3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Nuri Firat Ince of UH, and Vanessa Wade of Connect the Dots. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from space to engineering — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

The new program will work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Photo via Libby Neder Photography

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine announced a unique program that will work with commercial spaceflight providers and their passengers. The EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — Program will collect information and data from multiple space flights and organize it in one place. TRISH selected TrialX to build the centralized database.

"The space environment causes rapid body changes. This can help us understand how we humans react to and overcome stress. Ensuring that space explorers remain healthy pushes us to invent new approaches for early detection and prevention of medical conditions," says Dorit Donoviel, executive director at TRISH, in the release.

"Studying a broad range of people in space increases our knowledge of human biology. TRISH's EXPAND program will leverage opportunities with commercial spaceflight providers and their willing crew to open up new research horizons." Click here to read more.

Nuri Firat Ince, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH

A medical device designed by a UH professor will close the loop with high frequency brain waves to prevent seizures from occurring. Photo via uh.edu

Nuri Firat Ince, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH, has received a federal grant aimed at helping stop epileptic seizures before they start. The BRAIN Initiative at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded the $3.7 million grant to go toward Ince's work to create a seizure-halting device based on his research.

According to UH, Ince has reduced by weeks the time it takes to locate the seizure onset zone (SOZ), the part of the brain that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy. He's done this by detecting high-frequency oscillations (HFO) forming "repetitive waveform patterns" that identify their location in the SOZ.

"If the outcomes of our research in acute settings become successful, we will execute a clinical trial and run our methods with the implanted … system in a chronic ambulatory setting," Ince says. Click here to read more.

Vanessa Wade, founder and owner of Connect the Dots

It's time for large corporations to step up to support small businesses founded by people of color. Photo courtesy

In her guest column for InnovationMap, Vanessa Wade addressed some of the challenges she faced founding a company as a person of color — specifically the lack of access to funding. In the article, she calls corporations to action to help business leaders like herself.

"The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing," she writes. Click here to read more.

The Coogs have scored some serious cash. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston roars with massive $1.2 billion raised in new campaign

Cougar cash

The University of Houston Cougars have a reason to roar this fall. The school has announced a massive fundraising feat of $1.2 billion for scholarships, professorships, facilities, and programs as part of the "Here, We Go" initiative that closed on August 31.

Specifically, the campaign raised $1,235,427,334. The final tally was announced by UH System Chancellor and UH president Renu Khator during her 12th annual fall address on October 28., where she thanked high-profile donors and volunteer campaign co-chairs Tilman J. Fertitta ('78), Beth Madison ('72), John L. Nau III, and Marvin E. Odum III (M.B.A. '95).

The campaign, which surpassed the $1 billion milestone in 2019, some 18 months ahead of schedule, was designed to strategically transform UH System universities with priorities to support student scholarships and fellowships, build state-of-the-art facilities, attract and retain top faculty, advance academic programs, workforce training and research, and build a nationally relevant athletics program, according to a press release. It began in 2012 and launched publicly in January 2017, before concluding in August of this year.

More than 187,000 donors, including 133,000 new donors contributed to the campaign, highlighting the pride felt by alumni and friends. Donations came from all 50 states and 46 countries, according to the school.

Donation highlights include:

  • $50 million gift from an anonymous donor — the campaign's single largest contribution to hire faculty and establish four new institutes in the areas of energy, infrastructure, precision medicine, and global engagement.
  • $20 million from Tilman J. Fertitta for renovation and construction of the Fertitta Center, a 7,100-seat multi-purpose arena that is home to the Houston Cougars men's and women's basketball teams and the women's volleyball team.
  • $20 million from the John P. McGovern Foundation benefitting arts students and faculty. The Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts was named in honor of the gift.
  • $17 million from Andy and Andrea Diamond to create the Diamond Family Scholars program which offers financial, academic and mentoring support for students aging out of the foster care system.
  • $16 million from the John M. O'Quinn Foundation to support the UH Law Center and construction of its new state-of-the-art building, the John M. O'Quinn Law Building.
  • $15 million thanks to Humana Inc. to launch the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute and help defray start-up and operational costs for the UH College of Medicine, as well as fund endowed chairs at several UH colleges.
  • $13 million from the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Family Foundation to the nation's No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program at the C.T. Bauer College of Business with a total expected impact of $15 million with matching gift.

"You inspired us to dream big, challenged us to be relevant and forced us to stay focused," said Khator, in a statement. "You led us from all directions, often making calls for us and introducing us to people who cared about Houston and our role in Houston's future."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

UH has launched its Tech Map, which visualizes startup and innovation activity across the city. Photo via Getty Images

University of Houston launches interactive map of the city's innovation ecosystem

introducing tech map

The greater Houston area spans 9,444 square miles — an area larger than the entire state of New Jersey — and the question was never if Houston's sprawl was going to affect interaction between startups, resources, and opportunities, but how to overcome these physical challenges with digital solutions. The latest of which has launched out of the University of Houston's Technology Bridge.

