alphabetical order:

  • 7 Hills Pharma: This Houston-based clinical stage immunotherapy company has developed the concept of allosteric activation of integrins to facilitate cell adhesion and promote immune responses. The concept has uses in preventing infection and cancer, and increasing the effectiveness of oncology drugs and infectious disease vaccines.
  • Bairitone Health: This Houston-based company is building a scalable diagnostic system for sleep apnea anatomy utilizing home-use wearable, passive Sonar technology and AI techniques.
  • Diakonos Oncology: Also based in Houston, Diakonos' Dendritic Cell Vaccine was awarded the FDA’s Fast Track designation. The clinical-stage biotech company's immunotherapies have shown early successes for hard-to-reach, aggressive cancers like Glioblastoma Multiforme.
  • Mongoose Bio: With more than 20 years of research, Mongoose specializes in T cell-based therapies for diverse solid tumors TCR-based therapies in cancer patients. The Houston-based company has developed an immunopeptidome discovery platform for TCR-based therapies in cancer patients.
  • Nandi Life Sciences: Nandi is developing antibodies for Avastin-resistant ovarian cancer, with
  • further application in breast, colorectal and lung cancer. The company is based out of Texas Medical Center Innovation.
  • NKILT Therapeutics: This Houston-based company's seed-stage cell therapy has applications in solid tumors, such as colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, clear cell renal carcinoma, endometrial
  • cancer and more. It is developing a novel and proprietary Chimeric ILT-Receptor.
  • NuVision Biotherapies: Based in the United Kingdom, NuVision has developed and proven a treatment for dry eye disease. It's known for its Omnigen and OmniLenz products and is raising a series A to scale, take the business to profitability and exit.
  • Panakeia Technologies: Also based in the UK, Panakeia has developed an AI-based software that can provide multi-omic biomarkers in minutes. Currently this process takes days or weeks. It's RuO platform can identify 4,500 known multi-omics cancer markers.
  • Taurus Vascular: A recent spin-out of the Texas Medical Center Innovation Biodesign program, Taurus is developing a novel, catheter-based solution for treating endoleaks, which can be related to aortic aneurysms.
  • YAP Therapeutics: The only California-based company to make the cut, this preclinical-stage biotech develops genetic medicines that leverage the company’s tissue renewal and regeneration platform to reverse and cure severe diseases, including heart failure, pulmonary diseases, retinal degeneration and hearing loss.

Last year, Bairitone Health took home the DeBakey and People's Choice awards.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Houston Innovation Awards winners revealed at 2023 event

drum roll, please...

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you.

The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger.

The 2023 judges — who represent various industries and verticals in Houston — scored over 200 submissions. The event, hosted November 8 in partnership with Houston Exponential and emceed by Scott Gale, executive director of Halliburton Labs, revealed the winners.

The event's sponsors included Halliburton Labs, Microsoft, The Ion, Houston Community College, Houston Energy Transition Initiative, NOV, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky, 8th Wonder Brewery, and 8th Wonder Cannabis.

Without further adieu, here the winners from the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

BIPOC-Owned Business: Milkify

The winner of the BIPOC-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by BIPOC representation, is Milkify, a service that turns breast milk into a shelf-stable powder.

Female-Owned Business: The Postage

The winner of the Female-Owned Business category, honoring an innovative company founded or co-founded by a woman, is The Postage, a comprehensive life planning and succession software platform for families and small businesses.

Hardtech Business: Syzygy Plasmonics

The winner of the Hardtech Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and commercializing a physical technology, is Syzygy Plasmonics, a deep decarbonization company that builds chemical reactors designed to use light instead of combustion to produce valuable chemicals like hydrogen and sustainable fuels.

Digital Solutions Business: RepeatMD

The winner of the Digital Solutions Business category, honoring an innovative company developing and programming a digital solution to a problem in an industry, is RepeatMD, software platform for customer loyalty, eCommerce, and fintech solutions to enhance the patient experience and provide a new source of revenue for the aesthetics and wellness space.

Social Impact Business: ALLY Energy

The winner of the Social Impact Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution that would enhance humanity or society in a significant way, is ALLY Energy, helping energy companies and climate startups find, develop, and retain great talent.

