This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joanna Nathan of Prana Thoracic, Alfredo Arvide of Cloche, and Susan Davenport of the Greater Houston Partnership. Photos courtesy

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

Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana Thoracic

Prana Thoracic, an innovative startup in the lung cancer diagnostics space, has raised its series A round of investment. Photo via LinkedIn

Joanna Nathan has been busy. It's been just under six months since the launch of her company, Prana Thoracic, a Houston health tech startup tackling lung cancer diagnostics, and the company has already secured its next round of investment funding. A medical device company developing a tool for early interception of lung cancer, the company announced last week that it closed a $3 million series A financing round.

In August, the company received a $3 million award from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. All of Prana Thoracic's funding is being used to develop the unique diagnostic product and the company's path to first-in-human clinical studies.

“Our technology provides a definitive answer to patients with lung nodules and allows physicians to intervene earlier in the lung cancer patient’s journey,” says Joanna Nathan, CEO, and co-founder of Prana, in a news release. “Our team is grateful to have the support of our investors and excited to leverage this financing to accelerate our technology to the bedside.” Read more.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche

This new restaurant technology allows for eateries to upgrade to mobile ordering for no cost. Photo courtesy of Cloche

A new mobile software platform has launched in Houston and is currently looking for restaurants interested in utilizing their technology to upgrade their eatery with mobile ordering at no cost to the restaurant.

Alfredo Arvide, co-founder and managing director of Cloche, tells InnovationMap that the idea for the platform came after the pandemic forced restaurateurs to quickly pivot to touch-free menus. Now that the consumer has adapted to scanning QR codes to view menus, the next step is to optimize ordering — something that will also help with the labor shortages that restaurants are now facing.

"Now is the time transform this industry by creating a better meal experience for the consumers, an easier job for the restaurant staff and a more efficient, more profitable business for restaurant owners," Arvide says. Read more.Read more.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW, HETI House at CERAWeek, and taking the city on tour to spread awareness of the ecosystem. Photo via houston.org

Every year, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world convenes right down the road from Houston in downtown Austin. That's a huge opportunity for the Greater Houston Partnership to showcase and congregate Housto's tech innovators.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how the GHP has made an effort to increase Houston's presence at SXSW over the past few years. This year, the third year for Houston House, the GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative are convening over 20 Houston innovators for two days of programming.

"We want to further the development of our ecosystem," Davenport says on the podcast. "Houston is so uniquely place for this — we have such well-developed industry sectors and a customer base. ... All entrepreneurs want to showcase their products and talk about what their doing. We'll have people there to answer questions and, most importantly, invite them to Houston." Read more and listen to the episode.

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW, HETI House at CERAWeek, and taking the city on tour to spread awareness of the ecosystem. Photo via houston.org

Tapping into CERAWeek, SXSW to showcase and convene Houston tech

Houston innovators podcast episode 176

Every year, one of the biggest tech conferences in the world convenes right down the road from Houston in downtown Austin. That's a huge opportunity for the Greater Houston Partnership to showcase and congregate Housto's tech innovators.

Susan Davenport, senior vice president and chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership, shares on the Houston Innovators Podcast how the GHP has made an effort to increase Houston's presence at SXSW over the past few years. This year, the third year for Houston House, the GHP and the Houston Energy Transition Initiative are convening over 20 Houston innovators for two days of programming.

"We want to further the development of our ecosystem," Davenport says on the podcast. "Houston is so uniquely place for this — we have such well-developed industry sectors and a customer base. ... All entrepreneurs want to showcase their products and talk about what their doing. We'll have people there to answer questions and, most importantly, invite them to Houston."

Currently, the GHP is also hosting its second year of involvement at CERAWeek with its HETI team. HETI House, which is open at CERAWeek showcases unique energy transition technology originating in Houston. Returning this year is HETI's startup pitch competition on March 8 from 10 am to 3 pm.

SXSW and CERAWeek are just two examples of the GHP's mission of putting Houston tech on display. Davenport shares how every year, the GHP's team embarks on a handful of domestic and international mission trips to bring Houston to other major cities — as well as bring back ideas from other ecosystems.

"We go to these conferences to provide a glimpse into what we're doing and have an opportunity to connect, but we also take that message around the globe," Davenport says. "We believe we have a great story. We believe Texas has a great backdrop, and we put all this together and take it on the road."

She shares more about these trips and on what people can expect from Houston House at SXSW on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


According to a new report, Houston has potential to lead three life science subsectors: cell and gene therapy manufacturing, molecular diagnostics, and biologics drug development and manufacturing. Photo via Getty Images

Report: Houston is primed for a boom in these life science subsectors

by the numbers

A new report found that Houston has great potential across a handful of life science subsectors.

The study by Newmark Consulting Group was commissioned by the Greater Houston Partnership and sponsored by San Jacinto College, Lone Star College, Houston Community College, and McCord Development. It looked at the region's existing resources and value proposition in the life sciences sector.

