Elizabeth Holmes, pictured on November 18, is now incarcerated. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A longtime Houstonian is coming home — by way of prison.

Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of blood-testing startup Theranos, reported to F.P.C. Bryan, on Tuesday, May 30, per multiple news outlets. She is set to serve 11 years and three months in the women's minimum-security prison located some 90 minutes from Houston hometown.

According to the the New York Times, the onetime Tanglewood resident arrived at the prison in a Ford Expedition that appeared to be driven by her mother, Noel Holmes. Her father, Christian Holmes, appeared to be inside.

The Times adds that after some shuffling around, out of the view of the cameras gathered nearby, Holmes entered the facility wearing jeans, glasses and a sweater, and carrying some papers.

Prior to her arrival in Bryan, Holmes, 39, spent Memorial Day weekend with her family on the beach near her oceanfront San Diego home with her partner Billy Evans and their two children, according to the Daily Mail.

As CultureMap previously reported, Holmes was sentenced to more than 11 years in prison on November 18, 2002 in San Jose, California following her conviction in January that year for defrauding Theranos investors.

Actress Amanda Seyfried, who played Holmes in the Hulu series The Dropout, shared her thoughts on the woman she portrayed to great acclaim. “Life’s not fair,” Seyfried noted on Good Morning America on Tuesday, “but in a lot of ways, it’s fair. For her, in particular.”

Thrust into the spotlight as the new face of white-collar, Silicon Valley fraud, Holmes now serves as a warning to those who might consider a similar path, her sentencing judge made clear.

“I suppose we step back and ask what is the pathology of fraud? Is it the refusal to accept responsibility or express contrition in any way?" Judge Edward Davila said during the ruling, according to Yahoo! Finance. "Perhaps that is the cautionary tale that will go forward from this case."

Davila ordered Holmes to turn herself into custody on April 27, 2023.

Specifically, Holmes' sentence is 11 years and three months in prison, with another three years of supervision after release. Additionally, Holmes and her ex-boyfriend and former Theranos COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani have been ordered to pay $452 million to their fraud victims.

Once compared to disruptors and innovators Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Holmes rose to fame by enticing investors with the promise that her Theranos could run hundreds of blood tests via a simple pin prick. Buzz for Theranos grew to the point that Theranos was valued at $9 billion, which made Holmes the world’s first self-made female billionaire.

Yet, after securing more than $900 million in funding, Theranos was proven to be essentially bogus by the Wall Street Journal in 2015.

Facing up to 20 years in prison, a tearful Holmes, who is pregnant, addressed the court. "I stand before you taking responsibility for Theranos," she said, per Yahoo. "I loved Theranos. It was my life’s work. My team meant the world to me. They wanted to make a difference in the world. I am devastated by my failings," she said. "Every day for the past years, I have felt deep pain for the people…those people who believe in us and those patients. I worked so hard to serve. I gave everything I had to try to to build...Theranos. Looking back, there are so many things I would do differently. I tried to realize my dream too quickly."

Holmes is the subject of the aforementioned series, The Dropout, which centers on her early life in Houston, where she grew up in Tanglewood and attended St. John's School. Her father's layoff from Enron is presented as clearly an inciting incident in her life. As The Dropout depicts, Holmes would meet boyfriend/partner Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, drop out of Stanford, and launch Theranos.

One of the most memorable lines in the miniseries comes when a young Holmes plainly states her goals at a family gathering. "I wanna be a billionaire," she said plainly — a memorable and clearly prophetic statement.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Reports find that more and more tech companies are leaving the bustling Silicon Valley. But where exactly are they going? Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

If Silicon Valley is experiencing a tech exodus, what does that mean for growing startup hubs like Houston?

houston voices

It started with prunes. Long before Silicon Valley was the innovation capital of the world, it was a giant valley of fruit trees and verdant hills. The primary crop in the then called Santa Clara Valley was the French plum, which was sun-dried to turn into the valley's most popular export and métier: prunes.

