A new program launched by two UH-based organizations will help early-stage startups commercialize, apply for grants, and more. Photo via UH.edu

Two University of Houston organizations have partnered up to further support early-stage startups in the Gulf Coast Region.

The university announced this month that its UH Technology Bridge and the UH Texas Gulf Coast Small Business Development Center are now accepting applications for a new, collaborative program that will help innovators and entrepreneurs develop a pitch or commercialization plan. The program will also guide participants in applying for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants and other investments.

Applications are open to those with the university and across the region.

"We are excited to partner with the University of Houston Technology Bridge to provide this valuable support to early-tech startups in the Texas Gulf Coast region," Steven Lawrence, director of the UH Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network, says in a statement. "Our program is designed to help innovators take their ideas to the next level and prepare for success in the marketplace."

"Our goal is to help innovators turn their ideas into successful businesses, and this partnership will help us achieve that goal," Tanu Chatterji, Associate Director of Startup Development at UH, echoes in the news release.

The UH Texas Gulf Coast SBDC Network is one of 14 SBDCs in the Texas Gulf Coast Region that's part of UH's C.T. Bauer College of Business and funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration. The centers provide no-cost and affordable business training and advising.

The UH Tech Bridge focuses on providing research and development space to UH-affiliated startups and entrepreneurs. The 15-building complex and its 31,000 square feet of incubator space houses more than 20 small companies and startups that provide internship and learning opportunities for UH students, along with several federally funded research centers and institutes.

Earlier this year, the Tech Bridge received a $2.875 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant is slated to benefit the UH Industry & International Innovation Hub and will establish The Deck Innovation & Coworking Center.

Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston who oversees the UH Technology Bridge, spoke with the Houston Innovators Podcast earlier this summer about UH's plans to build a central campus hub for innovation and the need to encourage more innovation and entrepreneurship.
UH's C. T. Bauer College of Business will house the newly launched Healthcare Business Institute. Photo via Getty Images

University of Houston introduces institute to bring business solutions to health care industry

medical biz

The University of Houston announced this month that it has now launched its new Healthcare Business Institute, which will work with medical and business leaders as well as students to find solutions to pressing issues in the health care industry, such as high costs, access to care and new innovative technologies.

The institute will be part of the university's C. T. Bauer College of Business and led by Ravi Aron, research director and professor of health care strategy and technology in the Bauer College Department of Decision & Information Sciences, and Dr. Edward Kroger, the administrative director of the center.

“Providers are facing increasingly limited reimbursement from the U.S. government, insurers and employers. The industry is, therefore, struggling with finding new ways to increase value by improving quality and decreasing cost,” Aron says in a statement. “This is complicated by the fact that the industry is the most heavily regulated in the country. While policy, regulations and the government all have roles to play, efficient care delivery also requires businesses–small, medium, large and startups-to play a significant role in delivering effective and efficient care.”

The institute plans to bring together stakeholders from device makers and pharmaceutical companies to angel investors and educators to address many of these issues. Faculty and partners will release impactful research on topics such as hospital operations, new health care technologies, AI and machine learning in hospital contexts, emerging financial models in health care and a number of other topics.

Research will be shared in a new practitioner-facing Knowledge Portal that will feature a journal, editorials, and other media components like blogs, videos and audio.

The HBI will also have an educational component, with formal degree-based and shorter non-degree tracts, as well as a masters program related to health care leadership. Multiple executive education programs are also in the works.

“This unique combination of researchers, educationists and students will also benefit by connecting to perhaps the world’s most diversified health care ecosystem,” Aron says in the statement.

And Houston is the right place to house such an institute, says Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou.

“Technology, data, and AI are enabling unprecedented advances in medicine, and Houston’s impressive health care network presents an exciting opportunity for a Healthcare Business Institute,” Pavlou says in the release. “Not only is Houston home to the Texas Medical Center, UH is the only university in Houston that includes a large number of health care researchers at the Bauer College of Business, a world-ranked health law program at the UH Law Center, a computer science department with many distinguished research faculty, and a new College of Medicine."

“The opportunity for meaningful collaboration among health care researchers, industry leaders, and students through HBI will be a tremendous asset for Houston with the potential for local, national and global impact,” he continues.

