Optellum, which has its United States operations based in the TMC Innovation Institute, has raised fresh funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Oxford-based health tech startup that has its United States headquarters in Houston has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Optellum, which has created a breakthrough AI platform to diagnose and treat early-stage lung cancer, has raised $14 million in a series A funding round. The round was led by United Kingdom-based Mercia, with additional investors California-based Intuitive Ventures and New York-based Black Opal Ventures. Existing investors, including St John's College in the University of Oxford, IQ Capital, and the family office of Sir Martin & Lady Audrey Wood, also participated in the round, per a news release.

"Lung cancer is an urgent public health crisis and Optellum's groundbreaking approach utilizing AI to accelerate early detection and intervention may fundamentally alter the healthcare community's approach to combating this disease," says Dr. Oliver Keown, managing director of Intuitive Ventures, in the release. "Optellum is uniquely positioned to align and provide considerable value to patients, providers, and payers alike. Intuitive Ventures is thrilled to provide our full arsenal of financial and strategic support to Optellum as we work towards a world of better outcomes for cancer patients."

The fresh funding will go toward scaling Optellum's operations and commercial launches in the United Kingdom and in the United States. Additionally, the company plans to expand its platform, including providing personalized therapy support using imaging data with molecular data, robotics, and liquid biopsies.

"With this strong support and commitment of highly specialized investors, we are positioned to accelerate commercial deployment in both the UK and the United States to expand our installed base," says Jason Pesterfield, CEO at Optellum, in the release. "Following years of research and clinical trials that have shown the impact of our software on the diagnosis of at-risk lung nodules, we're focused on expanding patient access to this crucial technology and identifying deadly lung cancer faster in more at-risk people. The funding will also boost our research and development with world-leading institutions and partners to progress further innovation."

Optellum's software provides support for physicians making decisions in early lung cancer diagnosis and treatment. The company was launched to provide better diagnostics and early-stage treatment to increase survival rates and improve health outcomes.

Last year, Optellum — whose U.S. headquarters is at Houston's TMC Innovation Institute — announced it would be included in J&J's Lung Cancer Initiative. The startup was a 2019 graduate of the Texas Medical Center's accelerator and its software platform, Virtual Nodule Clinic, received FDA clearance, CE-MDR in the EU, and UKCA in the UK.

"Optellum is the latest in a series of companies to channel research from the UK's world-leading universities into commercially viable products that can make a difference to the provision of medical care," says Mercia Investment Director Stephen Johnson in the release. "Having observed Optellum achieve great milestones over the years, we are now excited to become part of their success and apply our experience with scaling up software and deep-tech companies to help accelerate Optellum's impact on patient lives across the world."

These eight Houston companies raised over $140 million in venture capital investment in Q2 of 2022. Photo via Getty Images

Here's what Houston startups snagged fresh funding last quarter

following the money

Houston startups are keeping pace when it comes to venture capital raised this year. In this roundup of funding closed in the second quarter, Houston businesses across sectors and industries close significant rounds from seed to series B.

Eight startups raised over $140 million last quarter, according to InnovationMap reporting, which is right on par with Q1's numbers. In chronological order, here's what companies snagged fresh funding recently.

Houston aerospace startup secures $20M series A investment round

Houston-based Venus Aerospace has raised $20 million — and is one step closer to providing one-hour global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A year after raising $3 million in seed funding, a Space City startup has closed its high-flying series A round to the tune of $20 million.

Venus Aerospace, which is working on a zero-carbon emission spaceplane that will enable one-hour global travel, closed its series A funding round led by Wyoming-based Prime Movers Lab. The firm has a few dozen breakthrough scientific companies in its portfolio, including another Houston-based, space-focused startup, Axiom Space. The round also saw participation from previous investors: Draper Associates, Boost, Saturn 5, Seraph Group, Cantos, The Helm & Tamarack Global.

Venus Aerospace was founded by Sarah "Sassie" and Andrew Duggleby, who serve as the company's CEO and CTO, respectively, in 2020 in California. The Texas A&M University alumni later moved the business into its current facilities in the Houston Spaceport. Click here to continue reading.

