This innovative medical device company has closed $6 million for further product development and clinical trials. Image via Getty Images

A Houston-based medical device company born out of the Texas Medical Center has closed its series A round of funding.

Ictero Medical's oversubscribed $6 million round was led by MedTex Ventures, S3 Ventures, and an undisclosed strategic investor, according to a news release. The company's novel cryoablation system was designed to treat high-risk gallstone disease patients and provide a less invasive and lower risk alternative to gallbladder removal surgery — something over 1 million Americans undergo annually.

“Our technology provides an immediate solution for critically ill patients who currently have no good treatment options, and also has the potential to benefit healthier patients who want to avoid surgery,” says Ictero Co-Founder and CEO Matthew Nojoomi in the release.

Recently, Ictero Medical entered into a partnership with Houston medical device development firm Biotex. The collaboration provides the company with engineering resources and in-house manufacturing tools. Ictero also received capital support from MedTex Ventures through its Biotex Medical Device Fund.

“We are excited about working with the Ictero team to advance its technology, which we believe can significantly improve patient experiences and outcomes by providing a non-surgical alternative to treating gallbladder disease,” says Biotex CEO Ashok Gowda in the release.

The fresh funds will be put toward further product development and initial clinical testing.

“MedTex Ventures is enthusiastic about Ictero’s novel cryoablation technology and its potential to solve the unmet need of inoperable patients with gallbladder disease,” says John Fichthorn, CIO of MedTex Ventures, in the news release. “Equally important is the team. We believe the combination of Ictero and Biotex’s technical capabilities, alongside the support from key investors with commercial experience, such as S3 Ventures, position the company for long term success.”

Ictero was founded as a part of the Texas Medical Center’s Biodesign Fellowship program in 2018. Since launch, the company has received a Phase I NSF grant and closed a $1 million seed round co-led by the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund and Texas HALO Fund.

“Ictero is at the forefront of pioneering cryotherapy for gallstone disease, and S3 Ventures is excited about the potential for Ictero’s novel solution to rapidly bring an impactful outcome to patients,” says Kim Rodriguez, venture partner at S3, in the release. “Our research suggests a substantial opportunity to help patients suffering from gallstone disease who are dependent on drainage catheters or too sick for surgery. We are joining a solid investment syndicate in supporting a very capable team.”

Here are five quick Houston innovation stories — from fundraising to strategic partnerships. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup raises money, Texas VC closes fund, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston innovators had no need to beware the ides of March this year. With all the excitement from SXSW, CERAWeek, and Houston Tech Rodeo this month, there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Houston startups announce new funding and partnerships, while a Texas VC raises its largest fund yet.

Tekmetric closes recent fundraising round

A Houston software company has raised an undisclosed amount of funding. Photo via tekmetric.com

Tekmetric, a cloud-based shop management system for automotive repair shops, announced the close of its growth investment from California-based Susquehanna Growth Equity. The details of the round were not disclosed, but, according to a news release, the fresh funds will go toward growing Tekmetric's engineering and technical teams and expansion across the United States.

Launched three years ago by Prasanth Chilukuri and Sunil Patel, co-founders and co-CEOs, Tekmetric's SaaS solution provides shop owners with digital inspections, integrated payments, and more of their business needs.

“Since our launch in 2016, Tekmetric has always aspired to deliver the greatest possible value to auto repair shop owners who partner with us to run their business,” says Chilukuri in the release. “Susquehanna’s deep industry expertise and support of product-led growth makes the company an ideal partner as we scale our business, boosting our platform’s advanced products and providing the highest caliber of service for our customers.”

The platform provides both convenience and security for its users.

“As a former shop owner myself, I know how difficult it can be to find a system like Tekmetric that shop owners can trust with their business,” says Patel. “At Tekmetric, we strive to build strong relationships with our users to support their business growth. The SGE team has the same mindset, which makes them an ideal partner as Tekmetric continues to grow in the industry.”

The Postage taps new financial planning partner

The Postage has a new strategic partner. Photo courtesy of The Postage

Houston-based legacy and estate planning software platform The Postage has announced a new partnership with Austin-based Whitwell & Co., LLC, an investment management and financial planning firm.

The Postage platform, which will now be available for Whitwell's clients with the new collaboration, range from important information and documents management, estate planning document creation, end-of-life planning, and memory and message storing.

“Whitwell & Co. focuses on supporting their clients through the myriad of choices that arise during planned and unplanned life events and transitions. The Postage fits right into that, and we are thrilled for the opportunity to share our platform with their clients in their planning and organization efforts,” says Emily Cisek, CEO and co-founder of The Postage. “Our hope is to grow awareness of the streamlined digital solutions available and provide Whitwell’s clients the opportunity to create estate planning documents, easily store and safeguard critical information that families will need access at all phases of life. We look forward to providing clients of Whitwell & Co. a comprehensive planning and preparation service that delivers peace of mind to their families.”

