Here's some local Houston startup news you may have missed. Photo by Zview/Getty Images

Houston startups across industries have been moving and shaking these past few weeks, and there's a chance you may have missed some of these Houston innovation stories.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, two Houston-based e-commerce startups announce big news, a tech company pitches abroad, and more.

Houston industrial e-commerce startup expands into the construction industry

Houston-based GoExpedi has expanded its business. Photo by Colt Melrose for GoExpedi

GoExpedi, an end-to-end digital supply chain and data analytics company with solutions within procurement and delivery of maintenance, repair, and operations products for heavy industries, announced it has expanded into the commercial construction space.

Builders partnering with GoExpedi now have access to more than 200,000 critical parts and supplies, according to a news release from the company.

"Access to needed tools and materials in construction is already a challenge in today's supply chain environment," says GoExpedi CEO Tim Neal in the release. "Expanding into commercial construction is a natural extension of our capabilities as we already provide significant operational and cost value with our digital platform across similar heavy sectors. We're quickly ramping up the number of construction groups we're working with, giving them a better way to plan for and order materials to help avoid costly building delays."

GoExpedi raised a $25 million series C round in 2020 and is deploying these funds as the company grows. Earlier this year, the startup opened a new industrial and energy MRO warehouse in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

UH business college snags prestigious grant

Dean​ Paul Pavlou leads the University of Houston's Bauer College of Business.

The University of Houston's C. T. Bauer College of Business is partnering with Texas A&M University and Temple University to develop and implement an energy risk tracking and alert system in Houston and San Antonio. The research project recently received $1.5 million in grant funding from the National Science Foundation. The grant is part of the Smart and Connected Communities program.

"Advanced Learning for Energy Risk Tracking" (ALERT) is designed to prevent and mitigate costly and potentially devastating electricity outages — such as the 2021 winter storm — according to a news release from UH. Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou is one of co-investigators.

"If there is one positive outcome of the winter storm, it certainly created an awareness for many people that we need to invest more in intelligent systems that can minimize the huge costs and negative impacts that electricity outages can have on people and local communities," he says in the release. "The idea of this research is to create a data-driven system to reduce, predict, and mitigate costly power outages, especially in traditionally disadvantaged communities that usually suffer the most from power outages."

The ALERT system depends on data generated by utilities, city and county governments, school districts and others, enabling preemptive repairs and allowing officials to react more quickly in the event of unforeseen outages, per the release, and a test version of the resource may begin operating in San Antonio as soon as 2022, followed by a trial in Houston.

"It's a technologically very advanced solution, but the beauty of it is that we are working with local communities to acquire the data, to enhance the system and also feed the data back to the community to actually minimize the impact on the people who suffer most from power outages," Pavlou says in the release.

Houston health tech company receives new investment

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has fresh funding. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Velentium has announced a growth recapitalization in partnership with Connecticut-based Great Point Partners. Houston-based Velentium is an engineering firm specializing in the design and manufacturing of therapeutic and diagnostic active medical devices, and GPP is a leading health care investment firm. The new investment allows Velentium to scale national operations.

"When Great Point reached out to us earlier this year, we were immediately impressed with their deep knowledge of our market and track record building businesses," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "We continue to build an organization that improves the lives of people and families by helping to bring transformative medical devices to market, and Great Point is uniquely positioned to enable us to do that at an even larger scale. Today, we are starting a new chapter and taking a crucial step in realizing our dream of having 1,000 families as part of our organization."

Velentium was created to advance the next breakthrough medical device technology — all within the same company. Innovators and inventors don't have to go through the processes — from cybersecurity to manufacturing — by themselves.

"Our dream from day one was to create a one-stop shop here in Houston where new startups with IP can come to us and know that start to finish they would have their commercial device ready for approval with the FDA and that we were going to handle everything," Purvis previously told InnovationMap.

