In honor of Labor Day, here are three Houston innovators who probably aren't taking the day off. Courtesy photos

It may be Labor Day, but some of the hardest working Houston innovators are probably still checking their email on their phones from the pool.

Here are this week's innovators to know around town.

Marie Myers, CFO of UiPath

Marie Myers is the CFO of UiPath. Courtesy of UiPath

Marie Myers is a self-proclaimed Houstonian, avid bike rider, and robotics nerd — for lack of a better word. She's had a 20-year career in tech — most roles based right here in town — and throughout her whole experience, robotics process automation has been the most exciting technology she's gotten to work with.

UiPath just opened an office in Houston earlier this year, and Myers serves the company as CFO. She first worked with UiPath on the client side of things, and the technology awed her. She says she jumped at the opportunity to join the organization.

"When I think about RPA, the world lights up for me," she says. "It's truly transformative."

Click here to read more about the company.

Marco Bo Hansen, chief customer officer at Sani nudge and his executive team

Marco Bo Hansen, right, the chief customer officer at Sani nudge. Courtesy of TMCx

The Sani nudge executives may not be from Houston, but we give the Denmark-based company a pass for all its success coming out of the Texas Medical Center's accelerator program earlier this year. Sani nudge is a medical device company that can better track and encourage hand sanitation. The company is headed to California after being selected for a prestigious program with the Mistletoe Foundation.

Dr. Marco Bo Hansen is the chief customer officer and says that he'll be vigilantly advocating that his Sani nudge colleagues and the Mistletoe researchers keep hospital patients and staff in mind as Sani nudge moves forward with its innovations.

"We have to make sure that our solutions always generate value to the end users and can easily be used by the clinicians, infection preventionists, and hospital managers," he says.

Click here to read more about the company.

Ashley Gilmore, CEO and co-founder of Tracts.co

When Ashley Gilmore was studying law — specifically for the purposes of going into oil and gas — it amazed him how non-digitized the industry was, especially the mineral buying process. Gilmore figured out a way how to use tech to make the process way easier — and cheaper.

Now, his company, Tracts, has a new land group that's growing at a revenue rate of 30 percent month to month. With more and more clients, Tracts engages more data. And, with more and more data, the product increases in value for his customers.

"For some of our clients, Tracts is now existential for their business," Gilmore says. "In other words, they wouldn't be able to operate on their current business model without Tracts."

Click here to read more about the company.

Sani nudge has developed a hand hygiene tool that prompts medical professionals to clean their hands more often. Courtesy of TMC

Health care tech company with Houston ties gets huge opportunity on the West Coast

hands free

Sani nudge, a graduate of the TMCx healthcare accelerator's nineth cohort at Houston's Texas Medical Center, is getting a significant nudge from a new collaboration with a social-impact organization based in California.

Among more than 1,000 startups that were considered, Copenhagen, Denmark-based Sani nudge was chosen as one of nine participants in the Mistletoe Research Fellowship Startup Collaboration Program, sponsored by the Mistletoe Foundation. Three dozen researchers from seven universities also are taking part in the program.

Fresh off a $1.2 million funding round, Sani nudge's technology is an automated monitoring system aimed at helping healthcare workers bolster hygiene compliance and processes through insights from data and a feature that "nudges" healthcare workers to practice proper hand hygiene. Sani nudge created the technology in conjunction with Bispebjerg Hospital and Aarhus University Hospital, both in Denmark.

In the Mistletoe program, representatives of Sani nudge will work alongside four American researchers to improve the startup's technology, thereby providing hospitals with better data and tapping the researchers' expertise in engineering and robotics to come up with related healthcare platforms. Sani nudge employs 13 people in the U.S., Denmark, and Poland.

During tests in healthcare settings, the use of Sani nudge has resulted in a jump in hand hygiene compliance of as much as 200 percent and a reduction in infections of at least 29 percent, the company says. Several hospitals in Scandinavia are using the Sani nudge system.

Theis Jensen, CEO of Sani nudge, and Dr. Marco Bo Hansen, the chief customer officer, became acquainted with Mistletoe when they met Mark Castleman — a partner at the Mistletoe Inc. global-impact investment fund — during a startup and innovation tour of Texas organized by Capital Factory, a startup accelerator with locations in Houston, Austin, and Dallas.