Fast-growing energy fintech startup raises $50M series B

The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy. Image via combocurve.com

Houston-based ComboCurve announced today that it has raised $50 million through a series B funding round led by Dragoneer Investment Group and Bessemer Venture Partners.

Founded in 2017, the company is a cloud-based energy analytics and operating platform that uses sophisticated software to forecast and report on a company's energy assets, including renewables.

The series B capital will allow the company to enhance its core product, while also adding on other workflows that focus on emissions and renewable energy. Click here to continue reading.

Houston medical device startup closes $6M series A

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. Click here to continue reading.

Houston entrepreneur adds $1M to seed round

Houston-based Upgrade has raised additional seed funding. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based Upgrade Boutique — which uses technology to connect women with high-quality wigs and hair extensions — extended its seed round by $1 million, Fast Company reported. The round's initial seed leaders included Houston-based venture capital firms Artemis Fund and Mercury Fund, as well as Logitech president and CEO Bracken P. Darrell and ANIM.

“This [investment] will enable us to scale even faster and continue to invest in tools and resources that will improve the consumer experience, and help stylists operate more efficiently,” Winters tells Fast Company. “Based on feedback from the stylists on our platform, we see this as a natural development in the company’s evolution.” Click here to continue reading.

Houston startup raises $30M series B, plans to expand its offerings to customers

Growing Houston-based WizeHire tripled its headcount last year and plans to grow even more as it scales up. Photo courtesy of WizeHire

A Houston software company has closed its latest funding round to the tune of $30 million.

WizeHire, a tech-enabled hiring solution for small businesses, announced the closing of its series B round, bringing its total funding to $37.5 million and its valuation to $250 million, according to the news release. The round was led by Tiger Global with participation from prior Houston-based investors Amplo and Mercury.

The pandemic has greatly impacted businesses ability to hire new employees. Founded in 2014, WizeHire launched a free version of its optimized hiring solution at the height of COVID-19. The company also helped small businesses find and apply for refundable tax credits and Payment Protection Program loans to keep their doors open.

“The pandemic was an incredibly tough time for Main Street, and we were right there with them," says Sid Upadhyay, CEO of WizeHire, in the release. "We’re constantly amazed by the depth of our clients’ trust in us and in response, have stepped up to serve them as a trusted advisor in their business growth. We plan to build a marketplace for small businesses to have access to the resources they need to succeed.” Click here to continue reading.

Houston smart bus platform raises $26M to expand operations in Mexico and beyond

This Houston company has rolled out its expansion plans following a $20 million series A. Photo via ridekolors.com

A Houston-based company that's using tech and data to provide its intercity bus network has announced $26 million in funding.

Kolors has announced the close of its $20 million series A financing round led by UP.Partners with participation from Maniv Mobility, Toyota Ventures, K5 Global, Mazapil — plus contribution from existing investors Tuesday Capital, Garret Camp's Expa, Chris Sacca's Lowercase, Moving Capital, MGV, Brainstorm Ventures, Bling Capital and Amplifica. The round, which brings the company's total investment raised to $26 million, will allow Kolors to grow in Mexico, expand into new Latin American markets, and enable cross-border US travel.

The company has created a "smart-bus-platform," which is defined as being a combination of airline and ridesharing style technology. The service includes attendants superpowered by technology, according to a news release.

"Kolors is redefining the experience of intercity travel. We are thrilled to see Kolors advancing in Mexico and bringing its phenomenal service to other parts of Latin America in the coming months this year," says Ally Warson, partner of UP.Partners. "Kolors is thinking about the next phase for intercity bus travel and intends to design an ecosystem that prioritizes the passenger while providing more profitable and climate-friendly outcomes for bus operators." Click here to continue reading.

Tech startup closes seed round at over $3M, plans to grow Houston team

This tech company wants to replace passwords for good. Photo courtesy of Allthenticate

A California-founded company that recently put down roots in Houston has announced the closing of its seed round of funding.

Allthenticate, a tech startup that enables unified authentication, announced over $3 million raised in its seed funding round led by Austin-based Silverton Partners with participation from California-based Amplify and Denver-based Ping Identity. The total raised in the round is $3,133,337, which, as the press release explains, translates to “elite” in hacker speak.