The B2B partnership takes effect this month. The Postage, which was founded in 2019, is also closing its crowdfunding campaign on April 4.

“As a company, we are built upon the principles of an innovative approach to investment management and financial planning,” says Stefan Whitwell, CEO at Whitwell & Co. “This partnership is an important approach for us to offer our clients as we progress into the digital age. Having been around families who have had to experience the loss of a loved one, I see the need for a service like The Postage. Too often many are unsure of next steps, where documentation lives, and even last wishes.”

Austin venture capital firm with Houston portfolio companies raised $250M fund

S3 Ventures has fresh funding and eyes for Texas startups. Photo via S3

Billed as the "largest venture capital fund focused on the state of Texas," S3 Ventures's recently announced $250 million Fund VII is focused on investing in Texas startups.

S3 Ventures usually invests $500,000 to $10 million in seed, series A or series B rounds with the capacity to invest more than $20 million throughout the life of a company. The firm has made more than 50 investments since it was founded in 2005 and has more than 25 active portfolio companies and over 20 exits.

“In our first 17 years, we have been fortunate to partner with truly visionary founders who have transformed the way we work, live and heal,” says S3 Managing Director Brian R. Smith in a news release. “We look forward to working with many more in the years ahead.”

The firm has Houston startups in its portfolio: BrainCheck, a provider of interactive cognitive assessment and care planning technology; Saranas, an early bleed detection system; and BuildForce, a construction labor marketplace.

“We believe that by 2030, Texas could be the second-largest technology ecosystem in the country,” Smith said. “That growth is being driven by long-term demographic shifts and broad-based economic strength of not just Austin, but also Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.”

Saranas announces new patent

This Houston medical device company has reached another step in commercialization. Photo courtesy of Saranas

Houston-based early bleed detection medical device company Saranas has been granted a new patent from the Department of Commerce’s United States Patent and Trademark Office. The patent, titled “Access Closure with Bleed Monitoring,” allows for embedding a vascular access closure device with the company’s proprietary bleed monitoring technology.

“As we continue to grow our commercial presence with the Early Bird, we are pleased to secure this important patent that is designed to further expand the implementation of our differentiated bleed monitoring technology,” says Saranas CEO James Reinstein in a news release. “This patent award demonstrates Saranas’ commitment to innovation and further strengthens our intellectual property portfolio.”

At the end of 2021, Saranas announced its first patient in its clinical trials at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey. The trial will eventually enroll up to 265 patients across the U.S.

"We have been using the Early Bird in our clinical practice for the past two years, and the current design of incorporating a fully functional introducer sheath with bleed detection allows for seamless integration into high risk interventional cardiovascular procedures," Dr. Philippe Généreux, interventional cardiologist, says. "Embedding bleed detection directly onto a vascular closure device is the eventual next step and has the potential to become the standard of care across all types of vascular access procedures.”

DECISIO announces new product

DECISIO has a new product on the market. Photo via decisiohealth.com

Houston-based DECISIO has created a suite of customizable clinical decision support tools has announced a new product: EnvisionIQ. The new tool provides templated real-time and customized compliance reports to improve operational efficiency.

EnvisionIQ is a hospital's real-time data and visualization solution enables health systems to benchmark their clinicians, units, and hospitals to accelerate improvements, reduce variation, and expedite data collection for agency reporting requirements.

"Clinical benchmarking tools are essential to enable health systems to quickly identify improvement opportunities that have substantial impact. The addition of EnvisionIQ to our product portfolio allows DECISIO to provide comprehensive surveillance and analytics platforms to benefit hospitals in many capacities," says Paul Sinclair, chief revenue officer at DECISIO, in a news release.

Customers can tap into DECISIO's new product with or without integration with its flagship product, InsightIQTM, which was launched in 2015. The company raised a $13 million series B round in 2019.

BrainCheck has raised its latest round of funding. Photo by Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Houston health tech startup closes $10M series B led by Austin investors

money moves

A Houston-based tech company that's tackling cognitive health diagnoses with its innovative platform has closed its latest round of funding.

BrainCheck, the cognitive health care platform for physicians, announced the closing of its $10 million series B funding led by Austin-based investors, Next Coast Ventures and S3 Ventures. The funding will be used to expand research and development, including developing a digital therapeutic and enhancing go-to-market capabilities.

BrainCheck's digital platform allows physicians to better assess cognitive function in their patients — whether they are elderly dementia patients or suffering from other cognitive ailments. One in nine adults aged 45 and older report subjective cognitive decline, according to a news release, and one in 14 COVID-19 survivors have neurocognitive disorder.

"We are at the forefront of improving access to cognitive assessment and care," says Yael Katz, co-founder and CEO of BrainCheck, in the release. "With early diagnosis comes treatment and intervention. These funds will allow us to accelerate the adoption of our platform and work with clinicians to help more patients live better and safer lives, decrease caregiver frustration, and save health systems trillions of dollars. I believe that BrainCheck can help cognitive care evolve the way cancer care has since the 1970s, when chemotherapy was one-size-fits-all."

