The new programming geared at idea-stage startups has officially commenced at TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMCx

There's been a lot of recent Houston innovation news, and you might have missed something. Keep up to date with all the news happening among startups and technology in Houston in this innovation news roundup.

If you know of innovation-focused news happening, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

TMCalpha premieres 

Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has long counseled budding medical entrepreneurs in various capacities through its TMC Innovation Institute, but wanted to introduce programming specifically for early-stage companies. That's how TMC alpha was born and announced at the most recent TMCx Demo Day.

The program officially launched on July 18 and will host meetups on the third Thursday of every month.

"Over the past five years, TMC Innovation has blossomed into a global proving ground for healthcare startup companies from across the world, and we could not be more pleased with the myriad ways in which the ecosystem here has expanded in nature," says TMC Innovation Director Tom Luby in a release. "That being said, we realized that TMC Innovation needed to do more for the local innovation community and offer ample resources to support homegrown talent from within the confines of the largest medical city in the world. With TMC alpha, the hope is to connect anyone with a fledgling healthcare idea to the TMC Innovation network and create a two-way channel of meaningful dialogue."

Innowatts scores extra funding and names new C-level exec

Photo via innowatts.com

Houston-based AI-enabled analytics company, Innowatts, is growing in more ways than one. The company, which is fresh off an over $18.2 million Series B fundraise, added move funds and a new C-level executive.

Veronorte, a South American venture capital firm backed by one of the largest utilities in Colombia, became an additional investor in the company with an undisclosed contribution. Meanwhile, Eric Danziger joined the company as its new chief revenue officer. He will be tasked with the growth and sales of Innowatts' eUtility™ product.

"As the utility grid becomes more complex with the proliferation of electric vehicles and distributed generation," says Danziger in a release, "utility companies have to adapt to the data generated and needs of their consumers to manage these complex requirements."

Startup snags free office space prize

Photo courtesy of The Cannon

Shoot, a digital marketplace that simplifies the photographer and videographer booking process, has scored free office space in the newly opened Cannon building after receiving the second annual Insperity Innovation Scholarship.

The company was co-founded by Simbai Mutandiro and Alina Merida and has already launched its beta platform. The company will release its next version of the platform soon.

"Our relationship with The Cannon and the Insperity Innovation Scholarship are part of our initiative to help startups become successful more quickly by connecting and collaborating with like-minded individuals," says Larry Shaffer, Insperity senior vice president of marketing and business development, in a release. "We congratulate Shoot on receiving this scholarship and wish the co- founders continued success in furthering their entrepreneurial dream."

The other three finalists in the contest — Delfin, Social Chains, and SOTAOG — will receive open desk memberships at The Cannon for six months.

Houston falls low on the list of cities booming with growing private companies

Texas Money

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When it comes to the major metros with the biggest jump in private businesses with over $1 million in revenue, Houston is the last on the list for Texas cities. LendingTree looked at the data, and, between 2014 and 2016, Houston only saw an increase of 4.9 percent in million-dollar business growth. This earned the Bayou City a No. 32 ranking across the country.

Dallas was slightly ahead of Houston with 5.2 percent growth and a No. 29 rank. Meanwhile, Austin earned the top spot with 15.1 percent growth. San Antonio, the only other Texas metro in the study, ranked No. 12 with 9 percent growth.

Nesh forms partnership

Oil rig

Photo courtesy of Thomas Miller/Breitling Energy

The Woodlands-based WellDatabase has announced a partnership with Nesh, an AI-optimized tool that's like the Siri or Alexa of oil and gas.

"The technology is amazing and we are thrilled to work with the Nesh team," writes John Ferrell, CEO of WellDatabase, in a blog post. "The integration allows Nesh to run real-time queries against WellDatabase. Users can ask a multitude of questions and get instant answers. They can also work with the Nesh team directly to train and build new questions and workflows."

Rice University and Cognite join forces

Courtesy of Cognite

When Oslo, Norway-based Cognite announced its dual U.S. headquarters in Houston and Austin, it had plans to engage universities from the get go. Now, the company, which specializes in data software with industrial applications, has officially created a partnership and internship program with Rice University.

"This partnership illustrates Cognite's commitment to attracting top people to build the most talented software engineering team in the world," says John Markus Lervik, Cognite co-founder and CEO, in a release. "Cognite solves some of the most complex problems related to industrial digitalization. To do that, we need the best minds, so partnering with Rice University was a natural choice."

Rice students are currently in Norway this summer working for Cognite as a part as the inaugural program.