Allthenticate’s technology and services allow users to utilize smartphone devices to unlock and log in to everything — from doors to computers and servers. The company's mission is to provide safe, easy-to-use security infrastructure for everyday use and to target small- to medium-sized businesses to deploy the technology across their workforces. Click here to continue reading.

Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

Houston-based Liongard has fresh funding to work with. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.” Click here to continue reading.

This Houston company has rolled out its expansion plans following a $20 million series A. Photo via ridekolors.com

Houston smart bus platform raises $26M to expand operations in Mexico and beyond

money moves

A Houston-based company that's using tech and data to provide its intercity bus network has announced $26 million in funding.

Kolors has announced the close of its $20 million series A financing round led by UP.Partners with participation from Maniv Mobility, Toyota Ventures, K5 Global, Mazapil — plus contribution from existing investors Tuesday Capital, Garret Camp's Expa, Chris Sacca's Lowercase, Moving Capital, MGV, Brainstorm Ventures, Bling Capital and Amplifica. The round, which brings the company's total investment raised to $26 million, will allow Kolors to grow in Mexico, expand into new Latin American markets, and enable cross-border US travel.

The company has created a "smart-bus-platform," which is defined as being a combination of airline and ridesharing style technology. The service includes attendants superpowered by technology, according to a news release.

"Kolors is redefining the experience of intercity travel. We are thrilled to see Kolors advancing in Mexico and bringing its phenomenal service to other parts of Latin America in the coming months this year," says Ally Warson, partner of UP.Partners. "Kolors is thinking about the next phase for intercity bus travel and intends to design an ecosystem that prioritizes the passenger while providing more profitable and climate-friendly outcomes for bus operators."

The company's business model doesn't include owning its own fleet of vehicles, instead partnering with small and medium-sized bus operators. These partners are only responsible for driving the bus — Kolors does everything else, including route optimization, virtual stops, scheduling, pricing, marketing, sales, customer service, and more.

"Kolors is disrupting a mode of transportation that's often overlooked but relied upon by billions of people worldwide," says Jim Adler, founding managing director of Toyota Ventures, in the release. "There's a huge opportunity to advance intercity bus travel with higher efficiency, cleaner energy , and superior passenger experience. Kolors is at the forefront of this transformation."

Service is at the forefront for Kolors, says Rodrigo Martínez, founder and CEO of the company. Passengers can expect on-board WiFi services and snacks and drinks — plus a completely redesigned in-cabin experience is in the works, per the release.

"As a third-generation bus operator, I know intercity bus travel is the lifeblood of LATAM," says Martínez in the release. "The opportunity to provide our passengers with an elevated bus platform will bring a better and affordable travel experience. Our buses run on data and our learnings have already enabled us to devise an effective strategy to address and reduce emissions across the global intercity transportation industry."

Efficiency is also on the roadmap for Kolors, which was founded by Martinez and Anca Gardea in 2020 amid the pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 85 percent of transportation sector emissions are related to the surface transportation system, the release states. Kolors is working toward a fleet of electric vehicles.

"We have followed Kolors since the beginning, and considering they started at the height of the pandemic, the growth they've had is astounding. Transporting millions of passengers in such a short period of time speaks volumes about their tenacity and potential as a team and company, says Jake Wieseneck, principal at Maniv Mobility, in the release.

Here are 11 Houston startups that together have raised over $140 million in venture capital investment so far this year. Photo via Getty Images

These 11 Houston startups closed funding rounds so far this year

following the money

Venture capital investment is moving and grooving in Houston this year so far, which really is a continuation of the leap in VC investment from 2021.

According to a recent report from Houston Exponential, Houston’s average early-stage deal size of $18 million represents a 68 percent growth rate since 2019. Compared with the national growth rate of 23 percent, “this demonstrates the broader expansion and maturities within the Houston ecosystem,” the analysis says.

Last year, local startups collected $2.02 billion in VC funding, according to PitchBook data. That’s up 175 percent from the $734.2 million raised in 2020.

“That VC-backed companies were able to generate such enormous value in 2021 during a time characterized by great uncertainty and extraordinary circumstances highlights the continued importance of VC-backed companies to the resilience of Houston’s economy,” says Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential.

