Three Houston students won at the 2023 Intel AI Global Impact Festival competition. Photo via Intel

Three students from Houston Community College Southwest won the top national prize at the 2023 Intel AI Global Impact Festival competition, HCC announced this month.

Sumesh Surendran, Ruben Treviño, and Muskaan Shahzad won the top spot in the the 18-and-older age group of United States competitors. Their project, “MedINtel: Automated Triage Machine (ATM),” is an ongoing effort for HCC’s AI program.

“Our students have often told me how grateful they are to our faculty and staff for their support and commitment to their success,” Samir Saber, dean of the Digital and Information Technology Center of Excellence, says in a news release.” We’re all proud of bringing home a top award back-to-back from an international competition of this caliber.”

The students' entry involved a kiosk-style version of an ATM to collect data at a patient intake. The kiosk used AI technologies like computer vision, to accelerate and help with patient triage. The festival featured future developers, teachers, policymakers, and emerging technologists sharing innovations and discussions on the impact of artificial intelligence according to the educational partner to HCC’s AI program the Intel Corporation.

“This group of students has demonstrated their exceptional talents on a national and global stage in a rapidly growing field that continues to transform all industry sectors,” HCC Southwest President Madeline Burillo-Hopkins says in the release. “Their innovative project shows why Houston is a city where companies can find the best qualified, competent and creative tech talent.”

HCC’s participation and success in the program is well-documented, as last year during the Intel Global Impact Festival competition, HCC Southwest won top global prize in the 18-and-older age group, and another HCC team took home a national honor.

A team of Houston college students laced in the top 10 percent of 7,800 students at the National Cyber League competition. Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston students place high in national cyber security competition

locking it down

A team from Houston Community College had a strong showing earlier this month at the spring National Cyber League competition.

A team of HCC students placed in the top 10 percent of finishers, according to a statement from the college. More than 7,800 students from 450 universities and colleges across the U.S.competed in the semi-annual competition that tests participants’ skills in identifying hackers from forensic data, penetration testing, auditing vulnerable websites and recovering from ransomware attacks through a series of games.

“Our goal is to empower our students with the knowledge and tools they need to succeed as leaders in information technology, including the fast growing and in-demand areas of cyber security and artificial intelligence,” Dr. Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest College and vice chancellor of workforce, says in a statement. “Again and again, we find that our students perform exceptionally well when compared to those from colleges and universities across the nation.”

Hira Ali, a participant and mother of two who served as vice president of the HCC Cyber Security Club before graduating this year, says the experience pushed her and her teammates to expand their knowledge outside of the classroom.

“It was a great experience for us,” she says in a statement. “It presented us, as teammates, with the opportunity to venture beyond our comfort zones and delve into unfamiliar concepts."

Ali added that she ate almost nothing and slept little for a week because she and her team were "totally immersed in the competition.” She plans to enroll in a four-year online degree program through Dakota State University.

According to Samir Saber, dean of HCC’s Digital, and Information Technology Center of Excellence, there are about 57,878 cyber jobs in Texas alone. HCC also shared that the median salary for security analysts in the Houston area is about $101,000, according to Lightcast, a labor market data analysis firm.

Earlier this month, HCC also announced that it would be rolling out a new innovation 60-hour degree program in the fall. The Smart Building Technology program will train students on the installation of low-voltage controls. Students will receive an Associate of Applied Science degree after completing the program, which is part of HCC Central’s Electrical Technology program in the Architectural Design and Construction Center of Excellence (COE).

In late 2022, HCC and partners also received a $1.8 million grant from JP Morgan Chase to launch a new certificate program to help residents who come from some of Houston’s most underserved and under-resourced neighborhoods find career opportunities in the clean energy, disaster response, utilities, trades and manufacturing fields. Partnering employers included The City of Houston, Harris County and TRIO Electric.

Houston Community College has made a big move to prepare the future of cybersecurity. Photo via Getty Images

Houston college system opens new cybersecurity training facility

future of cyber safety

A center created to train future cybersecurity specialists recently opened at Houston Community College’s West Loop campus.

The center, featuring equipment such as a miniature water plant and a car-hacking workbench, simulates cyberattacks. HCC cybersecurity students will undergo training there. Of the college’s more than 500 cybersecurity students, over 300 are pursuing associate degrees and over 200 are working toward certificates.

“Students who complete an associate degree or certificate in cybersecurity at HCC are landing high-paying jobs right out of the gate such as IT help desk and computer support specialists,” Samir Saber, dean of HCC’s Digital Information and Technology Center of Excellence, says in a news release. “Others go on to become security analysts, security engineers and cybersecurity architects.”

Employers in the U.S. are struggling to fill nearly 715,000 cybersecurity job openings, according to CyberSeek, which tracks supply-and-demand data for the cybersecurity workforce. That number includes more than 83,000 cybersecurity openings in Texas, with nearly 9,300 of those in the Houston area.

In Texas, the annual pay for a cybersecurity worker averages $88,276, according to career platform ZipRecruiter. The national average is $112,974.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the number of people working as an information security analyst (a subset of the cybersecurity workforce) in this country will rise 33 percent from 2020 to 2030. That makes it one of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S. From May 2021 through April 2022, there were 180,000 openings for information security analysts, according to CyberSeek.

“Cybersecurity is national security,” says Madeline Burillo-Hopkins, president of HCC Southwest and vice chancellor of HCC Workforce Instruction. “With the opening of the new center, the college is equipping students with the skills needed not only for their careers but also for making a lasting impact on the nation’s security across industries and organizations.”

A $650,000 state grant financed the new training center, and cybersecurity company Grimm helped install the lab and trained HCC cybersecurity instructors.

In 2017, HCC was designated by the National Security Agency as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense. The new lab will help the college maintain that status for another five years, Saber says.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.