The Cannon teams up with Thompson & Knight

Courtesy of The Cannon

Houston-based law firm Thompson & Knight has officially signed on to provide resources for The Cannon startups in a strategic partnership between the two companies.

"Thompson & Knight is pleased to partner with Houston-based entrepreneurs who are building the innovation, services, and technological platforms of the very near future," says Mark M. Sloan, managing partner of Thompson & Knight, in a news release. "We will offer our experience in the issues common to startup businesses, including intellectual property, technology, corporate, labor, and other areas of counsel that will help further the goals of these pioneering companies."

The law firm will have an office in The Cannon's recently opened building in West Houston.

Solugen names president

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In May, Houston-based chemicals company, Solugen Inc., closed a $32 million round. Now, the company has put a portion of that money to work to hired the newest executive on the team. Jason Roberts, who has a decade of chemicals and oil and gas experience, has joined Solugen as president.

"What I found most compelling about Solugen was the company's quick successes and their overarching goal of decarbonizing the chemicals industry," says Roberts in a release. "The company's fundamental chemistry and technologies have created products that no one in the industry currently has. I am excited to join this young company's fast moving team at such a significant time in its history and look forward to helping scale their innovative products and services."

Ahead of entering the Houston market later this year, Silicon Valley's Plug and Play hosted three days of programming surrounding innovation in energy and health care. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

Overheard: Prominent business leaders weigh in on innovation in the energy and health industries

Eavesdropping in Houston

Plug and Play, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm and accelerator program, plans to launch its operations in Houston later this year. And, in showing its commitment to the Bayou City, the organization hosted three days worth of panels, talks, and pitches at the Texas Medical Center's TMC Innovation Institute earlier this month.

Houston Innovation Week was Plug and Play's formal introduction to Houston startups and the local corporations that have the potential to support them. The programming focused on health and energy and sustainability, and the summit concluded with TMCx's Demo Day.

If you missed the event, we've hit the highlights for you by rounding up nine powerful quotes overheard throughout the week.

“Nowadays, I feel every industry is going to go through an incredible digital transformation. Even the oil and gas industry, which is very capital heavy, there’s going to be a layer of fast-moving technologies which would help the industry be more efficient. This is the crossroads where Plug and Play was born — bridging the gap between the entrepreneurs and the technologies. That changes an industry.”

— Saeed Amidi, CEO and founder of Plug and Play, says. He also shares the story of how Plug and Play got its start from a few lucky early investments to making over 150 investments a year.

“Now we have about 30 offices, and then quite frankly I realized I had forgotten about America.”

— Amidi says, announcing that Plug and Play will open five new offices across the United States in the next six months to a year.

“We’re not walking in terms of building this integrated robust innovation ecosystem, we’re sprinting in that direction.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner says, adding that, "If there is any city that ought to be leading the way when it comes to startups, technology, and innovation, it ought to be the city of Houston."

“You have to get people to invest more. It doesn’t happen on its own. People have to see that if we invest, we’re going to get a return.”

— Mayor Turner says, calling the crowd to action. "You can't just talk about what others have done and what we have accomplished. You have to take that now, build the platform, and move into where we are going."

“One of the things you look at is it’s not the technology itself that’s going to make you win or lose, it’s what you do with it.”

— Barbara Burger, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, responding to a question about what technologies she has her eyes on. Burger continued on to say that, while she couldn't highlight any technologies in particular — it's like picking a favorite child, she's always evaluating how a new technology would help with the affordability, reliability, and lower environmental impact. "That's the game," she says.

"Management is amazing at suppressing innovation. … We can move toward just trying not to suppress it. If someone has an idea, they are safe to go through the process and raise their hand."

— Bradley Andrews, president of digital at Worley. "I think it's a change in attitude," he says about how management can evolve to advance ideas within energy companies.

“It’s easy to say that we’ll do the thing that gives us the most competitive advantage — and it’s really hard to figure out what that means and how you do that. In general, if we see something that’s out there and implemented that someone else has done, I don’t need to create an internal capability like that. I just need to go access that.”

— Doug Kushnerick, senior technology scouting and venture adviser at ExxonMobil. For Kushnerick, technology solutions that fix specific problems are easy to go after, but things that affect big picture and strategic assets are harder to figure out if they are worth implementing.

“One of our big asks from our partners from an internal perspective is really to have a champion — whether its an innovation manager or someone who really advocates these startups internally. Someone who will find the clinician and the business unit and tap the legal team.”

— Neda Amidi, global head of health and partner at Plug and Play Tech Center, responding to a question about opening up the channels of communications between startups and large companies. She adds that it's a requirement for these people to visit a Plug and Play location four to six times a year.

