From advice to observations, these five quotes overheard at SXSW proves Houston had some great spokespeople at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival. Photos courtesy

Houston had no shortage of representatives at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival, which took place March 8 to 12 in Austin. Several sat on panels, lead mixers, or even starred in a movie for the film track of the conference.

I had the pleasure of sitting in on a great deal of these events featuring the best and the brightest of Houston's innovation stars, but I realize most did not. To catch you up and rid you of your fear of missing out, check out these five overheard quotes from the fest.

"I think it's so important to find your focus and know what to say no to, because you can't do it all. Elizabeth [Gore] and I have a monthly 'meeting of no' where we literally check off things off our plate that we need to stop doing because we just don't have enough time. It's probably one of our most valuable hours."

Carolyn Rodz, co-founded Alice with Elizabeth Gore. Alice co-hosted a series of panels at the Bumble Hive. She was asked, during the investment-focused panel, about focusing on B-to-B vs. B-to-C as a startup. Alice and Bumble just recently announced a partnership.

"We're trying to awaken the sleeping giant — a really huge city with lots of money, trying to infiltrate and activate huge family offices and rally people behind the goal of building a vibrant startup community. We've got a long way to go in terms of attracting VC talent — we're still behind Austin and Dallas."

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, at the Austinpreneur podcast recording of "The Texas Startup Manifesto" episode. He was asked about what he's been trying to accomplish at The Cannon. Gow is the son of InnovationMap's parent company's CEO.

"We've got all the basic tools, and we know what the main issues are. There's still a lot to do, but we need to be smart and do fact-based and mechanism-based combinations."

James Allison, chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center. At his panel, "Making the Fight Against Cancer Even More Personal," he was asked about the current status of immunotherapy research.

“Have very specific questions. I hate the ‘can I pick your brain’ request. If you want advice on something, ask me that specifically. And, show up at everything. … It’s not about what network you have, but how many networks you can get into.”

Grace Rodriguez, CEO and executive director of Impact Hub Houston. On the "Equitable Growth Ecosystems for Entrepreneurs" panel, she was asked about how an entrepreneur might try to grow their network and mentorship.

"Houston is an incredibly industrial town. We have more Fortune 500 companies here than anywhere other than New York — most of them in the world of the dirty and dangerous. We don't have a lot of scooter companies."

Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. She was asked while on her panel, "Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions," about bootstrapping as a startup. Read more about this discussion here.

Houston, we have a problem — and it's helping local startups have access to funding. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

SXSW panelists: Improving access to funding is key for Houston's continued ecosystem growth

Show me the money

A few weeks ago, Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner and Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe proclaimed that Houston's up-and-coming innovation ecosystem was no longer up and coming: It had arrived. But what preceded that proclamation was years of figuring out what it was Houston could do to get to this point.

"We're the fourth largest city in the United States, and in 2015 were ranked 20th out of 25 ecosystems," Rowe says at a panel at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival.

Following that shocking news, Rowe says the city's focus was on building tools — accelerators, incubators, education — but nowhere did anyone talk about funding. Now, years later, with plenty of accelerators, workspaces, and educational programs, Rowe says Houston now has a great pipeline of companies, but the problem is finding funding for them to tap into.

Entrepreneurs are looking for three things when it comes to finding ways to fund their companies, according to Rowe. They want it to be accessible capital — not something they have to take a class on to figure out how to get to it. They also want it to be impactful and local to where their headquarters is.

"When I think about accessible, impactful, and local, I think, well, not a lot falls into that category [in Houston]," Rowe says. "We're not doing it particularly well right now."

It's a structural problem, according to Rowe. While the city has built up its entrepreneurial climate, it hasn't yet made the same effort with investors.

"Even if we have one or two funds, we need an ecosystem that supports funding in the same way we have an ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs," she says.

Joe Milam, founder of Austin-based AngelSpan, an early stage investor relations platform, says the issue in Houston — and Austin — is that industries can be siloed. There's a huge need for an honest broker to connect the dots across the city, and that person needs to be impartial.

"You gotta care about your community first, before you care about your own agenda," Milam says. "Otherwise, you're going to flounder like Houston has, and how Austin still does."