By the late 19th century, the Industrial Revolution had produced myriad millionaires, billionaires by the boatload and tons of tycoons. Among them was Leland Stanford, a railroad king. Stanford owned an 8,100-acre ranch in Santa Clara Valley near Palo Alto. That's where he founded and established Stanford University. It was also here that the region transformed into the valley of technology known today as Silicon Valley.

In 1925, Stanford alum Frederick Terman, considered the father of Silicon Valley, returned to teach radio engineering. Over the next decade, Terman noticed something quite concerning. He recognized that Stanford produced elite, highly-educated grads who continually opted to leave town for jobs in New York City. Terman expressed his desire for Stanford alumni to stay in the valley to grow the region's business sector and feed the local economy. The first company to heed this advice was Hewlett-Packard.

Terman encouraged Stanford grads William Hewlett and David Packard to partner up and thus, we saw the first ever "garage-startup" born. Anon this historic partnership, more alumni and faculty at Stanford began to found their own companies in the valley. Soon, a massive network of companies was formed, bound by their shared connection with the university. Terman had essentially built a pipeline through which Stanford grads poured into the valley, a process that is still in full swing today.

In a sense, Silicon Valley was the first academic incubator. One that is stronger than ever today. Or is it?

The great tech-xodus?

According to The Economist, "[In 2018,] more Americans left the county of San Francisco than arrived. According to a recent survey, 46 percent of respondents say they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next few years, up from 34 percent in 2016. So many startups are branching out into new places that the trend has a name, 'Off Silicon Valleying.'"

Business Insider's Melia Robinson writes, "Silicon Valley is on the brink of an exodus" and that "the tech elite are abandoning Silicon Valley in droves."

More tellingly, Kevin Roose wrote in his New York Times article "Silicon Valley Is Over, Says Silicon Valley," that "This isn't a full-blown exodus yet. But in the last three months of 2017, San Francisco lost more residents to outward migration than any other city in the country."

Roose followed 12 venture capitalists on a bus trip throughout the heartland. They were looking for hot startups in lesser-visited areas of America. The venture capitalists were in awe of how inexpensive the home prices were in the Midwest compared to the Bay Area. To add to this, a public-relations firm named Edelman conducted a survey of 500 residents in the Bay Area and found that almost half of all Bay Area residents "said they would consider leaving California because of the cost of living."

Moreover, Eric Rosenbaum wrote in his CNBC article "Silicon Valley Edged Out: Google Employees Aren't the Only Ones Walking Away From Elite Tech Headquarters," that "Silicon Valley is not about to lose its dominant position as the home of billion-dollar technology start-ups and hub for top talent, but there are a growing number of reasons why more workers and new companies are choosing other cities, far from San Francisco."

The common theme in most of the aforementioned articles is that the reason behind this mini-exodus is the high cost of living in the Bay Area. The Economist states that "young startups pay at least four times more to operate in the Bay Area than in most other American cities."

Aside from the cost of living, one often-cited reason why entrepreneurs leave the Valley is groupthink. Again, The Economist sheds light on this stating that, "The Valley does many things remarkably well, but it comes dangerously close to being a monoculture of white male nerds. Companies founded by women received just 2 percent of the funding doled out by venture capitalists last year (2017)." Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss told Business Insider that the tech scene in Silicon Valley can be brutal for people who deviate from the political echo chamber. After ten years in the Valley, Ferriss moved to Austin in 2017. Business Insider also tells the account of Peter Thiel, a billionaire-investor who was all but ostracized from Silicon Valley because of his support for President Donald Trump. He told Insider that "Network effects are very positive things, but there's a tipping point where they fall over into the madness of crowds."

Even if not quite an exodus, there are many accounts like the aforementioned that point to the fact that startups are indeed looking for greener pastures. Just where are these greener pastures? They are located in the business districts and technology parks that are smaller versions of Silicon Valley in cities all over the country. However, one green pasture in particular has taken the startup world by storm in recent years: the rise of the academic incubator.

