The Ion Prototyping Lab is now open and will be powered by TXRX. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Midtown Houston's innovation hub has unveiled its latest building feature and named its operation partner for the space.

The Ion opened its The Ion Prototyping Lab with the announcement that Houston nonprofit TXRX Labs will be the operator of the lab. The IPL’s 6,500 square-foot space will include access to tools — such as laser cutters, CNC mills and lathes, electronics assembly equipment, and 3D printers — as well as programming, training, and support.

“The Houston community’s growing need for these services has led to our growth from a small community organization to a partnership with Houston’s leading center for innovation, The Ion,” says Roland von Kurnatowski, president of TXRX Labs, in a news release. “With our presence at The Ion and in its Prototyping Lab, we are able to join together innovative ideas and technology to create a social and collaborative space to support tomorrow’s entrepreneurs' needs and challenges.”

Founded in 2008 and based in the East End Maker Hub, TXRX Labs provides community-focused engineering and fabrication services and job training programs. The nonprofit's goal is to make Houston a major 21st-century manufacturing hub.

The new space within the 266,000 square-foot innovation hub was designed by Gensler and is "the largest open corporate and startup-aligned prototyping space in Houston," according to the release.

“As part of Gensler’s contributions to the development of The Ion, we strategically designed the Prototyping Lab to function as a dedicated space for innovators and entrepreneurs to collaborate,” says Vincent Flickinger, senior associate and design director of Gensler Houston. “The Ion Prototyping Lab is equipped with tools for prototyping robotics and other energy focused innovations and cultivates an entirely new way of doing business in a reimagined, historic building and with one of Houston’s fastest-growing innovators, TXRX. We look forward to introducing the IPL’s offerings to the public.”

The IPL is the latest opening for The Ion. Last summer, the hub, which is opened and managed by Rice Management Company, opened its coworking space. The next openings to expect are an investor studio and several restaurant concepts, including Late August, The Lymbar, and more. Common Bond On-The-Go, located on the main floor of the Ion, opened this week too.

“With its close proximity to Houston’s Central Business District and The Texas Medical Center, The Ion is thrilled to provide the Houston tech community the Prototyping Lab operated by TXRX as an essential resource for businesses,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. “The Ion serves as a driver and convener of activity, while TXRX's successful model of hands-on training and technological innovation is being leveraged to jumpstart the activity of entrepreneurs, corporations, and researchers. You think it, we make it.”

Members will have daily access to the IPL from 9 am to 5 pm. The cost of the membership has not been announced, but IPL will offer grant opportunities, per the release. All members must first complete a safety and skills training course.

The East End Maker Hub, a public-private endeavor, aims to put Houston on the map for manufacturing. Photo by Natalie Harms

Photos: $38M innovative maker hub space opens in Houston's East End

new to hou

A new 300,000-square-foot innovation and manufacturing hub with a goal of creating 1,000 new companies in the next five years has officially celebrated its grand opening.

The East End Maker Hub — a $38 million public-private partnership — is anchored by TX/RX Labs, a makerspace nonprofit, and located at 6501 Navigation Blvd. So far, 25 companies have signed leasing agreements with the hub that has two of its three phases completed.

"Houston can become the next great manufacturing hub in America," says Roland von Kurnatowski, president at TX/RX Labs. "We can decrease our external reliance and increase our resilience."

The grand opening event, which was held June 3, was attended by makers, EEMH tenants and employees, and some of the local politicians that aided in making the hub a reality with grants, private funding, and more.

The EEMH has officially celebrated its grand opening. Photo by Natalie Harms

"We've always been a city of amazing innovation, whether it's been in energy, medicine, or space exploration," says Mayor Sylvester Turner. "And, we've led the world in whatever we have chosen as the pursuit of our endeavors. One thing about this city is that when we work together, we win."

"The East End Maker Hub provides an opportunity to reclaim our history of innovation and manufacturing and to ensure that the process of innovation is equitable," Turner continues. "It is not saying much to be diverse if you are not inclusive at the same time."

Through TX/RX and other tenants, the EEMH will aim to provide education, workforce development, jobs, and entrepreneurial space to innovators, students, and more.

