Six members of the UH community participated in the inaugural Innov8 Hub's Innovators to Founders Cohort. Photo via UH.edu

A new accelerator at the University of Houston recently wrapped its first program for a cohort of five early-stage startups.

Known as the Innov8 Hub's Innovators to Founders Cohort, the accelerator is a founder-driven program in partnership with the UH Technology Bridge, the Innovation Center, and the Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Innov8 is designed to aid six to eight aspiring entrepreneurs bring their concepts to market and assist them in applying for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants.

Founders recently showcased their work before potential partners and investors at the hub's first-ever Startup Pitch Day following the conclusion of the 12-week program.

“The goal of the programs is for the founders to launch new ventures and develop business plans they can use to raise money and attract C-suite level employees to join their team,” Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at Tech Bridge and co-founder of Innov8 Hub, said in a statement. “These programs aren’t classroom-teacher driven so the founders have to commit to engage and spend the time necessary to reap the benefits.”

The Innovators to Founders Cohort runs for three months each semester. Cohort members will devote three hours each week to the program. Photo via UH.edu

The inaugural cohort included:

Shoujun Xu, UForce Biotechnology: Xu is a chemistry professor at UH and has developed a new technique of super-resolution force spectroscopy, or SURFS, and plans to launch his company, UForce Biotechnology, in the future. He aims to use the SURFS technique to advance drug screening. His pitch at the Startup Pitch Day was named the best of the night, and Xu went home with $7,500 in legal services and one year of coworking space free of charge.

Easy Anyama, ODX Health: Anyama is a fourth-year student in the UH College of Optometry. His company, ODX Health, aims to improve "data harmonization, interoperability and integration in eyecare to reduce inefficiencies and enhance health outcomes," according to UH.

Jeremy Tee and Easy Anyama, Ringit: Anyama joined fellow fourth-year student in the UH College of Optometry Jeremy Tee in a second pitch, Ringit. The startup aims to provide a low-cost medication management solution for the visually impaired. It is developing an adaptive labeling system that helps the visually impaired identify their medication and dosages independently via intuitive, "touch-based features," according to UH.

Jan Beetge, AltiSora: Beetge has developed "Botox for wood." The product is made from high- sustainability raw materials that are non-hazardous and non-toxic. Potential applications include waterproofing of electronic equipment or electrical cables or connections in cables, such as cables used in marine applications, according to the company's website.

Jason Shi, Smart Planter Project: Shi is developing a "high-tech planter, a device that autonomously takes care of your plants and keeps them healthy while you’re gone," according to UH. He aims to soon test the product with customers.

The Innovators to Founders Cohort runs for three months each semester. Cohort members will devote three hours each week to the program.

The Innov8 Hub also offers an SBIR/STTR Support Cohort and a WKI Program for Student Entrepreneurial Support Cohort.

Last year, UH also named eight graduate students to its first-ever UH-Chevron Energy Graduate Fellows cohort.
Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to talk about the university's dedication to helping the city become an innovative force. Photo via UH.edu

University leader calls for shift in culture to advance Houston innovation

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 187

Ramanan Krishnamoorti has had a varied career in academia, from an engineering professor to nanotech research. While he never made the transition from researcher to entrepreneur, he managed to snag a CEO title at the university about a decade ago: Chief energy officer.

Since then his role has expanded to include advancing UH's innovation of all kinds — from health tech to the arts — as vice president of energy and innovation at UH. In his role, he oversees the UH Technology Bridge, a lab and coworking space for tenants just a short drive away from UH's main campus, as well as future plans, like a new central campus hub for innovation that's in its early stages of development.

"What we really need at the university today is to bring innovation — which tech transfer is a piece of — and connect that to real-world challenges to deliver what the world needs, which is talented folks delivering new innovative, entrepreneurial, or intrapreneurial programs," Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

For Krishnamoorti, so much of what is happening on campus is directly in line with what's happening city wide in Houston. There's a need to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship, he says, and Houston already has what it takes to do it.

"As a city, we're known to solve problems," he says on the show. "We don't talk about things here, we get stuff done. That's been the calling card for the city."

A priority for Krishnamoorti is making sure that UH has a culture — for students, faculty, and the entire community — that embraces creativity.

"We've got some incredibly innovative staff and faculty, and one of the things we do very well in academia, in spite of everything we talking about, is that we know how to stifle that creativity, especially when it comes to staff and faculty," Krishnamoorti says. "How do we change that culture?"

