3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Bill Snyder of Vivante Health, Kelly McCormick of UH, and Sean Hunt of Solugen. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to synthetic biology — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Bill Snyder, CEO of Vivante Health

Houston startup exec, Bill Snyder, has fresh funding for growth. Photo via vivantehealth.com

Houston-based Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round, and the fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health."

The company is reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed through its digital health program, GIThrive, which equips people with digestive issues with technology, advanced science, and on-demand support. Click here to read more.

Kelly McCormick, managing director of RED Labs

Kelly McCormick wanted to help support UH small business owners. Photo via UH.edu

For years, the University of Houston and Rice University have been working together to support tech startups. Now the pair has announced two new programs — RED Launch and BlueLaunch, respectively — to focus on small businesses. The programs are open to University of Houston and Rice University affiliates who are interested in starting or growing a small business.

"Since inception, RED Labs programming focused mostly on tech entrepreneurship," says Kelly McCormick, managing director of RED Labs. "A few years ago, we began to build out course offerings at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship for students interested in small businesses.

"Through those courses, I saw incredible engagement and enthusiasm from students interested in starting a small business, but recognized the need for intensive support beyond classes," she continues.

McCormick says that last summer, UH piloted the first iteration of RED Launch with a small group of UH students, and now UH has brought in Rice to the initiative as well. Click here to read more.

Sean Hunt, co-founder and CTO of Solugen

Solugen has been named among the most innovative companies in the world — and was deemed the No. 1 most innovative manufacturers. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based Solugen has ranked second on Fast Company’s 2022 list of the 50 most innovative companies in the world. It also sits at No. 1 on the magazine’s list of the world’s most innovative manufacturers.

Last year, Solugen announced it raised $357 million in a Series C round, catapulting it to “unicorn” status. The Series C round bumped up the startup to a valuation of $1.8 billion, pushing it well past the $1 billion mark required for a unicorn designation.

“This fundraising round allows us to continue expanding the footprint of our Bioforge technology to give industries the products they need to reduce emissions in their existing supply chains, without compromising on performance or economics,” Sean Hunt, co-founder and chief technology officer of Solugen, said in a news release about the $357 million round. Click here to read more.

Vivante Health closed a fresh round of funding. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startup raises $16M series A round

money moves

A Houston-based digital health startup that's targeting solutions for digestive diseases has closed its latest round of funding.

Vivante Health closed a $16 million series A funding round led by Chicago-based 7wireVentures with contribution from new investors, including Human Capital, Intermountain Ventures, SemperVirens, Elements Health Ventures, and Leaps by Bayer. Additionally, the round saw participation from returning investors FCA Venture Partners, NFP Ventures, Lifeforce Capital, and Big Pi Ventures.

The fresh funding will support commercial scaling and growth of the company, which is based in Houston's JLABS @ TMC space.

"The Series A financing round represents another pivotal milestone in our mission to improve our member's digestive health and provide outcomes at scale for our enterprise partners," says Bill Snyder, Vivante Health CEO, in a news release. "We are thrilled to partner with premier investors in this latest round of funding that will enable us to continue our rapid growth trajectory and further establish ourselves as the leader in digestive health."

The company is reinventing the way chronic conditions are managed through its digital health program, GIThrive, which equips people with digestive issues with technology, advanced science, and on-demand support. Throughout 2021, Vivante Health grew its client base by 400 percent through the addition of key Fortune 500 clients as well as employer healthcare solutions. Through these partnerships, Vivante's potential member base encompasses over 500,000 covered lives, according to the news release.

Around one in four Americans live with a digestive disease, making for a $136 billion market — and Vivante is addressing this need. The company reported that 87 percent of members stated they better managed their digestive symptoms, according to a recent poll, and 83 percent of members said they felt healthier. From a corporate client side, Vivante allows for reductions in direct medical cost, resulting in a 3 to 1 ROI for a large employer organizations.