The mission of the East End Maker Hub is to "drive advanced manufacturing by bringing together the brightest engineers, scientists, manufacturers, and makers to generate innovative advanced manufacturing solutions," according to Patrick Ezzell, president of the Urban Partnerships Community Development Corporation.

Six Houston startups recently announced their moves into the space, and the EEMH tenants represent everything from 3-D printing and unmanned aerial vehicles to vodka distilling and fragrance design.

Take a slideshow tour of the TXRX space below.

TX/RX Labs is the EEMH anchor tenant

Photo by Natalie Harms


A startup and a nonprofit makerspace have rallied to create PPE, or personal protective equipment, for local hospitals. Getty Images

Houston tech community answers the call for medical equipment amid coronavirus-caused shortages

in need of PPE

In the span of one day, the founders of Houston-based Lazarus 3D received calls from emergency room directors and physicians and vice presidents of hospitals explaining a dire need for personal protective equipment — like surgical masks and face shields — for medical professionals in the front lines of the battle against COVID-19.

"We stopped everything we were doing," says Jacques Zaneveld, co-founder of Lazarus, which makes 3D-printed human organs for surgeons to practice on. "We've moved 100 percent of our focus on developing PPE."

Now, Zaneveld with his co-founder, Smriti Agrawal Zaneveld, have manufacturing orders in for 700,000 surgical masks weekly and have designed a non-FDA approved face shield, which they have ordered a few million of. The duo has taken out a short-term loan to front the cost of the medical equipment and are now looking for the right customers to buy these new PPE products. All hospitals and medical professionals in need of supplies can head to Lazarus' website to request more info.

"Our personal feeling has been to do whatever we can do to build as many as possible," Jacques tells InnovationMap. "It's very stressful because I'm borrowing money that we don't have in order to set up these production lines."

On the other side of town, 3D printing nonprofit TXRX has reprogramed 30 of its 3D printers to make PPE. The nonprofit is working Memorial Hermann to quickly prototype and test items made with materials they can get their hands on.

The Center for Disease Control has relaxed some of the requirements for PPE in light of the crisis and shortage, and Roland von Kurnatowski, president at TX/RX Labs, says that has helped speed up their efforts. But, the biggest challenge, he says, has been to quickly get together a design and prototype for Memorial Hermann to give them feedback so that they can then produce the products.

"I think there are a lot of people out there producing devices, but I think the problem is there's not a lot of clarity around materials, quality, and acceptance. People are doing what they can with what they've got," says von Kurnatowski. "Our hope working with Memorial Hermann was to make sure we are devising and testing devices that are functional and appropriate.

TXRX is also relying on Memorial Hermann and others in the medical community to indicate which PPE devices are most needed. Currently, the nonprofit is printing 10,000 face shields for Memorial Hermann, but also has designs for N95 respirators, surgical masks, a positive air pressure respirator (or PAPR), Tyvek suit, and even a portable shield for the intubation process.

Von Kurnatowski says the Houston community can get involved by donating to TXRX's GoFundMe campaign. The 3D printing process is quick and local, but expensive and out of budget for hospitals, so TXRX is taking a loss on its products it is creating. The organization is also looking for people who might have 3D printing materials or experience to volunteer — TXRX has about 20 people working on this but hopes that number ramps up to 60 to 80 people helping out.

Crisis also brings the community together in their time of need — that's what Zaneveld says he sees happening.

"Everyone who is at all involved in the medical space in engineering in Houston is trying to put stuff out," Zaneveld says. "We're sharing information and trying to work together to support each other."

TXRX's new East End Space will allow them to provide prototyping and manufacturing services to more innovators. Courtesy of TXRX

Houston nonprofit makerspace seeking donations as it prepares to move into its new home

Calling for cash

With grants and public funds secured, Houston-based TXRX Labs as one last round of fundraising to acquire before it's ready to head full-speed ahead into its new location.

