Six Houston inventors have been recognized with the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia. Photo via Pexels

The National Academy of Inventors has announced its annual set of NAI Fellows — and six Houstonians make the list of the 164 honorees from 116 research institutions worldwide.

The NAI Fellows Program honors academic inventors "who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society," according to a news release. The appointment is the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia.

The six Houstonians on the list join a group that hold more than 48,000 U.S. patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than one million jobs, per the release. Additionally, $3 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.

These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Zhiqiang An, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: An is the director of the Texas Therapeutics Institute, a drug discovery program operated by the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at Houston. He's also a professor of molecular medicine and holder of the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth.
    • Alex Ignatiev, University of Houston: Ignatiev served as director of two NASA-supported research and technology development centers at the University of Houston and as Lillie Cranz and Hugh Roy Cullen Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
    • David Jaffray, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Jaffray was appointed MD Anderson's first-ever chief technology and digital officer in 2019. He oversees MD Anderson’s Information Services division and Information Security department and is a professor of Radiation Physics with a joint appointment in Imaging Physics.
    • Pei-Yong Shi,The University of Texas Medical Branch: Pei-Yong Shi is a professor and John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Innovations in Molecular Biology Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology;. He's also the Vice Chair for Innovation and Commercialization.
    • Ganesh Thakur, University of Houston: Thakur is a pioneer in carbon capture, utilization and storage and has a patent on forecasting performance of water injection and enhanced oil recovery. His team is continuing to push the research envelope for CCUS employing world-class lab research, simulation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute: Woodside is the Vice President for Research and Director of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core at the Texas Heart Institute. His research centers around the role that cell adhesion plays in cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and the development of novel means to identify and treat these diseases.
    Ten other Texas-based innovators made the list, including:
    • Sanjay Banerjee, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Thomas Boland, The University of Texas at El Paso
    • Joan Brennecke, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Gerard Cote, Texas A&M University
    • Ananth Dodabalapur, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Holloway (Holly) H. Frost Jr., The University of Texas at Arlington
    • James E. Hubbard, Texas A&M University
    • Yi Lu, University of Texas at Austin
    • Samuel Prien, Texas Tech University
    • Earl E. Swartzlander Jr., The University of Texas at Austin
    This year's class will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

    "The caliber of this year's class of NAI Fellows is outstanding. Each of these individuals are highly-regarded in their respective fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, president of NAI's board of directors, in the release. "The breadth and scope of their discovery is truly staggering. I'm excited not only see their work continue, but also to see their knowledge influence a new era of science, technology, and innovation worldwide."

    Five Houston research centers have received funds from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in its most recent round of grants. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Houston cancer-fighting researchers granted over $30 million from statewide organization

    just granted

    The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has again granted millions to Texas institutions. Across the state, cancer-fighting scientists have received 55 new grants totaling over $78 million.

    Five Houston-area institutions — Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — have received around $30 million of that grand total.

    "These awards reflect CPRIT's established priorities to invest in childhood cancer research, address population and geographic disparities, and recruit top cancer research talent to our academic institutions," says Wayne Roberts, CPRIT CEO, in a news release. "I'm excited about all the awardees, particularly those in San Antonio, a region that continues expand their cancer research and prevention prowess. San Antonio is poised to have an even greater impact across the Texas cancer-fighting ecosystem."

    Four grants went to new companies that are bringing new technologies to the market. Two companies with a presence in Houston — Asylia Therapeutics and Barricade Therapeutics Corp. — received grants in this category.

    Last fall, CPRIT gave out nearly $136 million to Texas researchers, and, to date, the organization has granted $2.49 billion to Texas research institutions and organizations.

    Here's what recent grants were made to Houston institutions.

