3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Steve Latham of DonateStock, Arianne Dowdell of Houston Methodist, and Howard Berman of Coya Therapeutics. 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 fintech to health care DEI — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Steve Latham, co-founder and CEO of DonateStock

Houstonian and serial entrepreneur plans to scale nonprofit fintech tool The sky's the limit for DonateStock, Co-Founder and CEO Steve Latham says. Photo courtesy of DonateStock

For the third time in his career, serial entrepreneur Steve Latham recession activity, so he feels confident he knows the playbook of how to handle what's on the horizon. For his latest venture, Donate Stock, a tech platform that simplifies stock donation for both the donor and the beneficiary, he's focused on weathering whatever storm is incoming.

"We've raised more money to extend our runway, and we're keeping a super tight lid on expenses because your cash is your oxygen," he says. "There are companies going out of business in our industry right now that had really promising businesses but just spent too much money before they could get to the revenue phase."

He shares the background story on DonateStock and his own career on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast episode. Read more and stream the episode.

Arianne Dowdell, vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist

Arianne Dowdell spoke with InnovationMap about Houston Methodist's DEI initiatives — and how they will help develop the hospital of the future. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Innovation and equity are two things they have to go together — and Houston Methodist knows that. Which is why Arianne Dowdell serves as vice president and chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Houston Methodist. Under her leadership, the health care provider is putting the patients at the forefront of the hospital system's priorities through its DEI initiatives.

In an interview with InnovationMap, Dowdell shares more about these ongoing initiatives and her role, as well as the importance of DEI in innovative health care.

"It doesn't matter if you're down here in the medical center or out in Baytown," she says. "The innovation and what we're thinking about and the technologies and the way that we communicate with our patients, all that is part of innovation, which helps our DEI initiatives become more successful in everything that we're doing." Read more.

Howard Berman, CEO of Coya Therapeutics

A Houston biotech startup focused on developing therapeutics for neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases has closed its IPO. Photo courtesy of Coya

A clinical-stage biotech company based in Houston has announced the closing of its $15.25 million IPO.

Coya Therapeutics, now trading under the ticker COYA, announced this week that its IPO — previously disclosed in December — has closed its initial public offering of 3,050,000 shares of its common stock and accompanying warrants to purchase up to 1,525,000 shares of common stock, per a news release. Howard Berman, CEO of Coya Therapeutics, has lead the company since February of 2021. Read more.

The sky's the limit for DonateStock, Co-Founder and CEO Steve Latham says. Photo courtesy of DonateStock

Houstonian and serial entrepreneur plans to scale nonprofit fintech tool

Houston innovators podcast episode 167

Donating stock can be a smart way to offload assets and optimize a donation — but Steve Latham thought it was so cumbersome a process that it didn't even feel worth it.

"It was such a hassle that I never did it again," says Latham on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

That opportunity for innovation stuck with Latham as he advanced his career in AdTech in New York before moving back to Houston a few years ago. A serial entrepreneur, Latham was an early co-founder of the Houston Technology Center.

His latest venture is DonateStock — a tech platform that simplifies stock donation for both the donor and the beneficiary. The early version of Latham's vision was to clear up the lack of communication the original process had — nonprofits receiving stock donations were never notified about who made each donation.

The next phase for the fintech company, as Latham explains on the show, is to scale this idea by way of channel distribution, rather than just directly working between donor and nonprofit. He says he wants DonateStock to be a featured as an "easy button" option wherever donations are accepted online.

"Now that we've proven and shown that our process works," he says, "let's scale that to make that button available to the 20 or so online donation platforms."

In order to accomplish this goal, Latham is preparing to fundraise early this year, but it's a challenging time for fintech amid economic uncertainty, he says. So far, the company has raise $2.25 million from within the company's network along with angel and family office investment.

