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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Houston Innovation Awards opens ticket sales as nomination deadline looms

mark your calendar

You can now buy tickets to the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards on November 8 — but the deadline to nominate deserving individuals and companies for the prestigious awards is just a few days away.

Tickets are available online for the awards event taking place at Silver Street Studios, and InnovationMap has a few options to choose from. Individual tickets are on sale for $80, with a special founder price of $40 available. This year, individual tickets will have seating at a first come, first served basis, but attendees are also able to opt into a reserved table of 10 for $1,000. Sponsors, judges, and finalists and their guests will receive complimentary tickets.

The nomination period for the annual awards is coming to a close next week on Tuesday, September 19. Click here to read about this year's awards categories.The process includes submitting nominations on behalf of yourself or others, and next week, nominees will be sent an application that will be due October 4. A panel of judges will review the applications and finalists will be announced and notified ahead of the event.

If you are interested in joining our partners, which include The Ion, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, and more, in sponsoring this event, please reach out to misti@gowmedia.com.

Secure your Houston Innovation Awards tickets now.

Submit a nomination before it's too late!

Cultivating an office culture can prevent loneliness, create connections, says Houston expert

guest column

There’s been a lot of chatter about returning to the office and remote work. No matter which side of the argument you’re on, there are valid points to be made for both views. The pandemic forced organizations to rethink operations, with many employees working remote for the first time. And now, we’re in that habit and many don’t want to change.

But here’s the thing. Isolation creates loneliness and we’re in the middle of a loneliness epidemic. A report released by The U.S. Surgeon General titled “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” found that even before COVID changed the world, about half of the U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness. While technology has allowed for work to continue outside of traditional office walls by dialing in to video conferences from home, there is still a missing link. It’s much harder to build community virtually. We haven’t cracked that code yet.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D – Conn, recently introduced legislation to create a national policy to promote social connection and address the soaring rates of loneliness.

“Loneliness is one of the most serious, misunderstood problems facing America today,” Murphy said in a press statement. “This crisis transcends traditional political boundaries, presenting a chance to bring together right and left around a project to help people find connectedness.”

Whether people realize it or not, we all need to feel seen and understood, and when that happens it creates meaningful connection. That connection in turn leads to strong company Whether people realize it or not, we all need to feel seen and understood, and when that happens it creates meaningful connection. That connection in turn leads to strong company culture and more productive, energizing workdays.

Happiness begins with healthy human relationships and companies are being challenged to balance employee flexibility and workplace interactions. While there is no clear-cut right answer, Birkman International is moving to a four-day, in-office workweek. Employees will cut back from 40 to 32 hours-per-week and those hours will be spent at Birkman’s offices.

With employees once again working under the same roof, there will be opportunities for organic spot meetings, team brainstorms and water cooler chatter. While some might see these as “soft” skills, they are essential for a well-performing workplace.

It’s important to remember that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to balancing employee flexibility with returning to the office. Just like every person has unique needs, every company must figure the best solution for its culture, its productivity and most importantly, its people.

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Amy Shepley serves as president at Birkman International, an industry-leading organizational performance company.

Houston startup with sustainable biotech solutions lands offtake arrangement with United Airlines

ready for takeoff

An innovative Houston company is celebrating a new deal with a global airline.

Cemvita Corp. announced a new offtake arrangement with United Airlines. Cemvita's first full-scale sustainable aviation fuel plant will provide up to 1 billion gallons of SAF to United Airlines. The 20-year contract specifies that Cemvita will supply up to 50 million gallons annually to United.

It's not the first collaboration Cemvita has had with the airline. Last year, United invested in the biotech company, which used the funding to open its Houston pilot plant.

“Since our initial investment last year, Cemvita has made outstanding progress, including opening their new pilot plant – an important step towards producing sustainable aviation fuel,” United Airlines Ventures President Michael Leskinen says in a news release. “United is the global aviation leader in SAF production investment, but we face a real shortage of available fuel and producers. Cemvita’s technology represents a path forward for a potentially significant supply of SAF and it’s our hope that this offtake agreement for up to one billion gallons is just the beginning of our collaboration.”

Founded in Houston in 2017 by brother-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi, Cemvita's biotechnology can mimic the photosynthesis process, turning carbon dioxide into feedstock. The company's SAF plan hopes to increase reliability of existing SAFs and lower impact of fuel creation.

“Biology is capable of truly amazing things,” Moji Karimi, CEO of Cemvita, says in the release. “Our team of passionate, pioneering, and persistent scientists and engineers are on a mission to create sustainable BioSolutions that redefine possibilities.”

“We are thrilled to partner with United Airlines in working towards transforming the aviation industry and accelerating the energy transition,” he continues. “This agreement featuring our unique SAF platform is a major milestone towards demonstrating our journey to full commercialization.”

Earlier this year, United, which was reportedly the first airline to announce its goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, launched its UAV Sustainable Flight FundSM. The fund, which named Cemvita to its inaugural group of portfolio companies, has raised over $200 million, as of this summer.

Moji and Tara Karimi co-founded Cemvita in 2017. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.