The Chancellor's Technology Bridging Fund will provide grants to UH faculty to help them bring their research and ideas into reality. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The University of Houston Technology Bridge exists to help transition university research and ideas into the marketplace, and now the UH System has gone one step further to aid in that transition process.

UH has announced a $2 million fund for faculty inventors who then could use the grants — estimated to range between $25,000 to $75,000 — to bring their invention to the commercialization stage. The fund, called the Chancellor's Technology Bridging Fund, was revealed on July 18.

"University faculty are working to solve some of the most critical problems of the day, from energy and the environment to medicine," says Renu Khator, chancellor of the UH System and president of UH, in a release. "It often requires an additional boost to get technologies from the lab to the commercial arena, and this fund is designed to help our faculty take that leap."

According to the release, UH officials plan to give out anywhere from four to 10 grants each year for the next five years.

The grants are intended to aid in the prototyping or product testing process, says Tom Campbell, executive director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation in the UH Division of Research. He adds that usually that ideas in that stage of growth aren't usually granted basic research funding.

"The Technology Bridging Fund will fill a gap. It's really difficult to find funding at this early stage of development, and as a consequence, a lot of innovative concepts sit on the shelf," Campbell says in the release.

The fund directly aligns with the institution's goal of taking these UH-originated ideas, companies, and technologies and introducing them to the world, where they can be used by other companies.

"It's a way to de-risk these technologies and attract external interest," Campbell says in the release. "We want to move people and ideas closer to the market. Having access to this type of funding to do that can be extremely valuable."

Last year, UH transitioned its Energy Research Park into the Technology Bridge to better facilitate the growth for its innovators and research. The organization also works to bring in corporations that are looking to expand in Houston, and, earlier this year, two organizations set up shop in the Tech Bridge.

Earlier this year, a new ranking, new ranking, published by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, puts UH at No. 88 among the world's top 100 universities for patent activity in 2018. And, according to Campbell, UH will continue this patent growth.

"As the UH research portfolio grows and the medical school starts up, we would continue to anticipate a strong IP portfolio going forward for UH," Campbell tells InnovationMap in a previous article.

UH has maintained its spot on the top 100 global universities for number of patents issued. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston ranks among top schools for issued patents

best in class

A new ranking shows the University of Houston is flexing its brains and its brawn as one of the most prolific producers of patents in the academic world.

The new ranking, published by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association, puts UH at No. 88 among the world's top 100 universities for patent activity in 2018.

"As the UH research portfolio grows and the medical school starts up, we would continue to anticipate a strong IP portfolio going forward for UH," says Tom Campbell, executive director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation at UH.

UH tied with the Texas A&M University on this year's list; each recorded 28 patents in 2018. A year earlier, UH received 39 patents. The University of Texas was the only other Texas school on the new list. With 187 patents issued in 2018, it landed at No. 5.

Houston's Rice University showed up at No. 79 on the 2018 list but dropped out of this year's top 100.

Amr Elnashai, UH's vice president and vice chancellor for research and technology transfer since 2017, says his school's appearance in the ranking reflects an emphasis on converting faculty inventions into meaningful innovations. During the 2018 budget year, UH collected $43 million in patent royalties.

Among the patents UH received last year were those for a mutant herpes simplex virus connected to cancer therapy and a rechargeable alkaline battery.

"UH researchers are driven by making a positive impact on the quality of life," Elnashai says in a release. "From new remedies for persistent medical conditions to sustainable energy technologies, researchers from the University of Houston are addressing many of the world's most pressing challenges. The UH ranking, tied with our larger neighbor Texas A&M, is a testament to our emphasis on and excellence in technology transfer and innovation."

To ramp up UH's impact, the university last year rebranded its research park as the UH Technology Bridge. With 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space for labs, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing, the Technology Bridge houses 21 startups and two established companies.

"From clean energy solutions and medicines to uses of artificial intelligence, data science tools and other emerging technologies, the University of Houston is focusing on bridging the gap between technological discoveries by our faculty and actual products that change peoples' lives," Elnashai said in 2018.

The list from the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association started in 2013. UH first cracked the top 100 in 2016 (for patents issued in 2015). That year, it ranked 88th. UH dropped to No. 91 on the 2017 list but rose to No. 67 on the 2018 list.

"The patents our universities produce represent important processes and collaborations which have the potential to make a significant impact on society on a local, regional, national, and global scale," says Paul Sanberg, president of the National Academy of Inventors.

The annual ranking relies on data from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office regarding utility patents, which make up 90 percent of all patents issued.

According to Investopedia, a utility patent covers the creation of a new or improved — and useful — product, process, or machine. This type of patent prohibits other people or companies from making, using, or selling the invention without authorization.

