The four companies will work out of the Ion's coworking space. Rendering courtesy of Common Desk

A new program has tapped four Houston startups and invited them to work out of the Ion surrounded and supported by fellow tech entrepreneurs.

The Ion's Onramp program, launched in July of this year, selects a handful of startups to operate out of the innovation hub's coworking space operated by Common Desk. Patenteer, Sensytec, Bridge Energy Solutions, and Stratos Perception will begin the program in January, according to a release from the Ion.

"These startups were selected due to the strength of their focus on leading digital transformation and leveraging technology to solve challenges that affect numerous industries in Houston," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in the release. "Solving these challenges—which include commercializing research from Houston's academic institutions, developing resilient and robust infrastructure, leading the clean and sustainable energy transition, and propelling future aerospace advancements—is integral to Houston's success."

It's the second round of the program, and these four companies will be joining the first cohort, which includes Roxie Health, SpeakHaus, SUNN, and Justli. While not an accelerator, the eight companies receive up to 18 months of discounted shared desk membership, pitch practice, access to weekly programming, and one-on-one mentorship from Christine Galib, senior director of entrepreneurship and innovation.

"Selected startups in the first and second cohorts not only feature amazing startups but also represent Houston's diversity," says Odegard in the release. "We still have work to do, but we are making strides as we add the startups in the second cohort to the program.

"In the first six months, Cohort One startups have achieved notable accomplishments, including acquiring new clients and driving business development, designing revamped dashboards and prototypes, raising five-figure sums, taking first place at a national pitch competition, and securing selection into DivInc's first Women in Tech Accelerator," he continues.

The program intends to have a new cohort every six months and is looking for startups currently or planning to raise a pre-seed, seed, or series round of funding.

MassChallenge has selected 10 Houston startups to participate in its 2022 United States cohort. Photo courtesy of MassChallenge

MassChallenge names 10 Houston companies to national cohort

class of 2022

Ten Houston companies have been chosen for MassChallenge’s 2022 United States cohort of early-stage startups.

The 10 Houston startups are:

  • BEMY Cosmetics, a maker of skin rejuvenation products based on RNA technology
  • Eisana Corp., whose products are designed to ease the side effects of breast cancer treatment
  • Enrichly, a self-esteem-based e-learning platform and gaming app
  • RE.STATEMENT, an online marketplace for upcycled clothing
  • Roxie Health, a virtual medical assigned geared toward preventing falls by seniors
  • Vivifi Medical, whose laparoscopic technology treats male infertility and prostate gland enlargement
  • Vouchpad, a provider of affordable student loans
  • Equiliberty, an equitable fintech platform focused on creating generational wealth
  • National Police Data, an organization creating an index of Police data in America
  • Cryodesalination, a new low cost desalination process focused on providing access to fresh water

In all, the MassChallenge innovation network selected 250 early-stage startups for this fall’s U.S. accelerator program in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Boston, and Providence, Rhode Island. Participants are eligible for equity-free cash prizes of as much as $1 million. MassChallenge is open to early-stage startups that have raised less than $1 million in equity funding and have generated less than $2 million in revenue over the past 12 months.

“We’re in the business of solving massive challenges, and to do that, we must continue to support diverse founders with bold ideas across geographies, industry verticals, and demographics in creative ways that allow them to wholly own their ideas and solve some of our world’s most pressing problems,” Hope Hopkins, head of acceleration at MassChallenge, says in a news release.

This year’s cohort will have access to MassChallenge’s new residency program, which allows founder teams to travel to MassChallenge’s U.S.-based hubs. The residency program already is underway in Houston and Boston.

In addition, founders will be able to take advantage of a newly created program that enables them to connect with MassChallenge stakeholders.

Last year, MassChallenge named 71 startups to its Houston cohort, and several walked away from the program with cash prizes. Per the nonprofit's website, there isn't a Houston-specific program planned for 2022. MassChallenge has had a presence in Houston since January of 2019 when it announced the Bayou City as a new market.

Note: This article originally identified seven Houston startups. The article has been updated to include the three Houston startups initially omitted.

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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.