Know before you go: 2024 H-Town Roundup

Plan your week

Here's what you need to know about HTR this year. Photo courtesy

Next week, Houston Exponential's annual week of innovation and networking is taking place. Here are five things you need to know before you go.

1. New year, new name.

Houston Tech Rodeo, which originated in 2020, has been rebranded to H-Town Roundup, but the week of innovation and entrepreneurship still has the same goal of providing programming and events that connect and educate Houstonians.

On a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the change is meant to make for a more inclusive experience for entrepreneurs of small businesses, something she's seen a need for since she took on her role last year.

"This year, we've had the better part of a year to think about what can be different and how can we serve the founder," she says.

Branch explains that some members of the Houston community confused the event for being associated with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo or for being only for true tech people. Branch says the wanted to open the door a little wider to entrepreneurs who are innovative without necessarily working in technology.

"That's not what we wanted — to exclude anyone," she says. "H-Town Roundup is going to allow us to be more inclusive."

2. It's completely free to attend.

Dozens of events are taking place around town, and all are free to Houston entrepreneurs, investors, and more. Simply register for anything you're able to attend.

For reference, a full, detailed agenda is available online too.

3. There are two featured events.

Need to make some priorities? This year, there are two featured events for HTR.

  • Tech and Tequila Talk powered by Blue People at 5 to 7:30 pm, on Tuesday, February 27, at the UH Tech Bridge Innovation Center.
  • CodeLaunch Houston at 4 to 9 pm, on Wednesday, February 28, at Bayou Music Center.

4. Introducing: The Founder Lounge.

For attendees with the founder pass, The Founder's Lounge at Esperson Building in downtown is open Monday through Thursday from 10 am to 3 pm next week.

The full agenda of talks planned at the lounge is online.

5. Find the activity zones.

HTR again is rotating venues. Here's where and when you can expect to find HTR activities.

  • Sunday (1 to 5 pm) - Esperson Building
  • Monday (8 am to 12:30 pm) - TMC Innovation
  • Monday (1:30 to 5 pm) - The Cannon Downtown
  • Tuesday (1 to 7:30 pm) - UH Tech Bridge
  • Wednesday (10 am to 1 pm) - Esperson Building
  • Wednesday (4 to 9 pm) - Bayou Music Center
  • Thursday ( 8 am to noon) - HCC Central Campus
  • Thursday (1 to 7 pm) - Greentown Labs
  • Friday (9 am to 3:30 pm) - the Ion
  • Saturday (10 am to 2 pm) - Esperson Building

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

University of Houston launches new collaborative program for startups in Houston, Gulf Coast Region

ready to grow

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.
TexPower's founders — Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, CTO Wangda Li, and CEO Evan Erickson, respectively — celebrated the opening of the company's new lab space. Photo courtesy of TexPower

Houston startup with revolutionary battery technology opens new labs

power move

A Houston startup founded off research out of a Texas university has cut the ribbon on its new lab space.

TexPower EV Technologies Inc. celebrated the opening of its 6,000-square-foot laboratory and three-ton-per-year pilot production line at a ribbon-cutting event last week. The Northwest Houston site is located at 6935 Brittmoore Rd.

The new space will help the company further commercialize its cobalt-free lithium-ion cathode, lithium nickel manganese aluminum oxide (NMA). The technology is game changing for the electrification of the United States, including the rapid adoption of electric vehicles.

Currently, the country is experiencing a supply chain crisis, says Evan Erickson, co-founder and CEO of the company, at the event. Most of the world's cobalt, a material traditionally used in lithium-ion cathodes, is sourced primarily from the Congo and refinement is mostly controlled by China, he explains.

For these reasons, Cathodes are the most expensive component of lithium-ion batteries. But TexPower has a unique technology to solve this supply chain issue, and now with its new labs, is one step closer to commercialization of its materials.

TexPower spun out of the University of Texas at Austin in 2019. The company was co-founded by Erickson with CTO Wangda Li and Board Chairman Arumugam Manthiram, a professor at UT whose lithium-ion battery research fuels the foundation of the company.

“We want to point out how lucky we are — as a company and as scientists," Erickson says at the ribbon cutting event. "It’s not common that you see something you work on in academia turn into something that can become commercially successful.”

Prior to the newly built labs, TexPower operated out of the University of Houston's Tech Bridge. The company intends to raise additional funding to support its expansion.

According to the company, the new three-ton-per-year pilot line is the first step toward building a manufacturing facility that's capable of producing up to 50 times more the amount of cathode with a goal to impact markets such as defense, power tools, and eVTOL.

CEO Evan Erickson celebrated the new lab space opening last week

Photo courtesy of TexPower

UH is investing in a nanotechnology developed on its own campus that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston to install nanotech-coated air filters on campus to prevent COVID-19 spread

who's house

A nanotechnology developed at the University of Houston is about to make a big difference right on campus.

UH's Facilities/Construction Management Preventive Maintenance team is working on a project that will install air filters that are nanocoated with a material that was first developed at the UH Technology Bridge. UH Professor of Physics Seamus Curran has an extensive background in nanotech, and, as he learned more about COVID-19 and how it spreads, he started nano-coating facemasks to make them more resistant to the small particles that enable the spread of the virus.

Originally developed for the construction business, Curran's coating material could also be used to create hydrophobic facemasks, Curran discovered, and he founded a spin off company, Curran Biotech, to develop his next pandemic-proof innovation: nano-coated air filters.

