In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, local venture groups announce new investments, Houston schools launch programs, and more. Photo via UH.edu

It's been a horrific week for both the city of Houston and the state of Texas. Millions of residents have lost power and/or water due to a winter storm that brought low temps. For this reason, Houston innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, the Texas Medical Center's Venture Fund and Chevron Technology Ventures make new investments, University of Houston professors make big moves, both Rice University and UH announce new programs, and more.

TMCx company raises $2 million

The Texas Medical Center Venture Fund announced its latest investment. Noninvasix Inc., a startup working on novel precision oximetry technology announced it has closed an over-subscribed seed round at $2 million led by the TMC Venture Fund with support from Philips and GPG Ventures. The funds will help the company advance product development and attain FDA clearance.

"TMC Venture Fund has been a strong supporter of Noninvasix since our initial investment in the company, and we look forward to our continued partnership with them," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "The potential of this platform technology to guide better clinical decision-making and improve outcomes has us excited to be part of the effort that brings the optoacoustic technology to the market."

The Noninvasix team has created a solution for the safe, accurate and non-invasive monitoring of infant welfare in the neonatal intensive care unit.

"Brain hypoxia, characterized by restricted blood flow to the brain, accounts for 23 percent of all neonatal deaths worldwide and costs the U.S. healthcare system over $7 billion per year, making the development of an accurate and precise patient monitoring system a top maternal-fetal health priority," says Noninvasix CEO Graham Randall, in the release.

"Noninvasix's novel solution utilizes optoacoustic monitoring of cerebral venous oxygenation to accurately measure the adequacy of the oxygen supply to a baby's brain in real time."

The Cannon and the University of Houston launch new partnership

A UH program has teamed up with a local startup development organization. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

The Cannon has partnered up with the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Houston to launch a semester-long program that will introduce students to the Startup Development Organization Network.Through the new collaboration, students will have access to new opportunities to interact and connect with professionals and advisers.

"We couldn't be prouder to partner with the University of Houston and the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship to engage with the students that will soon be driving innovation in Houston and beyond," says Jon Lambert, CEO of The Cannon, in a news release. "UH is widely recognized for its excellence in entrepreneurial education and what Dave Cook and his team have built through The Wolff Center is second to none.

"The Cannon is excited for the opportunity to play a role in enhancing the entrepreneurial education journey through helping to provide a bridge between world-class academic programming and the commercial entrepreneurial landscape."

Students at WCE will receive access to The Cannon's online platform, Cannon Connect, as well as access to exclusive events hosted by The Cannon.

Rice University launches new data science program

Rice University is now offering a master's in data science beginning in the fall. Photo courtesy of Rice

Rice University has announced it's creating a Master of Data Science program. The degree is offered through the George R. Brown School of Engineering and managed by the Department of Computer Science. With classes beginning in the fall, applications are now open.

"The field of data science touches almost every industry in our economy," says Scott Rixner, a professor in the Rice's Department of Computer Science, in a press release. "This degree will provide those seeking to find new careers, or to advance in their current careers, the opportunity to acquire an indispensable skill set and to build future-focused critical expertise that will drive future innovation."

The 31-credit program will be offer classes both online and face-to-face, according to the release. The courses will deliver the skills needed to collect, evaluate, interpret and present data for effective decision-making across a variety of industries. The new program joins the online Master of Computer Science degree that was launched in 2019.

"Data science has revolutionized all fields of study and many sectors of the industry where data is central to the scientific or industrial endeavor," says Rice Dean of Engineering Luay Nakhleh, in the release. "Data-driven discovery has complemented hypothesis-driven discovery, and it is here to stay. This degree positions our students for rewarding, life-long careers that provide meaningful impact in design and research in a multitude of industries."

Houston biotech company with COVID-19 treatment enters agreement with UH

A UH-founded biotech company has a new partnership to announce. Image via Getty Images

AuraVax Therapeutics Inc. has entered into an exclusive license agreement with the University of Houston for its intranasal vaccine and therapeutics technology platform. The biotech company is developing novel intranasal vaccines and therapies to help patients defeat debilitating diseases including COVID-19. This new agreement upgrades the optioned intellectual property between UH and AuraVax announced in October.

The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, similar to FluMist, and was developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at UH. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

"We are excited to rapidly expand our relationship with the University of Houston to advance the development of this novel intranasal approach to tackle respiratory viruses. We plan to stop COVID-19 at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform represents a differentiated solution that will lead to a vaccine to create sustained immunity to COVID-19 and other viruses," says Varadarajan, in the news release.