The Tech Map — an interactive, embeddable visualization that takes data about startups and other innovation players and compiles it into a map of entrepreneurial activity in the Houston area — has officially launched with hundreds of startups represented already.

"This kind of tool — it really tells you where innovation is happening, it's not just in the startup development organizations," says Lindsay Lewis, executive director of communications for the UH Division of Research. "It's amazing to see that it's happening all over the city."

The tool, which is free to embed and available to anyone, is already live on Houston Exponential's homepage and the city of Houston's Innovation Portal. It's comprised of data submitted by startup development organizations, self-submitted information, and research by the Tech Bridge's team.

To be represented on the map, click here.


Lewis stresses the importance of creating the tool in a collaborative way, which is why bringing on partners and their databases was so key. The tool isn't designed in Cougar Red or predominantly feature UH-based startups or anything. The Tech Map isn't meant to rock the boat of what any other organization is doing, rather just visually represent the goings on.

"For us, it was a balance between trying to show the story of Houston and where innovation is happening and aggregating, but what we didn't want to do was be a replacement. We wanted this to be a resource for an individual starting point," says Chris Taylor, executive director for the Tech Bridge. "The biggest challenge for most people is you really don't know where to start."

This year has been one for digital tools focused on better portraying Houston's innovation ecosystem. This summer, Houston Exponential launched the HTX TechList to virtually connect startups, mentors, investors, and other movers and shakers in Houston. The two entities are collaborative — HTX TechList's data is even involved in the Tech Map.

"There was a need for connection," Taylor says. "Since 2013 when I got here, that's always been a challenge and a hurdle. How do we connect all these different stakeholders in a way that's meaningful."

While the map is launched and ready to be used, it's only the beginning for it as it grows its data and adds new features.

"We're not done with this map — this is just the 1.0 version," Lewis says. "We're meeting to talk about next-step functionalities and where we are going to take it."

UH and a local company are developing a new COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Getty Images

University of Houston partners with local company to develop cutting-edge COVID vaccine

COOGS TACKLE COVID

A major Houston university has taken a big leap in the race to battle debilitating diseases such as COVID-19. The University of Houston has entered into an exclusive license option agreement with AuraVax Therapeutics Inc., a Houston-based biotech company developing novel vaccines against aggressive respiratory diseases such as coronavirus, according to a press release.

This means AuraVax has the option to exclusively license a new intranasal COVID-19 vaccine technology developed by Navin Varadarajan, an M.D. Anderson professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering. Varadarajan is a co-founder of AuraVax.

The vaccine is a nasal inhalant, much like FluMist. Based on pre-clinical experimentation, Varadarajan reports his technology not only elicits a mucosal immune response, but also systemic immunity, according to UH.

"We plan to stop COVID-19, a respiratory virus, at its point of entry — the nasal cavity — and we believe our intranasal platform is a differentiated approach that will lead to a vaccine with increased efficacy to create sustained immunity to COVID-19," said Varadarajan in a statement.

So how does it work? Varadarajan is utilizing the spike protein, which helps the virus enter the target cell, and is the major target for neutralizing antibodies as it binds to the ACE 2 cellular receptor, for virus entry. The professor prefers using proteins because of their ability to induce strong immune responses, flexibility and scalability, and the absence of infectious particles, per UH.

Varadarajan's company, AuraVax, has created a next-generation vaccine platform that combines the potential of in-home administration with the ability to deliver complete immunity. The technology has been validated for COVID-19 in initial animal studies and results in immunity measured by both B-cell and T-cell responses.

"We believe AuraVax has a competitive advantage given the immune responses and a supply chain that is well-suited for widespread distribution and self-administration distribution," said Varadarajan. "We are excited to be collaborating with the University of Houston and look forward to future success by advancing the development of this novel intranasal vaccine technology to address a multitude of respiratory viruses, starting with COVID-19."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

There are myriad productivity tools startups can explore while working remotely. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

These 5 tools help increase productivity while working from home, says Houston expert

houston voices

While most of the country is still in quarantine mode, some states have started to open up. Even still, businesses have learned a lot about their operations during their shutdown. Some companies are opting to continue operations virtually; having employees working remotely. Many companies have come to the realization that remote work offers many benefits. In any case, remote work is something that startups are doing now more than ever.

There are myriad tools and apps at your disposal you might have never heard of. If you're just now discovering the benefits of remote work, you've probably never heard of these productivity tools. Here, you'll get a good run through of some great remote work apps that were designed to help you stay efficient.