One thing everyone agreed on during the Saturday, March 9, panel was that Houston has a lot of money, but it's been sitting on the sidelines. The mission is, in addition to bringing in venture capital firms, finding ways to engage money that's already in town.

"We have to produce tools to enable that capital that's hiding," Rowe says.

Houston-based PolyVascular earned recognition in two categories, as well as nabbing up to $25,000. Courtesy of TMC Innovation

2 TMCx companies leave SXSW with awards and grant money

Med tech

Two Houston companies are walking away from SXSW with awards and grant funds.

PolyVascular, a member of TMCx's 2017 medical device cohort, won the fifth annual Impact Pediatric Health pitch competition's medical device and health disparities and equity categories. Additionally, the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium granted the company up to $25,000.

PolyVascular co-founder Henri Justino represented his company in three-minute pitch, and team members Dan Harrington and Kwon Soo Chun were also in attendance.

The company was one of 12 finalists in the competition, which took place on March 8 at SXSW in Austin. Among the judges was Houston doctor, Chester Koh, professor of urology, pediatrics, and OB/GYN at Baylor College of Medicine and Pediatric Urologist at Texas Children's Hospital.

"At the Southwest National Pediatric Device Consortium, we are always looking for the next cutting-edge breakthrough in the world of medical devices," says Koh in a release. "Impact Pediatric Health's reputation for bringing together the leaders in pediatric medical technology innovations makes it the perfect venue to help identify and accelerate the next generation of medical device companies impacting our youngest of patients."

Founded in 2014, PolyVascular produces polymeric transcatheter valves for children with congenital heart disease — the most common birth defect and number one cause of infant mortality in the developed world. The company's goal is to reduce that number of infant deaths by introducing a higher quality of valves.

Meanwhile, VastBiome, a 2018 biodesign TMCx company, received a $1,000 grant and is now one of two finalists for the San Francisco-based Illumina Accelerator program. The company works with scientists with ongoing clinical trials focusing on the microbiome as it pertains to therapy.

Another TMCx company, Zibrio, was up for an award in the 2019 SXSW Pitch event, but left the contest empty handed.

TMCx has multiple representatives at the festival, and the organization partnered with Energizing Health to host events throughout the first weekend of the conference.

Jim Allison, immunotherapy researcher at MD Anderson and Nobel Prize recipient, is the subject of a new film that premiered at SXSW. Photo courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center

Film about Nobel Prize-winning Houston scientist premieres at SXSW

Now showing

For most of his career, James Allison has been a cancer research wildcatter fighting an oftentimes lonely battle for the advancement of immunotherapy. The medical community has historically been skeptical of the science, but nonetheless Allison dedicated his life to developing a better treatment to the disease that has claimed so many lives — including his mother's.

Last year, Allison, the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson, won the 2018 Nobel Prize in medicine, and Breakthrough, a film about Allison's progression from early researcher to Nobel Prize recipient, premiered on March 9 at the 2019 SXSW Interactive festival.

But despite the Nobel Prize and the new film both validating the science to the public, Allison says there's a lot more work to be done in immunotherapy. Allison, his colleague, Padmanee Sharma, and the filmmaker for Breakthrough, Bill Haney, hosted a discussion at SXSW about the future of immunotherapy.

"It's a time of considerable optimism — and we're just at the beginning," says Allison.

The film focuses on the man behind the science — a 70-year-old, harmonica-playing researcher from small-town Alice, Texas. It's both an ode to Allison's career and a thought-provoking take on all the work left to be done in the industry.

Immunotherapy is the process of targeting one's immune system's T-cells, infection-fighting white blood cells, to attack cancer cells. Sharma, a fellow MD Anderson oncology expert and clinician, says their work has received clinical approvals for treating Melanoma, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. The scientists are now focused on expanding that treatment to other cancer types and building upon the established platform they've created, while also making sure nothing comes in the way of the facts of the science.

"It really requires that we dedicate ourselves to the basic science, understanding it and educating people about it, so we don't allow the facts and science get muddied by things that are political or nonfactual," Sharma says.