In continuance with last year, 2022 has started with a flurry of VC activity. In case you missed some of these first quarter deals, InnovationMap has rounded up all its coverage of funding rounds closed between January and March based on previous reporting. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.

P97 Networks has raised $40M of venture debt financing

P97 Networks, a Houston-based mobile payments company, has fresh funds to scale its operations. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston company that has created a mobile commerce platform for the convenience retail, fuels marketing, and automotive industries has fresh funding to support its growth.

P97 Networks has raised $40 million of venture debt financing from an affiliate of Peak Rock Capital, a leading middle-market private investment firm, according to a news release from the company.

“We will use this new capital to fund P97’s high growth initiatives, which include accelerating user adoption across our Consumer Engagement platform, Energy Transition programs for our clients, and our Mobility Services platform,” said Donald Frieden, president and CEO of P97, in the release. Click here to continue reading.

Zeta Energy close $23M series A

Houston-based Zeta Energy has raised fresh funding to grow its Houston operations and further commercialize the company's innovative batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Zeta Energy announced this month that it has closed a $23 million series A round led by New York VC firm Moore Strategic Ventures.

The funding will be used to expand Zeta's lab facility in the Houston area and further commercialize the company's innovative batteries for electric vehicles and energy storage.

"We are delighted to have Moore Strategic Ventures join Zeta Energy. Moore's focus on transportation, advanced materials, energy, and clean tech aligns perfectly with Zeta's strategic objectives," Charles Maslin, founder and CEO of Zeta Energy, said in a statement. "We are so excited to work together to help the world transition to clean energy and build a more sustainable future." Click here to continue reading.

DECISIO raises $18.5M, appoints new leadership

DECISIO has fresh funding and a new board member. Photo via decisiohealth.com

A Houston-based digital health startup has officially closed its latest funding round and has a new member to its leadership to support the company's next phase.

DECISIO has appointed Major General Elder Granger to the company's board of directors. Dr. Granger is currently president and CEO of The 5Ps LLC, a healthcare, education, and leadership consulting organization.

"Dr. Granger joining our board provides enormous value and validation for our company moving forward," says Dr. John Holcomb, co-CEO and co-founder of DECISIO, says in a news release. "His expertise and leadership in the healthcare industry is a welcome addition to our esteemed group of Board of Directors." Click here to continue reading.

Vivante Health raises $16M series A round

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health." Click here to continue reading.

SiteAware closes $15M in funding round

Houston-based SiteAware has raised $15 million in its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of SiteAware

A Houston startup that provides artificial intelligence-enabled verification software to the construction industry has closed its series B round.

SiteAware raised $15 million in the round, which was led by Singapore-based Vertex Ventures Israel. Existing investors Robert Bosch Venture Capital GmbH, Axon Ventures, Oryzn Capital, The Flying Object, and lool Ventures also contributed to the round.

The company's digital construction verification, or DCV, platform uses AI and digital twin technology to provide real-time verification of construction fieldwork. According to a press release from SiteAware, the construction industry represents a $1.3 trillion market share of the United States economy. Click here to continue reading.

Codenotary raises $12.5M series B

Codenotary's software enables tools for notarization and verification of the software development life cycle. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

Codenotary, formerly known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks. Click here to continue reading.

Rugged Robotics raises $9.4M series A

The tech solution provides construction customers with an automated layout-as-a-service tool. Image via rugged-robotics.com

A Houston robotics startup working in the commercial construction field has closed its latest round of funding.

Rugged Robotics Inc. announced last week that it's raised $9.4 million in its series A round led by BOLD Capital Partners and Brick & Mortar Ventures. Riot Ventures, Morpheus, and Embark — all investors in the company's 2019 seed round — also contributed, as did Consigli Construction Company and Suffolk Technologies. To date, Rugged Robotics has raised $12 million.

“We are thrilled to be part of the Rugged team,” says Maxx Bricklin, partner at BOLD Capital, in a news release. “We looked at a number of companies in the space and became convinced that the Rugged team, technology and partner ecosystem would allow Rugged to dominate and capitalize on this significant and disruptive market opportunity.” Click here to continue reading.