"The current experience for individuals with GI disorders is at a minimum inadequate and frustrating, and for many, debilitating. To no surprise, over 40 percent of people with a GI condition are dissatisfied with their care," said Robert Garber, Partner at 7wireVentures. "Vivante is on a mission to change that. We are thrilled to partner with the company at a true inflection point in their growth story and accelerate access to a proven, evidence-based model that drastically improves the consumer experience while reducing costs for employers.

In 2020, Vivante raised a $5.8 million series A1. The company was founded in 2016 by serial entrepreneur Kimon Angelides, who recently launched a new business called FemTec Health.

Houston startups have raised millions so far this year. Getty Images

Here's what 6 Houston startups have raised millions of dollars this year so far

VENTURE ADVENTURES

This year is starting strong when it comes to Houston startups receiving funding. From a $125 million raise from Houston's first unicorn to a local fund gathering up $50 million to deploy in mobility startups, Houston funding news has been pretty exciting.

In case you missed some of these headlines, InnovationMap has rounded up these seven deals based on previous reporting. Scroll through to see which Houston startups are catching the eyes — and cashing the checks — of investors.

HighRadius Corp.

Houston-based HighRadius has reported reaching unicorn status following a $125 million raise. Photo via highradius.com

Let's start with the biggest one, shall we? Houston-based HighRadius, an artificial intelligence-powered fintech software company, closed a $125 million raise, which earned it a a new title: Unicorn.

The series B round, which achieved this status for HighRadius, was led by ICONIQ Capital, with participation from existing investors Susquehanna Growth Equity and Citi Ventures, according to a news release from the company.

The company, which offices in West Houston, was founded in 2006 founded in 2006 and employs more than 1,000 people in North America, Europe, and Asia. In November, HighRadius opened an office in Amsterdam. According to the news release, the company will use the funds to further expand its global footprint.

Read the full story here.

Proeza Ventures

Auto Driving Smart Car image

A new venture capital fund based in Houston and Monterrey, Mexico, has raised $50 million to back mobility startups. Hiroshi Watanabe/Getty Images

New fund Proeza Ventures, which is based in Houston and Monterrey, Mexico, reportedly closed its first fund Proeza Ventures I at $50 million. The fund is backed by Grupo Proeza, a Mexican portfolio management company with two global platforms operating in the mobility and agroindustry sectors, according to the fund's website.

With the fund's money, Proenza Ventures will invest in 12 to 15 early or growth-stage startups with solutions or new technology within industrial, smart components, new vehicles, MaaS, and digital data services.

Read the full story here.

Ambyint

oil and gas

Ambyint, which has offices in Calgary and Houston, has secured funding from Houston venture capital firms. Getty Images

Canada-based Ambyint, which has an office in Houston, has closed its $15 million series B funding. Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners led the round, and Houston-based Mercury Fund also contributed — as did Ambyint's management team, according to a news release.

The money will be used to grow both its Houston and Calgary, Alberta, offices and expand its suite of software solutions for wells and artificial lift systems. Ambyint's technology pairs artificial intelligence with advanced physics and subject matter expertise to automate processes on across all well types and artificial lift systems.

Read the full story here.

vChain Inc.

Houston-based vChain, creator of CodeNotary, has raised $7 million in a series A financing round. Pexels

Houston-based vChain, which created the CodeNotary Open Source code trust solution, has raised $7 million in a series A funding round. Paris-based Elaia Partners led the investment round, and other contributors include Zug, Switzerland-based Bluwat and Seattle-based Acequia Capital.

The software tool, which is used to ensure code is securely transmitted throughout the entire development to production process, has several platform integrations and works with languages such as JavaScript, Python, Go, Java, and more.

Read the full story here.

Vivante Health

good intestine health intestine Food for bowel Health

Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

Read the full story here.

Hitched Inc.

Houston-based Hitched has dug up new investment money from a local private equity firm. Pexels

Hitched Inc. raised $5.5 million in its series A funding led by Houston-based Cottonwood Venture Partners, a growth equity firm that focuses on digital tech solutions in the energy industry.