With GPP's investment, Velentium is equipped to augment its end-to-end solutions and its nearshore and offshore manufacturing capabilities, per the release.

"Velentium has played a pivotal role in the development of groundbreaking neuromodulation devices that have led to important medical technology advancements," says GPP Managing Director Adam Dolder in the release. "We look forward to being partners with Dan, Tim and the entire team and helping them to achieve their goals for the company."

Houston startup tapped for European pitch competition

Jessica Reitmeier, is the co-founder of Pandata Tech. Photo courtesy of Pandata Tech

Houston-based Pandata Tech is one of 29 companies from around the globe competing in Scotland's Net Zero Technology Centre's Clean Energy Start-up Pitch Battle finals. Each featured company has a technology solution that can help accelerate the transition to a net zero energy industry, and 10 finalists will be selected to pitch at COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, on November 2, 2021.

"These start-ups are truly inspiring. Offering extraordinary innovation and ambition, all these teams are developing technologies that have significant potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," says Mark Anderson, TechX Director of Net Zero Technology Centre.

The Ion Houston nominated Pandata Tech to be part of the competition because of the startup's previous work in offshore energy and geothermal utility distribution.

"When we think about reducing C02 emissions by 50 percent or more by 2030 and the data required to meet that mark, it's simple — humans and algorithms need data they can trust," says Jessica Reitmeier, co-founder of Pandata.

Houston e-commerce services provider announces strategic partnership

Houston-based e-commerce software startup and Amazon competitor raises $25M in its series A

Cart.com has a new partner, which has increased access to tools for its clients. Photo via cart.com

Houston-based Cart.com, an end-to-end ecommerce services provider and Amazon competitor, announced a strategic partnership with Clearco, the world's largest ecommerce investor. With the new partnership, Cart.com's clients will receive access to Clearco's capital financing and Clearco's portfolio of over 5,500 companies will have access to Cart.com's end-to-end e-commerce platform.

"We're committed to making all aspects of running an ecommerce business streamlined and hassle-free — and that includes getting access to the capital needed to fuel growth," says Omair Tariq, Cart.com CEO, in a news release. "Through this partnership we're giving online sellers frictionless access to the resources they need to scale up, while allowing founders to stay laser-focused on serving their customers and building their brand."

The two companies share the mission to democratize ecommerce by delivering easier, more streamlined access to critical resources — including capital, services, and domain-specific information — which have previously only been available to companies like Amazon.

"Like Cart.com, we envision a world where founding a business is accessible to everyone, and where founders can access essential capital without having to jump through endless hoops," says Andrew D'Souza, Clearco CEO, in the release. "By partnering with Cart.com, Clearco companies will be able to access the platform's end-to-end ecommerce engine — including online store technology, integrated fulfillment services, and customer service support — to scale their ecommerce growth."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dan Purvis of Velentium, Tony Sanchez of OneNexus Environmental, and Kevin Doffing of Energy Capital of the Future. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

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Dan Purvis, CEO and founder of Velentium, is leading his growing company with culture in mind. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Local tech exec expands med device company into oil and gas in a 'uniquely Houston' way

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 90

When asked about founding his company, the first thing Dan Purvis wants to talk about is the culture.

"The technology of today and the technology of 24 months from now will be very different," Purvis, CEO and founder of Houston-based Velentium, says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "Being culture-forward allows us to make sure that the people we have on staff are able to flex with the industry."

Velentium was created to advance the next breakthrough medical device technology — all within the same company. Innovators and inventors don't have to go through the processes — from cybersecurity to manufacturing — by themselves.

"Our dream from day one was to create a one-stop shop here in Houston where new startups with IP can come to us and know that start to finish they would have their commercial device ready for approval with the FDA and that we were going to handle everything," Purvis explains.

These days, cybersecurity is top of mind for Velentium, as the technology Purvis and his team are working with include life and death situations. While IT and other software security is important, protecting patients using new medical devices is paramount.