According to the report, Houston is home to industry-leading expertise in three subsectors: cell and gene therapy manufacturing, molecular diagnostics, and biologics drug development and manufacturing.

From a workforce perspective, the city has a steady flow of new talent from regional universities and "an emerging and robust commitment by community colleges to support two-year degree pathways to meet industry demands and the ability for life science companies to grow and thrive in the market," per the report. The findings led to identifying the next steps for the Houston region to capitalize on these advantages.

“The Newmark study confirms what we knew to be true about the potential for life sciences growth in Houston,” says Susan Davenport, GHP's chief economic development officer, in a news release. “The study will help us coalesce our regional partners around a cohesive strategy to grow and expand the industry in Houston.”

The report's other key findings included:

  • Houston consistently ranks as a top-15 market for life sciences employment nationwide and first in Texas with nearly 700 life science companies operating in town.
  • The Bayou City has the densest patient population in the world, which allows for transformational clinical applications.
  • The city's diverse workforce, extensive university ecosystem, education infrastructure, and research institutions sets a scene for Houston to capture extensive subsector gains.
  • Houston ranks second in the nation in clinical trial volume with more than 4,600 currently active clinical trials, which is representing 15 percent of all active U.S. trials.
  • In 2021, Houston-area institutions attracted $864.1 million in grant funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is up 16.3 percent from 2020. On average over the past five years, the region received $740.7 million per year in NIH funding for a total of $3.9 billion.
  • Houston is home to more than 26,000 non-healthcare life science employees.
  • The region's life sciences workforce ranks No. 12 in the nation, on par with numbers reported for Research Triangle Park.
In light of the report, the GHP is recommending a few action items, including "accelerating workforce development programs to produce new graduates in key life sciences occupations, refining Houston’s marketing messages to highlight the region’s existing life science assets and activities within life science R&D and manufacturing," per the report. Additionally, the GHP identified the need to develop a shared regional strategy to attract and retain leading life sciences companies.
To lead these initiatives, the GHP has assembled task forces, which will be led by the organization’s Life Sciences Committee, chaired by Ferran Prat, senior vice president of Industry Relations and Research at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures, Susan Davenport of Greater Houston Partnership, and Zimri T. Hinshaw of Bucha Bio. Courtesy photos

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 venture capital to sustainability — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner of New Climate Ventures

Eric Rubenstein of New Climate Ventures joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the future of Houston as a clean energy hub. Photo courtesy of NCV

Houston has a big role to play in the energy transition, says Eric Rubenstein, a climatetech investor, on last week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Houston's role (within the energy transition) is multifaceted," he explains. "We have a talent pool here that fits pretty well in climate tech, alternative materials, and other spaces. ...We have a customer base here that is going to adopt these new technologies."

Rubenstein founded New Climate Ventures to fund startups within the sustainability and climate tech space — which includes technologies that address circular economy, sustainably made materials, clean energy, and more. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

Last year, the Greater Houston Partnership created virtual content to shine a spotlight on Houston tech and innovation at SXSW. This year, the GHP is taking that same initiative in-person and in Austin. Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer at GHP, shared in a Q&A what people can expect fro Houston House at SXSW.

"Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders," she says. "We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives."

The activation runs Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Click here to read more.

Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio

Bucha Bio has arrived to make an impact on the city of Houston. Image via LinkedIn

A sustainable fashion company has relocated to Houston. Bucha Bio, founded in 2019, creates in textiles and composite materials made from bacterial nanocellulose, a much more sustainable materials production, that can be used instead of animal leather, polyurethane, latex, vinyl, epoxy, and more. The company announced in a press release today that it's moving from New York City and opening a next-gen materials headquarters at the East End Maker Hub. Bucha Bio has also been accepted as a member company at Greentown Labs.

According to the release, over 20 locations were considered, and Houston stood out for its hiring potential, local universities, Texas's business-friendly regulation, and more.

“We’ve signed on senior scientists and their experiences from the oil and plastic industry are perfectly suited to biomaterials,” says Zimri T. Hinshaw, CEO of Bucha Bio, in the release. Click here to read more.

The Greater Houston Partnership's Susan Davenport shares details on Houston House at SXSW. Photo via houston.org

GHP introduces in-person Houston House for SXSW 2022

Q&A

Texas is just about two weeks away from SXSW's return to in-person activations and events since pre-pandemic times. The two-week conference includes conversations and activities within music, film, education, tech, and more. And this year, the Greater Houston Partnership is shining a spotlight on the Bayou City at the festival.

"With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House — a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference," says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the GHP.

Houston House, which first originated last year in digital form, will be held in Austin on Sunday, March 13, and Monday, March 14. Davenport shares more details on the activation in a Q&A with InnovationMap.

InnovationMap: Why did the Greater Houston Partnership decide to have a presence at SXSW this year?