“What I see from a culture perspective is that it really starts with the leadership in the institution. If the people at the top in the C-suite of the institution are focused on understanding why their organization isn’t performing as well as they expect it to be and are willing to look to the outside, that’s how it starts in my mind.”

— Thomas Luby, director TMC Innovation Institute, responding to a question from the audience about large organizations that tend to be slower adaptors to new technologies.

Life Time announcing its new downtown coworking space and fitness center was among this week's top stories. Courtesy of Life Time

5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Now trending

Editor's note: This week's trending news has a theme — dreaming big. From new hires across the ecosystem to futuristic design projects, the top stories on InnovationMap are pretty exciting.

Top stories on Friday not enough? Subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.

Local architects design projects to impact Houston's future

Gensler's ByDesign group dreams up innovative real estate projects that solve Houston problems — like a tower that can absorb and filter water from a flood. Courtesy of Gensler

When the working day is done, there's a group of young architects who, rather than closing out their design programs and hitting happy hour, continue to design and innovate projects. Only, they aren't doing it for clients or money. Gensler's ByDesign organization, which was created about four years ago, is an extracurricular of sorts for Houston's young architects. The projects are created and presented by the architects and are impact-focused, seeking to provide a solution of a problem in Houston. Click here to read the full story.

3 Houston innovators to know who are starting new roles

TMC Innovation, Station Houston, and FanReact all made executive hires last week. Courtesy photos

It's been a busy week for Houston innovators. TMC Innovation Institute hired its new director, and Station Houston created a new director position — and filled it too. Plus, FanReact decided to divide and conquer its esports business, which meant a new executive hire. Click here to read the full story.

Company closes $1M round, new nonprofit startup hub launches, and more Houston innovation news

From closing a million-dollar raise to being tapped by Google to serve on a council, Houston entrepreneurs have been busy. Courtesy of Security Gate

Wrapping up March, there's been a lot of innovator and startup news that's slipped through the cracks. From funds closing and incubator applications opening, here's all the news bits you need to know. Click here to read the full story.

4 fitness-focused Houston startups changing the industry

From what you wear to where you go, here are some Houston fitness startups changing the game. Courtesy of Accel Lifestyle

Houston has developed into a city full of boutique fitness studios and updated parks, and now the city is seeing fitness startups popping up as well. From creating a smell-free fabric to engaging NASA technology into training, these Houston fitness startups are working out innovative ideas into the exercise industry. Click here to read the full story.

Life Time to open a new coworking space and fitness club in downtown Houston

GreenStreet will soon have coworking space and a gym from Life Time. Courtesy of Midway Cos.

Life Time has announced its second Houston location of its coworking concept, Life Time Work, before it's even opened the first. Life Time will open an athletic club and coworking space in GreenStreet in downtown Houston. Houston's first Life Time Work in CITYCENTRE, which was announced last year, is expected to open in May. Click here to read the full story.

TMC Innovation, Station Houston, and FanReact all made executive hires last week. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know who are starting new roles

Who's who

It's been a busy week for Houston innovators. TMC Innovation Institute hired its new director, and Station Houston created a new director position — and filled it too. Plus, FanReact decided to divide and conquer its esports business, which meant a new executive hire.

Tom Luby, director of the TMC Innovation Institute

Tom Luby will run the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has been searching for its new director over the past few months, but turns out, their pick was right next door at JLABS @ TMC serving as the site head. Tom Luby took the position, and has big plans to continue the institutes growth ahead of TMC3.

"What I hope to be helpful with is providing an overall strategic vision around TMC Innovation that allows us to scale from what's already been done here," Luby says in an InnovationMap interview.

Before moving to Houston, Luby worked in Boston's booming life sciences ecosystem. While it's not fair to compare Houston and Boston — a city that has had decades of growth in the space — he does note some similarities.

"If you roll the Boston tape back lets say 20 years where Boston was focused on generating a place where life science startups could have a chance to develop and be successful, that's where Houston is," Luby says. "We've gotten to a point where we're starting to see a really good density." Read more from the Tom Luby interview here.

Deanea LeFlore, director of community engagement, partnerships, and education at Station Houston

Deanea LeFlore is Station Houston's new director of community engagement, partnerships, and education. Courtesy of Station Houston

Station Houston hired Deanea LeFlore as director of community engagement, partnerships, and education. Previously, LeFlore served as chief of protocol for the city of Houston and a vice president of the Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"My passion is promoting Houston as a world-class place to invest, work and live, and I am thrilled to join an organization that embodies this same spirit," says LeFlore in a release. "Station's dedication to accelerating Houston's tech growth through collaboration and innovation compliments my professional experience and I look forward to opening our doors to new partners, expanding programming with our long-time supporters, and introducing Station to a new network of leaders." Read more about Station's new hire here.