Katz co-founded the company with neuroscientist David Eagleman in January of 2015. Now, doctors at over 400 neurology, primary care and geriatrics practices — such as Cleveland Clinic, MD Anderson, and Johns Hopkins — are already using BrainCheck's 10-to-15-minute test, which is covered by Medicare and by most private insurers, to conduct cognitive testing. The FDA Class II Software as a Medical Device (SaMD), which means that physicians can facilitate in-person or even an remote assessment of their patients' cognitive function.

"BrainCheck is a breakthrough platform that has the potential to transform how we diagnose and treat cognitive impairment," says Michael Smerklo, co-founder and managing director of Next Coast Ventures, in the release. "The combination of technical sophistication and ease of use makes BrainCheck a perfect tool for doctors and health systems everywhere. I'm so impressed by what Dr. Katz and her team have achieved to date and am excited to support the team as they continue to innovate and scale."

Other investors included Nueterra Capital, Tensility Ventures, and True Wealth Ventures, as well as UPMC Enterprises and SelectQuote, which joined on as strategic investors.

"BrainCheck shows promise as a cognitive assessment tool that would allow patients to independently complete the test while allowing physicians to spend more time reviewing the results and planning care with patients," says Dr. Adele Towers, director of risk adjustment at UPMC Enterprises and a geriatric medicine specialist at UPMC, in the release.

BrainCheck closed its $8 million series A round in October of 2019, and the company moved into its new office in Upper Kirby following the raise in early 2020. The startup also has an office in Austin.

Buildforce is an app that can connect contractors with construction experts. Photo courtesy of Buildforce

Houston construction tech company raises $4M round

money moves

A locally founded company that's focusing on changing the construction labor game has raised a round of institutional funding.

Buildforce, which splits its headquarters between Houston and Austin, closed its latest round of funding at $4 million. The round was led by Maryland-based TDF Ventures, with participation from existing investor Houston-based Mercury Fund and Austin-based S3 Ventures.

The company uses construction staffing and management software to more efficiently connect contractors to skilled workers across trades — electrical, mechanical, plumbing, flooring, concrete, painting, and more.

"Contractors depend on skilled and reliable tradespeople to meet project timelines," says Moody Heard, co-founder and CEO of Buildforce, in a news release. "Our key insight is that by optimizing the user experience for skilled tradespeople seeking higher pay and job security, we are able to help meet contractors' needs. We're thrilled to have become the partner of choice for the top contractors in our current markets looking to connect with this workforce."

The new funds will support the startup as it scales, grows revenue, develops its product, and more.

"The US has millions of unfilled openings for skilled tradespeople, yet consistent work remains out-of-reach for many construction professionals," says Will Rayner, principal at TDF Ventures, in the release. "Buildforce's exponential growth in 2021 is a testament to the company's ability to connect supply and demand in this difficult labor market at scale."

The company closed an earlier round of funding in April. That round was led by Mercury.

Saranas closed its series B round this week. Photo courtesy of Saranas

Houston-based medical device company snags $12.8M in series B

following the money

A Houston company that's changing the game when it comes to early bleed detection has raised its next round of funding.

Saranas Inc. announced that it closed a $12.8 million series B investment led by Wisconsin-based Baird Capital, the venture capital and global private equity arm of Baird, a global company with a location in Houston. Austin-based S3 Ventures also supported the round.

The company will use the funds to continue its clinical trials, per a news release.

"We are pleased to announce this round of funding led by Baird Capital," says Saranas President and CEO James Reinstein in the release. "It underscores the importance of real-time monitoring of bleeding complications and our opportunity to accelerate the commercialization of Early Bird. We look forward to expanding our clinical evidence through prospective clinical trials and launching next generation products, including Bird on a Wire, to address a much broader range of endovascular procedures."

Saranas received FDA approval for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in 2019, as well as began its clinical trials. The device is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels. Around 20 percent of patients suffer a bleeding complication during endovascular procedures, like transcatheter aortic valve replacement, endovascular aneurysm repair, and percutaneous hemodynamic support. According to the release, the Early Bird remains the first and only device of its kind.

"As the Saranas team will say, 'Bleeding happens, but complications don't have to,'" says Amy Len Kobe, principal with Baird Capital, in the release. "Baird Capital is proud to partner with Saranas to address bleeding complication challenges and provide solutions that improve outcomes and reduce costs for patients, physicians and providers. We are also pleased to invest in Houston, a growing ecosystem of healthcare innovation and a target market for Baird."

Baird has operated an office locally since 1985, and the venture group has a partnership with the Texas Medical Center since 2018.

S3 Ventures also has an established presence in Houston, and health care technology is one of the three verticals the fund focuses on.

"S3 is enthusiastic about Saranas' game-changing medical device advancements," says Brian R. Smith, managing director of S3 Ventures, in the release. "We invest in companies that are re-imagining the way the world works, lives and heals, and we believe Saranas is a perfect representation of this."

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Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.