Look into a workflow app

Monday.com is an app that helps you track team projects and overall workflow. It's easy to use for planning and managing everything your team is working on. You can use the app to add deadlines, make general comments, and create automations. The app offers a dashboard where you can attain data in real time on all the activity happening at your company.

Optimize social media

Preview is an app that concentrates on Instagram. With over 25 million business profiles, Instagram has rapidly become the platform of choice for businesses in terms of social media. Preview allows you to edit pictures with Photoshop-like features. You can schedule posts and find the right hashtags to expand your posts' visibility. The app even gives you data and insights for tracking your audience and their behavior.

Organize your spreadsheets

Dashdash is an app for spreadsheet geeks. For some, the smell of coffee is a satisfying thing. For others it's a good work out. But for some… it's a well-organized spreadsheet. All it takes is a simple formula to gain access to business data where you can find companies, generate leads, and send emails.

File sharing is caring

Slack is a tool. No, I'm not insulting the app. It's literally a tool. A good one. Slack connects co-workers by making file sharing easy. It offers emoji reactions and a collection of GIFs (jifs? gifs? Send help) that makes coworker interaction fun. The app also integrates tools like Google Calendar for use.

Get on a schedule

Calendly comes in handy when it's time to schedule. This app can be integrated into your landing pages, too. Visitors to your site will be able to see if you're available during certain times. Calendly even allows visitors to request a call that will inform you about your company's service.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Rene Cantu, the author of this piece, is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

The University of Houston broke ground on its new medical school building and named the College of Medicine's inaugural class. Photo via UH.edu

Houston medical school presents inaugural class as construction begins on new building

doctors in training

This month, the University of Houston has taken a couple huge steps toward establishing a prestigious medical school program — the first new medical school to be established in Houston in almost 50 years.

UH has broken ground on its $80 million medical school building that is expected to be completed in 2022, and the program has named its inaugural class.

The new cohort of future doctors is a group diverse in ethnic background and life experience. The school plans to tackle a key issue in public health: the shortage of primary care doctors. These future doctors are charged by the university with eliminating health disparities in underserved urban and rural areas, which often have poorer health outcomes.

The UH College of Medicine received 1,728 applications for its first class of students; 164 applicants were interviewed for the 30 available spots, according to UH. An 18-member admissions committee screened those most likely to pursue primary care.

Here is a breakdown of UH's inaugural medical school class:

  • 30 students
  • 73 percent underrepresented minorities in medicine
  • 63 percent female
  • 57 percent first generation in college
  • 40 percent low socioeconomic status
  • 100 percent Texas resident
  • Five graduates of the University of Texas at Austin; two graduates each from the University of Houston, Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston Baptist, Prairie View A&M, and Rice University

According to the school, the goal is for 50 percent of graduates of the UH College of Medicine to choose primary care specialties including family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. For some perspective, nationally, only about 20 percent of medical students choose primary care.

"We were very deliberate in our pursuit of medical students who fit the mission. This is much different than most other medical schools because we need different solutions for the current health care problems facing our city and state," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the College of Medicine, in a statement.

Each student will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship through philanthropy to cover tuition and fees. At full enrollment, the College of Medicine will have 480 students, per the school. The Health 2 Building in the UH Medical District will be the college's temporary home for the first two years until a new $80 million medical school building is completed in 2022. Construction crews broke ground on the new building on June 15, according to the university.

Being part of UH's inaugural medical school is deeply personal for students such as Cenk Cengiz. At 14, Cengiz's family emigrated from Turkey to Houston, but could not afford health insurance. Cengiz attended high school and college without ever seeing a doctor, which attracted him to the field of medicine and peaked his interest in the medical school's unique mission to help underserved communities.

"I came a long way from washing dishes at age 14 at a pizza store," Cengiz said in a statement. "My parents are super proud of me."

Dr. Stephen Spann is the founding dean of the College of Medicine. Photo via uh.edu

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Texas-based startup investor and mentorship network announces new Houston HQ

innovation collaboration

A company that supports entrepreneurship and startups across the Lone Star State with mentorship and funding has announced its new homebase in Houston.

Capital Factory has revealed a new programming partnership with The Ion. Through the collaboration, Capital Factory will host programming, events, and resources within the innovation hub to grow, educate, and support Houston-based startups and entrepreneurs.

"Capital Factory's presence at The Ion will further expand the opportunities for startups and innovators in the Houston region, while strengthening an important pillar of the Texas Startup Manifesto," says Joshua Baer, founder and CEO of Capital Factory, in a news release.

Capital Factory was founded in Austin in 2009 and boosts on being the most active investor in Texas, deploying smaller investments to a multitude of early-stage startups. According to Crunchbase's data, the entity has invested in over 160 companies with 20 exits. Capital Factory officially entered the Houston market in 2019 and doubled down its presence last year when it merged with Station Houston.

