DivInc has announced a new program that will support BIPOC and women founders of social enterprise startups working on Web3 technology. Photo via divinc.org

A Texas accelerator that's focused on supporting traditionally marginalized entrepreneurs has announced its newest program.

DivInc has introduced DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator, a new program set to support BIPOC and women founders of social enterprise startups developing global solutions with DWeb and Web3 technologies — such as blockchain, crypto-asset, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, and more.

The first cohort of the program, which is supported by the Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, or FFDW, will run from September through November at the Ion. Applications are open now.

"Through the DWeb for Social Impact Accelerator we are marrying activism with the decentralized web in a way that builds these startups and puts them at the forefront of solving society's toughest challenges," says Preston James, CEO at DivInc, in a news release. "We want to see our creative tech economy founders playing a major role in building and benefiting from DWeb and Web3 for the greater good. This partnership with FFDW is a huge leap forward in that pursuit."

The 12-week accelerator will support up to 10 companies, and, at the end of the program, each selected company will receive $10,000 in non-dilutive seed funding. In addition to FFDW, the program is supported by Houston Premier Partners, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Verizon, The Ion, and Mercury.

"A core part of FFDW's mission is education about the decentralized web," says Marta Belcher, president and chair of Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web, in the release. "FFDW is absolutely thrilled to bring more diverse voices into the Web3 ecosystem."

DivInc is bringing another new accelerator program to Houston — this one is focused on clean energy. Photo via DivInc.com

Chevron, Microsoft back Houston-based clean energy program for BIPOC and female founders

ready to grow

A Texas-based accelerator is bringing its third diversity-focused program to Houston.

DivInc, a startup accelerator originating in Austin and established for people of color and women entrepreneurs, has announced that the title sponsors for the inaugural Clean Energy Accelerator are Chevron and Microsoft. The new program will join DivInc's existing accelerators — Women in Tech and Sports Tech — at the Ion.

"With Houston known as the energy capital of the world, DivInc has the opportunity to provide a pipeline of women, black, and latino-led high-growth, high-impact startups focused on clean energy," says Ashley DeWalt, DivInc Houston's managing director, in a news release. "We see this initiative ultimately driving a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem within this clean energy transition sector for generations to come."

Applications for the Spring 2023 Clean Energy Accelerator are due today, February 10, according to the website. Startups accepted into the program should be led by BIPOC and women founders committed to working 10 to 15 hours per week during the 12 week program, which will start April 10.

The founders should be "working to shift the energy sector in the areas of clean energy production, energy storage and transmission, energy efficiency, carbon economy, and sustainable cities," per the release. In addition to the two title sponsors, the new program is also supported by Houston Premier Partners, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Verizon, The Ion, and Mercury.

"With a booming startup industry, a commitment to innovation, and a diverse workforce, Houston and organizations like DivInc are poised to play a vital leadership role and operate as a powerful force for energy progress," says Jim Gable, president of Chevron Technology Ventures, in the release.

The cohort, which will accept up to 10 companies, will work one-on-one with both the Microsoft and Chevron teams, as well as have access to DivInc's network of mentors and curriculum. Once the selected companies have completed the program, they will each receive $10,000 in non-dilutive seed funding.

"We are committed to enabling organizations in the clean energy transition while mindful of millions still without access to energy," said Darryl Willis, Corporate Vice President, Energy Industry at Microsoft. "This collaboration with DivInc and Chevron to support underserved entrepreneurs advancing the world's clean energy needs speaks to this climate commitment as well as diversity, equity and inclusion."

The city of Sugar Land has been named a business-savvy city. Photo by Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

Houston-area suburb claims top spot for business-savvy cities list from Verizon

We're no. 1

Sugar Land has landed some sweet recognition for its business-friendly atmosphere.

A new ranking from Go.Verizon.com puts Sugar Land first among what it calls "the most business-savvy cities in America." The study looked only at cities with at least 100,000 residents.

"Landing the coveted top position on our list, business owners in this suburb outside of Houston know a thing or two about doing it bigger," Go.Verizon.com says. "With a mean household income of $157,923 and an unemployment rate of only 3 percent, Sugar Land lives up to its statue of the strong-willed Stephen Austin, the 'Father of Texas.'"

Six factors went into the ranking:

  1. Average household income.
  2. Unemployment rate.
  3. Percentage of people with at least a bachelor's degree.
  4. Number of applications to start a business.
  5. Percentage of population that starts a business.
  6. Homeownership rate.

"Doing business in Sugar Land might be the best decision you make. As a welcoming and inclusive city, Sugar Land provides a business-friendly environment," says Keri Schmidt, president and CEO of the Fort Bend Chamber of Commerce. "The Fort Bend Chamber works collaboratively with the city to support to our businesses in both good times and challenging times."

Key sectors of the economy in Sugar Land, home to roughly 118,500 residents, include manufacturing, biotech, financial services, and energy. Among the major employers are Accredo Packaging, Champion X, Fluor, and Schlumberger.

Sugar Land-based Accredo, which makes packaging mostly for food and consumer products, set up shop in Sugar Land in 2009. Following a 200,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion last year at the Sugar Land Business Park, the company now occupies nearly 550,000 square feet at its 32-acre warehouse and manufacturing site. When the expansion was completed last year, Accredo said it would be adding 100 jobs through 2021.

"Accredo has continued to grow and expand as a thriving global company," Sunny Sharma, president of the Sugar Land Legacy Foundation, said in 2019. "Their products cross international borders, and we are fortunate that they choose Sugar Land to connect the world."

One other Texas city appears on the Go.Verizon.com list: eighth-ranked Frisco, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth.

"Frisco residents can spend confidently: The mean household income is $153,704," Go.Verizon.com says. "Business owners in the city provide plenty of places for citizens to spend all that cash — Frisco has video game museums, vintage automobile collections, and outdoor concert venues."

Houston-based SnapStream, led by CEO Rakesh Agrawal, has been selected by Verizon to provide support. Courtesy of SnapStream

Verizon taps Houston tech company for product support

Done deal

A Houston software company that enables TV and broadcast monitoring just snagged a deal with Verizon. The partnership will call for 10 new Houston employees.

Verizon Digital Media Services announced that SnapStream is the "official transition partner" for a product under Volicon Observer, a company that was acquired by Verizon in 2016. SnapStream's CEO Rakesh Agrawal says in a release that the two entities have similar products, features, and even customers, but have always had a respectful relationship.

"SnapStream is known, among other things, for the great support we provide, and we look forward to providing the same high-quality support to Volicon customers," Agrawal says in the release. "We hope to eventually earn the business of current Volicon customers by converting them into SnapStream customers."

SnapStream's technology has been used by hundreds of organizations around the world, the release says, including CBS, MLB Networks, the Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, Samantha Bee, and the U.S. Senate. While SnapStream is a software solution, Volicon is appliance based, and Verizon announced the termination of the company's solutions in January — citing the need "to focus continued development on future solutions that better align with industry trends and market needs."

Now, Volicon customers will be redirected to SnapStream support into 2020 and can transition into SnapStream's model should they like.

"Verizon Digital Media Services is committed to providing high-quality products and services for our customers," says Peter Gallagher, COO of Verizon Digital Media Services, in the release. "The partnership with SnapStream will provide Volicon Observer customers with a dedicated support team at the highest level of commitment to ensure continued success in their business operations."

SnapStream's technology is a TV broadcast monitoring software used by CBS, MLB, The Daily Show, and more.Courtesy of SnapStream

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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.