"Patenting an invention is the first step towards making a lasting impact on the innovation ecosystem," says Jessica Landacre, deputy executive director of the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

The University of Houston has transformed its Energy Research Park into the Technology Bridge to better connect research-based startups to the market. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Two companies expand into the Houston market by way of UH's Technology Bridge

New to town

A few years ago, the University of Houston renamed its Energy Research Park to the Technology Bridge. They wanted to create a program and workspace for companies inside the university to enter into the Houston innovation ecosystem. Turns out, the program also created a bridge for innovative companies entering the Houston market.

Two companies announced that they will open operations in the Technology Bridge — the first Houston offices for both, according to a news release.

Chemicals company Oleon is a subsidiary of France-based Avril, a financial and industrial company. Before the UH location, Oleon's only United States operation was a sales office in South Carolina. The other company is California-based Saratech, an engineering, software, services, and 3D printer sales company. Saratech has offices across the country, including an Austin office. The Houston office will focus on 3D printing.

According to Tom Campbell, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation, choosing a university to open a new office in a new market makes a lot of sense. There's a ready-made network of professors and students ripe with talent for internships and new and developing research.

Saratech's senior vice president, Rick Murphy, agrees that the new office can be mutually beneficial to UH and his company. Saratech already has a relationship similar to this with the University of California-Irvine.

"We are looking at universities to help with that, so industry can start educating their engineers to take advantage of this technology," Murphy says in the release.

Oleon also has previous relationships with universities in Europe and Asia. The company, which specializes in natural chemistry — specifically using fats and oils in various applications from cosmetics to automotive, plans on sustaining a lot of growth in Houston. The move represents the first of many instances of growth in the market.

"It is baby steps here, but the U.S. is a huge market," Dave Jacobs, general manager of operations for Oleon Americas, says in the release. "About 50 percent of the oil and gas market is here."

The Technology Bridge houses 23 startups and has 30,000 square feet of incubator space and over 700,000 square feet of space suited for laboratories, pilot-scale facilities, and light manufacturing. The bridge sits on the former Schlumberger campus just south of UH.

To Campbell, the bridge adds its own niche of research and lab space to the Houston innovation ecosystem as a whole, and both these companies' new offices are on par with the greater goals of the bridge.

"It's about economic development," Campbell says in the release. "A strong innovation economy is a rising tide that floats all boats."

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Over $1.4M in prizes awarded at Rice University's student startup competition

RBPC 2021

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

Houston health center working with new study that uses app to track long-term COVID-19 effects

pandemic innovation

Aided by technology, medical sleuths at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are tracking the long-term effects of COVID-19 as part of a national study.

At the heart of the study is an app that allows patients who have shown COVID-19 symptoms and have been tested for COVID-19 to voluntarily share their electronic health records with researchers. The researchers then can monitor long-term symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, depression, and cardiovascular problems.

UTHealth is one of eight U.S. sites for the INSPIRE trial (Innovative Support for Patients with SARS COV-2 Infections Registry). Researchers are recruiting study participants from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. They want to expand recruitment to urgent care clinics in the Houston area.

Aside from accessing patients' data through the Hugo Health platform, UTHealth researchers will ask participants to fill out brief follow-up surveys every three months over the course of 18 months. The study complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the federal law that protects patients' information from being disclosed without their knowledge.

"This is a very novel and important study," Dr. Ryan Huebinger, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School and co-principal investigator of the study, says in a news release.

In a study like this, researchers typically must see a patient in person or at least reach out to them.

"Using this platform is novel because we don't have to schedule additional appointments or ask questions like 'How long were you hospitalized?' – we can automatically see that in their records and survey submissions," Huebinger says.

Mandy Hill, associate professor in the McGovern Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine and the study's co-principal investigator, says about one-fourth of the people in the study will be local residents who didn't test positive for COVID-19.

"That group will be our control group to be able to compare things like prevalence and risk factors," Huebinger says.

Eligible participants must be at least 18 years old, must have experienced COVID-19 symptoms, and must have been tested for COVID-19 in the past four weeks.

"This is not going to be the last pandemic. The more information we can gather across communities now will give us a leg up when the next pandemic happens," Hill says, "so that we can be more prepared to take steps toward prevention."

Researchers hope to sign up at least 300 study participants in Houston. The entire INSPIRE trial seeks to enroll 4,800 participants nationwide. The study is supposed to end in November 2022.

"There's such great potential for numerous research findings to come out of this study. We could find out if people in Houston are suffering from post-COVID-19 symptoms differently than other parts of the country, whether minorities are more affected by long-hauler symptoms, and if certain interventions work better than others," Hill says.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is financing the study. Aside from UTHealth, academic institutions involved in the research are:

  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
  • Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
  • University of Washington in Seattle
  • Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • University of California, San Francisco