Sustainability Business: Fervo Energy

The winner of the Sustainability Business category, honoring an innovative company providing a solution within renewables, climatetech, clean energy, alternative materials, circular economy, and beyond, is Fervo Energy, leveraging proven oil and gas drilling technology to deliver 24/7 carbon-free geothermal energy.

Life Science Business: CellChorus

The winner of the Life Science Business category, honoring an innovative company within the health and medical industries designing a treatment or technology, is CellChorus, using AI to evaluate immune cell function and performance to improve the development and delivery of therapeutics.

Corporate of the Year: Houston Methodist

The winner of the Corporate of the Year category, honoring a corporation that supports startups and/or the Houston innovation community, Houston Methodist, a hospital system and health care innovation leader.

DEI Champion: Calicia Johnson

The winner of the DEI Champion, honoring an individual who is leading impactful diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and progress within Houston and their organization, is Calicia Johnson, chair of Blacks at Microsoft Houston.

Ecosystem Builder: Joey Sanchez

The winner of the Ecosystem Builder category, honoring an individual who has acted as a leader in developing Houston’s startup ecosystem, is Joey Sanchez, founder of Cup of Joey and senior director of ecosystems at the Ion.

Mentor of the Year: Wade Pinder

The winner of the Mentor of the Year category, honoring an individual who dedicates their time and expertise to guide and support to budding entrepreneurs, is Wade Pinder, founder of Product Houston.

People's Choice: 

The winner of the People's Choice: Startup of the Year category, selected via an interactive voting portal during the event, is Blue People, helping bring ideas to life through software development expertise.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Kelsey Hultberg of Sunnova, Brad Burke of Rice Alliance, and Yaxin Wang of the Texas Heart Institute. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health care to energy tech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Kelsey Hultberg, executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability of Sunnova Energy International

Kelsey Hultberg, executive vice president of corporate communications and sustainability at Sunnova Energy, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Sunnova

Several years ago, Kelsey Hultberg decided to make a pivot. Looking for a role with career growth opportunities, the communications professional thought she'd find something at an oil and gas company, but then she met John Berger, founder and CEO of Sunnova, who was looking for someone to stand up their communications team amidst the solar energy company's growth.

"He hooked me," Hultberg shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "He said, 'I've got big plans for this company. I see where this energy industry is going, I see that we're prime for a transition, and I want to take this company public.' And I started a few weeks later."

Hultberg has been telling the story for Sunnova — which equips customers with solar and storage technology, providing them with energy independence — ever since, through scaling, new technologies, and its IPO in 2019. Read more.

Houston Innovation Awards names longtime Rice leader as 2023 Trailblazer

Brad Burke has been named the 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient. Photo via alliance.rice.edu

In less than a month, all of Houston's innovation community's movers and shakers will gather to celebrate the Houston Innovation Awards, and the night's first honoree has officially been named.

Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was selected to receive the 2023 Trailblazer Award. The award was established to recognize an individual who has already left a profound impact on Houston's business and innovation ecosystem and is dedicated to continuing to support Houston and its entrepreneurs.

The award, which is selected from a group of internal and external nominations, was decided by a vote of the 2023 awards judges, who represent Houston's business, investment, and entrepreneurial community across industries. Read more.

Yaxin Wang leads the IDEA Lab at the Texas Heart Institute. Photo via texasheart.org

Meet Yaxin Wang, PhD. The research engineer leads the IDEA Lab at the Texas Heart Institute. IDEA stands for Innovative Device & Engineering Applications, an apt description of what Wang and her colleagues do. She’s currently focused intensely on projects that could radically change transplantation for patients in need of an artificial heart or new, healthy lungs.

Specifically, Wang is helping to develop a pediatric left ventricular assist device (NeoVAD) to mechanically pump that part of the heart in infants and small children born with heart defects.

“There aren’t a lot of options for very small kids,” explains Wang. “That’s why we’re working on an implantable LVAD for very young kids.” Read more.

Here's what energy transition companies stood out to Rice Alliance's experts. Photo via Rice Alliance

10 startups named most-promising in energy tech at Houston conference

rising stars

At the 20th annual Energy Tech Venture Forum presented by Rice Alliance for technology and Entrepreneurship, 11 startups scored recognition from the event's investors who evaluated over 90 early-stage energy transition companies.