"We've raised more money to extend our runway, and we're keeping a super tight lid on expenses because your cash is your oxygen," he says. "There are companies going out of business in our industry right now that had really promising businesses but just spent too much money before they could get to the revenue phase."

This is the third time in Latham's career that he's seen this recession activity, so he feels confident he knows the playbook of how to handle what's on the horizon.

Latham shares more about the difference his company is making within the nonprofit sector, as well as his passion for Houston and its local tech ecosystem — which he's seen grow up from afar — on the podcast episode. Stream the episode below, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.


DonateStock, a Houston fintech company that simplifies the stock donation process, has officially launched. Image courtesy of DonateStock

Impact-driven Houston fintech startup officially launches after successful beta

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Houston-based DonateStock is $50,000 richer after claiming a recent pitch competition win. Photo via donatestock.com

Houston fintech startup snags Capital Factory's $50,000 pitch investment prize

winner, winner

Capital Factory, one of the most active startup investors with a presence across Texas, recently hosted a virtual pitch competition — and one Houston startup took home the big prize.

As a part of the Houston Tech Rodeo, Capital Factory hosted its $50K Houston Investment Challenge with five finalists — DonateStock, Elastique, Elemental Coatings, M&S Biotics, and ScalaMed. The panel of judges included Andy Cloyd, vice president of Revolution; Aleece Hobson, venture partner at HX Venture Fund; and Juliana Garaizar launch director of Greentown Labs.

DonateStock, a tech-enabled tool that automates the stock donation process, took home the big win. Steve Latham, founder and chairman of DonateStock, presented the company's pitch and explained how the tool has the potential to unlock $100 billion for nonprofits.

"A lot of people aren't aware about the benefits of donating stock," Latham explains. "If you're sitting on stock that you've owned or several years that's appreciated quite a bit. If you sell it, you pay capital gains tax — anywhere from 15 to 30 percent. If you donate it, you avoid the tax and you get a big write off, you can deduct the full market value of the donated stock."

He goes on to explain how only 2 percent of people donate stock — and its due to the archaic process that it takes. DonateStock's platform optimizes the education of donors, the connection of nonprofits to new donors, and the simplification of the process. What used to take hours now takes just 10 minutes, Latham says.

Nonprofits get a free page, free customer support, and there is no fee to be on the platform, and DonateStock makes a 2 percent transaction fee. The company already has 40 nonprofits on the platform, and over 70 in the queue to sign up. The goal, Latham says, is to have 900 organizations online by the end of the year. He's already seen a lot of interest in light of the pandemic.

"This is the time to solve this problem," Latham says. "If you have friends at nonprofits or charities, you know what the pandemic did to giving programs. They've all been devastated and they have gotta find new ways to diversify and grow their revenue."

DonateStock anticipates a seed round later this year. It's the third startup Latham has worked on with his co-founder.

"We see a path to building a billion-dollar company over the next five years while impacting millions of lives around the world," he says.

Each of the other finalists' consolation prize is a connection and a foot in the door at Capital Factory, says CEO Joshua Baer.

"Every time we do one of these, we meet a bunch of companies that we end up working with — and many of whom we end up investing in," he says at the virtual event. "We're going to be following up with all of the companies from today. Anyone who was a finalist and up on the stage is someone we are excited about and interested in working more closely with."

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Houston expert: Build workforce resiliency by investing in a long-term, low-cost internship strategy

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Short-term talent shortages can feel overwhelming, especially if your company is navigating staff shortages, while also planning for future growth.

While internship programs can get a bad rap, there are many benefits to providing opportunities for early career professionals in any organization. By building a pipeline of eager, talented employees, and embedding institutional knowledge in your organization, you can reduce the burden of extra work on remaining employees and reinvigorate your business.

Get more engagement and develop champions at your company by incorporating three vital ingredients into your internship program strategy:

  1. Hire based on core values & interns’ ability to thrive at your company
  2. Invest in training
  3. Provide meaningful work

Build a strong team: hire based on ability to thrive 

To ensure your organization’s growth is coming from a diverse talent pool, build a hiring process around employees' future ability and core values, instead of what they have done in the past. Oftentimes, you’ll find that an intern’s coachability, willingness to learn and growth mindset are better determining factors towards future success than past experience.