In a lot of ways, this is what Breakthrough has been able to do — communicate the facts on a platform where anyone can understand the science.

"We have a revolution on our hands, and thankfully we have people like Bill who can really tell the story well, because maybe as a scientist and a clinician, we're not always equally talented on telling the story to laypeople," Sharma says.

Moving forward, Allison says he's focused on finding out why the treatment fails in some instances, and he's determined to progress immunotherapy's success rate from the 20 to 40 percent rate he says he sees it at now to 100 percent.

"We've got all the basic tools, and we know what the main issues are," Allison says. "There's still a lot to do, but we need to be smart and do fact-based and mechanism-based combinations."

From pitch competitions to panels, here's how Houstonians will be representing at SXSW. Marie Ketring/via sxsw.org

10 can't-miss events at SXSW featuring Houston speakers

South by the Bayou

Plenty of Houstonians, SXSW badge in hand, will be headed to Austin to network, learn, and share the stage with the rest of the festivals attendees. While InnovationMap has highlighted a few of the faces to be on the lookout for this weekend, here's a roundup of 10 events that have a Houston speaker or participant.

3/8 — Featured Session: Opening Speaker, Brené Brown

SXSW is starting right out of the gate with a Houstonian. Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, will be the keynote address. Her thoughtful talk will focus on community and one's sense of belonging.

The SXSW keynote address will be at 11 am on Friday, March 8, at the Austin Convention Center. Learn more.

3/8 — Hysteria No More: Data, Doctors and Women’s Health

Gone are the days that medical professionals dismiss women's health concerns as "hysteria," but there's still room for improvement on the matter. Three ob/gyns will talk about new ways women are finding health care solutions outside the doctor's office.

Rashmi Kudesia, physician at CCRM Fertility Houston, is one of the panelists, which occurs on Friday, March 8, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/8 — Equitable Growth Ecosystems for Entrepreneurs panel

The country has an equity problem — especially when it comes to startups and funding. Nationally, venture capital funds are not distributed in a way that represents the populations diversity, so how does the industry right the course?

Grace Rodriguez of Impact Hub Houston is among the panel that will discuss this at 3:30 pm on Friday, March 8, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Austinpreneur: The Texas Startup Manifesto

Texas is among the growing innovation ecosystems in the world, but there's plenty of untapped potential. This Capital Factory panel will focus on taking Texas to the next level.

Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon, will be a panelist at the event, which begins at 11 am on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Startup Funding: From Apprenticeships to Professions

Venture capitalism has changed tenfold since its start. Looking back on the history of early stage funding can help predict where it's going — from Silicon Valley to every corner of the world.

Station Houston CEO Gabriella Rowe is on the panel, which will take place at 12:30 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/9 — Making the Fight Against Cancer Even More Personal

No one loves discussing cancer, but there's a large group of scientists who have to daily and they develop new technologies and innovations to help discover a cure for the deadly affliction.

James Allison, researcher at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and 2018 Nobel Prize recipient, will be on the panel discussing ways to innovate within cancer research. The program starts at 5 pm on Saturday, March 9, at the JW Marriott. Learn more.

3/10 — SXSW Pitch Presented by Cyndx Awards Ceremony

Two Houston startups are competing for an award in the 11th annual SXSW Pitch Event. Fluidity Technologies will be presenting as its drone controller, FT Aviator, in the Hyper-Connected Communities category on Saturday, March 9, at 5 pm, and Zibrio SmartScale, which is in the Health and Wearable category, will present on Sunday, March 10, at 5 pm.

The pitch awards will take place at 6:30 pm on Sunday, March 10, at the Hilton Austin Downtown. Learn more.

3/11 — Tech Diversity Report Card 2019

Is diversity and inclusion basically just a myth in technology? Is it something that's attainable at this point, and what can the industry do to make that happen? A group of panelists discuss based on their experience and observations.

Heidi Hoover, head of office at Houston-based Flanders Investment & Trade, will be a member of the panel, which occurs on Monday, March 11, at 5 pm, at Capital Factory. Learn more.

