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

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.

The pandemic has destroyed a good part of the startup ecosystem. Here's how it happened and how startups can pick up the pieces. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

Here's what challenges — and opportunities — Houston startups are facing amid COVID-19

Houston voices

There are startups struggling to keep their heads above the deluge of a pandemic-induced depression.

Between 2016 and 2018, the global startup economy generated over $3 trillion — a far cry from today's economic value. Today, startups struggle to keep operations running during the pandemic. Web companies throughout Europe have lost close to 400 billion euros during the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese venture capital investing has dipped 50 percent compared to everyone else.

"Startups that are supported by venture capital funds are merely a small part of the startup ecosystem. Startups that don't have venture capital funding, which is the majority of them, stand to lose substantial money during this pandemic-caused shutdown," says Dane Stangler, a business writer for Forbes.

"All across the country, there are startups that, while they may not have hefty venture capital funding, are still significant to the ecosystem because of their job creation," he continues.

These startups face serious setbacks and are expected to see a giant decline of growth during this pandemic. Small businesses are already in a bind because of forced closures and rapidly waning sales.

Far-reaching effects

Startups supported by venture capital have far-reaching effects on the rest of the economy. These high-tech companies generate up to five jobs for every one job they directly create.

"That means that the inevitable economic bodyslam they're about to receive or have already received will be felt by almost every other facet of the job market," explains Stangler.

According to the Startup Genome report, the pandemic will damage startups that were in the process of raising capital and will likely kill the majority of them.

What can be done?

"Federal emergency support for small businesses is certainly the right play here. The deli down the street, the local mechanic, the mom and pop burger joint; they all need help right now," Stangler says.

Tech and science startups need help too — and many of which were in the middle of getting off the ground when the corona crisis crashed the economy.

"Pumping money into them right now is the best thing that can be done to help them in the now."

The low-interest rate climate that has helped boost venture funds has also pushed many startups to survive on debt. We'll have to come to terms with this for now.

"Market momentum isn't necessarily ideal for the time being. Moreover, the "reallocation" forces that you hear entrepreneurs mention a lot has been kiboshed for now," explains Stangler.

Startups struggling to put the pieces of their company back together might see a glimmer of hope on the horizon, though.

Hope is on the horizon

Recessions breed good businesses. Don't believe me? According to the Startup Genome report, over 50 billion dollar tech startups were created during the recession of 2007 to 2009. Fun fact: more than 50 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500 list to date were founded during a recession.

Sure, startups struggling during a national pandemic can paint a demoralizing picture. But there might be some good news peaking through the dark clouds. It's clear that venture capital funding is at a standstill right now. But it could mean that more startups will get funded when things return to somewhat-normal.

The Startup Genome report shows us that during the 2001 and 2009 recessions, the number of companies that were funded by venture capitalists exploded and fast. For example, in the four years after the 2009 recession, the number of venture capital deals spiked by 25 percent every year.

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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.

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ExxonMobil announces $100B carbon-capture hub for Houston area

greener thinking

In a move that would be a gamechanger for Houston, oil and gas giant ExxonMobil envisions creating a $100 billion carbon-capture hub along the Houston Ship Channel.

ExxonMobil foresees the Houston Ship Channel being the site of an "innovation zone" for carbon capture and storage. In a blog post on the ExxonMobil website, Joe Blommaert, the Houston-based president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions, says Houston would be "the perfect place" for the project because:

  • The ship channel is home to dozens of refineries and petrochemical plants.
  • The geological formations in the Gulf of Mexico could "safely, securely, and permanently" store tons of carbon emissions under the sea floor, according to the blog post. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the storage capacity along the U.S. Gulf Coast could handle 500 million metric tons of CO2.

Irving-based ExxonMobil, which employs more than 12,000 people in the Houston area, says the project could capture and store about 50 million metric tons of CO2 annually by 2030. By 2040, that number could rise to 100 million metric tons.

"We could create an economy of scale where we can reduce the cost of the carbon dioxide mitigation, create jobs, and reduce the emissions," Blommaert tells the Reuters news service.

In a news release, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner applauds the ExxonMobil plan.

"This proposal by ExxonMobil is the type of bold ambition and investment we will need to meet our climate goals and protect our communities from climate change," Turner says. "ExxonMobil's proposal represents a significant step forward for the energy industry, and I hope it brings more companies to the table to help Houston lead a global energy transition."

Turner notes that the Houston area is home to some of the largest emitters of carbon in the U.S., adding that everyone has "a responsibility and role to play in decarbonization."

Blommaert says the project would require public and private funding, along with "enhanced regulatory and legal frameworks that enable investment and innovation." According to Politico, ExxonMobil wants the federal government to kick in tax breaks or to set carbon-pricing policies to help get the project off the ground.

Politico reports that the Biden administration isn't considering ExxonMobil's idea as it prepares a climate-change package.

"Meanwhile, environmental groups and many Democrats have slammed carbon-capture proposals as a climate strategy, saying the only way to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution is a wholesale switch away from fossil fuels," Politico says.

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency maintains that carbon capture and storage "are critical for putting energy systems around the world on a sustainable path." Achieving net-zero goals "will be virtually impossible" without carbon capture and storage, the group says.

ExxonMobil announced creation of its Low Carbon Solutions business unit in February as part of its push to invest $3 billion in lower-emission energy initiatives through 2025. Low Carbon Solutions initially will focus on technology for carbon capture and storage. The business unit is exploring opportunities along the Gulf Coast, as well as in Wyoming, Belgium, the Netherlands, Qatar, Scotland, and Singapore.