During the recruitment and hiring process, ask your interns questions to probe values, interests, and passions. To determine if they have a growth mindset, you can ask, “What do you read in your time off to stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry? What did you learn yesterday?” or “Tell me about a time you received feedback. What did you do with this?”

Make sure that each intern that comes on board feels like a part of the team. Let them immerse themselves into your company’s culture, work environment, and industry by inviting them to your employee team-building activities, monthly company-wide conference calls, and other events that provide them with more context about your culture. Schedule weekly touchpoints with each intern to regularly check in on goals, their progress on tasks, and overall concerns. Not only will these meetings strengthen trust, but they will also position interns to succeed at your company.

Build resilience: invest in training

When you invest in a thoughtful, effective training experience, your interns will be more committed to the role because they’ll see the added effort you’re making towards their career.

Consider how your current training is structured and implemented so that your internship training experience is up to speed with the expectations of Gen-Z. Explore out-of-the-box training options, including coaching, virtual learning, and assessments that they will actually use.

In addition to the hard skills that are essential to supporting any company, ensure that you are training interns on core competencies. The National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies eight core competencies that are vital to career readiness: career & self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology. When you teach interns these core competencies as soon as they join your organization, you will see an immediate boost in productivity, and you can objectively assess for future full-time employment.

Build momentum: provide meaningful work

After you’ve clearly mapped out your internship training experience, clearly outline projects from each of your company’s departments before you onboard interns. By planning ahead, and having a running list of projects that don’t require much explanation, you can give your interns a sense of purpose as soon as they join, which in turn will prevent bored interns from disengaging.

Ask interns what their goals are for their internship so you can not only help them make those goals a reality, but also tie their goals back to your company’s overall goals. As you offer meaningful enrichment opportunities, you will land top talent through your internship programs, and word will spread to bring in better talent for future internships.

Come out on top with a strong team

Businesses that take advantage of bringing on interns during a talent shortage can come out of hard times better prepared for the future. Once you have a strong and sustainable internship program, it will only grow and gain momentum.

Weather any storm that’s ahead by continuing to attract the best talent. Your company deserves it.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder of Ampersand, an online training platform for businesses and professionals looking to level up their talent.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

Hannah Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds. Photo courtesy of RE.STATEMENT

It's tough out there for a sustainable fashion designer with upcycled statement pieces on the market. First of all, there historically hasn't been a platform for designers or shoppers either, as Hannah Le explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le says. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

RE.STATEMENT won one of the city of Houston's startup competition, Liftoff Houston's categories last year. Le shares what's next for the early-stage company on the show. Read more and listen to the episode.

Misha Govshteyn, CEO of MacroFab

MacroFab has secured fresh investment to the tune of $42 million. Photo courtesy of MacroFab

MacroFab, a Houston-based electronics manufacturing platform, has announced $42 million in new growth capital. The company was founded by Misha Govshteyn and Chris Church, who built a platform that manage electronics manufacturing and enables real-time supply chain and inventory data. The platform can help customers go from prototype to high-scale production with its network of more than 100 factories across the continent.

“Electronics manufacturing is moving toward resilience and flexibility to reduce supply chain disruptions,” says Govshteyn, MacroFab’s CEO, in a news release. “We are in the earliest stages of repositioning the supply chain to be more localized and focused on what matters to customers most — the ability to deliver products on time, meet changing requirements, and achieve a more sustainable ecological footprint. MacroFab is fundamental to building this new operating model.”