    Baylor College of Medicine

    • $900,000 granted for Feng Yang's research in targeting AKT signaling in MAPK4-high Triple Negative Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $897,527 Hyun-Sung Lee's research for Spatial Profiling of Tumor-Immune Microenvironment by Multiplexed Single Cell Imaging Mass Cytometry (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $899,847 for Joshua Wythe's research in targeting Endothelial Transcriptional Networks in GBM (Individual Investigator Award)

    University of Houston

    • $890,502 for Matthew Gallagher's research in Transdiagnostic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Smokers With Anxiety and Depression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Prevention and Early Detection)
    • $299,953 for Lorraine Reitzel's research in Taking Texas Tobacco Free Through a Sustainable Education/Training Program Designed for Personnel Addressing Tobacco Control in Behavioral Health Settings (Dissemination of CPRIT-Funded Cancer Control Interventions Award)

    The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

    • $1,993,096 for Abbey Berenson's research in maximizing opportunities for HPV vaccination in medically underserved counties of Southeast Texas (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

    The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

    • $900,000 for Melissa Aldrich's research on "Can Microsurgeries Cure Lymphedema? An Objective Assessment" (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for John Hancock's research in KRAS Spatiotemporal Dynamics: Novel Therapeutic Targets (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Nami McCarty's research in targeting Multiple Myeloma Stem Cell Niche (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $1.96 million for Paula Cuccaro's research in Expanding "All for Them": A comprehensive school-based approach to increase HPV vaccination through public schools (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

    The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

    • $900,000 for Laurence Court's research in Artificial Intelligence for the Peer Review of Radiation Therapy Treatments
    • $900,000 for John deGroot's research in targeting MEK in EGFR-Amplified Glioblastoma (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Don Gibbons's research in Investigating the Role ofCD38 as a Mechanism of Acquired Resistance to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Lung Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for John Heymach's research in Molecular Features Impacting Drug Resistance in Atypical EGFR Exon 18 and Exon 20 Mutant NSCLC and the Development of Novel Mutant- Selective Inhibitors (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Zhen Fan's research in Development of a Novel Strategy for Tumor Delivery of MHC-I-Compatible Peptides for Cancer Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Jin Seon Im's research in off the shelf, Cord-Derived iNK T cells Engineered to Prevent GVHD and Relapse After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Jae-il Park's research in CRAD Tumor Suppressor and Mucinous Adenocarcinoma (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Helen Piwnica-Worms's research in Single-Cell Evaluation to Identify Tumor-stroma Niches Driving the Transition from In Situ to Invasive Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $898,872 for Kunal Rai's research in Heterogeneity of Enhancer Patterns in Colorectal Cancers- Mechanisms and Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Ferdinandos Skoulidis's research in Elucidating Aberrant Splicing-Induced Immune Pathway Activation in RBMl0-Deficient KRAS-Mutant NSCLC and Harnessing Its Potential for Precision Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $887,713 for Konstantin Sokolov's research in High-Sensitivity 19F MRI for Clinically Translatable Imaging of Adoptive NK Cell Brain Tumor Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Liuqing Yang's research in Adipocyte-Producing Noncoding RNA Promotes Liver Cancer Immunoresistance (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $1.44 million for Eugenie Kleinerman's research in Doxorubicin-Induced Cardiotoxicity: Defining Blood and Echocardiogram Biomarkers in a Mouse Model and AYA Sarcoma Patients for Evaluating Exercise Interventions (Individual Investigator Award for Cancer in Children and Adolescents)
    • $2.4 million for Arvind Dasari's research in Circulating Tumor DNA- Defined Minimal Residual Disease in Colorectal Cancer (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • Targeting Alterations of the NOTCH! Pathway in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC)(Faye Johnson) - $1.2 million (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • $2.07 million for Florencia McAllister's research in Modulating the Gut- Tumor Microbial Axis to Reverse Pancreatic Cancer Immunosuooression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • $2 million to recruit Eric Smith, MD, PhD, to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Award)
    • $2 million for Karen Basen-Engquist's research in Active Living After Cancer: Combining a Physical Activity Program with Survivor Navigation (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)


    Seed Awards for Product Development Research

    • Houston and Boston-based Asylia Therapeutics's Jeno Gyuris was granted $3 million for its development of a Novel Approach to Cancer Immunotherapy by Targeting Extracellular Tumor- derived HSP70 to Dendritic Cells
    • Houston-based Barricade Therapeutics Corp.'s Neil Thapar was granted $3 million for its development of a First-In-Class Small Molecule, TASIN, for Targeting Truncated APC Mutations for the Treatment of Colorectal Cancer (CRC)
    Texas doctors and researchers received millions for their transformational work in cancer prevention and treatment. Getty Images

    A Texas organization has doled out millions to Houston cancer-fighting professionals

    granted

    Researchers at medical institutions across the state have something to celebrate. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has made 71 grants this week to cancer-fighting organizations that total a near $136 million.