Patrick Schneidau, CEO of RanReact

Chris Buckner (left), who has served as FanReact's CEO since its founding in 2014, will be the CEO of Mainline, and Patrick Schneidau has been hired to serve as CEO of FanReact. Photos courtesy

Houston-based FanReact has spun off its esports business as its own company, Mainline. Former FanReact CEO Chris Buckner will take the reins of the new business as CEO, and Patrick Schneidau has been hired as FanReact CEO.

Schneidau has has a long career in Houston's tech scene. He spent 12 years at Houston software company PROS and was on the leadership team when the company went public in 2007. Since he left his position as CMO at PROS, he served as the chair of the Talent Committee for Houston Exponential and serves on the board for InnovationMap.

"The Mainline business has been so successful in recent history, that it just made sense for us to dedicate resources toward building that market," Schneidau says. "The momentum in that market as a whole — and in Mainline specifically — is just too large to ignore and not put 100 percent of Chris' time in." Read more about the spinoff company here.

Tom Luby will run the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

New TMC Innovation Institute director to focus on continued growth ahead of TMC3

Featured Innovator

Tom Luby is in his first week as TMC Innovation Institute director, but it's safe to say he's hit the ground running. The former head of JLABS @ TMC is ready to continue the growth of the institute as well as open up new doors to funding and the rest of the world.

"My hope is that I can be helpful to all the parties here to continue to recruit and grow great startups here," Luby says. "Critically important, too, is additional funding and bringing that here. And all of us are working together toward the successful launch of TMC3."

Luby spoke with InnovationMap about what all he has on his plate and how he plans on making Houston known for its life sciences.

InnovationMap: After working for Johnson & Johnson in Boston, when did you relocate Houston?

Tom Luby: In 2017, when the opportunity came up that I can join the team in Houston and grow our JLABS at TMC, I jumped at the chance, moved my family down to Houston, and have loved it ever since. I've loved the life science startup community here — it's small, but growing quickly — and what it has to offer to our family in terms of the diversity, the friendliness of people, the ease of getting to know people, and, obviously, the weather. When you come from the northeast, the Houston weather is nice.

IM: Boston has this major life science innovation reputation. How do we get Houston to have that same reputation?

TL: It's not very fair to compare Boston and Houston. The Boston life science community is around 40 years in the making. There's been a focus on that for a very long time, and as a result of all the startup activity through the '80s, '90s and into the 2000s, Boston has seen an influx of almost all the major pharmaceutical and biotech companies. All of them have footprints there because they want to be close to the startups. So, that mix of startup activity being embedded with lots of corporates has created a bit of a yin and yang situation — corporates are looking to pull the products from the startups into their pipelines and the startups have pulled talent from the corporates.

Houston's in a different place than that. If you roll the Boston tape back lets say 20 years where Boston was focused on generating a place where life science startups could have a chance to develop and be successful, that's where Houston is. We've gotten to a point where we're starting to see a really good density. Over the past four years, over 250 companies have touched down here at some point. That type of density is needed then to do that second part and recruit some of the larger health care corporations.

IM: Coming from J&J, what expertise do you feel like you are bringing to the table?

TL: What I hope to be helpful with is providing an overall strategic vision around TMC Innovation that allows us to scale from what's already been done here. Like I just mentioned, there have been 250 companies that have been here at some point in the past four years. That doesn't happen without the great efforts of those that came before me — the TMCx team in particular, but the JLABS team, the Biodesign team down the hall have created a really interesting and rapidly growing place for health care startups.

IM: What are some of your goals for the TMC Innovation Institute?

TL: In the short term, what we're going to focus on making sure that when people show up to the TMC Innovation Institute, they have a great experience, whether they are engaged with TMCx, biodesign, JLABS, etc. So, it's important for us to be well coordinated, working cooperatively together, and everyone focused on being service first when it comes to the startups here. What we hope to create is an environment where startups come and have an experience that leaves them knowing that that experience gives them the best chance at being successful. In addition, as we begin to engage with partners who can provide venture capital and angel funds, it's the same thing, that they come here and have an efficient, coordinated experience.

So short term, it's pulling it all together so that when you think of TMC Innovation, you know what it is, how it's organized and what our mission is. We'll also be making additional efforts to engage with the member institutions in TMC, and that they understand that we're a resource to them.

IM: The current TMCx cohort is the most international to date. Between that and the new focus on TMC's biobridges, why is a global presence so important to TMC Innovation?