Koda Health raises $3.5 million in seed funding to expand nationally

Tatiana Fofanova, co-founder and CEO of Koda, closed recent funding for the digital health startup. Image via LinkedIn

Houston-based Koda Health announced this month that it raised $3.5 million in its latest seed round.

The round was led by Austin-based Ecliptic Capital, which focuses on emergent and early-stage investments. Sigmas Capital, Headwater Ventures, CRCM, and a number of angel investors also participated in the round.

The funding will be used to help the digital advanced care planning company double the size of its team in the next six months.

"Koda Health helps vulnerable people navigate and communicate difficult decisions about their health care journey. So, when hiring, we look for empathetic people who are phenomenal communicators," Tatiana Fofanova, Koda co-founder and CEO, says in a statement. Click here to continue reading.

INOVUES raises $2.75M to make buildings more energy efficient

Window-retrofitting climatetech company has raised its first round of funding. Photo via inovues.com

A Houston startup that retrofits windows with smart glass innovations to reduce energy use has raised its first round of funding.

INOVUES closed its seed round at $2.75 million last month. The oversubscribed round was led by Dallas-based Paulos Holdings with participation from new and existing investors, including Houston-based VC Fuel, Saint-Gobain NOVA, Fund4SE, Momentum Glass, Lateral Capital, E8 Angels, and the Central Texas Angel Network.

"Our mission is to help cities achieve their energy efficiency and emissions-reduction targets by increasing the rate of window upgrades in existing buildings," says INOVUES founder and CEO, Anas Al Kassas, in a news release. "To achieve that, we have developed a low-carbon, high-ROI retrofit solution that makes upgrading building windows a financially attractive energy conservation measure instead of a massive capital upgrade associated with business disruptions and prohibitive payback periods." Click here to continue reading.

Roboze closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding

Roboze has closed its latest round of funding. Photo courtesy of Roboze

Roboze — an Italian high-performance 3D printing company with its U.S. headquarters in Houston — closed a multimillion-dollar round of funding this month with investments from an international group of leaders from diverse backgrounds.

Investors include Nova Capital, Lagfin, Andrea Guerra, Luigi De Vecchi, Roberto Ferraresi, Luca Giacometti, Denis Faccioli and others, according to a statement.

“We are honored to have a group of investors of this caliber, who strongly believe in the vision of Roboze and in the change of production paradigm that our technology is enabling by replacing metals and producing parts without wasting raw materials," Alessio Lorusso, founder and CEO of Roboze, said in a statement. Click here to continue reading.

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. Click here to continue reading.

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startup raises $16M series A round

money moves

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health."

The company is reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed through its digital health program, GIThrive, which equips people with digestive issues with technology, advanced science, and on-demand support. Throughout 2021, Vivante Health grew its client base by 400 percent through the addition of key Fortune 500 clients as well as employer healthcare solutions. Through these partnerships, Vivante's potential member base encompasses over 500,000 covered lives, according to the news release.

Around one in four Americans live with a digestive disease, making for a $136 billion market — and Vivante is addressing this need. The company reported that 87 percent of members stated they better managed their digestive symptoms, according to a recent poll, and 83 percent of members said they felt healthier. From a corporate client side, Vivante allows for reductions in direct medical cost, resulting in a 3 to 1 ROI for a large employer organizations.

"The current experience for individuals with GI disorders is at a minimum inadequate and frustrating, and for many, debilitating. To no surprise, over 40 percent of people with a GI condition are dissatisfied with their care," said Robert Garber, Partner at 7wireVentures. "Vivante is on a mission to change that. We are thrilled to partner with the company at a true inflection point in their growth story and accelerate access to a proven, evidence-based model that drastically improves the consumer experience while reducing costs for employers.

In 2020, Vivante raised a $5.8 million series A1. The company was founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneur Kimon Angelides, who recently launched a new business called FemTec Health.

A Houston-based biotech startup has fresh funds to continue R&D on its products. Photo via Getty Images

Houston biotech company raises $15M round led by Chinese health care investor

fresh funds

A Houston-based biotech company that was founded by a University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center doctor has closed a fresh round of funding.