    "CPRIT's priorities of pediatric cancer research and cancers of significance to Texans highlight this large slate of awards," says Wayne Roberts, CPRIT CEO, in a release. "Investments are made across the cancer research and prevention continuum in Texas unlike any other state in the country."

    New to the awards this time around is the Collaborative Action Program for Liver Cancer, which has been claimed by Baylor College of Medicine's Hashem B. El-Serag.

    "Texas has the highest incidence rates of hepatocellular cancer in the nation," El-Serag says in a release from BCM. "Our CPRIT funded Center will house infrastructure to support and enhance research collaborations among liver cancer researchers; to educate providers, researchers and the general public on best practices and opportunities to reduce the burden of liver cancer; and to engage private and public entities in policy initiatives."

    Houston organizations also received recruitment awards, which reward Texas organizations for bringing in great minds from across the world. According to the release, CPRIT has brought in a total of 181 scholars and 13 companies to the Lone Star State.

    Of the 71 grants, 58 represent academic research, 10 prevention, and three product development research. Here are the ones awarded to Houston organizations.

    The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

    • $900,000 granted for Shao-Cung Sun's research in regulation of CD8 T cell responses in antitumor immunity (Individual Investigator Research Award)
    • $897,483 granted for Alemayehu A. Gorfe's research in characterization and optimization of novel allosteric KRAS inhibitors (Individual Investigator Research Award)
    • $3 million granted for Hashem B. El-Serag's research at The Texas Collaborative Center for Hepatocellular Cancer (Collaborative Action Program to Reduce Liver Cancer Mortality in Texas: Collaborative Action Center Award)
    • $2.46 million to Jessica Hwang for patient-centered liver cancer prevention in the Houston community (Collaborative Action Program to Reduce Liver Cancer Mortality in Texas: Investigator-Initiated Research Awards)
    • $3.51 million for Kevin McBride's Recombinant Antibody Production Core at Science Park
    • $199,804 granted for Andrea Viale's epithelial memory of resolved inflammation as a driver of pancreatic cancer progression (High Impact High Risk Award)
    • $6 million for the recruitment of Christopher Flowers, M.D. (Recruitment of Established Investigator Awards)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Kevin Nead, MD, MPhil (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Alison Taylor, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Mackenzie Wehner, MD, MPhil (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)

    Baylor College of Medicine

    • $5.38 million granted for Steven J. Ludtke's new capabilities for cancer research in the TMC CryoEM Cores (Core Facility Support Awards)
    • $1.35 million granted for Bryan M. Burt's novel endoscope-cleaning port for minimally invasive cancer surgery (Early Translational Research Awards)
    • $199,500 granted for Yohannes T. Ghebre's Topical Esomeprazole for Radiation-induced Dermatitis (High Impact High Risk Award)
    • $199,920 granted for Robin Parihar's targeting of cancer associated fibroblasts with anti-IL-11-secreting CAR T cells (High Impact High Risk Award)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Umesh Jadhav, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Stanley Lee, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $2 million for the recruitment of Ang Li, MD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $1.29 million for Jane R. Montealegre's expansion of "a Community Network for Cancer Prevention to Increase HPV Vaccine Uptake and Tobacco Prevention in a Medically Underserved Pediatric Population"

    Texas Medical Center

    • $5.44 million granted for William McKeon's Business-Driven Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics (Core Facility Support Awards)

    The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

    • $5.95 million granted for Zhiqiang An's Advanced Cancer Antibody Drug Modalities Core Facility (Core Facility Support Awards)
    • $2 million granted for Qingyun Liu's discovery and development of novel peptibody-drug conjugate for treating cancers of the digestive system (Early Translational Research Awards)
    • $199,998 granted for Leng Han's expression landscape and biomedical significance of transfer RNAs in cancer (High Impact High Risk Award)
    • $2 million for Lara S. Savas' Salud en Mis Manos that delivers "Evidence-Based Breast & Cervical Cancer Prevention Services to Latinas in Underserved Texas South and Gulf Coast Communities"