TL: Biobridges are about making sure that important geographies outside the US understand that the TMC is a place where their startups can come and be successful.

It's important for TMC to use the bridge to gain insight and access into specific areas that we feel that those countries have core strengths in. Australia and its clinical trials networks is a great example of that. Our companies having access to tap into that is incredibly important. We know that those bio bridges will benefit our startups and give the startups there a chance to have access to us.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Documentary featuring Houston Nobel Prize winner to air on PBS

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Not all heroes wear capes. In fact, our current coronavirus heroes are donning face masks as they save lives. One local health care hero has a different disease as his enemy, and you'll soon be able to stream his story.

Dr. James "Jim" Allison won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in battling cancer by treating the immune system — rather than the tumor. Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform at MD Anderson Cancer Center, has quietly and often, singularly, waged war with cancer utilizing this unique approach.

The soft-spoken trailblazer is the subject of an award-winning documentary, Jim Allison: Breakthrough, which will air on PBS and its streaming channels on Monday, April 27 at 9 pm (check local listings for channel information). Lauded as "the most cheering film of the year" by the Washington Post, the film follows Allison's personal journey to defeat cancer, inspired and driven by the disease killed his mother.

Breakthrough is narrated by Woody Harrelson and features music by Willie Nelson, adding a distinct hint of Texana. (The film was a star at 2019's South by Southwest film festival.) The documentary charts Alice, Texas native as he enrolls at the University of Texas, Austin and ultimately, cultivates an interest in T cells and the immune system — and begins to frequent Austin's legendary music scene. Fascinated by the immune system's power to protect the body from disease, Allison's research soon focuses on how it can be used to treat cancer.

Viewers will find Allison charming, humble, and entertaining: the venerable doctor is also an accomplished blues harmonica player. Director Bill Haney weaves Allison's personal story with the medical case of Sharon Belvin, a patient diagnosed with melanoma in 2004 who soon enrolled in Allison's clinical trials. Belvin has since been entirely cancer-free, according to press materials.

"We are facing a global health challenge that knows no boundaries or race or religion, and we are all relying on gifted and passionate scientists and healthcare workers to contain and ultimately beat this thing," said Haney, in a statement. "Jim Allison and the unrelenting scientists like him are my heroes – and I'll bet they become yours!"

Jim Allison: Breakthrough premieres on Independent Lens at 9 pm Monday, April 27, on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS Video App.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston Methodist tech hub focuses on telemedicine training amid COVID-19 outbreak

virtual care

Houston Methodist's recently opened its new Center for Innovation's Technology Hub in January, and the new wing has already been challenged by a global pandemic — one that's validating a real need for telemedicine.

The 3,500-square-foot tech testing ground was renovated from an 18-room patient wing and showcases new digital health technologies like virtual reality, ambient listening, wearables, voice control, and more. The hub was focused on giving tours to medical professionals and executives to get them excited about health tech, but in the middle of March, Josh Sol, administrative director of Innovation and Ambulatory Clinical Systems at Houston Methodist, says they saw a greater need for the space.

"We turned the technology hub into a training center where physicians could come on site and learn telemedicine," Sol says. "We had some foresight from our leadership who thought that telemedicine was going to be heavily utilized in order to protect our patients who might go into isolation based on the outbreak."

The hub has trained over 500 physicians — both onsite and digitally. Sol says that at the start of March, there were 66 providers offering virtual care, and by March 25, there were over 900 providers operating virtually. On March 12, Houston Methodist had 167 virtual visits, Sol says, and on March 25, they had 2,421. This new 2,000-plus number is now the daily average.

"Telemedicine is here to stay now with the rapid adoption that just happened," Sol says. "The landscape will change tremendously."

Another way new technology has affected doctors' day-to-day work has been through tele-rounding — especially when it comes to interacting with patients with COVID-19.

"We are putting iPads in those rooms with Vidyo as the video application, and our physicians can tele-visit into that room," Sol says.

It's all hands on deck for the tech hub so that physicians who need support have someone to turn to. Sol says the hub used to have a two-person support team and now there are eight people in that role.

Sol says the iPads are a key technology for tele-rounding and patient care — and they are working with Apple directly to secure inventory. But other tech tools, like an artificial intelligence-backed phone system, an online symptom checker, and chatbots are key to engaging with patients.

"We're looking at how we can get our patients in the right place at the right time," Sol says. "It's very confusing right now. We're hoping we can streamline that for our patients."

The hub was designed so that in case of emergency, the display hospital rooms could be transitioned to patient care rooms. Sol says that would be a call made by Roberta Schwartz, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist Hospital.