This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Adrianne Stone of Bayou City Startups, Sarma Velamuri of Luminare, and Curtis Jackson of G-Unity Foundation. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to nonprofit — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Adrianne Stone, founder of Bayou City Startups

Every month, Adrianne Stone of Bayou City Startups hosts a happy hour for startup founders to create a safe space to network, collaborate, commensurate, and more. Photo courtesy of Adrianne Stone

Adrianne Stone knows firsthand how lonely the startup founder journey is, so she set out to help create a community for founders when she started Bayou City Startups last year. Now, Stone shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast that her monthly happy hours attract over 50 attendees on average.

"Being the venture associate with Capital Factory in Houston, I'd seen what the Houston ecosystem had to offer. There were events — happy hours, coffee meet-ups, all these things," Stone says on the show. "But it was not just a casual networking event usually. I wanted a consistent community where I could show up and say, 'guys, I had the worst week,' to people who got where I was coming from and who could commensurate or lean in and help."

The next opportunity to network with Bayou City Startups is Tuesday, July 18, from 5 to 7 pm at Kirby Ice House. Read more.

Sarma Velamuri, co-founder and CEO of Luminare

Sepsis has been the No. 1 killer hospitals, but this Houston startup has a tech to help mitigate the risk. Photo via Getty Images

When he was an internal medicine physician, Sarma Velamuri watched helplessly as a friend’s 22-year-old daughter lost her life to sepsis. He had to tell his friend that she would not be coming home.

“There are 300,000-plus people a year who die of sepsis,” says Velamuri. “It’s important that people understand it’s not just those who are most susceptible to infections.”

This fact is not only unfortunate, but preventable. And that’s why Velamuri, who describes himself as “a recovering hospitalist,” co-founded Luminare in 2014. A full-time CEO since 2017, Velamuri, who runs the company with co-founder and CTO Marcus Rydberg, is based in the TMC Innovation Factory. Read more.

Curtis Jackson, founder of the G-Unity Foundation

For the second year, Curtis Jackson's program supported Houston student entrepreneurs. Photo courtesy of G-Unity

Chances are, you've heard of 50 Cent — his 2003 album "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" was a soundtrack to many. But Curtis James Jackson III, 50 Cent's real name, has done a lot since gracing your radios. He moved to Houston in 2021 and founded the G-Unity Foundation. In May, he wrapped on the second year of the G-Unity Business Labs, a business development incubator for Houston Independent School District high schoolers.

"I’ve spent years donating my time and energy to communities in need. I started G-Unity to do the same—to give back to kids so they have it a little easier than I did," Jackson writes on the website. "Team building and entrepreneurship are skills I learned along the way, but they are so important to develop early. I look forward to G-Unity supporting programs that are doing the crucial work of teaching kids to excel at life."

Around 150 students participated, and the winners are splitting a $500,000 investment. Read more.

Sepsis has been the No. 1 killer hospitals, but this Houston startup has a tech to help mitigate the risk. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup taps into AI to help prevent leading cause in hospital death

coming for sepsis

Anyone can die of sepsis. The number one killer in hospitals has a reputation for felling the infirm and elderly, but while the immunocompromised are at highest risk, sepsis isn’t that selective.

Take 12-year-old Rory Staunton. In 2012, the healthy boy scratched his arm diving for a ball in gym class at his school in Jackson Heights, NY. Bacteria entered his arm through the cut and he died days later of septic shock.

His story is not unique. Physician Sarma Velamuri saw this firsthand in his internal medicine practice at St. Luke’s Health Center and his residency at Baylor, both in Houston. But it really struck home when he watched helplessly as a friend’s 22-year-old daughter lost her life to sepsis. He had to tell his friend that she would not be coming home.

“There are 300,000-plus people a year who die of sepsis,” says Velamuri. “It’s important that people understand it’s not just those who are most susceptible to infections.”

This fact is not only unfortunate, but preventable. And that’s why Velamuri, who describes himself as “a recovering hospitalist,” co-founded Luminare in 2014. A full-time CEO since 2017, Velamuri, who runs the company with co-founder and CTO Marcus Rydberg, is based in the TMC Innovation Factory.

“Because of the complex workflows in hospitals, sometimes it takes 10 people to get the patient the care they need,” Velamuri explains.

