This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Timmeko Moore Love of Greentown Houston, Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI, and Ghazal Qureshi of UpBrainery. 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 edtech to climatetech — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Timmeko Moore Love, general manager of Greentown Houston

Timmeko Moore Love has been named Greentown Houston's inaugural general manager. Photo courtesy of Greentown

Greentown Houston has named Timmeko Moore Love as Houston general manager and senior vice president of Greentown Labs. She'll lead Greentown Houston’s team and business operations, while growing the location's membership.

Love has 20 years of experience in innovation management, per the news release, and was the first Black woman at a Fortune 500 to lead a venture capital program. In that role, which was at The Woodlands-based Entergy Corp., she was named to the 2020 Global Corporate Venturing Powerlist. Love also oversaw corporate ventures at Mayo Clinic and Best Buy Capital.

“Greentown Labs is committed to ensuring founders’ success and is an agent of action in the fight against climate change,” says Love in the release. “I am excited to continue my service to the Greater Houston climate innovation ecosystem through this esteemed platform, and partner internally and externally to evolve and expand our services and programs.” Read more.

Anshumali Shrivastava, co-founder and CEO of ThirdAI

Anshumali Shrivastava also serves as an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around." Read more and stream the episode.

Ghazal Qureshi, CEO of UpBrainery

Ghazal Qureshi's Houston-based startup has advanced to the semifinal round of a prestigious national competition. Photo courtesy of Idea Lab Kids

UpBrainery, an immersive educational technology platform that customizes lessons for students, received $20,000 in seed funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Visionary Interdisciplinary Teams Advancing Learning (VITAL) prize challenge. The $6 million prize challenge is cosponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Schmidt Futures, and the Walton Family Foundation.

“This incredible achievement reflects our commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge and technology,” UpBrainery states in a LinkedIn announcement.

In addition to the seed money, UpBrainery will be partnered with a mentor to help them improve the logistics of their exploratory learning and AI aided platform, with a focus on developing their minimum viable prototype. Read more.

Anshumali Shrivastava joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share the revolutionary work ThirdAI is doing for artificial intelligence. Photo via rice.edu

How this Houston innovator is making AI accessible, personal, and safe

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 198

Anshumali Shrivastava's career has evolved alongside the rise of artificial intelligence. Now, he believes his company represents the future of the industry's widespread implementation.

Shrivastava, who's also a professor at Rice University, founded ThirdAI, pronounced "third eye," in 2021 to democratize artificial intelligence through software innovations. As Shrivastava explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast, AI processes have historically been run on larger, less accessible computing hardware. ThirdAI's tools are able to run on a regular central processing unit, or CPU, rather than the more powerful graphics processing unit, or GPU.

"We focus on the problems that people are facing in the current AI ecosystem," Shrivastava says on the podcast. "Right now, if you are to build some of the large-language models and (linear programming) models, you need a lot of computing power, dedicated engineers to move it, and, even if you are using fully managed services, it's costly and there are a lot of privacy implications because you have to move data around."



These are some of the challenges for AI development, and, as Shrivastava points out, this process isn't even accessible for 90 percent of the world that lacks the infrastructure to do it. And, even for companies that can afford to invest in the dedicated GPU hardware, there's a global chip shortage.

ThirdAI's solution? Enable AI processes on the hardware that is accessible — CPUs.

"That is what our product offerings are — the AI ecosystem on commodity infrastructure," he says, explaining that ThirdAI's goal is also to improve existing AI applications.

One specific AI application that ThirdAI is making more effective for its customers is search tools in ecommerce. The need to make online shopping searches as quick and as accurate as possible directly affects the company's ability to complete the transaction. Wayfair tapped into ThirdAI's tech to address its latency in its on-site searching.

"Their problem was in the domain of making language models and search engines, which are AI based, very efficient," Shrivastava says. "We were able to bring down (latency) significantly with our technology."