Chevron Technology Ventures makes latest investment

CTV has recently invested in a geothermal energy company. Photo via eavor.com

Houston-based Chevron Technology Ventures has announced its latest investment in Eavor Technologies Inc., a Canadian company that closed a $40 million funding round. Eavor is working on a scalable geothermal technology and hopes to power the equivalent of 10 million homes by 2030.

Eavor-Loop™, Eavor's technology, uses the natural heat of the earth like a battery and is different from what's on the market because of its scalable and transportatable application — as well as because it produces zero emissions.

Along with CTV, investors included bp Ventures, Temasek, BDC Capital, Eversource1, and Vickers Venture Partners.

"I am delighted that with the funding closed in this round we can look forward to bringing down the cost of clean, dispatchable power to a universally competitive level – an important milestone for renewable energy," says John Redfern, president and CEO of the company, in a news release. "The involvement of companies such as bp and Chevron represents a fantastic endorsement of our technology, the progress we have made to date and the promise for its global scalability."

3 UH engineers named to Academy of Inventors

Three UH engineers have been named senior members of the National Academy of Inventors. Photos via UH.edu

The National Academy of Inventors have named three University of Houston Cullen College of Engineering researchers senior members for 2021.

Hien Nguyen, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Jeffrey Rimer, Abraham E. Dukler Endowed Chair, William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering; and Gangbing Song, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering, are among the 61 selected for the distinguishment, according to a press release from UH.

"This national distinction honoring the research and scholarship of Drs. Nguyen, Rimer and Song is emblematic of the reputation for innovation fostered at the Cullen College of Engineering," says Paula Myrick Short, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at UH, in the release. "I congratulate these three outstanding faculty members for this well-deserved recognition."

Nguyen works with biomedical data analysis and artificial intelligence, Rimer's expertise in the processes behind crystal growth and formation, and Song researches the development of actuator systems for aerospace, biomedical and oil exploration applications.

A full list of NAI Senior Members is available on the NAI website.

Aziz Gilani to be recognized nationally

A Houston investor is being recognized nationally. Photo va mercuryfund.com

Aziz Gilani, managing director at Houston-based Mercury Fund, was just selected for an award from the National Venture Capital Association. Gilani is being recognized with the Outstanding Service Award for his work last year outlining and explaining the Paycheck Protection Program from the Small Business Administration to entrepreneurs.

The award will be presented at NVCA's virtual ceremony on March 9. More info on the award ceremony here.

Houston's innovation ecosystem development is highly interconnected to the city's real estate industry. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Overheard: Panel of experts sums up the Houston innovation ecosystem's real estate needs

Eavesdropping in downtown Houston

As the city and multiple entities strive to develop an innovation hub and ecosystem, real estate plays a huge role. Developing the physical space is one of the first steps to attracting companies, talent, and money to the Bayou City.

At Bisnow's annual Houston State of the Market event, five panelists heavily involved in the process of developing Houston's innovation ecosystem weighed in on the real estate needs of innovation development in Houston. Check out these powerful quotes said during the panel.

“What we build in Houston has to be uniquely Houston. ... At the end of the day, for this innovation district and Houston’s innovation ecosystem to be successful, it has to build off of the economic strength that Houston already has."

— Ceci Arreola, investment manager of real estate at the Rice Management Company. Arreola describes a collaborative effort to make Houston somewhere attractive for tech and startup talent.

“Think of it as a neighborhood of knowledge. That’s what we’re trying to create, and that’s connecting intellectual assets, institutional assets, place assets — meaning the physical space in which people connect and relate.”

— Jonathan Brinsden, CEO of Midway Cos., describes the innovation district, which will stretch from midtown to downtown.

"The flexibility in hospitality — that sort of different version of work and play — is critically important to the entrepreneurs. They need the ability to be transient. … They want the furnished apartment, but they don’t want to live in a hotel. They want a bike lane, because they aren’t going to have a car."

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston, says stressing the importance of a innovation center having restaurants and retail surrounding coworking spaces. "They want to continue the conversation they're having but with a beer in their hand."

“These companies take a lot from our designs and our way of nurturing them, but they want to give back and stay within the innovation campus. I think we need to be mindful of that. There’s a lot of cross pollination that happens when companies at different levels of each stage stay together.”

— Juliana Garaizar, director of the TMC Venture Fund, stresses the importance of designing real estate that can keep companies and startups of different sizes and stages together.