The company, which was founded in 2018, coordinates the rentals — from hosting and chartering to managing them — all on one centralized platform. Hitched has a catalogue of equipment from generators and cranes to light towers, pumps to forklifts, and the site lists out the cost per day of each piece of machinery.

Read the full story here.

Vivante Health, which uses technology and at-home testing to help users treat chronic digestive health issues, has raised $5.8 million. Getty Images

Digital health startup based in Houston closes $5.8 million round

Money moves

A Houston health technology startup that uses digital solutions and on-demand support to help its users with digestive health has closed a Series A round of funding.

Vivante Health raised $5.8 million in a series A1 round, according to a news release. The round was led by California-based Lifeforce Capital and Athens, Greece-based Big Pi Ventures. Additionally, NFP Ventures, FCA Venture Partners, and Longmont Capital contributed to the round.

"We knew we were onto something when the market responded so positively," says Dr. Kimon Angelides, Vivante Health founder and CEO, in the release, "but support from esteemed, experienced and successful firms like Lifeforce and Big Pi, and the continued strong support from our initial investor partners, give us a very encouraging boost of confidence as we carry out our vision and further develop the GIThrive platform."

With the fresh funds, Vivante will continue to develop its GI health platform, GIThrive. The digital tool has an at-home microbiome test kit for users, as well as a breath tester that monitors food sensitivities. GIThrive also connects users to on-demand support from nutritionists and experts on the GIThrive app.

The startup's Houston headquarters is based out of the Johnson & Johnson Innovation Center, JLabs@TMC, but has offices in Nashville, Chicago, and Athens. Angelides, who honors his Greek heritage by spending a fair about of time in Greece, says in the release how important the Big Pi investment is for him.

"This partnership with Big Pi, a tech-based investment firm who's driven by the desire to support Greek talent, makes perfect sense. What's more, we have partnered with a team who themselves have been very successful entrepreneurs," says Angelides in the release.

Angelides, who has founded three other health tech companies, impressed Big Pi with his entrepreneurial track record and nationwide team

"This is one of those rare investments where the financial upside goes hand in hand with the prospect of radically improving the lives of millions of people across the globe," says Marco Veremis, investment partner with Big Pi, in the release.

Lifeforce Capital has a portfolio of software startups, including Aspire, Cricket Health, Notable Labs, One Medical, and Second Genome, per the news release, and the VC firm is excited for their new addition.

"We were immediately struck by Kim's entrepreneurial passion and big vision," says Sander Duncan, general partner with Lifeforce Capital, in the release. "We are thrilled to work with the Vivante team to build the first platform tackling digestive disease for millions of suffering patients."

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston expert: Build workforce resiliency by investing in a long-term, low-cost internship strategy

guest column

Short-term talent shortages can feel overwhelming, especially if your company is navigating staff shortages, while also planning for future growth.

While internship programs can get a bad rap, there are many benefits to providing opportunities for early career professionals in any organization. By building a pipeline of eager, talented employees, and embedding institutional knowledge in your organization, you can reduce the burden of extra work on remaining employees and reinvigorate your business.

Get more engagement and develop champions at your company by incorporating three vital ingredients into your internship program strategy:

  1. Hire based on core values & interns’ ability to thrive at your company
  2. Invest in training
  3. Provide meaningful work

Build a strong team: hire based on ability to thrive 

To ensure your organization’s growth is coming from a diverse talent pool, build a hiring process around employees' future ability and core values, instead of what they have done in the past. Oftentimes, you’ll find that an intern’s coachability, willingness to learn and growth mindset are better determining factors towards future success than past experience.

During the recruitment and hiring process, ask your interns questions to probe values, interests, and passions. To determine if they have a growth mindset, you can ask, “What do you read in your time off to stay up to date with the latest trends in the industry? What did you learn yesterday?” or “Tell me about a time you received feedback. What did you do with this?”