    The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

    • $3.55 million granted for William K. Russell's A Targeted Proteomics and Metabolomics Mass Spectrometry Core Facility at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (Core Facility Support Awards)
    • $199,996 granted for Brendan Prideaux's novel cellular-level imaging approach to assess payload drug distribution in tumors following administration of targeted drug delivery systems (High Impact High Risk Award)
    • $200,000 granted for Casey W. Wright's targeting ARNT and RBFOX2 alternative splicing as a novel treatment modality in lymphoid malignancies (High Impact High Risk Award)

    The Methodist Hospital Research Institute

    • $200,000 granted for Robert Rostomily's development of a mini-pig glioma model and validation of human clinical relevance (High Impact High Risk Award)

    Texas Southern University

    • $200,000 for Song Gao's alleviating SN-38-induced late-onset diarrhea by preserving local UGTs in the colon (High Impact High Risk Award)

    University of Houston

    • $200,000 granted for Sergey S. Shevkoplyas' Novel High-Throughput Microfluidic Device for Isolating T-cells Directly from Whole Blood to Simplify Manufacturing of Cellular Therapies (High Impact High Risk Award)

    Rice University

    • $2 million for the recruitment of Jiaozhi (George) Lu, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)
    • $1.67 million for the recruitment of Vicky Yao, PhD (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Awards)

    The Rose

    • $2 million for Bernice Joseph's Empower Her To Care Expansion

    Legacy Community Health Services

    • $999,276 for Charlene Flash's "Increasing Breast and Colorectal Cancer Screening Rates for the Medically Underserved using Population Health Strategies at a Multi-County FQHC"
    Jim Allison's groundbreaking work with T cells helped him net the award. Photo courtesy of MD Anderson Cancer Center

    Houston scientist wins Nobel Prize for breakthrough cancer treatment

    Research Recognition

    A University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center scientist has been lauded for his cancer research. Jim Allison, Ph.D., was announced as the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on October 1.

    Allison, who is the chair of Immunology and executive director of the Immunotherapy Platform, is the first MD Anderson scientist to receive the world's most coveted award for discoveries in the fields of life sciences and medicine. Allison won for his work in launching an effective new way to attack cancer by treating the immune system rather than the tumor, according to a release.

    "I'm honored and humbled to receive this prestigious recognition," Allison says in a statement. "A driving motivation for scientists is simply to push the frontiers of knowledge. I didn't set out to study cancer, but to understand the biology of T cells, these incredible cells to travel our bodies and work to protect us."

    Allison shares the award with Tasuku Honjo, M.D., Ph.D., of Kyoto University in Japan. When announcing the honor, the Nobel Assembly of Karolinska Institute in Stockholm noted in a statement that "stimulating the ability of our immune system to attack tumor cells, this year's Nobel Prize laureates have established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy."

    The prize recognizes Allison's basic science discoveries on the biology of T cells, the adaptive immune system's soldiers, and his invention of immune checkpoint blockade to treat cancer. According to MD Anderson, Allison's crucial insight was to block a protein on T cells that acts as a brake on their activation, freeing the T cells to attack cancer. He developed an antibody to block the checkpoint protein CTLA-4 and demonstrated the success of the approach in experimental models.

    Allison's work led to the development of the first immune checkpoint inhibitor drug which would become the first to extend the survival of patients with late-stage melanoma. Follow-up studies show 20 percent of those treated live for at least three years, with many living for 10 years and beyond, unprecedented results, according to the cancer center.

    "Jim Allison's accomplishments on behalf of patients cannot be overstated," says MD Anderson president Peter WT Pisters, M.D., in a statement. "His research has led to life-saving treatments for people who otherwise would have little hope. The significance of immunotherapy as a form of cancer treatment will be felt for generations to come."

    "I never dreamed my research would take the direction it has," Allison adds. "It's a great, emotional privilege to meet cancer patients who've been successfully treated with immune checkpoint blockade. They are living proof of the power of basic science, of following our urge to learn and to understand how things work."

    ---

    This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

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    Houston startup secures big contract, coworking company acquired, and more local innovation news

    short stories

    Houston is starting 2022 strong in terms of innovation news, and there might be some headlines you may have missed.

    In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, the Bayou City is ranked based on its opportunities for STEM jobs, a Houston blockchain startup scores a major contract, Rice University opens applications for its veteran-owned busineess competition, and more.