“When I lived in New York City, grocery shopping was the single biggest headache I had to deal with every week. One of the things I love about Houston is that this is no longer a problem for me.”

— Chris Turney, head of real estate for Sonder, says about ensuring development of city spaces keeps in mind day-to-day conveniences that make Houston more comfortable than other major cities.

From cryotherapy and NASA-inspired fitness to startup funding and biotech, this week's innovators to know are raising the bar on health tech and innovation. Courtesy photos

4 health-focused Houston innovators to know this week

Who's who

This week's innovators to know are focused on health and wellness, from a Houston-based cryotherapy franchise to the person behind funding medical device and digital health startups. We couldn't narrow these folks down to the usual three, so here are the four Houston innovators to know as we start the last week in February.

Juliana Garaizar, director of the Texas Medical Center Venture Fund

Courtesy of TMC

Juliana Garaizar has worked all around the world, and her international contacts and venture capital experience has landed her at the heart of the Texas Medical Center leading the TMC Venture Fund.

"I think TMC wants to be positioned as a strong competitor to the East and West Coasts as a point of entry for companies coming to the United States, but also for technology and commercializations from hospitals," she tells InnovationMap. "The fact that I'm already very connected to other countries — not only from the funding side but also from the research side, is really helpful."

Garaizar has her hands full running the $25 million nonprofit fund that invests around $2 million a year. Recipients, which all have a connection to TMC either through the accelerator or workspaces, receive a range between $250,000 to $500,000, and can go up to $1 million in a deal, Garaizar says. She is focused on securing deal flow for the fund before growing it more.

"In the long term, we would like to raise a bigger fun, around $100 million fund," she says. "We would need to make sure we have our deal flow ready for that, and a big part of that would be international deal flow."

Read more about Garaizar and the TMC Venture Fund here.

Walter Klemp, chairman and CEO of Moleculin

Courtesy of Moleculin

It's pretty concerning to Walter Klemp that, while Houston has the world's largest medical center, "the tragic irony" is that other cities have far more biotech money ready to be invested.

"The Third Coast is really starved for capital," he tells InnovationMap. "What drew me into this was I was one of the few entrepreneurs that lived here that knew the ropes in terms of tapping into East and West Coast capital structures and could make that connection for them."

In 2007, chairman and CEO Walter Klemp founded Moleculin Biotech Inc. as a private company. The company has three core technologies currently being tested with some success, but the most promising is called WP1066, which uses propolis, a compound of beeswax, sap and saliva that bees produce to seal small areas of their hives, as a base. The active compound both downregulates the STAT3, a long-time Holy Grail in the cancer research world, and directly attacking the tumor, but also quieting T Cells, which allows the body's own immune system to fight the cancer itself. Essentially, it works both as chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

Read more about Klemp and Moleculin here.

Jay Sutaria, founder and lead trainer of Sutaria Training & Fitness

Courtesy of ST&F

Earthbound Houstonians have a chance to use NASA training equipment thanks to Jay Sutaria's company, Sutaria Training & Fitness.

"It's exclusive access to the equipment that is not available openly in Houston," Sutaria tells InnovationMap. "NASA is a reference for us to become better trainers."

Sutaria founded his company in 2011 while he was a student at the University of Houston, and the company now operates with two trainers. His clients include professional athletes such as D.J. Augustin (Orlando Magic, NBA); and Tim Frazier (New Orleans Pelicans, NBA), however, Sutaria and his team offer professional personal training services to any type of athlete.

Read more about Sutaria and ST&F here.

Kyle Jones, COO of iCRYO

Courtesy of iCryo

Kyle Jones says he's always known he was destined for entrepreneurship, and when he came across the potential of cryotherapy while working at a physical therapist office, he knew it was a scalable business.

He opened his first location of iCRYO in League City in 2015. Now the company is

Jones says he used the location to work out the kinks of his business model, since he didn't really have much to model after. One thing that was most important to Jones, with his PT background, was safety of the patients. He cared about this more than making money, he says.

"I knew first and foremost the one thing that the cryotherapy space didn't have was a certification program, which is kind of terrifying to me," Jones tells InnovationMap. "Any therapy has some type of schooling or certification — massage therapy and acupuncture both have it. Cryotherapy even to date does not a certification to it."

Read more about Jones and iCRYO here.