A tech-splosion of university parks

"In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in public and private investment in university research parks (URPs). URPs are important as an infrastructural mechanism for the transfer of academic research findings, as a source of knowledge spillovers, and as a catalyst for national and regional economic growth," wrote Albert N. Link and John T. Scott in the highly regarded journal Oxford Review of Economic Policy, in their article "The economics of university research parks."

One of the biggest reasons universities have become hotbeds for tech startups is that campuses provide a means for people with multidisciplinary backgrounds to intermingle within the same space. A mechanical engineering student with a great idea might meet an MBA during a startup launch party. Together they can build and market their time-traveling DeLorean, or whatever actually-realistic idea the student has.

In essence, academic incubators are courting tech entrepreneurs because universities offer an ecosystem designed to support and grow startups from conception to commercialization. This ecosystem includes a space where researchers, faculty and students of all disciplines interact and form working relationships. In many cases, it also includes university owned equipment and laboratories for use by startup researchers.

"I feel that organizations working to commercialize university IP realize a great source of off-the-shelf technology that small businesses can use to either augment their own offerings or exploit something not currently found in the marketplace," said Michael Tentnowski, the director of entrepreneurship for Innovation Park of Tallahassee.

"Basically, the potential business can work with university staff to perfect, enhance or create new versions of various innovations to appeal to consumer demands. Taking the technology risk out of the equation helps new businesses focus on customer discovery and market penetration," Tentnowski explained.

Faye Liu, founder and CEO of RevoChem, a hot startup that recently launched out of UH's Technology Bridge, expressed that "one key benefit is the easy access to great talents and research resources from both students, researchers and professors from the university with flexibility."

Liu goes on to explain, "We have successfully hired multiple UH students and alumni through internships to work full time. We have also sponsored UH research that is relevant to our work which is a win-win for both of us."

It is true that universities position aspiring entrepreneurs to network with the right people for building their company from the ground up. Even the Innovation Leadership Forum attests that innovation is born when different ways of thinking clash.

"Providing a high-density area for collisions between thoughts and ideas to occur is driving innovation. Our urban location – adjacent to a Tier One research university – provides the chance for success to increase exponentially," said Carrie Roth, the president and CEO of Virginia Bio Tech Park.

"Our experience demonstrates that startups come here for a competitive advantage – and that is being in an environment where they can keep costs lower and accelerate their startup," she continued.

Academic incubators exude a different aura from non-academic parks. There's a certain sense of prestige they carry because they are based in universities. Perhaps it is the idea of working with professors and using university labs and equipment that resonates. "University research parks offer the opportunity for startups to be at the nexus of technology, talent and opportunities. The UH Technology Bridge, for example, offers a unique setting where companies from a broad range of technology areas can come together and have access to a variety of different resources, including wet lab space," explained Christopher Taylor, the executive director of University of Houston's Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation.

"Locating in a research park near a major university offers startups a chance to engage and collaborate with academic researchers in their field and leverage the vast talent pool of students through internships and part-time employment to develop their technology and grow their company," Taylor proceeded.

Yes, it is no wonder that so many entrepreneurs are choosing to leave Silicon Valley. They actually have options now. There are a ton of alternatives available all over the country now that are just as "top tier" as Silicon Valley, without the drawbacks of living there. Chief among these alternatives are academic incubators. The explosion of university investment in these tech parks has opened, nay, kicked down, the door for startup founders looking to venture outside of the Bay Area.

Say what you will about the mini-exodus from Silicon Valley. The high cost of living, the echo chamber and political groupthink, the lack of diversity. All valid points. But one thing is for certain, there are no academic incubators today without Silicon Valley. Its influence on modern tech parks may be taken for granted, but it is real.

It was once said that as gigantic and unfathomably massive as the sun is, it still manages to gently reach out with its light, millions of miles away, to ripen a vine of grapes as if it had nothing better to do. That's how Silicon Valley's influence is felt. Except instead of ripening grapes, it's drying plums. And today, academic and non-academic incubators merely operate in its shadow. The shadow of the valley of tech.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Baker Botts is connecting the dots between its HQ, its startup-focused Silicon Valley outpost, and Texas accelerators. Nick Bee/Pexels

Houston-based international law firm forms partnerships with local startup accelerators

dream team

In order to keep up with the growing startup ecosystem in Houston, Baker Botts is connecting the dots between its Silicon Valley venture and entrepreneurial hub to strategic partnerships in its headquarters of Houston.