    Data Gumbo announces contract with Equinor

    After a successful pilot, Equinor has signed off on a contract with Data Gumbo.. Courtesy of Data Gumbo

    Houston-based Data Gumbo, an industrial blockchain-software-as-a-service company, announced that it has signed a contract with Equinor. The global energy company's venture arm, Equinor Ventures, supported the startup's $7.7 million series B round, which closed last year.

    The company's technology features smart contract automation and execution, which reduces contract leakage, frees up working capital, enables real-time cash and financial management, and delivers provenance with unprecedented speed, accuracy, visibility and transparency, per the release.

    “Equinor is an industry trailblazer, demonstrating the true value of our international smart contract network to improve and automate manual processes, and bring trust to all parties,” says Andrew Bruce, founder and CEO of Data Gumbo, in a news release. “Smart contracts are playing a critical role in driving the energy industry forward. Our work with Equinor clearly demonstrates the benefits that supermajors and their supply chain customers, partners and vendors experience by automating commercial transactions. We are proud to continue our work with Equinor to help them realize the savings, efficiencies and new levels of transparency available through our smart contract network.”

    Equinor opted into a pilot with the company a few years ago.

    “Since piloting Data Gumbo’s smart contracts for offshore drilling services in 2019, we have worked with the company to continually refine and improve use cases. We now have the potential to expand Data Gumbo’s smart contract network to enable transactional certainty across our portfolio from the Norwegian Continental Shelf to our Brazilian operated assets and beyond,” says Erik Kirkemo, senior vice president at Equinor. “GumboNet reduces inefficiencies and processing time around contract execution in complex supply chains, which is a problem in the broader industry, and we look forward to realizing the streamlined process and cost savings of its rapidly expanding smart contract network.”

    WeWork acquires Dallas coworking brand with 6 Houston locations

    Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston including in The Ion, has been acquired. Photo courtesy of Common Desk

    Dallas-based Common Desk, which has six locations in Houston, announced its acquisition by WeWork. The company's office spaces will be branded as “Common Desk, a WeWork Company,” according to a news release.

    “Similar to WeWork, Common Desk is a company built on the concept of bringing people together to have their best day at work," says Nick Clark, CEO at Common Desk, in the release. "With the added support from WeWork, Common Desk will be able to not only leverage WeWork’s decade of experience in member services to improve the experience of our own members but also leverage WeWork’s impressive client roster to further build out our member base.”

    Here are the six Common Desk spaces in Houston:

    Here's how Houston ranks as a metro for STEM jobs

    Source: WalletHub

    When it comes to the best cities for jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math, Houston ranks in the middle of the pack. The greater Houston area ranked at No. 37 among the 100 largest metros across 19 key metrics on the list compiled by personal finance website, WalletHub. Here's how Houston fared on the report's metrics:

    • No. 36 – percent of Workforce in STEM
    • No. 74 – STEM Employment Growth
    • No. 43 – Math Performance
    • No. 16 – Quality of Engineering Universities
    • No. 2 – Annual Median Wage for STEM Workers (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
    • No. 90 – Median Wage Growth for STEM Workers
    • No. 75 – Job Openings for STEM Graduates per Capita
    • No. 88 – Unemployment Rate for Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree

    Elsewhere in Texas, Austin ranked at No. 2 overall, and Dallas just outranked Houston coming in at No. 34. San Antonio, El Paso, and McAllen ranked No. 51, No. 65, and No. 88, respectively.

    Rice University calls for contestants for its 8th annual startup pitch competition for veterans

    Calling all veteran and active duty startup founders and business owners. Photo courtesy of Rice University

    Rice University is now accepting applications from Houston veterans for its annual business competition. To apply for the 2022 Veterans Business Battle, honorably discharged veterans or active duty founders can head online to learn more and submit their business plan by Feb. 15.

    “We’re looking forward to giving veterans the opportunity not just to share their ideas and get financing, but learn from other past winners the lessons about entrepreneurship they’ve lived through while growing their businesses,” event co-chair Reid Schrodel says in a news release.

    Over the past few years, finalists have received more than $4 million of investments through the program. This year's monetary prizes add up to $30,000 — $15,000 prize for first place, $10,000 for second place, and $5,000 for third place.

    Finalists will be invited to make their business pitch April 22 and 23 at Rice University. Click here to register for the event.