One AI application that's taken off over the past few years is the chat-based model — led by OpenAI's ChatGPT. As exciting as the prospect of navigating information via chatbot is, many companies, understandably, have privacy concerns.

ThirdAI created PocketLLM to address this concern. The platform, which ThirdAI offers for free, operates completely on the harddrive of the owner of the data, meaning your data stays with you.

"ChatGPT has shown the world what is possible," Shrivastava says, explaining that 80 or 90 percent of use cases are people or companies wanting to take their knowledge and data and turn it into an AI chat tool. "What people want is a ChatGPT-kind of agent on their data, but they don't want their proprietary data to be leaked to the outer world."

"Because I can build AI where your data is, your data never have to leave your ecosystem. PocketLLM is a demonstration of that capability," Shrivastava continues. "It's a tool that uses our software stack and essentially looks at your data and builds this chat agent and offers you an air-gapped privacy."

Shrivastava explains that the tool can be used for enterprises or even personal applications — like navigating past conversations on email, seeing as no email provider seems to have an optimized search option.

PocketLLM is just one thing ThirdAI is working on. Shrivastava explains that the company is developing an entire ecosystem of tools that can be used on CPUs.

"If AI is going to be an agent, it better be personalized," he says, explaining that no one AI will have the right answer for everyone.

Shrivastava shares more about the future of both AI and ThirdAI, which is growing to keep up with demand. Listen to the interview here — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

ThirdAI's new PocketLLM app is free to use and completely secure. Photo via Getty Images

Houston startup launches innovative chat tool on its mission to democratize AI

smart tech

Artificial intelligence has a big potential to disrupt the technology industry, and one Houston company that was founded by a computer science professor at Rice University, is fast on its way to help lead that future now in a convenient and affordable way.

Founded by Anshumali Shrivastava and Tharun Medini, a recent Ph.D. who graduated under Shrivastava from Rice's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, ThirdAI is building AI deep learning tools that aim to be sustainable and scalable to fit the changing needs of the industry. The company is on a mission to democratize AI, Shrivastava tells InnovationMap.

Shrivastava likes to use the word efficiently when describing what makes ThirdAI different, and how its programs can teach AI via multiple avenues to be what he refers to as “1,000 times more efficient.”

“The carbon footprint of these models are off the charts, and so expensive,” Shrivastava. “We believe this could be made efficient. … We use the same ideas that were developed, but we do it on a massive scale.”

ThirdAI's latest tool is a multilingual ChatGPT-like AI training tool PocketLLM app. Announced earlier this month, the tool is free. According to the company, users have access to a personalized chatbot that understands what the user is searching within documents, and can be fine-tuned to help elaborate your thoughts through a neural search.

ThirdAI's PocketLLM app is free to use. Image courtesy of ThirdAI

The app is private and secure and runs on deep-learning algorithms according to Vinod Iyengar, head of product at ThirdAI, and no one — not even ThirdAI — has access to the documents except the user.

“Tools exist to help people search text files, but that requires sharing your data with third parties,” says Iyengar in a news release. “Our solution is private and secure, powered by deep learning algorithms. And it returns results lightning fast.”

The process includes the user installing the app, uploading any text document files, and clicking "train." Minutes later, you have an AI tool that can process the information in those documents.

“The neural search encourages you to elaborate on your thoughts with details in the discover window and see the difference in results,” says Shrivastava in the release. “It can also be fine-tuned to your tastes by selecting the relevant option and hitting the update button to re-train."

In September of 2021, ThirdAI — pronounced "third eye" — raised $6 million in seed funding. The round was invested in by three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures. The technology ThirdAI is working with comes from 10 years of deep learning research and innovation. The company's technology has the potential to make computing 15-times faster, the company reports.