And because of the pervasiveness of sepsis, it’s important to screen every patient who enters an institution before it gets to that point.

Luminare’s technology allows nurses, who are notoriously spread thin, to automatically screen patients in 10 seconds using 50 different parameters.

“We’re looking at a vast amount of data simultaneously,” says Velamuri. “We’re not generating any new data, we’re taking data that exists and shining a light on it.”

In 2020, the technology found a new application when Velamuri and his team created a version of Luminare that helped with the hospital workflow surrounding COVID PCR testing and vaccine management. Since then, it has also been used to help identify and treat monkeypox.

Though Velamuri says he doesn’t want to distract Luminare from its goal of making sepsis the number-two killer in hospitals, he is also aware that his technology can be instrumental in identifying and treating patients at risk for countless other maladies, including heart failure and stroke, and even helping with oncology workflows.

Velamuri says that his team is Luminare’s biggest strength, far more than the AI that they have designed.

“I have this saying that AI is a great servant but a terrible master. It doesn’t solve the problem,” says Velamuri.

Though the company is distributed as far afield as Stockholm, about half of its people live and work in Houston. Of the company’s placement in TMC’s Innovation Factory, Velamuri says, “They’ve been tremendous partners to us. The company would not be as successful today without their supportive partnership.” Not least of that is working with in the same space as other founders who can share their expertise as easily as a trip to the coffee machine.

And the company is growing quickly. Last year, Luminare participated in Cedars-Sinai’s accelerator program. Thanks to that partnership, the hospital is now using Luminare’s technology for sepsis screening. The team is working to partner with even more large hospital systems on solutions for one of the health industry’s biggest problems. And data that shows that Luminare can be the path to preventing death from hospitals’ most prolific killer.

Sarma Velamuri went from MD to CEO when he founded Luminare. Photo via luminare.io

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, & Holt Co., Sarma Velamuri of Luminare, and Amy Chronis of Deloitte. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators recently making headlines — from health tech founders to the new GHP chair.

Deeana Zhang, director of energy technology at Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co.

Deanna Zhang of Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss 2020's effect on the energy transition — and what that meant for startups. Photo courtesy of TPH

Deanna Zhang looks closely at the energy innovation market and, well, last year was extremely enlightening about the energy industry and where tech is taking it. She joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last week to discuss some of the 2020 trends and observations she had — and what that means for 2021.

"The energy transition saw a huge uptick in 2020 — and there's a lot of implications of that from what pilots are getting commercialized and what companies are getting more funding," says Zhang. "All around it was hugely disruptive — but hugely beneficial I think to the energy transition." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare

A Houston health tech startup has launched a COVID-19 vaccine management tool. Image via luminaremed.com

As great as it was to be able to begin distributing the life-saving COVID-19 vaccine, the logistics of the two-dose process was a nightmare. Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare, thought he could innovate a solution. His new platform, Innoculate (a mash-up of "innovate" and "inoculate"), enables organizations like public health departments, fire departments, school systems, and businesses to manage high-volume vaccination initiatives.

"Usually when you hear news of a new batch of vaccines headed your way, there is dread at the management and distribution overhead. Not anymore," Velamuri says in a release. "Innoculate will help streamline the vaccination process in the fight against COVID-19 and allow for hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccines easily." Click here to read more.

Amy Chronis, Greater Houston Partnership's 2021 chair and the Houston managing partner at Deloitte

Houston, we have a perception problem — but the Greater Houston Partnership's new chair, Amy Chronis, is here to fix it. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Hey Houston, it's time to speak up — a little louder for the people in the back. That's what Amy Chonis, 2021 chair for the Greater Houston Partnership, wants you to know, and that it's important for business leaders across the city to take the initiative about how great Houston is.

"We just don't brag enough about how much the city has changed and its trajectory," she tells InnovationMap.

While Houston has long been innovative in the health, space, and energy industries, it has a perception problem. Recently, Chronis addressed some of these concerns in her address at the GHP's 2021 Annual Meeting. She joined InnovationMap for an interview to zero in on how the business community can work to change this perception problem and continue to grow its innovation and tech community. Click here to read the Q&A.

Image via luminaremed.com

Houston health tech startup launches COVID-19 vaccine management tool

inoculation innovation

Houston-based health care software startup Luminare Inc. is arming soldiers in the coronavirus vaccination campaign with technology to help smooth the inoculation process.