Houston-based Baker Botts L.L.P., an international technology and energy law firm, established its Emerging Companies and Venture Capital arm in Palo Alto, California, in 2009. Now, in order to tap into Texas startups, the firm has created strategic partnerships with three accelerator organizations: The Cannon, Station Houston, and Capital Factory.

"These three strategic partnerships provide an exciting opportunity to showcase the depth and breadth of our technology sector experience in the startup, venture capital and entrepreneur community," says Baker Botts managing partner, John Martin, in a release. "We have a history of working with emerging and technology companies throughout their full life cycle, and we expect these partnerships will expand those opportunities more broadly. Some of our firm's largest clients are businesses with which we have worked since they were startups themselves."

This news comes on the heels of The Ion breaking ground on July 19, the release notes, which represents another major collaborative effort and advancement of innovation in Houston.

"It is exciting to see Baker Botts expand its involvement with the Houston startup ecosystem," says Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, in the release. "The firm has a long history of supporting entrepreneurs in the region and has been a partner and supporter of the Rice Alliance and the Rice Business Plan Competition since 2002. The firm's expertise and connections will be of great value to startups in the Houston region. With the launch of the Ion in midtown, the launch of new accelerators, and the support of firms like Baker Botts, Houston is poised to transform its entrepreneurial landscape."

The strategic partnerships will put each accelerator and innovation hub in direct communication with Baker Botts' Emerging Company and Venture Capital practice, led by Brian Lee, partner-in-charge of the firm's Palo Alto office. The ECVC provides advice for entrepreneurs and startups, as well as connects them with investors and various industry professionals.

"In forming these partnerships, Baker Botts will be working with a range of innovative, Texas-based companies from the ground up," says Samantha Crispin, Baker Botts' technology sector chair, in the release. "One of the most intriguing aspects of these partnerships is the expected cross-pollination of our Texas and California ECVC practices and that the most promising companies will gain exposure to potential investors, including those in Silicon Valley."

Tech startups are leaving Silicon Valley in droves — and some are finding benefits in heading back to school. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Siliconned: Leaving Silicon Valley for universities

Houston Voices

Silicon Valley has been a tech startup paradise for decades. It has been described as the modern day Florence in the Renaissance. Tech gods from Apple and Google to Facebook and Twitter were born here. We can credit Silicon Valley as the birthplace for such world-changing innovations like smartphones, microprocessor chips, Tesla automation, and WIFI-enabled teapots.

Okay, so maybe that last one isn't changing the world, but it was created in the Valley and it's changed my life, for whatever that's worth. If Silicon Valley were a country, it would have the 19th-biggest economy on the planet. There's no doubt it is an engineer's dream. A techie's haven. A capitalist's utopia. A beacon of the modern world.

Or at least, it used to be.

Now leaving the Bay Area

There is an exodus in Silicon Valley. It's been happening for about three years. For instance, according to a 2018 poll conducted by the Bay Area Council, 46 percent of survey takers admit they plan to leave the Bay Area in the next year. Couple that with the fact that Silicon Valley investors have allocated 66 percent of their funds into startups outside of Silicon Valley, compared with 50 percent just six years ago, and you have a recipe for a great exodus to other markets around the country.

Now, just for kicks, add to all of this that the Kauffman Foundation's research has pegged Miami-Fort Lauderdale as the number one city in America for startup activity. Where does Silicon Valley's Bay Area, formerly the world's preeminent hub for tech startups, rank? Fourteenth. How the mighty have fallen.

So, to what exactly can this mass egress be attributed?

Insufficient funds

The biggest reason is cost.

