Here's your latest roundup of innovation news you may have missed. Photo via Getty Images

It's been a busy month so far with plenty of Houston startup news, major ecosystem events, and more — and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, Solugen raises another mega round of funding, CorInnova snags a prestigious award, applications are open for two programs, and more.

Houston unicorn chemicals company raises $200M series D

Solugen closed its Series d funding round at $200 million. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based Solugen has announced its latest round of investment to the tune of $200 million. The company, which reached unicorn status after its $357 million series C round last year, uses its patented Bioforge processes to produce "green" chemicals from bio-based feedstocks.

"Solugen is reimagining the chemistry of everyday life with enzymes found in nature. We make chemicals better, faster, cheaper, and without fossil fuels from right here in Houston, Texas. Whether you care about the climate, local competitiveness, or just plain old profits, we have good news: it's working," the company states in its news release.

"Our first Bioforge has been operating for a year and Solugen is running a nearly nine figure business with high margins selling commodity and specialty chemicals," the statement continues. "We have established ourselves with top tier customers for our existing solutions and fortune 100 technology partners to build a robust pipeline of future molecules that will help us achieve our goal of 10 mil tons of CO2 removed from the atmosphere."

According to the company, this latest raise has increased Solugen's valuation to over $2 billion. The round was led by investors Kennivik, Lowercarbon Capital, and Refactor Capital.

Houston health tech company wins funding from national organization

CorInnova has won a prestigious award. Photo via corinnova.com

Houston-based CorInnova was named one of five awardees from the National Capital Consortium for Pediatric Device Innovation's “Make Your Medical Device Pitch for Kids!” competition. Each honoree received a share of $150,000 in grant funding from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The awards ranged from $20,000 to $50,000 to support the advancement of pediatric medical devices.

CorInnova has designed a minimally invasive biventricular non-blood contacting cardiac assist device to treat heart failure.

The 2022 competition was moderated by California-based MedTech Innovator. The other four pediatric device innovation awardees included:

  • Innovation Lab, from La Palma, California, created a mechanical elbow brace stabilizes tremors for pediatric ataxic cerebral palsy to improve the performance of Activities of Daily Living.
  • Prapela, based in Biddeford, Maine, created the first innovation to improve the treatment of apnea of prematurity in over twenty years.
  • Tympanogen, from Richmond, Virginia, replaces surgical eardrum repair with a nonsurgical clinic procedure
  • Xpan, based in Concord, Ontario, has created a universal trocar enables safest and most dynamic access and effortless upsizing in conventional/mini/robotic procedures.

"We are delighted to recognize these five innovations with critical NCC-PDI funding that will support their journey to commercialization. Improving pediatric healthcare is not possible without forward-thinking companies that seek to address the most dire unmet needs in children’s health,” says Kolaleh Eskandanian, vice president and chief innovation officer at Children’s National Hospital and principal investigator of NCC-PDI, in a news release. "We know all too well how challenging it is to bring pediatric medical devices to market, which is why we have created this rich ecosystem to identify promising medical device technologies and incentivize investment. We congratulate this year’s winning innovators and applaud their efforts to help bridge these important care gaps that are impacting children.”

Houston real estate tech scores funding from Amazon entity

DOSS is a real estate tech company. Photo via Getty Images

Houston-based DOSS, which was chosen this summer for the inaugural Black Founders Build with Alexa cohort, has received funding from the Amazon Alexa Fund. The startups in the program were selected based on their ability to innovate with Alexa and build the next generation of voice, artificial intelligence, and ambient experiences technology.

DOSS is a digital brokerage that uses tech to make homeownership more affordable, and the company has developed a technology where customers are able to ask for real-estate advice and tips, search for home listings, get neighborhood information, and recent sales data, according to a news release from the company. They will also eventually be able to request to be connected with home service providers that serve their respective area.

CEO Bobby Bryant and COO Chris Norton founded DOSS in 2016. Last year, the company participated in the Google for Startups Black Founders program, receiving $100,000 from the fund.

TMC Innovation's Biodesign program applications open

Applications are open through the end of the year. Photo via tmc.edu

Applications are now open for the 2023 TMCi Biodesign program at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory. TMC is looking for candidates with relevant backgrounds for starting a digital health or medical device company, such as: engineering, medicine, hospital administration, R&D (prototyping), software development, finance, legal, regulatory, reimbursement, or technical. Candidates must have at least 1 to 2 years of industry work experience or have prior startup history. It is preferred that applicants have earned an advanced degree.

The position is an in-person, full-time requirement that will begin August 2023 and will span nine months with an opportunity to extend for up to two months.

Applications close on December 31. Candidates will undergo a series of interviews in January and then will be extended offers in the spring.

HX Venture Fund calls for startups to meet visiting VC

Calling all Houston tech startups. Image via Screenshot

HX Venture Fund, a fund-of-funds that encourages and enables non Houston-based VCs to tap into the local innovation ecosystem, is hosting Creighton Hicks, partner at Austin-based LiveOak Venture Partners, later this month.

The organization is looking for Houston startups that are building a tech or tech-enabled services company raising a seed to series B round now or in the next six months. Startups have until November 18 to submit their interest via an online form.

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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.