"If you have a dog in your backyard and you have one hole in your fence, you're dog is going to get out," Purvis says."You can't have any holes in that fence. … Our design allows for that protection."

Following an acquisition of Magnolia, Texas-based Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries in January, Velentium has expanded to also work in oil and gas technology development. While completely different fields, Velentium says the entrance into this energy tech market has been smooth sailing.

"We really find that both sides of the company cross pollinate quite a bit, and I think that's something that's uniquely Houston," Purvis says.

He shares more about the expansion and how his company continues to grow on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

A new medical device created in Houston is revolutionizing opioid withdrawal treatment. Photo via sparkbiomedical.com

Houston med-tech companies partner on wearable device for opioid withdrawal

treating addiction

Houston-based Spark Biomedical has created a revolutionary wearable device that provides unprecedented levels of opioid withdrawal relief.

The device known as the Sparrow Therapy System is worn over the ear for five to seven days and sends mild electrical signals to trigger cranial nerves that sit near the skin's surface.

Once activated, the nerves release endorphins that the body has stopped producing on its own during opioid use. The endorphins satisfy the opioid receptors and in turn reduce or prevent the intense symptoms that often come along with opioid withdrawal. According to Spark BioMed CEO Daniel Powell, the technology also helps patients better control their "flight or fight mechanisms," allowing them to make clearer, more logical decisions as they come off of the drug.

"If you ask 100 people who've gone through opioid withdrawal, I would bet 99 of them will tell you they thought they were going to die," Powell says. "Giving them the ability to manage that is huge. It's the first step towards addiction recovery. It's not solving the addiction, but it is an absolute barrier to move forward."

The product was approved by the FDA in January of 2020, after clinical trials showed that the Sparrow could meaningfully reduce withdrawal symptoms in the first hour of use. According to Powell, roughly a third of patients in the trial were completely out of withdrawal and patients' Clinical Opioid Withdrawal Scales scores reduced by more than 53 percent across the board.

Spark, which won Venture Houston's inaugural pitch competition earlier this year, partnered with Houston-based Velentium (which also happened to grow 93 percent last year after partnering with General Motors on Project V) to bring the product from concept to commercial physician prescribed product. "We needed a more sophisticated design house to help us finish it," Powell says.

The up-and-comers were connected through one of Spark's investors. Powell, in a previous career, had also sold a neurostimulator that Velentium CTO Randy Armstrong had invented.

"You're seeing more and more Houston centric medical innovation than we've ever seen before," says Velentium CEO Dan Purvis. "And the cool thing about that is there ends up being a camaraderie amongst entrepreneurs, medical researchers and scientists."

And though the release of Sparrow marks a huge milestone, neither Spark of Velentium are stopping there. Moving forward, Spark aims to conduct a massive study on how a similar technology, dubbed the Roo, can aid infants born to opioid-dependent mothers wean from the drug.

The company also aims to create a next generation Sparrow with the help of Velentium, and will look at long-term uses of the product. Powell says that Spark will look to determine if the product can prevent relapses and help to cure addiction when worn daily or regularly.

"Our big, crazy, ambitious goal is can we actually help people recover from addiction," Powell says. "We're really not addressing psychology, that's going to be in cognitive behavioral therapy. But if we can remove the neurological results of drug use, we think we can make at least start to stack the deck in the favor of the patient versus having the deck stacked completely against them all the time."

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Niloufar Molavi of Central Houston Inc., Dan Purvis of Velentium, and Chris Staffel of Goose Capital. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three innovators — each either new to their role or with a bit of acquistion news.

Niloufar Molavi, board chair at Central Houston Inc.

Niloufar Molavi will lead Central Houston Inc.'s board this year — and she's got fostering innovation on her to-do list. Photo courtesy of CHI

Last week, Nilofar Molavi assumed the role of board chair for Central Houston. She leads PwC's Global energy practice and has served on the CHI board since 2011 and chairs the organization's innovation committee. CHI was among the partners behind the Downtown Launchpad, a 17,000-square-foot innovation hub, which had its grand opening last fall.