The company has seen significant growth amid the evolution of global supply chain that's taken place over the past few years. According to the company, shipments were up 275 percent year-over-year. To keep up with growth, MacroFab doubled its workforce, per the release, and opened a new facility in Mexico. Read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains how to leverage communications at any stage your company is in. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Kelli Newman took actionable recommendations from investors, customers, advisers, and founders within Houston to compose a guest column with key observations and advice on leveraging communications.

"The significance of effective communication and its contribution to a company’s success are points regularly stressed by conference panelists and forum speakers," she writes. "Yet for many founders it’s advice that fuels frustration for how to make communications a priority with a lack of understanding of the practice." Read more.

These 3 Houston research projects are coming up with life-saving innovations

research roundup

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on life-saving health care research thanks to new technologies.

Rice University scientists' groundbreaking alzheimer's study

Angel Martí (right) and his co-authors (from left) Utana Umezaki and Zhi Mei Sonia He have published their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease will affect nearly 14 million people in the U.S. by 2060. A group of scientists from Rice University are looking into a peptide associated with the disease, and their study was published in Chemical Science.

Angel Martí — a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program — and his team have developed a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, according to a news release from Rice. The scientists "found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates, opening the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits."

Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer’s, per Rice.

“Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils” says Martí in the release. “Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.

“Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity,” he adds.

The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research, which is explained more thoroughly on Rice's website.

University of Houston professor granted $1.6M for gene therapy treatment for rare eye disease

Muna Naash, a professor at UH, is hoping her research can result in treatment for a rare genetic disease that causes vision loss. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher is working on a way to restore sight to those suffering from a rare genetic eye disease.

Muna Naash, the John S. Dunn Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering at UH, is expanding a method of gene therapy to potentially treat vision loss in patients with Usher Syndrome Type 2A, or USH2A, a rare genetic disease.

Naash has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support her work. Mutations of the USH2A gene can include hearing loss from birth and progressive loss of vision, according to a news release from UH. Naash's work is looking at applying gene therapy — the introduction of a normal gene into cells to correct genetic disorders — to treat this genetic disease. There is not currently another treatment for USH2A.

“Our goal is to advance our current intravitreal gene therapy platform consisting of DNA nanoparticles/hyaluronic acid nanospheres to deliver large genes in order to develop safe and effective therapies for visual loss in Usher Syndrome Type 2A,” says Naash. “Developing an effective treatment for USH2A has been challenging due to its large coding sequence (15.8 kb) that has precluded its delivery using standard approaches and the presence of multiple isoforms with functions that are not fully understood."

BCM researcher on the impact of stress

This Baylor researcher is looking at the relationship between stress and brain cancer thanks to a new grant. Photo via Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Stress can impact the human body in a number of ways — from high blood pressure to hair loss — but one Houston scientist is looking into what happens to bodies in the long term, from age-related neurodegeneration to cancer.

Dr. Steven Boeynaems is assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. His lab is located at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also is a part of the Therapeutic Innovation Center, the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

Recently, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, awarded Boeynaems a grant to continue his work studying how cells and organisms respond to stress.

“Any cell, in nature or in our bodies, during its existence, will have to deal with some conditions that deviate from its ideal environment,” Boeynaems says in a BCM press release. “The key issue that all cells face in such conditions is that they can no longer properly fold their proteins, and that leads to the abnormal clumping of proteins into aggregates. We have seen such aggregates occur in many species and under a variety of stress-related conditions, whether it is in a plant dealing with drought or in a human patient with aging-related Alzheimer’s disease."

Now, thanks to the CPRIT funding, he says his lab will now also venture into studying the role of cellular stress in brain cancer.

“A tumor is a very stressful environment for cells, and cancer cells need to continuously adapt to this stress to survive and/or metastasize,” he says in the release.

“Moreover, the same principles of toxic protein aggregation and protection through protein droplets seem to be at play here as well,” he continues. “We have studied protein droplets not only in humans but also in stress-tolerant organisms such as plants and bacteria for years now. We propose to build and leverage on that knowledge to come up with innovative new treatments for cancer patients.”