Last year, ExxonMobil hit the pause button on a $260 million carbon-capture project in Wyoming due to fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Bloomberg news service.

In a December report, the Global CCS Institute, a think tank, said 65 commercial carbon-capture projects were in various stages of development around the world.

"Climate ambition, including efforts to decarbonize industry, has not been curtailed despite the adversities faced in 2020," Brad Page, CEO of the institute, says in a news release about the report. "We're continuing to see an upward trajectory in the amount of CO2 capture and storage infrastructure that is being developed. One of the largest factors driving this growth is recognition that achieving net-zero emissions is urgent yet unattainable without CO2 reductions from energy-intensive sectors."

Newly appointed innovation leader calls for more health care collaboration in Houston

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 80

Allison Post is a professional dot connector for the Texas Heart Institute. Located in the Texas Medical Center and founded in 1962, THI has long had a history of innovation — from Denton Cooley, THI's founder, performing the first artificial heart implementation in 1970.

Now, Post — who was appointed to a newly created position of manager of innovation partnerships — is focused on working with THI's latest generation of cardiac health innovators. She works internally to foster and support THI's brightest inventors as well as externally to make sure the institute is bringing in the best new technologies out there to its patients.

"The whole mission of the Texas Heart Institute is to help our patients. If that means that someone else has an incredible idea we want to jump onboard and bring it to people," Post says in this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Post, who has a bioengineering background and has worked on both sides of the table as an entrepreneur and a startup mentor, is looking to support breakthrough cardiac innovations within stem cells, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and more. And unfortunately, the cardiac health space has an increasing need to develop new health care solutions.

"Because of the growing burden of heart disease, heart failure, coronary artery disease, the unfortunately long list of things that can go wrong with someone's heart means the pressing need for therapies is just growing," she says on the show. "We're trying to keep up and break into things that people haven't done a lot of work on, such as women's heart health."

Another factor in Post's role, which she's had since last fall, is to bring THI further into both the TMC's innovation efforts as well as the greater Houston innovation ecosystem — as well as beyond. To her, Houston has a huge opportunity to lead health care innovation.

"It makes no sense that we aren't the health care leaders yet in med tech development. It should not be Boston, San Francisco, or Minneapolis. It should be Houston," Post says. "We have everything we need to do it. We just need to bring it all together."

The key to getting there, she says, is further collaboration. If there's one thing the world has learned about health care innovation from COVID-19, it's that when experts are rallying behind and collaborating on solutions, the speed of development is much faster.

"The more minds we have the better the solutions I going to be," she says.

Post says that she hopes her work at THI can inspire other institutions to collaborate ‚ since everyone has the same goal of helping patients.

"I only see just phenomenal things for Houston, and what I really want is for the Texas Medical Center to become even more interconnected. We've got to be able to transfer ideas and thoughts and intentions seamlessly between these institutions and right now there are a lot of barriers," Post says. "And I really think Texas Heart is hopefully going to serve as an example of how to take down those barriers."

Post shares more about what she's focused on and where THI is headed on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

New Houston accelerator supporting BIPOC in aerospace announces inaugural cohort

out of this world

A new accelerator program that is focused on aerospace innovation and supporting entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color has announced its first cohort.

The Ion's Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises, or AIA for MBEs, has named the four companies that well be a part of its inaugural cohort. The 12-week program will guide the entrepreneurs through the development of their innovations, the growth of their businesses, and the development of relationships with mentors, corporate partners, and stakeholder networks.

"Aerospace contains a myriad of dimensions and by demystifying the industry in the form of the AIA for MBEs, we are able to build a more inclusive innovation ecosystem," says Christine Galib, senior director of programs at The Ion, in a news release. "It's our goal to not only support participants to be successful, but to open the playing field for other minority business enterprises hoping to enter the space."

The program's existence was possible through a partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center, DivInc, and The Ion — as well as a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce's Minority Business Development Agency.

Here are the four companies to take part in the cohort, according to the release:

  • Axialnics Systems Inc., led by Vincent Mbuvi, is an aerospace technology platform developing a Disc-wing Rotor Aircraft Concept, which takes-off as a helicopter, carries as much payload as an airplane and flies just as fast beyond the range of typical helicopters. The innovation solves runway inefficiencies and enhances military efficiency.
  • Boozed Beverages LLC, led by Damyanna Cooke and Jim Luu, specializes in intelligent vending in the liquor industry. The company provides a contactless, AI-driven cocktail making and dispensing vending machine, for locations such as weddings and events, sporting venues, festivals, restaurants, and nightclubs and lounges.
  • NANCo Aero, led by Shern Peters, provides urban air vehicles and drones to commercial, small business, government, and nonprofit organizations. It is working to develop the first Hybrid Personal Air Vehicle capable of transporting a family over the city of Houston.
  • Stratos Perception LLC, led by Rube Williams, develops artificial intelligence solutions for space systems to benefit human productivity, safety, and enterprise. It is also developing an intelligent transducer, a tool that can monitor and control multiphase flow, for use in space such as lunar water extraction and waste processing.

The hub and its associated accelerator will be housed at The Ion when it opens up later this year — along with the organizations other accelerators — but the program is being launched virtually on Wednesday, April 21, at noon.

"The Aerospace Innovation Hub came from the idea that the aerospace industry is well-known in Houston but for many people, particularly underrepresented communities, there have been barriers in entering the aerospace industry," says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of The Ion, in the release. "By offering mentorship, introduction to capital and training opportunities, with significant backing from Microsoft, The Ion is working to remove the barriers."