Make sure that each intern that comes on board feels like a part of the team. Let them immerse themselves into your company’s culture, work environment, and industry by inviting them to your employee team-building activities, monthly company-wide conference calls, and other events that provide them with more context about your culture. Schedule weekly touchpoints with each intern to regularly check in on goals, their progress on tasks, and overall concerns. Not only will these meetings strengthen trust, but they will also position interns to succeed at your company.

Build resilience: invest in training

When you invest in a thoughtful, effective training experience, your interns will be more committed to the role because they’ll see the added effort you’re making towards their career.

Consider how your current training is structured and implemented so that your internship training experience is up to speed with the expectations of Gen-Z. Explore out-of-the-box training options, including coaching, virtual learning, and assessments that they will actually use.

In addition to the hard skills that are essential to supporting any company, ensure that you are training interns on core competencies. The National Association of Colleges and Employers identifies eight core competencies that are vital to career readiness: career & self-development, communication, critical thinking, equity & inclusion, leadership, professionalism, teamwork, and technology. When you teach interns these core competencies as soon as they join your organization, you will see an immediate boost in productivity, and you can objectively assess for future full-time employment.

Build momentum: provide meaningful work

After you’ve clearly mapped out your internship training experience, clearly outline projects from each of your company’s departments before you onboard interns. By planning ahead, and having a running list of projects that don’t require much explanation, you can give your interns a sense of purpose as soon as they join, which in turn will prevent bored interns from disengaging.

Ask interns what their goals are for their internship so you can not only help them make those goals a reality, but also tie their goals back to your company’s overall goals. As you offer meaningful enrichment opportunities, you will land top talent through your internship programs, and word will spread to bring in better talent for future internships.

Come out on top with a strong team

Businesses that take advantage of bringing on interns during a talent shortage can come out of hard times better prepared for the future. Once you have a strong and sustainable internship program, it will only grow and gain momentum.

Weather any storm that’s ahead by continuing to attract the best talent. Your company deserves it.

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Allie Danziger is the co-founder of Ampersand, an online training platform for businesses and professionals looking to level up their talent.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from sustainable fashion to tech manufacturing — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Hannah Le, founder of RE.STATEMENT

Hannah Le founded RE.STATEMENT to provide a much-needed platform for sustainable fashion finds. Photo courtesy of RE.STATEMENT

It's tough out there for a sustainable fashion designer with upcycled statement pieces on the market. First of all, there historically hasn't been a platform for designers or shoppers either, as Hannah Le explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Most designers give up if they haven't sold an item within three months," Le says. "That's something RE.STATEMENT has dedicated its business model to — making sure that items sell faster and at a higher value than any other marketplace."

RE.STATEMENT won one of the city of Houston's startup competition, Liftoff Houston's categories last year. Le shares what's next for the early-stage company on the show. Read more and listen to the episode.

Misha Govshteyn, CEO of MacroFab

MacroFab has secured fresh investment to the tune of $42 million. Photo courtesy of MacroFab

MacroFab, a Houston-based electronics manufacturing platform, has announced $42 million in new growth capital. The company was founded by Misha Govshteyn and Chris Church, who built a platform that manage electronics manufacturing and enables real-time supply chain and inventory data. The platform can help customers go from prototype to high-scale production with its network of more than 100 factories across the continent.

“Electronics manufacturing is moving toward resilience and flexibility to reduce supply chain disruptions,” says Govshteyn, MacroFab’s CEO, in a news release. “We are in the earliest stages of repositioning the supply chain to be more localized and focused on what matters to customers most — the ability to deliver products on time, meet changing requirements, and achieve a more sustainable ecological footprint. MacroFab is fundamental to building this new operating model.”

The company has seen significant growth amid the evolution of global supply chain that's taken place over the past few years. According to the company, shipments were up 275 percent year-over-year. To keep up with growth, MacroFab doubled its workforce, per the release, and opened a new facility in Mexico. Read more.

Kelli Newman, president of Newman & Newman Inc.