Now, with its Houston headquarters moving into The Ion, the two innovation partners will take an inclusive approach to creating connections between innovators, mentors, investors, and markets, per the release.

"We are thrilled to have Capital Factory as a programming partner at The Ion" says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "The Ion seeks to work with key partners and established brands to help build a rich and inclusive set of startup services that can support all innovators and startups wherever they are in their entrepreneurial journey. Capital Factory brings a proven track record for providing entrepreneurs with services and investments that brings great value not only to The Ion ecosystem, but also to the entire Houston innovation ecosystem."

Capital Factory's first event at The Ion will be Open Coffee on November 16th followed by Open Coworking all day, Baer adds in his statement.

Hardworking Houston clocks in as top-10 U.S. labor market, report says

job juggernaut

Houston is proving its worth as a robust employment center.

A new report from Dallas-based ThinkWhy, a producer of talent intelligence software, ranks the Bayou City No. 8 overall in the top-performing labor markets in the country.

The Greater Houston area scored highly in net migration, job gain, and college degree holders, per ThinkWhy's LaborIQ Market Index.

Meanwhile, Houston is expected to fully recover jobs lost to the pandemic by 2023, the report adds.

Elsewhere in Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth clocks in as the No. 1 metro labor market, Austin comes in at No. 3, and San Antonio at No. 24. The most recent index is based on 10 key economic indicators from September for 150 metro areas.

"All four of Texas' major metros — which rank among the largest in the country — are expected to remain top-performing metros for an extended period. Due to the sheer size of these labor markets, their recovery will significantly impact the national economy," ThinkWhy says.

In August, Austin became one of the three largest metros — along with Salt Lake City and Phoenix — to recover all jobs lost to the pandemic, according to ThinkWhy. DFW and San Antonio are set to join those ranks 2022, with Houston expected to fully recover lost jobs in 2023.

"Retention of talent will be a major risk for businesses the remainder of this year," Jay Denton, chief labor market analyst at ThinkWhy, says in a news release. "With a record number of job openings, businesses are trying different methods to retain and attract employees, and compensation has been a critical part of that equation."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from e-commerce to energy — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Remington Tonar, chief commercial officer of Cart.com

With $150M in VC raise, this Houston company is re-envisioning the future of e-commerce operations Remington Tonar of Cart.com joins the Houston Innovators Podcast this week. Photo via Cart.com

In a world where Amazon dominated the e-commerce world, Cart.com is offering merchants but an alternative and a supplemental tool.

As Remington Tonar, chief commercial officer of Cart.com, explains on the most recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Cart.com connects the dots for e-commerce companies, and, in fact, works alongside Amazon, too. While Cart.com clients can use the suite of software services to create their own shop, ship out of Cart.com's distribution centers, etc., they can also list their products on Amazon too.

"I like to view Amazon as co-op-etition. We can coexist with Amazon," Tonar says on the show. "We're not antithetical to Amazon. We're not mutually exclusive. We can work with folks who are selling on Amazon to build their direct-to-consumer business, and we are doing that today." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Joey Sanchez, senior director of ecosystems at The Ion

Joey Sanchez is now the senior director of ecosystems at The Ion. Photo via HX.com

Joey Sanchez, who's worked in corporate partnerships for Houston Exponential for a few years, has hopped over and into a new role at The Ion.

In his new role, he will work with the Houston early-stage investing and startup community, including founders, early-stage startups, scaled startups, early-stage angel investors, venture capital investors, and corporate partners, to grow the Ion's presence in Houston.

"Houston and Texas are seeing unprecedented growth in tech and innovation. I am excited for the opportunity to continue building and supporting the Houston innovation ecosystem," says Sanchez the release. "An ecosystem needs harmony among all aspects involved, and I have always enjoyed connecting people. The overarching goal remains to build a vibrant ecosystem that supports a high frequency of connections between critical stakeholders to realize outsized success." Click here to read more.

​P.J. Popovic, CEO of Houston-based Rhythm

P.J. Popovic, CEO of Houston-based Rhythm, explains Renewable Energy Certificates work and their impact on Texas. Photo courtesy of Rhythm

What are RECs and what difference do they make? P.J. Popovic, CEO of Houston-based Rhythm, shares his expertise on Renewable Energy Certificates in a guest column for InnovationMap.

"Through PPAs, various risks, credit needs, and long-term commitments create challenges for many organizations to meet their sustainability goals. So, while RECs do not provide as material of a market signal as PPAs, with the recent changes in market prices, RECs can now be considered a meaningful, profitable market signal for renewable projects." Click here to read the article.