3/11 — Angel Investor Meetup

Calling all acting and aspiring investors — it's time to rally. Two Texas investors are gathering the troops to discuss trends and opportunities in the state's — and the world's — investment sector.

Samantha Lewis of Houston-based GOOSE Society of Texas will be one of the hosts of the meetup, which takes place on Monday, March 11, at 5 p.m, at the Fairmont Hotel. Learn more.

3/12 — AI & IoT Panel and Emerging Company Showcase

Houston-based Baker Botts and Global Corporate Venturing are setting the stage for emerging tech companies to shine. The event includes a panel, a showcase, and an evening of networking.

James McKell, of Chevron Technology Ventures, is representing Houston on the panel, which begins at 2 pm on Tuesday, March 12, at Hotel Van Zandt. Learn more.

Honorable mentions


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Overheard: International startup accelerator shares advice for Houston companies navigating COVID-19 era

Eavesdropping online

It's no secret that the spread of COVID-19 has greatly affected startup ecosystems by shutting down coworking and accelerator spaces and providing economic uncertainty in the venture capital world. However, organizations focused on investment and acceleration are still working to virtually guide startups virtually.

Plug and Play Tech Center, an accelerator and investment group based in Silicon Valley that recently launched its Houston presence, is still offering support and even investments to startups as the pandemic continues on. One way they've recently done so is through Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to answer questions from Houston entrepreneurs.

On the panel, Neda Amidi, partner and global head of health at Plug and Play Tech Center, Milad Malek, associate at Plug and Play Ventures, and Payal Patel, director at Plug and Play Houston, discussed concerns and questions about the organization's dedication to Houston, advice amid the pandemic, and more. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Timing and opportunity set up the Plug and Play Houston office. The mayor and other business leaders in Houston had seen what happens in our Silicon Valley office and with all the things that are going on in the burgeoning startup community in Houston, we saw the opportunity.”

— Patel says on how Houston snagged its very own Plug and Play location. "Given the high concentration of large companies here — as well as the growing number of investment opportunities — we moved quite quickly to open the office here," she adds.

“There’s a number of great entrepreneurs here in this city. I think a missing ingredient has been the number of early stage investments — especially in that Seed or series A stage. So, we hope to make an impact in that. Our CEO has publicly stated that he’d like to make five investments in Houston a year.”

— Patel shares about Plug and Play's investment strategy in Houston. She adds that five investments in Houston a year is the bare minimum, and they actually are striving for more.

“[Investing virtually is] kind of the same process, but we definitely try to make sure we have cameras on and distractions are away, really giving that entrepreneur that same experience as we can in a face-to-face meeting."

— Amidi says on how Plug and Play's investment team approaches investment meetings and pitches during this time. She explains that during the beginning of the pandemic, most of their investments were with companies that had existing relationships with or follow on deals. Now they have made investments in companies they've never met in person. She says Plug and Play has relied on its network to give feedback on these potential deals.

“During COVID, we’ve recommended to a lot of our portfolio companies to raise more than what they needed at the time to be able to power through what’s happening now and what will happen on the economy side as well."

— Amidi says about investment advice they've given to Plug and Play startups.

“A lot of hardware companies get too intense in terms of thinking about one avenue of fundraising. Spend a lot more time thinking about fundraising strategy.”

Malek says on fundraising for hardware startups specifically. He adds that there are other options for generating cash flow, like grants. "Don't forget the business side of things" he adds. "I know early on, a lot of founders are focused on the technology and prototyping, but it's important as well to think about a compelling narrative for potential investors — even if you're pre-revenue."

"For SaaS, it’s important to have a unique differentiation. There are a lot of copy cats in this realm. It’s ok to be doing something that has competitors — every startup has competitors."

— Malek says about software-as-a-service startups pitching to investors. "It's a red flag when we're talking to a startup — especially one with a SaaS product — that says we don't have competitors," he adds, saying it's usually not true.

“A lot of investors out there prefer teams with multiple founders and not just one founder. It never hurts, at least in an investor’s eyes, to have two or three founders.”

— Malek explains, responding to a question about how to begin the process of bringing another co-founder on board. Investors, he says, value a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise.