"The selection process was both exhilarating and challenging given the incredible ideas we've seen today," says Jason Sidhu, director of information services business engagement at TC Energy, who announced the top companies. "I want to extend my gratitude to every company that participate din this year's Energy Tech Venture Forum. Your commitment to solving energy problems and pursuing ambitions ideas is truly commendable."

In addition to the top 10 most-promising companies, the event's attendees decided the people's choice pick out of the 50 or so pitching companies. The winner of that recognition was Calgary, Alberta-based Galatea Technologies, which has created a tech platform to enhance workflows for operational, financial, and environmental performance.

The top companies, according to the Rice Alliance experts and investors, were:

  • Circular economy startup, Polystyvert. Based in Montreal, the company has created a unique dissolution recycling process that creates a material that can contribute to cutting carbon emissions by up to 90 percent.
  • United Kingdom-based Mirico provides a tracking technology to its customers to measure climate gases (like methane, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and ammonia), across areas up to half a square mile and in all conditions.
  • Protein Evolution, from New Haven, Connecticut, taps into a combination of green chemistry and enzyme technology to break down synthetic polymers.
  • Another Canadian company, Ayrton Energy, based in Calgary, created a liquid organic H2 carrier (LOHC) storage technology presents an opportunity for large, scalable and efficient transport of H2 over long distances.
  • Also representing New Haven, Connecticut, Carbon Loop is on a mission to make carbon capture and conversion scalable through carbon dioxide electrolysis using a proprietary catalyst to convert captured carbon dioxide into methanol.d
  • Based in London, Mobilus Labs has designed a new way for frontline communication with an in-helmet hardware and software solution. software solution designed for the frontline workforce.
  • 1s1 Energy, based in California, is working on producing low-cost green hydrogen by creating new materials to unlock unprecedented electrolyzer efficiency, durability, and more.
  • From Skokie, Illinois, Numat is specializing in solutions within Metal-organic framework (MOF) research to enhance the process of separating the hazardous chemicals negatively impacting human health and the environment.
  • Mantel, headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a molten borate technology to capture CO2 in a new and efficient way.
  • The lone Houston-based company, Mars Materials is working to produce acrylonitrile using CO2 and biomass to enable decarbonization applications in carbon fiber and wastewater treatment.
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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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Troubled Texans are the 10th most stressed out people in America, report finds

new report

There is a plethora of reasons to be stressed out in 2024. Among the list of grievances are budgeting woes, lapses in addressing racial inequity, a significant amount of drunk driving, and prohibitively high healthcare costs.

So it comes as no surprise that Texas was ranked the No. 10 most stressed state of 2024, according to the latest annual report from WalletHub. Texans' stress levels are only slightly better than they were in 2023, when the Lone Star State ranked No. 9.

The personal finance website compared all 50 states across 40 unique metrics to determine every state’s worries on certain issues, such as employment, finance, health, or family-related stress.

Here's how Texas performed in the major categories in the study:

  • No. 5 – Work-related stress
  • No. 8 – Family-related stress
  • No. 11 – Health- and safety-related stress
  • No. 23 – Money-related stress

Texas employees have the second-longest workweek in the nation, the report found, placing the state right behind Alaska and tied with Wyoming. Places like Houston, Corpus Christi, and San Antonio are a few of the most stressful U.S. cities for workers in 2024 (with several other Texas cities not far behind), clearly showing that there's much more work to be done to alleviate Texans' work-related stress.

Hardships with work may have an influence on Texans' ability to rest at night, as the report additionally found Texas fell behind into No. 23 for its share of adults that get adequate sleep.

Other Texas-sized stress factors like crime rates, housing affordability, health troubles, and poverty rates also put a damper on residents' well-beings. Texans have the fourth lowest credit scores in the nation, the ninth highest share of adults with fair or poor health, and the 11th highest number of residents living in poverty.

It's not just young and middle-aged adults who experience these worries, the report claimed.

"[E]very age group except people 65 and older reported being under more stress in 2023 than they were in 2019 before the pandemic," the report's author wrote.