    City of Houston receives grant to stimulate STEM opportunities

    Houston's youth population is getting a leg up on STEM opportunities. Photo via Getty Images

    Thanks to a $150,000 grant from the National League of Cities, the city of Houston has been awarded a chance to provide quality education and career opportunities to at-risk young adults and students. The city is one of five cities also selected to receive specialized assistance from NLC’s staff and other national experts.

    “This award is a big win for young people. They will benefit from significant career development opportunities made possible by this grant,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in a news release. “These are children who would otherwise go without, now having experiences and connections they never thought possible. I commend the National League of Cities for their continued commitment to the future leaders of this country.”

    According to the release, the grant money will support the Hire Houston Youth program by connecting diverse opportunity youth to the unique STEM and technology-focused workforce development.

    "Our youth deserve educational opportunities that connect them to the local workforce and career exploration, so they can make informed choices about their future career path in Houston’s dynamic economy. Houston youth will only further the amazing things they will accomplish, thanks to this grant," says Olivera Jankovska, director of the Mayor's Office of Education.

    Houston software startup raises $12.5M series B

    money moves

    Houston-based Codenotary, whose technology helps secure software supply chains, has raised $12.5 million in a series B round. Investors in the round include Swiss venture capital firm Bluwat and French venture capital firm Elaia.

    The $12.5 million round follows a series A round that was announced in 2020, with total funding now at $18 million.

    Codenotary, formely known as vChain, says the fresh round of money will be used to accelerate product development, and expand marketing and sales worldwide. Today, the startup has 100-plus customers, including some of the world’s largest banks.

    Codenotary’s co-founders are CEO Moshe Bar and CTO Dennis Zimmer. They started the company in 2018.

    Bar co-founded Qumranet, which developed the Linux KVM hypervisor. A hypervisor creates and runs virtual machines. Software provider Red Hat purchased Qumranet in 2008 for $127 million. Before that, he founded hypervisor company XenSource, which cloud computing company Citrix Systems bought in 2007 for $500 million.

    “Codenotary offers a solution which allows organizations to quickly identify and track all components in their DevOps cycle and therefore restore trust and integrity in all their myriad applications,” Pascal Blum, senior partner at Bluwat, says in a news release.

    The SolarWinds software supply chain hack in 2020 and the more recent emergence of Log4j vulnerabilities have brought the dangers of software lifecycle attacks to the forefront, Bar says. Now, he says, more and more companies are looking for ways to prove the legitimacy of the software that they produce.

    Codenotary is the primary contributor to immudb, the an open-source, enterprise-class database with data immutability, or stability, designed to meet the demands of highly used applications.

    Dallas-based ridesharing app gears up for expansion across Houston and beyond

    HOUSTON INNOVATOR PODCAST EPISODE 118

    Before he started his current job, Winston Wright would have thought a startup attempting to compete with the likes of Uber and Lyft was going to fight an uphill battle. Now, he sees how much opportunity there is in the rideshare market.

    Wright is the Houston general manager for Alto, a Dallas-based company that's grown its driving service platform into five markets — first from Dallas into Houston and then to Los Angeles, Miami, and, most recently, Washington D.C. Alto's whole goal is to provide reliability and improve user experience.

    "We're elevating ridesharing," Wright says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "With Alto, you get a consistent, safe experience with. a high level of hospitality. And that's a key differentiator for us in the market, and we're able to replicate that time and time again."

    Wright, whose background is in sales and operations in hospitality, says his vision for alto in Houston is to expand the service — which operates in the central and western parts of the city — throughout the greater Houston area.

    "The vision I have for this market is that, as we move forward and continue to expand, that we're covering all of Houston," he says.

    This will mean expanding the company's physical presence too. Alto recently announced its larger space in Dallas, and now the Houston operations facility will grow its footprint too.

    Wright says he's also focused on growing his team. Over the past two years, pandemic notwithstanding, the company has maintained hiring growth. Alto's drivers are hired as actual employees, not contractors, so they have access to benefits and paid time off.

    The company, which raised $45 million in its last round of investment, is expanding next to the Silicon Valley area, followed by three to five more markets in 2022. Then, by the end of 2023, it's Alto's mission to have a completely electronic fleet of vehicles.

    "Our goal is to have over 3,000 EV cars and be the first company with a 100 percent electric fleet by 2023," Wright says.

    Wright shares more on Alto's future in Texas and beyond, as well as what's challenging him most as he grows the team locally. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.