“Take your time — it’s kind of like picking a spouse or partner. You want to make sure you’re compatible.”

Amidi adds, saying it's an exceptionally difficult process nowadays. She recommends reaching out to your network for leads on a potential co-founder or even looking into sites like AngelList or LinkedIn.

New product sold in Houston gets EPA approval as eco-friendly, coronavirus-killing car cleaner

IN-CAR TECH

With the onset of COVID-19, the public is more aware than ever of cross-contamination, which extends from your home to your business to your car, and beyond.

NuVinAir announced that its latest product, ReKlenz-X, has gotten approval from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as an eco-friendly disinfectant. The company's Houston affiliate, Brian Ross, is selling the product.

ReKlenz-X kills 99.9 percent of germs, bacteria, and viruses in a vehicle's interior without compromising the integrity of the cabin. The product is on the EPA's "List N", which includes disinfectants for use to combat SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

"NuVinAir has proudly been at the forefront of helping ensure healthier commutes to drivers and passengers since launching in 2015. Adding this EPA-approved, oxygen-infused product that actually kills what's behind the coronavirus gives us an exciting extension to our 'Total Health' application," says Kyle Bailey, NuVinAir Global's CEO and founder.

"Our science-backed ReKlenz-X disinfectant cleans, protects, and disinfects safely and effectively — it's everything our automotive partners need in guaranteeing their customers' confidence in a safer, healthier vehicle," he continues.

To clean, the proprietary product uses an oxygen-enriched formula to quickly kills bacteria and viruses by destroying their cell walls through a process called oxidation. According to NuVinAir, ReKlenz-X contains no harsh chemicals, sticky residue, or dangerous volatile organic compounds. The result is a disinfected vehicle with no chemical smell.

ReKlenz-X is available in 32-ounce spray bottles through automotive dealerships, detail shops, rental-car companies, service centers, and vehicle fleets.

"Until now, any possible solution for killing the coronavirus was wrought with harmful chemicals, expensive equipment, and residue-leaving application devices that destroy the vehicle's interior," said Troy Blackwell, Chief Operating Officer for NuVinAir Global. "As a disinfectant and sanitizer, it can be applied to all interior vehicle surfaces using a microfiber towel. Paired with our premier detailing solution, ReNuSurface, as well as our patented Cyclone treatment, it takes deep cleaning to a whole new level for our automotive partners and their customers."

Dallas, Texas-based NuVinAir sells their products through a franchise system, similar to Line-X's business model.

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This article originally ran on AutomotiveMap.

Entrepreneur hopes to bring microbiology into the future with her Houston-based, pandemic-founded startup

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 40

While startups everywhere are struggling to adapt in the tumultuous times of COVID-19, Rebecca Vaught and her company, having launched just ahead of the pandemic, don't actually know any other way of existing.

After watching some of her friends thrive in Houston's life science ecosystem, she knew Houston was the place she wanted to start the company that she'd been envisioning and plotting for years. She took a chance on the city, moved in, and began Enventure's Biodesign accelerator. The program shutdown as COVID-19 spread, much like other programs, but Vaught wasn't going to let that stop her momentum.

"A lot of people probably would have seen that as the stopping point but that was actually the beginning of the company," Vaught says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What it allowed us to do was actually establish the lab and do the hard work."

As Vaught says, the biotech company, Van Heron Labs, is what it is thanks to the pandemic — not just in spite of it.

"While it's been challenging, the pandemic — in a lot of ways — is the only thing we've ever known and it's a lot of reason why the company has taken off and been successful," Vaught says on the show.

She runs the company with co-founder Alec Santiago and a team of 17 interns — all located across the country. Vaught herself is currently residing in Huntsville, Alabama, after struggling to find lab space in Houston. However, the relocation has been a blessing in disguise.

"Both ecosystems are extremely unique and both bring something different to the table," she says. "My next mission, through my lived experience, is igniting or uniting the Houston and Huntsville biotech ecosystems."

On the episode, Vaught explains how the two cities — each representing key parts of space exploration history and burgeoning tech scene — complement each other. She also shares her plans for growth and the need to bring microbiology into the future.

Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.