Cellenkos closed its $15 million series A round led by BVCF Management, based in Shanghai, China. The biotech company is developing novel T regulatory (Treg) cell therapies to treat autoimmune and inflammatory disorders. Dr. Simrit Parmar of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Golden Meditech Holdings Limited founded the company.

Dr. Parmar's specialty is in Lymphoma Myeloma and experimental therapeutics. According to a news release, she is also the principal investigator of a research laboratory focused on umbilical cord blood-derived Treg cells including their isolation and ex-vivo expansion for generating clinically relevant doses for their application in autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders.

"We feel fortunate to welcome BVCF as a new investor. As I look ahead, we are committed to bringing our novel Treg cell therapies to patients in need around the world," says Dr. Parmar in a news release.

BVCF is a health care investment firm focused on growth-stage healthcare companies from around the world. The portfolio has a particular focus on innovative solutions that address unmet health needs in China.

"Cellenkos' innovative and transformative Treg cell therapy platform to address autoimmune and inflammatory disorders has the potential to significantly serve unmet patient needs. We are proud to lead the financing and support their groundbreaking efforts," says Dr. Zhi Yang, managing partner at BVCF, in the release.

The company has plans to launch a phase 1b trial of add on therapy with one of its products for the treatment of myelofibrosis patients. The fresh funds will allow the company to continue to scale and test its life-saving technology.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Why the banking biz is ripe for innovation, according to this Houston founder

guest column

After our doctor and our child’s school, a bank is an institution with which we share the relationship that is most personal and vital to our well-being in this world. Some might put a good vet third, but other than that, no private entity is more responsible for escorting us to a healthier and happier outcome over the course of our lives.

The bank vault is a traditional symbol of security and prosperity, and not just for our pennies. We safeguard possessions in banks that are so important we don’t even trust keeping them in our own houses. Wills, birth certificates, and the precious family heirlooms of countless families are held in safety deposit boxes behind those giant vault doors, and banks have been the traditional guardians not only of our wealth but our identity and future as well.

The importance of relationship banking

Faith and confidence in our banks is so fundamental to the customer relationship that it has evolved into a unique and otherwise unthinkable arrangement for any good capitalist in a healthy marketplace: banks pay us to be their customers. Imagine a doctor offering you $20 for trusting them to give you a colonoscopy and you’re on the road to understanding the sacrosanct union between bank and customer.

In fact, this trust is so deeply anchored in the American psyche that a new generation of digital banking companies has sprung up on the idea that it doesn’t need to exist in physical reality. The fintech industry has exploded in the last decade, and today, over 75 percent of Americans are engaged in online banking in one form or another. Every single one of those 200 million customers are taking for granted that they will be well served, despite having no personal guidance through any of the financial products and services that these online entities provide.

Benefits of fostering relationships with banking customers

In the late 90s and early 2000s brick-and-mortar banks realized that greater personalized care for their customers was going to be a critical point of competition. The in-person experience is an opportunity to offer advice and incentives for a wide range of products and financial management assistance. It’s rooted in an incredibly simple axiom that is taking hold in every aspect of modern society: everyone benefits if we all get along better.

There’s a lot of statistical traction behind this theory. Customers who report they are “financially healthy” are down 20 percent over the last year, which means people are looking for guidance. 73 percent of customers who visit a local bank branch report having a personal relationship with their bank, while only 53 percent say the same of their digital institution. Most importantly, although many digital banks are offering similar products and services to their real-world counterparts, customer engagement remains very low.

It starts with your products

The truth is, today’s bank customers still want that same personal relationship their great-grandparents had before they engage with deeper financial products and services. They believe it makes them more financially successful, and confirm that human connections and economic prosperity go hand-in-hand.

Products that are Challenging for Digital Markets

Residential mortgages, for example, are an $18 trillion dollar industry that deals in durations longer than most digital banking services have even existed. The perception of continuity and stability is highly valued by clients in the mortgage relationship. Today, most customers feel that only comes with a handshake and a smile from an employee who has to fit in a meeting before they pick their kids up from school.

While digital firms have proven themselves capable of offering savings and checking services, most have fallen flat on the mortgage front because of the premium on personal relationships. Loyalty is the reward for time, service, and shared experience, and financial institutions that cannot provide that package for their customers are never going to access a deeper and more meaningful portfolio of services.

