Health care innovators joined Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program to discuss women in health care innovation and venture capital investment. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston's health innovation community is making strides every day toward greater quality of care and technology adoption — but what challenges is the industry facing these days?

Through a partnership between Houston Methodist and Texas A&M University's ENMED program at Houston Tech Rodeo, health innovators weighed in on topics surrounding the industry, including biases and investment opportunities.

Missed the conversation? Here are seven key moments from the panels that took place at A&M's new ENMED building in the Texas Medical Center on Thursday, March 3.

“When I look at learning and understanding the priorities — how to take care of patients and also enable those who are doing that work, that’s part of understanding the culture and learning because in the 40 years that I’ve been in the industry, it’s never been the same. There are always things that continue to present challenges from unexpected places.”

​— Ayse McCracken, founder of Ignite Healthcare Network, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, referencing the rate of tech disruption and how new technologies, medicine, etc. can change the health care industry and practitioners need to find ways to keep up and stay ahead of the curve.

“Whenever you experience biases, what can you do? You can lean into the fact that we are in a position to help educate and make a change. And that’s going to look different for every one of us, but lean into that instead of feeling down by it.”

— Samantha Lewis, principal at Mercury Fund, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that women across industries should lean into being a change agent when met with bias in the workplace.

“The reason I feel so passionate is (I’m always thinking,) ‘What more can we be doing for our community? What’s working well and what’s not working well,' so I can take that back and make positive changes in our organization.”

— Michelle Stansbury, vice president of innovation and IT applications at Houston Methodist, says on the "Four Fierce Females" panel, explaining that when she's on the other side of the equation as a patient, she really considers her experience and how it could be better.

“Every time you raise money you’re telling a story. You have to figure out what adds value to that story. … I think health care is tricky too because people getting into it aren’t necessarily aware of how complex it is.”

— Dan Watkins, venture partner and co-founder at Mercury Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding how important it is to investors that founders have specific information — market potential, road map, etc. — when pitching to VCs.

“As a health care startup founder and CEO, you have to wear so many different hats — especially if you’re talking about diagnostics and medical devices. It starts in the science, moves to engineering, and then winds up being commercial. To expect someone to be an expert at all those fields is very difficult.”

— Tim Marx, venture partner at Baird Capital, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding that, “That’s why we look for the CEOs who really understand where they are, where they’re going, and what they need.”

“One of the things we really appreciate when we engage with founders, it’s not about ‘here’s why my company is great.’ It’s more about understanding the questions your business needs to answer. … If you think about that, that’s what we want to fund. We want to invest in the vision, opportunity, and the people, but we want to fund the — the roadmap — that usually comes with being thoughtful about the questions you’re trying to answer.”

— John Reale, venture lead at TMC Venture Fund, says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel, adding "That's where we get energized."

“The idea to attract talent that’s already built great companies across the US and the world to come here, hire here, and grow here — that’s starting to actually pay off. One of the things that’s big about Houston is it’s really gritty — it’s very ‘show me the data and prove it to me first.’ … We’re having those proven points.”

— Emily Reiser, associate director of innovation at the Texas Medical Center , says on the "Where’s My Money At?" investor panel about the work TMC is doing with its accelerator program.

Cart.com and Topl — two growing Houston startups — have made strategic appointments. Photos courtesy

2 Houston startups announce new execs to their leadership

short stories

A pair of Houston tech startups have recently announced new appointments to their leadership staff. An e-commerce company has a new chief people officer and a blockchain company named a new president to lead commercialization.

Meet Cart.com's new C-suite hire

Sara Patterson is a human resources veteran. Photo courtesy of Cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider, appointed Sara Patterson as chief people officer. She will lead all aspects of the company's talent acquisition and employee experience of the fast-growing startup.

As the company grows its team and its ecommerce-as-a-service platform, it's Patterson job to forge a strong, unified culture and develop a compelling talent acquisition strategy to support continuing growth, according to a press release from Cart.com.

"Sara is one of the most accomplished and experienced HR leaders in the business. She has a real gift for talent management, and unrivaled expertise driving success for fast-growing companies across a wide range of industries," says Omair Tariq, CEO of Cart.com, in the release. "Her experience and dedication are exactly what we need as we forge a unified workforce to support our end-to-end ecommerce platform. After all, we aren't just growing our workforce at record speed. We're also building a unified culture and delivering incredible employee experiences to ensure that our entire team — from office workers to warehouse pickers — can stay laser-focused on our core goal of helping ecommerce brands to thrive."

She has three decades of experience in human resources, including serving as CPO of Lemonade, which included managing over 500 employees. She also worked as vice president of HR and head of talent management at Walmart eCommerce, which had more than 15,000 employees. She has also held senior leadership positions at Bonobos, Tribune Media, Conde Nast, Coach, and Gilt.

"People are the key to success for any growing company, and I'm thrilled to be joining one of the fastest-growing and most transformative companies in the ecommerce space," Patterson says in the release. "Cart.com's leaders have made it clear that they see a strong culture as the key to lasting success, and I couldn't agree more. I'm delighted to be joining such a talented team, and supporting their continuing mission to unlock scalable growth for ecommerce brands."

Here's who will lead commercialization for Topl

Tim Marx has transitioned from adviser to employee at Topl. Photo courtesy of Topl

Tim Marx has joined Topl as president, the company recently announced. Marx will lead Topl's commercialization efforts and scaling. He previously supported the blockchain company as adviser.

A Fulbright Scholar, Stanford MBA, and former Boston Consulting Group partner and managing director, Marx has consulted on the ground in more than 20 countries, including those of Latin America, Europe, and Asia. He will continue to support Baird Capital as a venture partner, which he has since 2018.

"My overall thesis for getting involved in Topl is that I finally saw a really solid business use case versus a classic solution looking for a problem to solve," Marx says.

To learn more about him, read his recent Topl team member blog.

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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.