The cost of living in the Bay Area is one of the steepest on the planet. Startups in the Valley pay four times what they would in any other city in the country. In fact, just last year the California Association of Realtors reported that a typical family in San Francisco has to make over $300,000 a year in order to afford a median-priced house tagged at just over a million dollars. That includes a 20 percent down payment and an $8,000 monthly payment. Because most of the startups in Silicon Valley are in their infancies, the engineers, programmers, and non-technical employees don't get compensated enough to afford such a living. As a result, they are leaving the Bay Area in droves for places where the cost of living is manageable.

One location that tech startup entrepreneurs are flocking to is the university. Universities are also retaining tech wunderkinds on campus to blossom their startups, rather than seeing them leave for the microprocessor motherland known as Silicon Valley.

Now entering university life

One of the biggest reasons universities have become hotbeds for tech startups is that campuses provide a means for people with multidisciplinary backgrounds to intermingle within the same space. A chemical engineering student with a great idea might meet an MBA during a startup launch party. Together they can build and market the second iteration of "Secret Stuff" from Space Jam, or whatever that student has in mind.

The point is that universities position aspiring entrepreneurs to network with the right people for building their company from the ground up. Even the Innovation Leadership Forum attests that innovation is born when different ways of thinking clash. That is precisely what happens on campuses every day.

Furthermore, college students also have more room to take risks. Most aspiring entrepreneurs in college between 18 and 25 are not married, do not have kids, mortgages, or any other major financial responsibilities. This allows them to have the luxury of leeway when it comes to experimenting and trial and error.

The ecosystem of innovation

In essence, academic incubators are courting tech entrepreneurs because universities offer an ecosystem designed to support and grow startups from conception to commercialization. This ecosystem includes a space where researchers, faculty, and students of all disciplines interact and form working relationships. In many cases, it also includes university owned equipment and laboratories for use by startup researchers.

There is, of course, incentive for universities to concentrate so many resources to building incubators and luring startup entrepreneurs. There is an inherent sense of responsibility that universities have to create an academic climate that encourages students to explore new ideas. A sense of responsibility that encourages them to take more risks; to be fearless in their quest to use their intellect to enrich lives; to dream.

Moreover, university incubators also position schools as progressive institutions. Such positioning attracts elite researchers and enhances a university's reputation. Further, these incubators forge a bridge that links industry and academia in a way that Silicon Valley does not. That's because with academic incubators, startups are a stone's throw away from a place teeming with researchers, scientists, hungry students, and aspiring entrepreneurs: the university campus.

Consequently, it is no wonder that tech startups are leaving Silicon Valley for universities. It's also no surprise that students who have graduated are staying with their university's incubators to develop their companies. There, they have a place that cultivates innovation, encourages risk-taking, and is set up specifically to help them bring their tech to the world. In short, the university has become a hub set up to be conducive to thriving tech startups. And tech entrepreneurs have noticed.

------

This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Ahead of entering the Houston market later this year, Silicon Valley's Plug and Play hosted three days of programming surrounding innovation in energy and health care. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Overheard: Prominent business leaders weigh in on innovation in the energy and health industries

Eavesdropping in Houston

Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and accelerator program, plans to launch its operations in Houston later this year. And, in showing its commitment to the Bayou City, the organization hosted three days worth of panels, talks, and pitches at the Texas Medical Center's TMC Innovation Institute earlier this month.

Houston Innovation Week was Plug and Play's formal introduction to Houston startups and the local corporations that have the potential to support them. The programming focused on health and energy and sustainability, and the summit concluded with TMCx's Demo Day.

If you missed the event, we've hit the highlights for you by rounding up nine powerful quotes overheard throughout the week.

“Nowadays, I feel every industry is going to go through an incredible digital transformation. Even the oil and gas industry, which is very capital heavy, there’s going to be a layer of fast-moving technologies which would help the industry be more efficient. This is the crossroads where Plug and Play was born — bridging the gap between the entrepreneurs and the technologies. That changes an industry.”

— Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder of Plug and Play, says. He also shares the story of how Plug and Play got its start from a few lucky early investments to making over 150 investments a year.

“Now we have about 30 offices, and then quite frankly I realized I had forgotten about America.”

— Amidi says, announcing that Plug and Play will open five new offices across the United States in the next six months to a year.