"Culture is the dominate thing," he continues. "We've got to be systematic about it. If we don't deliver that cultural shift about how we unleash creativity and innovation amongst our student, staff, faculty, and alumni, we're going to fail."

Krishnamoorti shares more about his vision for UH's future as a hotspot for innovation, as well as the challenges the organization faces, on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

TexPower's founders — Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, CTO Wangda Li, and CEO Evan Erickson, respectively — celebrated the opening of the company's new lab space. Photo courtesy of TexPower

Houston startup with revolutionary battery technology opens new labs

power move

A Houston startup founded off research out of a Texas university has cut the ribbon on its new lab space.

TexPower EV Technologies Inc. celebrated the opening of its 6,000-square-foot laboratory and three-ton-per-year pilot production line at a ribbon-cutting event last week. The Northwest Houston site is located at 6935 Brittmoore Rd.

The new space will help the company further commercialize its cobalt-free lithium-ion cathode, lithium nickel manganese aluminum oxide (NMA). The technology is game changing for the electrification of the United States, including the rapid adoption of electric vehicles.

Currently, the country is experiencing a supply chain crisis, says Evan Erickson, co-founder and CEO of the company, at the event. Most of the world's cobalt, a material traditionally used in lithium-ion cathodes, is sourced primarily from the Congo and refinement is mostly controlled by China, he explains.

For these reasons, Cathodes are the most expensive component of lithium-ion batteries. But TexPower has a unique technology to solve this supply chain issue, and now with its new labs, is one step closer to commercialization of its materials.

TexPower spun out of the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. The company was co-founded by Erickson with CTO Wangda Li and Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, a professor at UT whose lithium-ion battery research fuels the foundation of the company.

“We want to point out how lucky we are — as a company and as scientists," Erickson says at the ribbon cutting event. "It’s not common that you see something you work on in academia turn into something that can become commercially successful.”

Prior to the newly built labs, TexPower operated out of the University of Houston's Tech Bridge. The company intends to raise additional funding to support its expansion.

According to the company, the new three-ton-per-year pilot line is the first step toward building a manufacturing facility that's capable of producing up to 50 times more the amount of cathode with a goal to impact markets such as defense, power tools, and eVTOL.

CEO Evan Erickson celebrated the new lab space opening last week

Photo courtesy of TexPower

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Houston startup with unique vascular innovation enrolls subjects in new trial

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A Houston-based company has enrolled the initial subjects in a first-of-its-kind trial.

VenoStent was created to improve vascular surgery outcomes for patients undergoing arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery.

“When a vein is connected to an artery, as in AVF creation, the vein experiences a 10x increase in pressure and flow that is traumatizing to veins. Many fail to become usable for dialysis,” Geoffrey Lucks, VenoStent COO and co-founder, says in a news release.

Enter VenoStent’s SelfWrap Bioabsorbable Perivascular Wrap, better known as simply SelfWrap. In May 2023, SelfWrap gained FDA approval to begin its US IDE Study, SAVE-FistulaS: The SelfWrap-Assisted ArterioVEnous Fistula Study.

Roughly half a million Americans need hemodialysis just to survive another day. Nearly all of those patients require a vascular access creation surgery, but the procedure has a 50-percent failure rate in its first year. VenoStent and SelfWrap are aimed at improving those odds. It works by using the body’s own healing mechanism.

SelfWrap is a flexible, bioabsorbable vascular wrap that helps to recreate the arterial environment in veins. Over time, the body replaces the SelfWrap with venous tissue.

The company has begun to enroll patients for what will eventually be a 200-subject study. Some of those people have radiocephalic fistulas, others have brachiocephalic ones. This is important, because it will likely prove that the technology works for most types of AVFs. The sites for this clinical trial are at the Surgical Specialists of Charlotte, P.A. in Charlotte, NC, and the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin.

“While it’s ambitious and sets a high bar for FDA Approval, we owe it to the chronic kidney disease (CKD) patient community to provide the highest level of clinical evidence,” Timothy Boire, CEO and cofounder, says in the release. “We’re confident based on years of preclinical and clinical data that we’ll demonstrate superiority to standard of care with this breakthrough technology.”

VenoStent recently completed a $16 million Series A, financed by Good Growth Capital and IAG Capital. This is the first-ever randomized controlled trial of a medical device designed to improve outcomes from arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery in the United States.

