This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sujatha Kumar of Dsider, Andrew Bruce of Data Gumbo, and Payal Patel of Softeq. Courtesy photos

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

Sujatha Kumar, founder and CEO of Dsider

Sujatha Kumar discusses her decarbonization data company on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

For years, Sujatha Kumar has been consulting with companies to help them make decisions, including ones that affect decarbonization. For Kumar's clients, data is power when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. That's why she started Dsider, a decision intelligence platform with a suite of software tools to equip energy businesses with the data they need to make informed decisions.

"We are creating transparency so that companies can have a digital footprint of how decarbonization can happen, and allowing them to make decisions along the way that are always going to be towards decarbonation and not forgetting that everything has an economic trade off," she shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Kumar shares more on Dsider's potential impact on decarbonization and how she has observed changes in Houston's innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo

Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data GumboAndrew bruce's growing Houston blockchain startup has raised $4 million to go toward supporting sales. Photo courtesy of Data Gumbo

Data Gumbo, an industrial smart contract blockchain company, has expanded overseas with a new office in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that will give the company new regional business opportunities to continue international adoption of its blockchain network.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and broader Middle East present outstanding opportunities for our company. We are committed to putting down roots, and to the long-term growth of a Data Gumbo workforce in the Kingdom and beyond,” says Andrew Bruce, CEO of Data Gumbo in a news release.

“Establishing a regional office provides companies in the Greater Middle East with increased access to our smart contract network, GumboNet," Bruce continues. "The more the network grows, the more value it delivers to local and global members, as well as investors. We look forward to expanding our presence to best support demand and set the standard for how industrial organizations do business by guaranteeing transactional certainty in commercial relationships.” Click here to read more.

Payal Patel, director of the Softeq Venture Studio

Payal Patel has a new gig. Photo courtesy

Softeq Development Corp. has named Payal Patel as director of the Softeq Venture Studio, a startup accelerator that provides business mentoring and engineering development resources. Patel will oversee programming and operation for the studio, and she will help in in selecting startups for investment as principal of the fund.

“I’m excited to join the talented team at Softeq," she says. "Having been a part of the Houston tech and startup community for a few years, I see a niche our team can fill. We aim to do our part supporting founders by providing capital, advice, and helping level up the community." Click here to read more.

Sujatha Kumar discusses her decarbonization data company on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston innovator: The future of decarbonization is data-driven decision making

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Decarbonizing the energy industry would be a lot more successful if companies had the tools to more efficiently and accurately track their carbon footprint.

Sujatha Kumar has created that tool with her startup Dsider, a decision intelligence platform with a suite of software tools to equip energy businesses with the data they need to make informed decisions. Kumar, founder and CEO, has spent years consulting companies on finding operational success and now is using her Dsider platform to streamline results.

"When I looked at how companies made decisions — especially in the decarbonization world — I realized there was a big gap to be filled, and that's how Dsider was born," Kumar says on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"We are creating transparency so that companies can have a digital footprint of how decarbonization can happen, and allowing them to make decisions along the way that are always going to be towards decarbonation and not forgetting that everything has an economic trade off," she continues.

Dsider, a Greentown Houston member company, is targeting the energy industry specifically — oil and gas, petrochemicals, utilities, etc. She says Dsider has the potential to bring decarbonization decision making to other industries as well. For now, Dsider has a few customers and is actively seeking out a few more.

"One of the first few things we want to do is get traction with a handful of customers," "We have the rigor and we are able to make sure the products we have brought to market are really something that is going to land well with customers. From that, we want to see the growth accelerator."

This year, Kumar hopes raise seed funding and grow her team and customer base. She still is working with companies as a consultant with her business, Ayatis LLC. She says the two roles go hand in hand — Dsider is a tool she can offer her consultancy clients.

"We live in that world today where a single role isn't enough for us," Kumar says. "The consulting angle has really helped me think through the customer journey. ... That has really created the Dsider and product journey. In order for me to grow Dsider, I can't balance the consulting that I used to do, so all of my consulting will be geared towards helping customers decarbonize and leveraging Dsider to do that."

Kumar shares more on Dsider's potential impact on decarbonization and how she has observed changes in Houston's innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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

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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

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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.