Rice University is in the process of restructuring operations at the Ion. Photo courtesy of the Ion

Rice University is leaning in on the Ion by restructuring the innovation hub's team and increasing the university's presence at the hub.

Paul Cherukuri, vice president for innovation, tells InnovationMap that the changes being made at the Ion — Rice's Midtown innovation hub — are a reflection of Rice President Reginald DesRoches's vision for the hub and for the university as a leader of innovation.

"We're embracing the community even further by what we've done with this restructuring," Cherukuri says. "The restructuring is really a result of Reggie's vision of us wanting to move forward with helping the community to grow innovation across Houston, throughout Texas, if not the world."

He adds that the university is "putting resources from Rice Alliance and amping up what's happening at the Ion."

Earlier this month, Rice announced that Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has been named associate vice president for industry and new ventures reporting to Cherukuri's Office of Innovation.

Cherukuri confirms that the Rice Alliance will take over programming at the Ion, and that he too will have an increased presence at the hub. The restructuring includes elimination of positions at the Ion; however, Rice declined to comment on matters of personnel.

"We have members of the Ion staff who are going to be integrated to the Rice Alliance," Cherukuri says. "The direction of this is really so that we can no longer stay behind the hedges and do more for the Houston community."

Cherukuri says the university has already made a concerted effort on this, and soon will deliver on the Rice Nexus, a hub within the Ion for showcasing and connecting Rice innovation. Additionally, Rice announced last month that it's partnering with Woodside Energy, which committed $12.5 million over the next five years to create the Woodside Rice Decarbonization Accelerator.

Last year, Cherukuri joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to expound upon his vision for the Ion in his role as the inaugural vice president for innovation, which he was named to in 2022.


In his new role, Adrian Trömel will oversee the creation of the Rice Nexus, an innovation hub within the Ion that aims to bridge the gap between the university and Houston's innovation ecosystem. Photo courtesy of Rice

University names Houston founder to leadership role to oversee new innovation hub

next up for the rice nexus

Rice University’s Office of Innovation has named Houston materials scientist-turned-entrepreneur Adrian Trömel as its new assistant vice president for strategy and investments.

Trömel founded non-invasive neurostimulation medical device company CNX Medical at the Texas Medical Innovation Institute in 2019 and most recently served as chief growth officer for Hamilton Health Box, which brings an on-site care team to company offices.

In his new role, Trömel will oversee the creation of the Rice Nexus, an innovation hub within the Ion that aims to bridge the gap between the university and Houston's innovation ecosystem. He will also lead the creation of a translational research grant fund and a university-affiliated venture fund for Rice-affiliated entrepreneurs, according to the release.

“Adrian brings a broad, multidisciplinary background to the team at the Office of Innovation,” Paul Cherukuri, chief innovation officer at Rice, says in a statement. “As a materials scientist and entrepreneur, his experience can be brought to bear to help faculty and students spin out new technologies and start new ventures.”

Trömel holds a bachelor’s and master’s in materials sciences from the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Netherlands and an MBA from Rice. He is also an angel investor and a lead lecturer for Rice's New Enterprise MBA ELab.

In addition to his professional work, he serves as the foreign trade advisor to the Ministry of Economy of Luxembourg.

Rice has been building up its Office of Innovation in the last few years. In August 2022, the university named Cherukuri as the inaugural vice president for innovation. According to Rice President Reginald DesRoches, the Office of Innovation and the Cherukuri's position were created to ensure Rice is a leader within Houston and the global innovation ecosystem.

This past March, Cherukuri announced plans to develop the Rice Nexus.

"We've got so much technology in our labs that we've never shared with the world," he said at the time. "We're going to demonstrate that in the Ion."

Click here to listen to a full interview with Cherukuri about thought leadership in Houston, Rice University, and the challenges of advancing research and technology to address society's greatest needs on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Rice University announced a new partnership between two tech companies to allow for the community to have access to prototyping tools. Photo via Rice

Rice University taps 2 partners to increase access to prototyping technology

3d printing upgrade

A Houston university has entered into partnerships with two businesses to provide on-site prototyping and additive manufacturing services and equipment.