"With the fall 2020 opening of Downtown Launchpad, we have deepened our investment in innovation, which we hope will garner long-term results and economic vitality for downtown as well as the Houston region at large," she continues. "We look forward to developing bridge programs with area universities and organizations and leveraging existing resources to bring more high-tech prospects to our central city." Read more.

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium

A Houston company has made a strategic acquisition. Photo courtesy of Velentium

Houston-based Velentium, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of medical devices announced that it has acquired Texas company Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries.

"Despite the immense challenges facing the business community in 2020, last year was a monumental year of growth for our firm, and we're pleased to start 2021 building upon our world-class team of technical experts," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "Oasis Testing has been a trusted partner for the last five years and shares in our commitment to solving clients' most complex challenges to change lives for a better world. We're incredibly excited to welcome them to the Velentium family and expand our business more deeply into energy and manufacturing."

Purvis will lead the new combined company as CEO. Read more.

Chris Staffel, managing director at Goose Capital

Goose Capital recently named its new managing director. Photo courtesy of Chris Staffel

Houston-based investment group Goose Capital Inc. named Chris Staffel as managing director — along with Jeff Smisek as the firm's president and Jay Collins as chair of the board of directors.

A serial entrepreneur and investor in over 30 startups, Staffel joins Goose to lead day-to-day operations and drive new investment opportunities.

"It is an honor to join the team at Goose Capital and work alongside experienced industry leaders," Staffel says in the release. "I look forward to leveraging my entrepreneurial experience to help the start-ups in which we invest, while strategically identifying early stage investment opportunities." Read more.

Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, will lead the new combined company. Photo courtesy of Veletium

Houston-area medical device engineering firm acquires Texas company

M&A

A engineering firm based in Katy has made a strategic acquisition of a Magnolia, Texas-based company to start of the new year.

Velentium, which specializes in the design and manufacturing of medical devices announced that it has acquired Oasis Testing, a designer of automated test systems for the energy and manufacturing industries.

"Despite the immense challenges facing the business community in 2020, last year was a monumental year of growth for our firm, and we're pleased to start 2021 building upon our world-class team of technical experts," says Dan Purvis, CEO of Velentium, in a news release. "Oasis Testing has been a trusted partner for the last five years and shares in our commitment to solving clients' most complex challenges to change lives for a better world. We're incredibly excited to welcome them to the Velentium family and expand our business more deeply into energy and manufacturing."

The companies will operate under the Velentium name, and Demetri White, co-founder at Oasis Testing, will assume the role of senior program manager to focus on "growing the testing business, serving the oil and gas industry's need for high-pressure high-temperature test, as well as testing in the medical device sector," according to the release.

"We admire and share Velentium's approach to client service, company culture, and results-focused business strategy, and quickly recognized this would be an excellent fit for our team," says White in the. "From our years of partnership, we know that Oasis' expertise in servicing the energy and manufacturing sectors goes hand-in-hand with their ability to provide innovative and world class solutions. Together, we will leverage knowledge across industries to bring mechanical, electrical and software-based solutions that benefit our client base."

The new company will have expanded abilities and will be increasing its production space and headcount as it continues to place an emphasis on its testing and manufacturing capabilities. The added resources for automation and the combined team will lead to dramatic reductions in product test times and increased test system utilization.

Earlier this year, Velentium played a key role in mobilizing thousands of ventilators in the United States at a time when the pandemic and the uncertainty around it was surmounting around the country.

The company's long-time clients Ventec Life Systems, a manufacturer of ventilators based in Washington, said they could increase production of their much-needed ventilators five-fold if they only had the right resources and partners. Velentium first aimed to help the small factory double or triple their production, and later General Motors jumped in to help grow the initiative.

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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.