Juliana Garaizar has worked around the world. Now she's taking her international expertise and using it for global initiatives within the Texas Medical Center. Courtesy of TMC

TMC Venture Fund director shares how the organization is growing its global presence

Featured Innovator

In November, when the Texas Medical Center launched its venture fund closely tied to its accelerator program, they were betting on the ecosystem — and the organization itself.

TMCx was seeing a lot of achievement from its cohorts, TMC Venture Fund Director Juliana Garaizar says, and it was time to expand on the impact they were making in life science innovation.

"While we thought we had so many success stories, we felt like we weren't really taking advantage of them," she says. "So, we bet on the ecosystem and started the fund. It was the next logical step into the creation of value after the program."

The $25 million nonprofit fund is all TMC money, and the fund plans to invest around $2 million a year. All the investments made are to companies that have a tie to TMC — through the accelerator program or a shared workspace, for instance. Funding grants range between $250,000 to $500,000, and can go up to $1 million in a deal, Garaizar says. Ten companies have received investments, with five more soon to be announced.

"I see us like a corporate venture fund that invests not only in companies that have a good ROI but also that can bring value to the TMC as a whole," Garaizar says.

Garaizar knows quite a bit about investing. Born in Spain near the French border, she's worked in finance around the world from Singapore to London before settling in Houston. Prior to TMC, was the managing director at the Houston Angel Network. Now, she's using her international investment know how to help grow TMC's global presence.

InnovationMap: How has your international background helped you here in Houston?

Juliana Garaizar: I think TMC wants to be positioned as a strong competitor to the East and West Coasts as a point of entry for companies coming to the United States, but also for technology and commercializations from hospitals. The fact that I'm already very connected to other countries — not only from the funding side but also from the research side, is really helpful.

IM: You are also connected with international consular representatives — how is that an asset to TMC?

JG: Houston has the third-most number of consular representatives in the U.S., which makes it easier for the TMC to connect with other countries because a lot of the consulate entities are here. And that's a big reasons the biobridges initiatives was created. We were receiving a lot of interest from these entities.

IM: Tell me about your involvement with TMC's Biobridge program.

JG: It's an international partnership between the TMC and different countries. They've already started with the UK and with Australia. The collaboration focuses on joint research and there's the commercialization part and the funding part — I'm mainly taking care of the funding part. We want to try to not only have the joint research and commercialization, but that those efforts get funded — not only from our side but also from the other country's side. We really believe that the biobridges can be a perfect source for deal flow for our funds. As you can see in your interview with Lance [Black], we have more and more international companies in our TMCx cohort. We believe we are positioned in the perfect way to become the point of entry of many excellent life sciences companies all over the world.

IM: How does Houston's VC ecosystem compare to some of the places you've worked in?

JG: London was very accepting of differences and open to any kind of innovation coming from all over the world. It's very easy for them to invest in deals coming from early stage and other countries. That's a little different from the U.S. One of the differences I saw coming from the early stage investment in Europe, we are pretty used to cross-border investing because our countries are pretty small. If we only had deals coming from our countries, we wouldn't get very far. So, we were very used to dealing with different tax rules, contracts, and navigating all that. One of the things you hear from U.S. investors is that they want the company they want to invest in to have a presence here. That's just not the case in Europe.

Another one of the things I also noticed was there is less money as a whole in Europe. As an entrepreneur, you really needed to learn to work together. The European Union and the French government, for instance, would only give funding if you had put a project together with partners from different countries, has private-public partnerships, and an educational institute — otherwise you wouldn't get the money from the government. That's not required here in the U.S. because there's more capital here. I can feel sometimes we are not as forced to collaborate here, and in some ways I see a lot of initiatives that are kind of reinventing the wheel. Sometimes I think if we put more resources and if we were more aware of what was going on in the ecosystem, we could get more synergy and collaboration together.

IM: How is TMC's fund different from others in Houston?

JG: From the acceleration side of things, TMCx is different from most in that we don't take any equity. A lot of companies that are not in a typical accelerator stage and have raised a couple rounds of funding even decide to come to TMCx because of this reason and because there's a lot of opportunities from the program including connections. That's our competitive advantage, to have these companies that are more advanced.

IM: What are some of your goals for the fund?

JG: Short term, I've been focusing on securing a lot of deal flow sources. I wanted to make sure I could bring my network in.

In the long term, we would like to raise a bigger fun, around $100 million fund. We would need to make sure we have our deal flow ready for that, and a big part of that would be international deal flow.