Rice University’s Office of Innovation announced its partnerships with Redwood City, California-based Carbon and Austin, Texas-based manufacturer TyRex Group today. The arrangement includes making additive manufacturing equipment, prototyping, and design facilities and services available on campus.

“Collaboration is the fastest way to get technology out of the lab and into the real world,” says Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice, in a news release, adding that 3D printing "allows you to create things you couldn't otherwise make, and it lets you go very quickly from an idea to a prototype and downstream to a product.”

Carbon's platform — which includes end-use materials, software, and 3D printers — allows users to rapidly design and develop products quickly. At the same time, TyRex’s expertise with manufacturing complements Carbon's technology. Together, the two entities provide the support for turning “proof-of-principle” ideas into viable prototypes.

Cherukuri has first-hand experience with these two businesses, per the release. In 2021, he pitched an idea for 3D-printable smart helmets to the Office of Naval Research. The Rice Smart Helmet reimagines a military helmet that has both protective equipment and a wearable technology platform. The Navy's funding allowed Cherukuri to purchase "two of Carbon’s industrial-grade 3D printers, an M2 model that was installed at Rice for smaller prints and a top-of-the-line, large-format L1 that was installed at TyRex’s Austin facility almost 170 miles from the Rice campus," reads the release.

Cherukuri says the technology allowed the project to “go seamlessly from idea to production,” and he wants to replicate that experience for other labs at Rice. “If I design on the L1, I can hit print and print 1,000 of them, and that is a capability we did not have before,” Cherukuri says in the release.

The technology will be available at the Rice Nexus, based in the Ion and expected to open this summer. Cherukuri recently shared more details on and the potential of the hub on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We've got so much technology in our labs that we've never shared with the world," Cherukuri says. "We're going to demonstrate that in the Ion."

The Rice Smart Helmet is an example of the work that can be done through this 3D printing partnership. Photo via Rice.edu

Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice University, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via Rice.edu

This Houston innovator is set on bringing more innovation off campus and into the world

houston innovators podcast episode 180

Rice University was founded on a mission of an "unfettered pursuit of knowledge," says Paul Cherukuri, the inaugural vice president for innovation at Rice University. And that goal is specifically designed to be "for the greater good of society," — especially in Houston.

"Rice is right in the middle of one of the greatest cities in the world," Cherukuri says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Houston is special on so many levels that it's ridiculous that no one outside of Houston seems to get that. ... We have a moral responsibility as Rice to do more for this city and the country."

Among the top action items on this overarching mission Rice is on is ensuring that the Rice University's inventions and research that have the potential to make the world a better place are able to commercialize to deliver on that impact.

For decades, university research that made it out into the world did so in two ways: papers and patents. While those two avenues are reliable and on going, they take a while. And, as Cherukuri says, the world needs innovative solutions quicker than ever. Cherukuri is focused on expanding those pathways so that more of this innovation — which he describes as invention and commercialization — to come to fruition.

One of the ways Cherukuri is hoping Rice innovators get "beyond the hedges" of the university, as he describes it, is through the Rice Nexus, a hub within the Ion that Cherukuri announced last month. He says Rice is leasing space in the hub, which is owned and operated by Rice Management Company.

"It's a two-way street," Cherukuri says. "We're going to solve problems out in the real world and get those solutions to scale, and we'll be able to find new problems in the real world and bring them inside of Rice and create that new tech. We want to be able to make solutions."

The idea is to create a bridge between the university and the Ion so that more innovation and research can be shared between the campus and Houston's innovation ecosystem.

"We've got so much technology in our labs that we've never shared with the world," Cherukuri says. "We're going to demonstrate that in the Ion."

Also important to Cherukuri is that other universities have a seat at the table, too.

"The Ion represents this catalyst — it's an aggregator and concentrator of excellence for around the city," Cherukuri says. "We're designing the place so that we can connect to the world better."

Hear more of Cherukuri's thought leadership on Houston, Rice University, and the challenges of advancing research and technology to address society's greatest needs on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.