Finding Well-suited Products for Digital Finance

The message for the digital finance world is as clear as it is pressing. The future of the industry will revolve around more personalized experiences, interactions, and long-term products. At the same time, the American public has embraced digital banking, and we are looking at a new generation of bank users who may never walk through a branch door in their life.

In order to compete, the digital industry will need to identify and develop a range of long-term products and services that make sense for customers in today’s environment. Mortgages may be out of the question, but the safety deposit box holds great promise for industry in-roads. Optimal services for deeper, more personal customer engagement include things like:

  • Legacy and estate planning
  • Will preparation and safeguarding
  • Preservation of cherished photos and videos
  • Important personal data storage


Because these things are product-based, they are well suited to the digital ecosystem. The cryptocurrency industry and modern online banking have solidified consumer confidence in the digital bank vault, and there is a great deal of faith in the perpetuity of electronic documents and storage.

The IRS estimates that upwards of 90 percent of Americans are E-filing their taxes and that only comes with a widespread belief that our highly sensitive information can and will be preserved and protected by digital architecture.

Secure your future

Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them.

The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents.

It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities.

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Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool.

How a Houston med device startup pivoted to impact global health and diagnostics

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 153

In the span of a couple years, a Houston startup went from innovating a way for patients with degenerative eye diseases to see better to creating a portable and affordable breath-based diagnostics tool worthy of a prestigious grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.

Steradian Technologies, founded in 2018, set out to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Asma Mirza, says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath."

Fast forward two years and the company has been recognized by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a grant to sport the development of the tool — which costs about the same price as a latte to make. The impact for global health is huge, Mirza says, allowing for people to test their breath for diseases from their own homes in the same time it takes to take your temperature.

"You blow into a cartrige and we're able to take the air from your breath into a liquid sample," Mirza says, explaining how the device uses photons to produce quick results. "It's wild that we still don't have something like that yet."

She shares more details about the grant and the future applications for the technology — as well as the role Houston and local organizations have had on the company — on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Houston cleantech company sees shining success with gold hydrogen

bling, bling

Houston-based cleantech startup Cemvita Factory is kicking things into high gear with its Gold Hydrogen product.

After successfully completing a pilot test of Gold Hydrogen in the oil-rich Permian Basin of West Texas, Cemvita has raised an undisclosed amount of funding through its new Gold H2 LLC spin-out. The lead investors are Georgia-based equipment manufacturer Chart Industries and 8090 Industries, an investment consortium with offices in New York City and Los Angeles.

Gold Hydrogen provides carbon-neutral hydrogen obtained from depleted oil and gas wells. This is achieved through bioengineering subsurface microbes in the wells to consume carbon and generate clean hydrogen.

Cemvita says it set up Gold H2 to commercialize the business via licensing, joint ventures, and outright ownership of hydrogen assets.

“We have incredible conviction in next-generation clean hydrogen production methods that leverage the vast and sprawling existing infrastructure and know-how of the oil and gas industry,” Rayyan Islam, co-founder and general partner of 8090 Industries, says in a news release.

Traditional methods of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions include electrolysis powered by renewable sources like wind, solar or water, according to Cemvita. However, production of green hydrogen through normal avenues eats up a lot of energy and money, the startup says.

By contrast, Cemvita relies on depleted oil and gas wells to cheaply produce carbon-free hydrogen.

“The commercialization and economics of the hydrogen economy will require technologies that produce the hydrogen molecule at a meaningful scale with no carbon emissions. Gold H2 is leading the charge … ,” says Jill Evanko, president and CEO of Chart Industries.

Investors in Cemvita include Oxy Low Carbon Ventures, an investment arm of Houston-based Occidental Petroleum, as well as BHP Group, Mitsubishi, and United Airlines Ventures.

Oxy Low Carbon Ventures and United Airlines Ventures are financing Cemvita’s work on sustainable jet fuel. United Airlines operates a hub at George Bush Intercontinental Airport Houston.

Founded by brother-and-sister team Moji and Tara Karimi in 2017, Cemvita uses synthetic biology to turn carbon dioxide into chemicals and alternative fuels.