Maybe, we've discussed this, but in the shorter term, before raising that $100 million fund we might take some of the offers that some people have put on the table to create a sidecar fund. It would be another structure that would follow our fund, as a sort of index or passive instrument that people can use to invest alongside us.

IM: How does the industry get more women into venture capital roles?

JG: We need to take matters into our own hands as women. Often, people say there's not enough women in venture funding because there's a pipeline problem, which comes from education in STEM. I think that's an excuse. A lot of VCs hire their friends and people they know. I really believe that women need to harness their financial power and start investing in things they consider important to them. I became a lot more vocal in what I wanted to see and I started investing myself. At the end of the day, women make 80 percent of the purchasing decisions, so we might as well be deciding what's in the market if we're the ones buying it.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Houstonian designs new experiences to encourage innovation in students

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 154

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

Part of being an educator is to prepare students for tomorrow, Essama explains, but with rapid technology development and adaption, no one knows what the future will hold for the job market or the world in general. The best way to prepare the future generation of the workforce is to teach them how to innovate, think differently, and adapt to new ways of doing things.

"That's what people are looking for right now — people who can provide out-of-the-box solutions to problems," Essama says on the show.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase.

Strategically, Essama tapped into the Houston innovation ecosystem with the intent of showcasing the community.

"Innovation to me is being able to create something that has never been seen or done before — and that has a very important purpose," she says. "Exposing ourselves to innovation and people who think this way — and learning from them —is key to be able to be competitive tomorrow."

Essama says this program is still in the development phase. She's been testing out the concept with fourth graders and now ninth graders. She hopes the full program will be up and running by next fall.

She shares more details about the grant and the future of The Dream Lab on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Houston-based virtual reality startup raises $3.2M in first outside capital round

fresh funding

HTX Labs, a Houston-based company that designs extended reality training for military and business purposes, announced last week that it has raised its first outside capital.

The company has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital. Founded in 2017, HTX Labs — developer of the EMPACT Immersive Learning Platform — has been granted funding from the Department of Defense as well as grown its client base of commercial Enterprises. The platform uses virtual and extended reality that "enables organizations to rapidly create, deploy, measure, and sustain cost-effective, secure, and centralized immersive training programs, all within engaging, fully interactive virtual environments," per a news release.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

"Cypress has a decade-long track record of success in helping emerging software and services companies achieve scale," he continues. "It is clear that the team’s collective entrepreneurial and operating experience will be of tremendous benefit to us as we focus on expanding our customer base in a very intentional way.”

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption.

“Scott and his team have built an exceptional business that is poised for dramatic growth,” says Cypress Partner Pat McCaffrey in the release. “HTX Labs’ modern, immersive training solution provides clients with a force multiplier for modernizing training and an unmatched ROI.”

Houston's biggest benefactors gift massive $50M to pivotal Rice University institute

big money

Houston’s most generous couple has once again gifted a massive sum to a local institution. Rich and Nancy Kinder’s Kinder Foundation has donated $50 million to Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the organization announced.

The Kinder's generous grant will assist the institute’s focus on what it dubs “inclusive prosperity” — that is, “ensuring that everyone can contribute to Houston's success and share in its opportunities.”

This new grant follows the approximately $30 million he Kinder Foundation previously gifted Rice’s Kinder Institute and its affiliates to facilitate its headquarters.

“Over the past decade, the Kinder Institute has played an integral role in shaping Houston,” said Rich Kinder, chairman of the Kinder Foundation. “However, we can do more to inform and more directly address the challenges our communities face, particularly in the areas of housing, education, economic mobility, health and population research.”

To that end, the Kinders’ funds will ensure the institute can assist its partners regardless of their ability to pay for research. Funds will also help the institute respond to community research needs quickly during times of crisis — such as a catastrophic storm or pandemic — when funds aren’t readily available.

Kinder Institute director Ruth López Turley calls the grant “a gift to all of Houston,” speaking to the institute’s work to improve lives through data, research, engagement and action.

“Inclusive prosperity doesn’t just happen spontaneously,” she noted in a statement. “It requires an explicit effort informed by research. Lots of organizations are working hard to make things better, but most of them have very limited research capacity, and that’s what the Kinder Institute is primed to do.”

Founded in 2010, the institute has evolved into a leader in research, data, and policy analysis of critical issues such as housing, transportation, and education. The institute also releases the familiar Kinder Houston Area Survey, which charts significant changes in the way area residents perceive and understand Houston’s ongoing challenges and opportunities.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.