Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

It might surprise most to know that Houston Methodist doesn't have an innovation department within their hospital system — at least not one set up as you'd imagine, with a team specifically dedicated to innovation. Instead, Houston Methodist's Digital Innovation Obsessed People, or DIOP, consists of leaders across departments.

Michelle Stansbury is one of those leaders. As vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, she oversees the system's IT department and serves as a leader within its innovation efforts. This includes the Center for Innovation Technology Hub — which opened in 2020 in the Texas Medical Center location and opened its Ion outpost last week.

Stansbury explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast how effective this distribution of innovation responsibilities has been for Houston Methodist. With everyone having a seat at the table — operations knows the biggest problems that need solutions, IT knows how to deploy technology, etc. — implementation of new innovations has been sped up.

"If we partner together, we should be able to succeed fast or fail fast," she says on the show. "We've been able to find a solution, pilot it, and, if it works well, roll it out at a speed that most other organizations have not been able to do. It's been highly successful for us."

The newest way Houston Methodist is mixing up how it brings in innovative solutions to its team and patients is by taking its team outside of the Texas Medical Center and its hospitals in general. Now, Houston Methodist has a permanent tech hub in the Ion, owned and operated by Rice Management Company, on the lower level of the building, completely open to any of the Ion's visitors.

"We've always had a great partnership with Rice. This almost felt like an extension with Houston Methodist and our Rice collaboration with the Ion," Stansbury says. "Our main goals have been how can we utilize the talent that's housed out of that facility."

She explains that the new hub is an extension of the original hub in the TMC hospital, and that innovators who are interested in collaborating with Houston Methodist — especially those with solutions applicable to health care — can visit the Ion hub as an entry point.

Both hub locations showcase pilot technology Houston Methodist is working on, and that technology will then get deployed out into its hospital locations — and especially its Cypress hospital, which is being billed as being the "smart hospital of the future." The construction is underway and expected to deliver in 2025.

Stansbury shares more about this ninth location for Houston Methodist as well as more details on the new tech hub on the podcast. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston is primed to become an energy tech hub amid ongoing energy transition.

Houston has what it takes to be a leading energy tech hub, says expert

GUEST COLUMN

As the energy capital of the world, Houston has been a long-time leader in the energy industry, particularly oil and gas. With cutting-edge research and technological breakthroughs, unique talent of energy veterans and engineering know-how, the city is swiftly developing into a booming energy technology hub.

Houston’s R&D, talent pool, energy infrastructure, and favorable business environment is fostering the growth of technology-driven energy initiatives. These factors differentiate Houston's energy tech ecosystem from other tech hubs in the U.S., in similar ways to how Silicon Valley has been known for technology and software and Boston and New York for biotech and fintech ecosystems, respectively.

Primarily, Houston's proximity to major energy players has played a crucial role in its evolution as an energy technology hub. Around 34 percent of all publicly traded oil and gas companies in the U.S. are headquartered in the city. Even the energy companies that are headquartered outside of Houston (e.g., Exelon, Duke Energy, and NextEra Energy) have established their energy transition headquarters and plants/infrastructure here. This proximity enables energy technology startups easy access to market, expertise, resources, and funding, fostering a vibrant ecosystem that supports their growth.

Moreover, with an expanding network of academic and commercial R&D activity, the city has become a rising hub of technological development. It currently houses more than 21 business research centers focusing on various aspects related to energy transition through design, prototype, and applied intelligence studios.

For instance, the Greater Houston Partnership, a key organization in promoting Houston’s economic growth, has been actively involved in positioning the city as a leader in the global energy transition space. Some of the notable green energy startups leading Houston’s energy transition are Sunnova, Solugen, Fervo Energy, Syzygy Plasmonics, Ionada, and Energy Transition Ventures.

The emergence of startup development organizations throughout the city, including workplaces, incubators, and accelerators, in recent years has fostered collaboration among founders, investors, and talent, thereby accelerating the rate of business formation and growth. Accelerators and incubators such as Halliburton Labs, Greentown Labs, The Ion District, and Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator are key supporters of innovation and entrepreneurship in Houston’s energy technology landscape.

In addition, government funding is catalyzing Houston’s growth in energy tech. Most prominently, the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is likely to stimulate greater investment in solar and wind energy, charging infrastructure, and electric vehicles in Houston. It will support the city’s R&D institutions and technology developers in pioneering energy transition for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS/CCUS), hydrogen, and renewable fuels, resulting in a 13-fold increase in capital expenditure for infrastructure between 2024 and 2035.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) also focus on promoting and funding research and development of advanced energy technologies, many of which are coming out of Houston.

Further, Houston has a strong talent pool with a workforce of three million individuals and the fourth largest concentration of engineers in the US. In 2022, the growth rate of tech employment in the region was 3.5 percent while the national growth rate was 3.2 percent.

The energy industry, research institutions, and government are coming together in Houston to propel it to become a leader in energy technology. However, the city still has a ways to go: Houston needs to build more in non-traditional energy sectors (e.g. wind, solar, etc.), attract more entrepreneurs to start companies here, and get more investors to invest here. Having successful energy tech exits and reinvestment in new startups here would help.

Houston has tremendous potential to lead energy technology, and with the rapidly growing focus of research, businesses, and government policies on energy transition. The confluence of energy tech players coming together in Houston is driving its evolution as an energy tech hub, making it an exciting place for new technologies and businesses to develop and grow, and reinvest in Houston.

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Michael Torosian is a partner in the corporate practice in the San Francisco office of Baker Botts. He is outside general counsel to emerging companies and their investors and advisors at all stages.

The Center for Innovation at Houston Methodist has opened its new Technology Hub to showcase its efforts to advance digital health. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Photos: Houston Methodist opens new hub to showcase health tech of the future

what's next for health care?

Houston Methodist is regularly exploring new digital health technologies, but, until recently, lacked a proper space to demonstrate their vision for the future of health care. Now, with the Center for Innovation's Technology Hub, the hospital has just that.

The tech hub opened earlier this month in Houston Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more.

"Basically this space is like a laboratory for digital health innovations," says Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist. "It's an opportunity to bring doctors, administrators, and subject matter experts to talk through what digital health could be at Houston Methodist."

The tech hub has re-imagined the experiences patients have and demonstrated the effect technology can have in various experiences — from the waiting room or outpatient care to at-home health and a voice control-optimized patient room. There's a virtual reality demo room that showcases the hospital's use of VR for distraction therapy, as well as for a doctor to demonstrate a surgical procedure for his or her patient.

"Part of this space is to change culture within the organization to promote this type of technology and really grow it because we think we can have some really positive impacts with our patients with these collaboration tools.

The space also features coworking space for industry experts — like Amazon or Microsoft — to come in to co-create, Sol says. Houston Methodist was also the first hospital in Houston to sign up for Apple Health's beta program.

Tours are open to industry professionals, vendors, and staff.

"We're excited for what the future can bring with this space," Sol tells InnovationMap.

Click through the slideshow to see some of the tech hub's rooms and the technology featured.

An interactive space

Houston Methodist Center for Innovation Technology Hub

Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The purpose of the new tech hub is to allow visitors to interact with technology Houston Methodist is exploring, as well as to tell the story of the hospital's innovations and its patients. The screen upon entry to the hub is one of the only 8K touch-screen monitors and allows a viewer to tap through to see a layout of the hub as well as to hear a story of one of Methodist's patients.

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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.