Earlier this summer, UH announced plans to open a 70,000-square-foot innovation hub next to the M.D. Anderson Library on UH's main campus in 2025. It's slated to house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.
The University of Houston will construct a new hub for innovation on its main campus. The building is planned to be adjacent to the M.D. Anderson Library. Photo via uh.edu

University of Houston plans to build new central campus innovation hub

coming soon

Over a year ago, the University of Houston got the greenlight from the state of Texas to create a central hub for innovation on campus, Ramanan Krishnamoorti, vice president of energy and innovation at the University of Houston, tells InnovationMap.

“We asked the state two years ago for appropriations to create an innovation hub at the University of Houston,” Krishnamoorti says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. “We are now in the process of creating an innovation hub central to the campus at the University of Houston."

While the project is still in its early stages, the university has revealed some details on the building, which is slated to open in 2025 next to the M.D. Anderson Library on UH's main campus. It will be around 70,000 square feet and will house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.

“This would be a space that would look at innovation across all areas — arts, social sciences, STEM, business,” Krishnamoorti says. “We’re going to build this innovation hub as a central place of gathering for everything innovation on campus."

One of the aspects of the hub Krishnamoorti says he's excited about is the makerspace.

"Students can come in there and make, create, and visualize their dreams," Krishnamoorti says, explaining that this will be accessible to all students. "This could be everything from clever art to architectural designs to a widget for a STEM-related target they are working on."

In addition to creating lab space for further research and innovation, the hub will be a convening spot — both for the university's campus as well as the greater Houston business community. Krishnamoorti says a goal of this project is to be able to bring in subject matter experts from industry and have them spend time with on campus with students.

"There's all this talent that's out there — but we don't give them a place to come in and engage the future generations," Krishnamoorti says. "This is an effort to provide a venue to create those unexpected, unanticipated collisions, create a talent pipeline, engage with experts, and build activities that will very quickly de-bottleneck some of the biggest challenges we have in the innovation space."

Currently, UH is calling for support from perspective and existing donors for the project.

The UH Innovation Hub is in its early stages. Photo via uh.edu


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3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon CEO Sean Kelly joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share his company's growth and expansion plans. Photo via LinkedIn

The technology that Amperon provides its customers — a comprehensive, AI-backed data analytics platform — is majorly key to the energy industry and the transition of the sector. But CEO Sean Kelly says he doesn't run his business like an energy company.

Kelly explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that he chooses to run Amperon as a tech company when it comes to hiring and scaling.

"There are a lot of energy companies that do tech — they'll hire a large IT department, they'll outsource a bunch of things, and they'll try to undergo a product themselves because they think it should be IP," he says on the show. "A tech company means that at your core, you're trying to build the best and brightest technology." Continue reading.

Amanda Burkhardt, CEO of Phiogen

Spun out of Baylor College of Medicine, Phiogen was selected out of 670 companies to pitch at SXSW earlier this month. Photo via LinkedIn

A new Houston biotech company won a special award at the 16th Annual SXSW Pitch Award Ceremony earlier this month.

Phiogen, one of 45 companies that competed in nine categories, was the winner for best inclusivity, much to the surprise of the company’s CEO, Amanda Burkhardt.

Burkhardt tells InnovationMap that while she wanted to represent the heavily female patient population that Phiogen seeks to treat, really she just hires the most skilled scientists.

“The best talent was the folks that we have and it ends up being we have three green card holders on our team. As far as ethnicities, we have on our team we have Indian, African-American, Korean, Chinese Pakistani, Moroccan and Hispanic people and that just kind of just makes up the people who helped us on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. Continue reading.

Mielad Ziaee, 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar

Mielad Ziaee, a 20-year-old student at the University of Houston, was tapped for a unique National Institutes of Health program. Photo via UH.edu

A Houston-area undergraduate student has been tapped for a prestigious national program that pairs early-career investigators with health research professionals.

Mielad Ziaee was selected for the National Institutes of Health’s 2023-2024 All of Us Research Scholar Program, which connects young innovators with experts "working to advance the field of precision medicine," according to a statement from UH. Ziaee – a 20-year-old majoring in psychology and minoring in biology, medicine and society who plans to graduate in 2025 — plans to research how genomics, or the studying of a person's DNA, can be used to impact health.

“I’ll be one of the ones that define what this field of personalized, precision medicine will look like in the future,” Ziaee said in a statement. “It’s exciting and it’s a big responsibility that will involve engaging diverse populations and stakeholders from different systems – from researchers to health care providers to policymakers.” Continue reading.

Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

now enrolling

A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

“The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

“It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

“Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

“Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

“I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.