Anshumali Shrivastava is an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes former city council member Amanda Edwards, Gaurav Khandelwal of Velostics, and Anshumali Shrivastava of ThirdAI. 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 logistics tech to computer science — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Amanda Edwards, former Houston City Council Member

Amanda Edwards worked with local female leaders to launch BEAMW. Photo via LinkedIn

A couple years ago, Houston City Council Member Amanda K. Edwards, along with entrepreneurs Carolyn Rodz and Courtney Johnson Rose, formed a task force to provide Mayor Sylvester Turner with recommendations about increasing increase access to capital for minority- and women-owned business enterprises and assisting these business owners in scaling up their businesses. The task force created the Houston Small Business Community Report, which shed light on the disparities in access to resources for women and BIPOC-founders.

In response to this report, Edwards and a cohort of female leaders have launched the Business Ecosystem Alliance for Minorities and Women, or BEAMW, to address these disparities these businesses face when seeking capital and attempting to scale their businesses.

"It is not enough to state that Houston is the most diverse city in the country; we must be the city where the challenges that diverse communities face are solved," Edwards says in a release. Click here to read more.

Gaurav Khandelwal, CEO and founder of ChaiOne and Velostics

Serial entrepreneur says he sees logistics innovation as a "massive opportunity" for Houston. Photo courtesy

Gaurav Khandelwal has been an advocate for growing Houston's innovation ecosystem since he started his company ChaiOne — an industrial software provider — in 2008. Now, with his new company, Velostics, he is passionate about making Houston a hub for logistics innovation too.

"I think that there are some trends in Houston that I'm seeing as a founder, and one of them is logistics," Khandewal says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"If you look at Chicago — it's had some crazy amount of logistics unicorns that have popped up over the past few years, and they aren't slowing down," Khandewal says on the show. "Houston, I would argue, is better positioned, because we have this massive port. I think logistics is a massive opportunity for Houston." Click here to read more and listen to the episode.

Anshumali Shrivastava, CEO and co-founder of ThirdAI

Anshumali Shrivastava is also an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

A seed-stage company is changing the game for data science and artificial intelligence, and the technology was developed right on the Rice University campus.

ThirdAI, founded by Anshumali Shrivastava in April, raised $6 million in a seed funding round from three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures.

"We are democratizing artificial intelligence through software innovations," says Shrivastava in a news release from Rice. "Our innovation would not only benefit current AI training by shifting to lower-cost CPUs, but it should also allow the 'unlocking' of AI training workloads on GPUs that were not previously feasible." Click here to read more.

This Houston startup has a game-changing technology for deep learning. Photo via Getty Images

Houston artificial intelligence startup raises $6M in seed funding

money moves

A computer science professor at Rice University has raised seed funding last month in order to grow his company that's focused on democratizing artificial intelligence tools.

ThirdAI, founded by Anshumali Shrivastava in April, raised $6 million in a seed funding round from three California-based VCs — Neotribe Ventures and Cervin Ventures, which co-led the round with support from Firebolt Ventures.

Shrivastava, CEO, co-founded the company with Tharun Medini, a recent Ph.D. who graduated under Shrivastava from Rice's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Medini serves as the CTO of ThirdAI — pronounced "third eye." The startup is building the next generation of scalable and sustainable AI tools and deep learning systems.

"We are democratizing artificial intelligence through software innovations," says Shrivastava in a news release from Rice. "Our innovation would not only benefit current AI training by shifting to lower-cost CPUs, but it should also allow the 'unlocking' of AI training workloads on GPUs that were not previously feasible."

The technology ThirdAI is working with comes from 10 years of deep learning research and innovation. The company's technology has the potential to make computing 15-times faster.

"ThirdAI has developed a breakthrough approach to train deep learning models with a large number of parameters that run efficiently on general purpose CPUs. This technology has the potential to result in a gigantic leap forward in the accuracy of deep learning models," per and announcement from Cervin Ventures. "Our investment in ThirdAI was a no-brainer and we are fortunate to have had the opportunity to invest."

Anshumali Shrivastava is an associate professor of computer science at Rice University. Photo via rice.edu

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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.