In her guest column, Kelli Newman explains how to leverage communications at any stage your company is in. Photo courtesy of Newman & Newman

Kelli Newman took actionable recommendations from investors, customers, advisers, and founders within Houston to compose a guest column with key observations and advice on leveraging communications.

"The significance of effective communication and its contribution to a company’s success are points regularly stressed by conference panelists and forum speakers," she writes. "Yet for many founders it’s advice that fuels frustration for how to make communications a priority with a lack of understanding of the practice." Read more.

These 3 Houston research projects are coming up with life-saving innovations

research roundup

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on life-saving health care research thanks to new technologies.

Rice University scientists' groundbreaking alzheimer's study

Angel Martí (right) and his co-authors (from left) Utana Umezaki and Zhi Mei Sonia He have published their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease will affect nearly 14 million people in the U.S. by 2060. A group of scientists from Rice University are looking into a peptide associated with the disease, and their study was published in Chemical Science.

Angel Martí — a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program — and his team have developed a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, according to a news release from Rice. The scientists "found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates, opening the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits."

Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer’s, per Rice.

“Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils” says Martí in the release. “Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.

“Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity,” he adds.

The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research, which is explained more thoroughly on Rice's website.

University of Houston professor granted $1.6M for gene therapy treatment for rare eye disease

Muna Naash, a professor at UH, is hoping her research can result in treatment for a rare genetic disease that causes vision loss. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher is working on a way to restore sight to those suffering from a rare genetic eye disease.

Muna Naash, the John S. Dunn Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering at UH, is expanding a method of gene therapy to potentially treat vision loss in patients with Usher Syndrome Type 2A, or USH2A, a rare genetic disease.

Naash has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support her work. Mutations of the USH2A gene can include hearing loss from birth and progressive loss of vision, according to a news release from UH. Naash's work is looking at applying gene therapy — the introduction of a normal gene into cells to correct genetic disorders — to treat this genetic disease. There is not currently another treatment for USH2A.

“Our goal is to advance our current intravitreal gene therapy platform consisting of DNA nanoparticles/hyaluronic acid nanospheres to deliver large genes in order to develop safe and effective therapies for visual loss in Usher Syndrome Type 2A,” says Naash. “Developing an effective treatment for USH2A has been challenging due to its large coding sequence (15.8 kb) that has precluded its delivery using standard approaches and the presence of multiple isoforms with functions that are not fully understood."

BCM researcher on the impact of stress

This Baylor researcher is looking at the relationship between stress and brain cancer thanks to a new grant. Photo via Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Stress can impact the human body in a number of ways — from high blood pressure to hair loss — but one Houston scientist is looking into what happens to bodies in the long term, from age-related neurodegeneration to cancer.

Dr. Steven Boeynaems is assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. His lab is located at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also is a part of the Therapeutic Innovation Center, the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

Recently, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, awarded Boeynaems a grant to continue his work studying how cells and organisms respond to stress.

“Any cell, in nature or in our bodies, during its existence, will have to deal with some conditions that deviate from its ideal environment,” Boeynaems says in a BCM press release. “The key issue that all cells face in such conditions is that they can no longer properly fold their proteins, and that leads to the abnormal clumping of proteins into aggregates. We have seen such aggregates occur in many species and under a variety of stress-related conditions, whether it is in a plant dealing with drought or in a human patient with aging-related Alzheimer’s disease."

Now, thanks to the CPRIT funding, he says his lab will now also venture into studying the role of cellular stress in brain cancer.

“A tumor is a very stressful environment for cells, and cancer cells need to continuously adapt to this stress to survive and/or metastasize,” he says in the release.

“Moreover, the same principles of toxic protein aggregation and protection through protein droplets seem to be at play here as well,” he continues. “We have studied protein droplets not only in humans but also in stress-tolerant organisms such as plants and bacteria for years now. We propose to build and leverage on that knowledge to come up with innovative new treatments for cancer patients.”