Explore the eco-friendly commuting app that's driving change at Houston area employers

Going My Way?

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston-based mobile app called ConnectSmart is on a mission to make the region more connected and less congested. With its ability to generate personalized travel recommendations and provide exclusive access to unique transportation tools, information and services, the app has been instrumental in helping many Houstonians experience a less stressful ride throughout the city.

While the app has already helped tens of thousands of Houstonians improve their daily travel, the program’s latest addition — the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite — is aimed at helping Houston-area employers increase their staff’s access to affordable and sustainable mobility options to and from work.

“As more residents throughout the Houston-Galveston region become familiar with the Houston ConnectSmart app, we encourage area employers to embrace and consider incorporating it into their commuter programs,” says Jamila Owens, travel demand manager for the Houston Galveston Area Council. “Whether a commuter is looking for the perfect transit route or coworkers for a carpool, this is one way the business community can play a significant role in improving the regional commute and greatly increase their staff’s commute options.”

The Employer Commute Suite supports businesses seeking to manage, measure, and report on the impact of commuting programs on their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and decarbonization initiatives. The best part is that it is entirely adaptable to any company's unique culture and structure. Whether it be carpooling, utilizing public transit, or working from home, the Employer Commute Suite offers an array of commuting options from which to choose.

As an employer, you can engage your employees in your ESG initiatives and help transform their daily commutes into a more eco-friendly and cost-effective experience by becoming a Houston ConnectSmart Partner.

The app’s state-of-the-art employer carpooling feature is designed to match employees with colleagues traveling in the same direction, reducing vehicle expenses, toll costs, and fuel consumption. The carpool trips are then recorded for reporting purposes.

Employer Partners have access to the Commute Suite dashboard that is designed specifically to help companies monitor their commuting programs, including carpool matches and trips, and calculate total reduction of CO2 emissions from carpooling, biking, riding transit , and telework, for their entire team.

But that’s not all — being an Employer Partner means contributing to the reduction of traffic congestion in the Houston area.

“We specifically developed the app to help individuals from across the Greater Houston region improve their daily travel,” says ConnectSmart’s Program Manager Brenda Bustillos. “We’ve worked closely with H-GAC and local employers alike to design a program and one-stop mobility app that increases employees’ travel options to work while reducing the cost and stress of daily commuting. By helping employers achieve their corporate goals, we can simultaneously reach our objectives of improving the Greater Houston region’s air quality, decrease congestion, and ultimately improve safety on these same roadways.”

The ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite is a valuable resource in helping businesses transition toward a more sustainable future.

Become an Employer Partner today and see how the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite can help your organization and support your ESG goals.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary of Fannin joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Commercializing a life science innovation that has the potential to enhance or even save the lives of millions of patients is a marathon, not a sprint. That's how Atul Varadhachary thinks of it, and he's leading an organization that's actively running that race for several different early-stage innovations.

For over a decade, Fannin has worked diligently to develop promising life science innovations — that start as just an idea or research subject — by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The model is different from what you'd see at an accelerator or incubator, and it also varies from the path taken by an academic or research institution.

The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary, managing director at Fannin, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Natasha Gorodetsky, founder and CEO of Product Pursuits

A product management expert shares how artificial intelligence is affecting the process for the tech and startup worlds. Photo via LinkedIn

For over a year, the tech and business community has been obsessing over artificial intelligence. As Natasha Gorodetsky, the Houston-based founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, writes in a guest column about how the product management community is not an exception.

"Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users," she writes. "A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver."

She continues in her article to outline the trends of AI for product management. Read more.

Jay Hartenbach, COO of Diakonos Oncology

A Houston company with a promising immuno-oncology is one step closer to delivering its cancer-fighting drug to patients who need it. Photo via Diakonos

Diakonos Oncology has recently made major headway with the FDA, including both a fast track and an orphan drug designation. It will soon start a phase 2 trial of its promising cancer fighting innovation.

The therapy catalyzes a natural immune response, it’s the patient’s own body that’s fighting the cancer. Hartenbach credits Decker with the idea of educating dendritic cells to attack cancer, in this case, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive cancers with which doctors and patients are forced to tangle.

“Our bodies are already very good at responding very quickly and aggressively to what it perceives as virally infected cells. And so what Dr. Decker did was basically trick the immune system by infecting these dendritic cells with the cancer specific protein and mRNA,” details COO Jay Hartenbach. Read more.