WalletHub analyst Cassandra Happe suggested a few ways frazzled Texans can try to improve their stress levels, such as exercising, participating in hobbies, going on vacations — of course, in whatever capacity that is most accessible — and seeking help from a mental health professional.

"What many people don’t realize, though, is that changing location can also be a big stress reducer," Happe added. "For example, states that have lower crime rates, better health care, and better economies tend to have much less stressed residents."

Texans surely aren't envious of Louisiana, which traded places with Mississippi (No. 2) in 2024 to become the nation's No. 1 most stressed out state. Louisiana residents experience the third highest work- and health-and-safety-related stress, the fourth highest money-related stress, and the 10th highest family-related stress. Louisianans may want to try some breathing exercises in their spare time.

Texas residents can, however, be filled with jealousy over Minnesota (No. 50), which was crowned the least stressed out city in America. Maybe that's where Texans need to be taking vacations.

The overall top 10 most stressed states are:

  • No. 1 – Louisiana
  • No. 2 – Mississippi
  • No. 3 – Nevada
  • No. 4 – New Mexico
  • No. 5 – Arkansas
  • No. 6 – West Virginia
  • No. 7 – Alabama
  • No. 8 – Kentucky
  • No. 9 – Oklahoma
  • No. 10 – Texas
The full report and its methodology can be found on wallethub.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.


Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Mercury, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption." Read more.


Yaxin Wang, director of the Texas Heart Institute's Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. Photo via texasheart.org

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect. Read more.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary also serves as CEO and president of Allterum Therapeutics. Photo via LinkedIn

Allterum Therapeutics, a Houston biopharmaceutical company, has been awarded a $12 million product development grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

The funds will support the clinical evaluation of a therapeutic antibody that targets acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers.

However, CEO and President Atul Varadhachary, who's also the managing director of Fannin Innovation, tells InnovationMap, “Our mission has grown much beyond ALL.” Read more.

Houston organizations launch collaborative center to boost cancer outcomes

new to HOU

Rice University's new Synthesis X Center officially launched last month to bring together experts in cancer care and chemistry.

The center was born out of what started about seven years ago as informal meetings between Rice chemist Han Xiao's research group and others from the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Baylor College of Medicine. The level of collaboration between the two teams has grown significantly over the years, and monthly meetings now draw about 100 participants from across disciplines, fields and Houston-based organizations, according to a statement from Rice.

Researchers at the new SynthX Center will aim to turn fundamental research into clinical applications and make precision adjustments to drug properties and molecules. It will focus on improving cancer outcomes by looking at an array of factors, including prevention and detection, immunotherapies, the use of artificial intelligence to speed drug discovery and development, and several other topics.

"At Rice, we are strong on the fundamental side of research in organic chemistry, chemical biology, bioengineering and nanomaterials,” Xiao says in the statement. “Starting at the laboratory bench, we can synthesize therapeutic molecules and proteins with atom-level precision, offering immense potential for real-world applications at the bedside ... But the clinicians and fundamental researchers don’t have a lot of time to talk and to exchange ideas, so SynthX wants to serve as the bridge and help make these connections.”

SynthX plans to issue its first merit-based seed grants to teams with representatives from Baylor and Rice this month.

With this recognition from Rice, the teams from Xiao's lab and the TMC will also be able to expand and formalize their programs. They will build upon annual retreats, in which investigators can share unpublished findings, and also plan to host a national conference, the first slated for this fall titled "Synthetic Innovations Towards a Cure for Cancer.”

“I am confident that the SynthX Center will be a great resource for both students and faculty who seek to translate discoveries from fundamental chemical research into medical applications that improve people’s lives,” Thomas Killian, dean of the Wiess School of Natural Sciences, says in the release.

Rice announced that it had invested in four other research centers along with SynthX last month. The other centers include the Center for Coastal Futures and Adaptive Resilience, the Center for Environmental Studies, the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies and the Rice Center for Nanoscale Imaging Sciences.

Earlier this year, Rice also announced its first-ever recipients of its One Small Step Grant program, funded by its Office of Innovation. The program will provide funding to faculty working on "promising projects with commercial potential," according to the website.