"The big thing for me when we were shut down was that people couldn't go to work or school. The country can't live that way — but you can't send people back to work in a world that's not safe," Curran said last October in an interview for the Houston Innovators Podcast. "How do you create a safer environment? That's the thing that really got me going in the beginning in the summer. We looked at filters."

Listen to Professor Curran on the Houston Innovators Podcast:

Curran, who says he's learned more about air filters than he ever cared to, realized that even the most expensive air filters can only protect from 10 to 25 percent of viruses. And most buildings' HVAC systems would have to be replaced completely to allow for these pricier, more protective filters. But Curran Biotech's Capture Coating can be used on existing filters and HVAC systems.

Air filters coated with Curran Biotech's sealant were then tested at the New York Family Court Building, by DCAS-Energy Management Division, and now, ahead of the fall semester, UH is implementing the innovation in all buildings that have less than MERV-13 rated filters.

Curran Biotech's sealant can be used on existing air filters and HVAC systems. Photo via UH.edu

Think you know what's happening at university tech transfer offices? Think again. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Houston expert: 4 misconceptions of university tech transfer offices

houston voices

Beyond their education and research missions, universities across the nation have turned research discoveries into big business. In addition to protecting intellectual property from faculty discoveries, universities build and support startup pipelines to help researchers commercialize those technologies.

However, there are a few misconceptions when it comes to university tech transfer offices that keep faculty at bay. Here, we'll take a look at four misconceptions and explore the truth behind the thinking.

Misconception 1: Filing patent paperwork is all tech transfer offices do

While tech transfer offices are in the business of patents, many offer a full range of services to support the commercialization process. This can include everything from strategy and startup development to the establishment of enterprise and industry ventures. Many university tech transfer offices operate incubators, co-working space for startups and accelerator programs, and some even build and manage venture funds.

"At the University of Houston, we now offer lots of services to faculty, such as strategy sessions to help them understand the commercial potential of their technologies," said Chris Taylor, executive director of the UH Office of Technology Transfer and Innovation. "We also help faculty license their technologies to ensure fair use as they transition them into the market."

Misconception 2: I need to have a fully-developed idea to submit a disclosure

According to Taylor, many faculty begin interacting with tech transfer offices once they have a technology fully developed. But tech transfer offices can do much more for faculty if involved early in the process.

"Yes, we do help protect what's been developed. But, if we have a conversation at the beginning, we could help faculty shape or pivot their technologies. This will give them the greatest market potential," he said.

One of the many benefits of tech transfer offices is their ability to readily research the market.

"We can determine whether or not technologies can be disclosed, patented and licensed. It's important to know this before going through a lengthy and expensive filing process."

Misconception 3: The patent process will slow down my publication plans

Publishing researching findings may be one of the most important activities for the university researcher. However, publishing research on unprotected discoveries can result in the loss of patent rights. Therefore, filing a disclosure is very important, according to Taylor.

"Publishing is one of the best ways to market university technologies," he said. "However, industry values patented technologies, so it's better to make a small time investment to protect your IP.

Misconception 4: Getting a patent is the primary goal for tech transfer offices

As Taylor explains, the primary goal of tech transfer offices is to help faculty "transfer" their discoveries to society. And while patenting technologies is one way to do that, tech transfer offices also provide education and mentoring programs. They also support other protections such as copyrights for software.

"IP protection is important," he said. "It gives faculty control over how their technology is used, for good or for bad. So, this is an important part of the work that we do for faculty. But, we support faculty in so many other ways through the entire pipeline."

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Lindsay Lewis, the author of this piece, is the executive director of communivations for the UH Division of Research.

Contact-free market shopping has come to campus at UH. Photo courtesy of UH

University of Houston upgrades to contactless market technology

new to campus

A convenience store on campus at the University of Houston just got a little more, well, convenient — and a whole lot safer.

UH and its dining services partner, Chartwells HigherEducation, have partnered with tech company Standard to upgrade the check-out process of convenience shopping. The technology is easy to install and can retrofit any convenience store to a contact-less process.

"Students' tastes change constantly, and we're well equipped to handle that. But their shopping preferences evolve too, and we want to continue providing new and unique shopping experiences that are unexpected on a college campus," says David Riddle, vice president of operations for Chartwells Higher Ed, and district manager for UH System Dining, in a press release. "This is the future of shopping, and with autonomous checkout through Standard, we've made it as easy, safe and convenient as possible for students to come in, get what they need, and go."

The store, called Market Next, is located at UH's Technology Bridge and opened earlier this month. Enabled by cameras and easy-to-use scanners, the store operates 24 hours a day and is also designed for quick service for students on the go. The fastest shopping trip recorded by Standard is 2.3 seconds.

"Market Next is the first retail store in the world to be retrofitted for a 100 percent cashierless, checkout-free experience," says Jordan Fisher, co-founder and CEO of Standard, in the release. "Our platform is the only system on the market proven to retrofit an entire retail experience. Innovative retailers like Chartwells use the AI-powered Standard platform to enable shoppers to grab any product they want and simply walk out, without waiting in line. We are excited to partner with Chartwells to deliver this groundbreaking technology to more locations around the country."

Chartwells is working with Standard to bring more of these stores across the country — as well as more itterations on the UH campus.

"Checkout-free technology is an innovation that will make our students' lives a little easier and a lot safer. This is the new standard for campus safety that is important to students today and for the foreseeable future," says Emily Messa, associate vice chancellor and associate vice president for administration at UH, in the release. "That's why we will plan to convert additional Market stores on campus to this technology in the coming year."

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.