TXRX launched a $85,000 fundraising campaign to help get the organization where it needs to be before it moves into its 60,000-square-foot space in the East End Maker Hub in spring or summer of next year. The organization, along with its sister nonprofit, Urban Partnership Community Development Corp., has been selected by the city of Houston for an $18 million award and by the federal government for a $5 million innovation grant.

"In the last two weeks, we were getting close to finalizing funding for the building and came up short," says Lauren Caldarera, development director at TXRX. "We wanted to reach out to our membership at TXRX and the broader Houston community to help see if people will help support this unique offering for Houston."

In order to receive those grants, TXRX needs to submit design materials — a process that they budget to cost $325,000. (TXRX has already procured $240,000.) An anonymous donor agreed to match donations, and the organization has until the end of May to raise. Anyone can donate online.

TXRX is focused on bringing back Houston's East End as a manufacturing hub. As manufacturing jobs left the second, third, and fifth wards, it's created a need for skilled labor, middle class jobs, says Roland von Kurnatowski, executive director of TXRX.

"We're looking to bring together innovative companies in the physical innovation space into the East End and creating these middle class jobs," says von Kurnatowski. "It's a modern approach to combating economic inequalities instead of providing handouts."

TXRX is already making a dent in their mission with their smaller space. The organization has over 400 members and incubates 20 or so companies. The new space will allow TXRX to incubate almost twice that amount, work with 75 companies who need prototyping and manufacturing services, and grow their classes and educational offerings.

"Having this space is critical as Houston moves forward in creating an innovation ecosystem," Caldarera says. "We need a space for people to develop their physical prototypes, have engineers and other experts to coach and mentor them, and create more startups and innovators here."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston synthetic biology VC grows team ahead of foundry launch

future of tech

Since launching earlier this year, a Houston-based venture capital firm dedicated to investing in synthetic biology companies has made some big moves.

First Bight Ventures, founded by Veronica Wu, announced its growing team and plans to stand up a foundry and accelerator for its portfolio companies and other synthetic biology startups in Houston. The firm hopes to make Houston an international leader in synthetic biology.

“We have a moment in time where we can make Houston the global epicenter of synthetic biology and the bio economy," Wu says to a group of stakeholders last week at First Bight's Rocketing into the Bioeconomy event. "Whether its energy, semiconductor, space exploration, or winning the World Series — Houstonians lead. It’s in our DNA. While others look to the stars, we launch people into space.”

At First Bight's event, Wu introduced the company's new team members. Angela Wilkins, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute at Rice University, joined First Bight as partner, and Serafina Lalany, former executive director of Houston Exponential, was named entrepreneur in residence. Carlos Estrada, who has held leadership positions within WeWork in Houston, also joins the team as entrepreneur in residence and will oversee the company's foundry and accelerator that will be established to support synthetic biology startups, Wu says.

“First Bight is investing to bring the best and the brightest — and most promising — synthetic biology startups from around the country to Houston," Wu continues.

First Bighthas one seed-staged company announced in its portfolio. San Diego-based Persephone Biosciences was founded in 2017 by synthetic and metabolic engineering pioneers, Stephanie Culler and Steve Van Dien. The company is working on developing microbial products that impact patient and infant health.

Wu, who worked at Apple before the launch of the iPhone and Tesla before Elon Musk was a household name, says she saw what was happening in Houston after her brother moved to town. She first invested in Houston's synthetic biology ecosystem when she contributed to one of Solugen's fundraising rounds. The alternative plastics company is now a unicorn valued at over $1 billion.

“I founded First Bight because of what I see is the next great wave of technology innovation," she says at the event. "I founded it in Houston because the pieces are right here.”

NASA taps Houston companies for revolutionary spacesuit project

gear up

Two startups — including Houston-based Axiom Space — have been tasked with helping NASA gear up for human space exploration at the International Space Station and on the moon as part of a spacesuit deal potentially worth billions of dollars.

NASA recently picked Axiom and Collins Aerospace to help advance spacewalking capabilities in low-earth orbit and on the moon by outfitting astronauts with next-generation spacesuits. While headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, Collins has a significant presence in the Houston Spaceport.