The three men soon found common ground in a shared vision for reducing hospital-acquired infections and combating resistance to antibiotics. Both are costly, potentially fatal problems.

At any given time, 1 in 25 patients in the U.S. are fighting hospital-acquired infections, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says. "These infections lead to the loss of tens of thousands of lives," according to the department, "and cost the U.S. healthcare system billions of dollars each year."

Meanwhile, more than 2 million people in the U.S. are infected each year with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Sani nudge's participation in the Mistletoe program kicked off July 31 and August 1 at a workshop in Tokyo. For the next nine months, the Sani nudge group — led by Rebekah Alexander, the startup's in-house data expert — will team up with its four assigned researchers to advance the startup's wireless technology.

The researchers "will work with us over the following academic year to help us take the Sani nudge solution to the next level and enable hospitals to get even more detailed hand hygiene information that can eliminate hospital-acquired infections," Sani nudge wrote on its blog.

In June 2020, the next-level Sani nudge technology is scheduled to be presented to potential investors and academic researchers in Silicon Valley. Sani nudge says Mistletoe effort will strengthen its ties to the U.S. market and the academic research community.

"There are many opportunities within healthcare IoT that can help both patients and hospitals, and our system is designed to embrace these opportunities," Hansen says.

Hansen, a physician, says he'll be vigilantly advocating that his Sani nudge colleagues and the Mistletoe researchers keep hospital patients and staff in mind as Sani nudge moves forward with its innovations.

"We have to make sure that our solutions always generate value to the end users and can easily be used by the clinicians, infection preventionists, and hospital managers," he says.

Three companies in TMCx's current cohort are leaving the program with new funds. Courtesy of TMCx

3 TMCx companies have raised funds while completing the Houston accelerator

Extracurriculars

The Texas Medical Center's accelerator program is wrapping up its Digital Health cohort this week with the culmination of its TMCx Demo Day, and, while all of the companies have something to celebrate, three have announced that they are leaving the program with fresh funds.

Meru, Roundtrip, and Sani Nudge have raised over $10 million between the three companies. All three will be presenting at the TMCx Digital Health Demo Day on June 6 with the 16 other companies in the cohort. Click here to RSVP.

Three more TMCx companies have raised funds throughout the program but have let to formally announce their raises. Axem Neurotechnology, Optellum, and Dosentrx have collectively raised over $5 million this spring, according to TMCx.

Here's what you need to know about the three companies that have freshly padded pockets to grow their presence within the digital health industry.

Meru

Meru allows patients mental health treatment at their fingertips.Photos via meruhealth.com

Having access to health care has been an increasing issue and more and more startups are hoping they can provide solutions. Palo Alto, California-based Meru has created a low-cost digital clinic that offers an app-based treatment program from licensed therapists. The company completed a $4.2M raise in April 2019. The round was led by San Francisco-based Freestyle Capital.

Roundtrip

Philadelphia-based RoundTrip, which is in TMCx's current cohort, closed a hefty Series A round. Photo via roundtriphealth.com

An estimated 3.6 million patients miss or postpone their medical appointments annually, which leads to bigger medical issues that could have been prevented or treated earlier. Philadelphia-based RoundTrip created a platform where patients can book transportation to and from appointments. The startup closed its Series A round of $5.14 million led by Virginia-based Motley Fool Ventures in April.

Sani Nudge

Sani Nudge has optimized tech for sanitation compliance in hospitals. Photo via saninudge.com

Denmark-based Sani Nudge is one of the cohort's international members. The company's founders created a few devices that fit onto existing hospital gadgets — ID cards and hand sanitizing stations, for instance — that are able to track and monitor sanitization practices within hospitals.

According to the CDC, there are an estimated 680,000 health care-related infections in the U.S annually with a mortality rate of 10 percent.With the company's devices, hospitals can track compliance and hand sanitizing data within the hospital — but the health care professionals remain anonymous.

Sani Nudge raised $1.2 million in a round led by InQvation. The company will use the funds to grow its presence in the United States, specifically in Houston's medical center.

"Being part of the TMCx accelerator program has been game-changing," says CEO Theis Jensen in a release. "By attending a variety of workshops and hands-on events as well as receiving guidance from many experts and advisors have helped us to fully understand the US market, refine our strategies and connected us with hospitals so we can conduct studies in the TMC Medical Center".

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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.