This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Allie Danziger of Ampersand, Wesley Okeke of CUBIO, and Libby Covington of The Craig Group. 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 future of work — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Allie Danziger, co-founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals

Allie Danziger, is bridging the gap between the next generation — and their future employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

Allie Danziger has established herself as an expert in the future of work and all things Gen Z in the workplace. The founder of an internship matching and training platform called Ampersand, she's contributed numerous articles on related topics, including "The Great Resignation," which is affecting the workforce across industries. It's also something her platform can address, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast.

"When someone leaves, other people take on that work. If you don't hire proper support for the people still there, you see the trickle. You see more and more people leave, because they are just burnt out," Danziger says. "By hiring interns or entry-level support, it shows the employees still there that you've got them."

Danziger shares more on Ampersand's future and navigating the Gen Z workforce on the podcast. Click here to read more and stream the episode.

Wesley Okeke, CEO of CUBIO Innovation Center

Wesley Okeke has established some much-needed new lab space in the Texas Medical Center. Photo courtesy

Look alive, Houston biotech innovators. CUBIO Innovation Center has some new space available for you. What originated as mostly coworking space, CUBIO has pivoted to provide more lab space for early stage biotech startups. The latest edition to CUBIO in the Texas Medical Center? A brand new wet lab.

“We have all the necessary equipment for a fully functioning biotech lab,” Okeke tells InnovationMap.

"For those working with cell culture, the dry lab provides almost no resources or infrastructure for you to build it out," he continues. "A wet lab brings in the necessary equipment and environment to be successful in developing pharmaceuticals, drug delivery devices, whatever you need in the biotech space.” Click here to read more.

Libby Covington, partner at The Craig Group

What should Houston startups know about marketing? Photo courtesy

How should startups be marketing themselves to venture capitalists? Libby Covington has some advice in a guest article for InnovationMap — from making your marketing plan and catering specifically to VCs.

"It is important to focus on efficient top line revenue growth as a business grows and scales," she writes. "Digital marketing is an important part of the overall growth plan, and should not be overlooked. The clock starts ticking on profitability growth once a business owner partners with investors. Make sure your business has an effective plan to meet the goals set out." Click here to read more.

Houston has some much-needed new lab space in the Texas Medical Center. Photo courtesy of CUBIO

Exclusive: Houston biotech coworking spot expands with new wet lab space

ready to rent

While Houston has been recognized as an emerging hub for life sciences, access to lab space is a huge factor in that equation — and one where the city has room for improvement.

CUBIO Innovation Center, located in the heart of the Texas Medical Center, has witnessed that first hand. First opening as a larger coworking concept, CEO Wesley Okeke says it was the smaller lab space that was booked every day. CUBIO pivoted and redistributed their operations to offer more dry lab space to its tenants. Now, the organization is ready to reach the next stage by introducing a new wet lab that opens doors for biotech innovators who need specific infrastructure, equipment, and environment.

“We have all the necessary equipment for a fully functioning biotech lab,” Okeke tells InnovationMap.

"For those working with cell culture, the dry lab provides almost no resources or infrastructure for you to build it out," he continues. "A wet lab brings in the necessary equipment and environment to be successful in developing pharmaceuticals, drug delivery devices, whatever you need in the biotech space.”

The new space can support 15 early stage biotech startups. Photo courtesy of CUBIO

Most of Houston's wet lab space is housed in academic or health care institutions. Getting into those labs can be competitive and complicated, especially when it comes to intellectual property. CUBIO wanted to offer an alternative for early stage biotech teams working on a tight budget and not looking for a long-term commitment.

“When it comes to finding wet lab space, it’s almost nonexistent," Okeke says. "There are a very few out there, but there are very few considering the ecosystem of biotech research in Houston.”

Okeke says CUBIO has seen interest from out-of-town startups looking for space — and not being able to find it without building it themselves.

"We have created what we call lab offices, which could be individual labs, but we have a main area with all our equipment," he says.

And the new space has room to grow. Right now, CUBIO can support 15 companies in its space. With potential to expand on its current sixth floor and to the fifth floor as well, that could grow to a capacity of 50 companies.

Monthly rent starts at $400 for a workbench and up to $950 for a private office and a workbench in the lab. All of CUBIO's memberships options include incubation support from the team and its network of mentors and experts.

“My personal dream and vision is to help these startups in Houston get what they need — get the resources they need and the support they need to launch," Okeke says.

The CUBIO team offers incubation support for its tenant startups. Photo courtesy of CUBIO

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

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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.