This deal will help support landing the first woman and the first person of color on the moon as part of NASA’s return to our lunar neighbor. The equipment also will help NASA prepare for human missions to Mars.

Under this agreement, NASA, Axiom and Collins “will develop advanced, reliable spacesuits that allow humans to explore the cosmos unlike ever before,” Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, says in a news release. “By partnering with industry, we are efficiently advancing the necessary technology to keep Americans on a path of successful discovery on the International Space Station and as we set our sights on exploring the lunar surface.”

Axiom and Collins were chosen under an umbrella contract known as Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS). The contract carries a potential value of $3.5 billion.

Michael Suffredini, co-founder, president, and CEO of Axiom, says his company’s “innovative approach to xEVAS spacesuits provides NASA with an evolvable design that enables cost-efficient development, testing, training, deployment, and real-time operations to address a variety of EVA needs and operational scenarios for a range of customers, including NASA.”

Axiom’s partners on this project are KBR and Sophic Synergistics, both based in Houston, along with Air-Lock, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development, and A-P-T Research.

NASA says Axiom and Collins will own the spacesuits, and are being encouraged to explore non-NASA commercial applications for data and technology they co-develop with the space agency.

The EVA & Human Surface Mobility Program at the Johnson Space Center is managing the xEVAS contract.

NASA astronauts have needed updated spacesuits for years.

“The decades-old spacesuit designs currently in use on the International Space Station are well past their prime. NASA had been working on new suits and showed off a patriotic prototype of a moonwalking outfit — called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU — back in 2019,” according to CNET.

A 2021 report from NASA’s Office of Inspector General called out delays in developing the spacesuits that would make a proposed 2024 human moon landing unfeasible, CNET says. Now, Axiom and Collins, instead of NASA, will create the spacesuits. Demonstration-ready spacesuits are supposed to be ready in 2025.

The spacesuit deal is the latest in a string of milestones for Axiom.

Axiom recently broke ground on its new headquarters at Houston Spaceport. There, the company will build Axiom Station, the world’s first commercial space station.

Axiom also recently welcomed home the crew of Axiom Mission 1 after their successful completion of the first all-private astronaut mission to the International Space Station. The crew came back to earth in a SpaceX capsule. The company has signed agreements with several countries, including Italy, Hungary, and the United Arab Emirates, for future space missions.

Axiom recently tapped Italian Air Force Col. Walter Villadei as its first international professional astronaut. He currently is being trained in Houston and will serve as a backup on Axiom Mission 2.

Founded in 2016, Axiom employs more than 500 people, most of whom work in Houston. The company expects its workforce to exceed 1,000 employees by 2023.

To date, Axiom has raised $150 million in venture capital.

Houston sportstech-focused lab wraps up inaugural cohort, opens apps for fall

houston innovators podcast episode 141

Houston is having a moment when it comes to sports. Fresh off the announcement of Houston being selected as a FIFA World Cup host in 2026 and just a year away from hosting another NCAA Final Four, the city is also home to a growing sportstech hub.

And one new Houston company, Pokatok, is hoping it can help support the local sports innovation community. Pokatok, which is part of the same business family as InnovationMap and Gow Media, was founded to create momentum in local sportstech activity, Kate Evinger says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Our mission is to help be a partner with all the exciting things happening in Houston — from the startup entrepreneurship side to the things we're seeing in the sports community — to continue to elevate and uplift the voices here in addition to bringing folks in from all over the world to celebrate the human experience in sports and to continue driving innovation in this space," she says on the show.

One of the ways the company is spurring sports innovation is through Pokatok Labs, a scale-up program for seed and series A startups in the sportstech space. Evinger, who leads the program as director, says the inaugural cohort has wrapped up — and the team is already accepting applications for the fall program, which will run September 20 through November 18.

"We are looking for anything and everything under the sun within sportstech — even if you're the founder of a company that may have ties to sports but you're not sure, we're happy to have that conversation," Evinger says. "It could be nutrition, health and wellness, athlete performance, fan engagement, or smart venue."

Evinger shares more about Pokatok Labs and the potential she sees for Houston to continue evolving as a hub for sports innovation on the podcast.

Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.