“We’re not walking in terms of building this integrated robust innovation ecosystem, we’re sprinting in that direction.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner says, adding that, "If there is any city that ought to be leading the way when it comes to startups, technology, and innovation, it ought to be the city of Houston."

“You have to get people to invest more. It doesn’t happen on its own. People have to see that if we invest, we’re going to get a return.”

— Mayor Turner says, calling the crowd to action. "You can't just talk about what others have done and what we have accomplished. You have to take that now, build the platform, and move into where we are going."

“One of the things you look at is it’s not the technology itself that’s going to make you win or lose, it’s what you do with it.”

— Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, responding to a question about what technologies she has her eyes on. Burger continued on to say that, while she couldn't highlight any technologies in particular — it's like picking a favorite child, she's always evaluating how a new technology would help with the affordability, reliability, and lower environmental impact. "That's the game," she says.

"Management is amazing at suppressing innovation. … We can move toward just trying not to suppress it. If someone has an idea, they are safe to go through the process and raise their hand."

— Bradley Andrews, president of digital at Worley. "I think it's a change in attitude," he says about how management can evolve to advance ideas within energy companies.

“It’s easy to say that we’ll do the thing that gives us the most competitive advantage — and it’s really hard to figure out what that means and how you do that. In general, if we see something that’s out there and implemented that someone else has done, I don’t need to create an internal capability like that. I just need to go access that.”

— Doug Kushnerick, senior technology scouting and venture adviser at ExxonMobil. For Kushnerick, technology solutions that fix specific problems are easy to go after, but things that affect big picture and strategic assets are harder to figure out if they are worth implementing.

“One of our big asks from our partners from an internal perspective is really to have a champion — whether its an innovation manager or someone who really advocates these startups internally. Someone who will find the clinician and the business unit and tap the legal team.”

— Neda Amidi, global head of health and partner at Plug and Play Tech Center, responding to a question about opening up the channels of communications between startups and large companies. She adds that it's a requirement for these people to visit a Plug and Play location four to six times a year.

“What I see from a culture perspective is that it really starts with the leadership in the institution. If the people at the top in the C-suite of the institution are focused on understanding why their organization isn’t performing as well as they expect it to be and are willing to look to the outside, that’s how it starts in my mind.”

— Thomas Luby, director TMC Innovation Institute, responding to a question from the audience about large organizations that tend to be slower adaptors to new technologies.

Houston-based Tachyus closed a $15 million Series B round. Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

Houston oil and gas software company closes $15 million round led by local PE firm

Money on the mind

It's pay day for Houston-based Tachyus. the data-driven software company has closed its Series B fundraising round at $15 million. The round was led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a private equity firm that funds companies using technology to solve problems within the energy industry.

Tachyus was founded in 2013 in Silicon Valley and recently relocated to Houston. The fresh funds will go into growing its cloud-based, artificial intelligence-enabled platform.

"In this economic environment, oil and gas operators need disruptive tools to optimize their fields," Tachyus CEO and co-founder, Paul Orland, says in a release. "This investment allows us to reach more customers and accelerate the delivery of new technology that improves our clients' business performance."

The company has already grown its client base and has customers in Argentina, Europe, and Asia. Tachyus joins several other tech-focused energy startups in CVP's portfolio, including Ambyint, Novi Labs, and SitePro. Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co. served Tachyus as its financial adviser.

"As the oil and gas industry evolves in the face of new commercial challenges, operators need to focus on getting the best performance from their assets, and Tachyus' technology has a track record of doing just that," says Jeremy Arendt, managing partner of CVP, in the release. "We are excited to partner with the Tachyus team to expand their reach and empower customers to optimize production across their fields."

Tachyus closed its last round in 2016 with a $4 million investment from Primwest, according to CrunchBase. Before that, the company had raised several million.

Last year, the startup restructured its C-suite. Tachyus co-founder Dakin Sloss transitioned from CEO to chairman, and Orland, who was previously CTO, took the reins, according to a release.

Paul Orland is CEO of Tachyus. Photo via tachyus.com

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.