Susan Davenport: As one of the premier tech conferences in the U.S., SXSW provides an incredible platform to promote Houston’s position as the most prominent emerging innovation hub in the country.

Houston was a featured partner at last year’s SXSW Online Conference, where the Partnership rallied innovative leaders from across the region for a series of virtual programming. With the return of the conference in person for the first time since 2019, we are thrilled to build on that momentum and host Houston House – a two-day activation featuring programming and networking opportunities for guests attending the conference.

With an expected attendance of 45,000 bright minds from around the globe, it’s the perfect venue to showcase Houston’s tech leadership and cultivate relationships that support the growth of our ecosystem.

IM: What can attendees expect from Houston House?

SD: This year’s activation will be held at the Line Hotel, an established SXSW venue in the heart of the action. Consistent with what attendees have come to expect from South by, Houston House will offer thought leadership programming featuring industry leaders and startup founders in a series of panel discussions on today’s most prominent topics in tech.

In addition to main stage programming, Houston House will also offer a lounge space that will serve as a landing pad for stakeholders and attendees to cultivate relationships. Each day of programming will conclude with a networking reception.

IM: The programming is geared around a few topics — what are some of these themes and how do they pertain to Houston innovation?

SD: On Sunday, March 13, our programming will be focus on topics like commercial aerospace, medical device innovation, cell therapy, and investment for diverse entrepreneurs. These panel sessions will showcase Houston’s leadership through the incredible work taking place at the Ion, Houston Spaceport, Johnson Space Center, and the Texas Medical Center.

On Monday, March 14, our programming will kick off the start of the SXSW Climate Change track and focus primarily on how Houston is leveraging its energy leadership to accelerate solutions for a low-carbon future. Topics will include VC investment in climate tech, corporate and startup partnerships, emerging low-carbon energy technologies, and ensuring an equitable energy transition.

Our full lineup of Houston House programming and speakers can be found online, along with an overview of the 2022 SXSW Conference.

IM: Who should stop by Houston House at SXSW?

SD: Anyone who is interested in technology, commercial aerospace, life sciences, and how DEI traverses with these industries will find value in our rockstar lineup of industry leaders, investors, and startup founders. We hope to see young professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and executives.

For fellow Houstonians attending the conference, Houston House will serve as a home base to kick off your SXSW experience. For those who are not currently involved in our tech ecosystem, this will be the perfect opportunity to dive in and learn more about the amazing things taking place in our great region.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

A new report from the Greater Houston Partnership analyzes the city's startup ecosystem's banner year of VC activity. Photo via Getty Images

New analysis puts Houston's leap in venture capital investment in perspective

by the numbers

Houston-area startups raked in the cash last year, setting a record for the region’s annual tally of venture capital.

In 2021, Houston startups collected $2.02 billion in VC funding, according to a Greater Houston Partnership analysis of data from PitchBook. That’s up 175 percent from the $734.2 million raised in 2020.

Three startups (Solugen, HighRadius, and Lancium) accounted for more than $800 million of last year’s VC haul.

“This record year in venture capital funding for Houston companies is another important example of the positive momentum building around our innovation ecosystem,” says Susan Davenport, chief economic development officer for the Greater Houston Partnership.

“In just the last year alone, we saw the opening of The Ion, East End Maker Hub, Greentown Labs as well as the growth of other startup development organizations,” Davenport adds. “We also witnessed two of our startups — Solugen and Axiom Space — grow into unicorns, achieving a valuation of more than $1 billion. Add to this the expanded local presence of tech giants such as Microsoft, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, and it’s clear that Houston is rapidly building on its reputation as an innovation and technology hub.”

Here’s a breakdown of last year’s record-shattering year for VC in Houston.

Funding

  • $188.5 million in angel and seed funding, up 92.6 percent from $97.9 million in 2020.
  • $687.4 million in early-stage funding, up 361 percent from $149.1 million in 2020.
  • $1,144.3 billion in late-stage funding, up 134.9 percent from $487.3 million in 2020.

Deal volume

  • 219 deals, up 26.6 percent from up from 173 deals in 2020.
  • 122 angel and seed deals, up 9.9 percent from up from 111 deals in 2020.
  • 49 early-stage deals, up 58.1 percent from 31 deals in 2020.
  • 48 late-stage deals, up 54.8 percent from 31 deals in 2020.

Average deal size

$11.6 million average deal size, up 110.3 percent from $5.5 million in 2020.

Industries receiving the most VC in 2021

  • Information technology, $632.1 million.
  • Health care, $518.4 million.
  • Materials and resources, $426.5 million.

Serafina Lalany, executive director of Houston Exponential, told InnovationMap in January that tracking VC data offers her organization a metric for growth of the local innovation ecosystem.

“It gives us insights into the rate of capital that is deployed and how that’s growing over time and where it’s getting deployed. [It also] gives us the signal as to what our strengths are and the areas that we need to continue to build out infrastructure,” Lalany said.

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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.