Luminare, which launched with the mission of combating sepsis, switched gears after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic to help combat the virus' spread. One of the ways it's doing that is with Innoculate (a mash-up of "innovate" and "inoculate"). The new platform enables organizations like public health departments, fire departments, school systems, and businesses to manage high-volume vaccination initiatives.

Among other benefits, Innoculate automates vaccination sign-ups and scheduling, tracks the number of vaccine batches available, flags previous allergic reactions among vaccine recipients, and helps achieve compliance with federal, state and local health care requirements.

"Usually when you hear news of a new batch of vaccines headed your way, there is dread at the management and distribution overhead. Not anymore," Dr. Sarma Velamuri, CEO of Luminare, says in a release. "Innoculate will help streamline the vaccination process in the fight against COVID-19 and allow for hundreds of thousands of people to get vaccines easily."

One of the first customers of Innoculate is the Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District. Innoculate helped the district vaccinate 9,000 people during the first week of its vaccination effort. Peter Collins, chief information officer of the City of Corpus Christi, says Innoculate allows more vaccinations to be done without adding administrative burdens.

Corpus Christi-Nueces County Public Health District was the first government outfit to use Innoculate. The district also uses Luminare's Quickscreen COVID-19 screening and testing tool.

Dallas County Health and Human Services also is adopting Innoculate. On January 27, Dallas County approved a 12-month contract with Luminare worth up to $601,500.

Other new customers that are lined up for Innoculate include the Abilene-Taylor County Public Health District, Wichita Falls-Wichita County Public Health District, and Brenham-based Blinn College District. Innoculate deals are being finalized with 13 other city and county governments.

Luminare says it wants to "help as many cities and counties in the U.S. that we can." The company asks organizations seeking help with coronavirus vaccination campaigns to email mike.gilbert@luminaremed.com or info@luminaremed.com.

Luminare was founded in 2014 with the goal of preventing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to a host of infections that triggers about one-third of U.S. hospital deaths. Its sepsis-targeted software is called Sagitta.

After the coronavirus began spreading, Luminare tweaked its sepsis-detection platform, called Quickscreen, to produce a free online self-assessment for people who suspect they've been infected with the virus. The startup was honored for this work as COVID Phoenix in Houston Exponential's inaugural awards program, The Listies. Now, it has added Innoculate to its pandemic-fighting arsenal.

Luminare, based at Texas Medical Center's innovation campus, is a 2018 graduate of the TMCx accelerator. According to Crunchbase, the company has collected more than $1.6 million in funding.

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Innovative coastline project on Bolivar Peninsula receives federal funding

flood mitigation

The Galveston’s Coastal Barrier Project recently received federal funding to the tune of $500,000 to support construction on its flood mitigation plans for the area previously devastated by Hurricane Ike in 2008.

Known as Ike Dike, the proposed project includes implementing the Galveston Bay Storm Surge Barrier System, including eight Gulf and Bay defense projects. The Bolivar Roads Gate System, a two-mile-long closure structure situated between Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula, is included in the plans and would protect against storm surge volumes entering the bay.

The funding support comes from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and will go toward the preconstruction engineering and design phase of Ecosystem Restoration feature G-28, the first segment of the Bolivar Peninsula and West Bay Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Shoreline and Island Protection.

Coastal Barrier Project - Galveston Projects

The project also includes protection of critical fish and wildlife habitat against coastal storms and erosion.

“The Coastal Texas Project is one of the largest projects in the history of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” says Col. Rhett A. Blackmon, USACE Galveston District commander, in a statement. “This project is important to the nation for many reasons. Not only will it reduce risk to the vulnerable populations along the Texas coast, but it will also protect vital ecosystems and economically critical infrastructure vital to the U.S. supply chain and the many global industries located here.”

Hurricane Ike resulted in over $30 billion in storm-related damages to the Texas coast, reports the Coastal Barrier Project, and created a debris line 15 feet tall and 40 miles long in Chambers County. The estimated economic disruption due to Hurricane Ike exceeded $150 billion, FEMA reported.

The project is estimated to take two years to complete after construction starts and will cost between $4 billion and $6 billion, reports Texas A&M University at Galveston.

Houston organization selects research on future foods in space health to receive $1M in funding

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.