TMC's bootcamp companies have been announced. The 12 startups get to interact with Houston's health tech ecosystem and potentially join TMCi for its next accelerator cohort. Photo via TMC

The Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory has brought in 12 life science startups to immerse them in the Houston innovation ecosystem, learn more about their businesses, and select its next cohort for its semiannual accelerator.

Twice a year, the TMC Innovation Factory hosts its HealthTech Accelerator Bootcamp. It a time to see if both sides of the table — TMC and the startups — are a fit for further acceleration. The 12 startups hail from three continents, represent a wide spectrum of specialties, and were widdle down from over 100 applicants.

“These startups are tackling significant challenges facing our health care ecosystem not only locally, but also globally. We are delighted to bring together solutions in the areas of maternal health, enabling care at home, nursing support and education, oncology and neurology, to name a few,” says Devin Dunn, head of the HealthTech Accelerator, in a news release.

Newly appointed entrepreneur in residence, Zaffer Syed, will help in supporting and guiding the cohort. Zaffer has experience as a medtech entrepreneur and has brought health care innovations to market.

“Participation in the Accelerator can certainly fast-track growth for early stage startups,” says Syed in the release. “I am eager to work with the caliber of companies entering bootcamp and to watch what they will achieve with the dedicated support of the TMCi team.”

The 12 companies that were invited to TMCi's bootcamp are as follows, according to TMC.

  • Avia Vascular, from Salt Lake City, Utah, creates Ally, a needle-free blood collection device intended to reduce the need for venipuncture when obtaining blood samples in patients with an established peripheral IV catheter.
  • Queenstown, Singapore-based Biorithm aims to reverse the poor maternal outcomes curve with its remote monitoring system to bring data-driven, accessible, and personalized care to every mother and baby.
  • CranioSense, founded in Bedford, Massachusetts, unlocks the hidden parameters of brain health across the neurological care spectrum with its development of a non-invasive way of assessing and monitoring intracranial pressure.
  • Milwaukee-based Debtle focuses on the patient portion of billing and uses its centralized communications and payment hub to save Revenue Cycle time, improve patient retention, and enable clients to easily resolve their overdue balances.
  • EmpNia Inc., from Minneapolis, enables precision imaging and radiation therapy for all cancer patients by providing an accurate, universal, easy-to-use, and cost-effective respiratory motion management solution.
  • Austin-based Highnote is a generative AI-powered mentor in the nurse’s pocket that build skills and confidence through just-in-time bits of information to make nurses feel supported and better equipped, to provide better patient care, and to improve retention rates.
  • LeQuest, from Rotterdam, Netherlands, aids health care professionals’ skills and knowledge advancement through online stimulation training with its comprehensive remote education solution, resulting in reduced cost of education, increased utilization and better patient outcomes.
  • Lucid Lane, founded in Los Altos, California, provides data-driven digital health solutions to empower both chronic and surgery pain patients, to prevent dependence on prescribed addictive medications and reduces persistent opioid use.
  • RizLab Health Inc., a Princeton, New Jersey company, brings blood cell analysis to patients’ fingertips with its Cytotracker portable device that measures white blood cell counts with a drop of blood to minimize infections from venipuncture in cancer patients.
  • Rose Health, based in Centennial, Colorado, connects occupational therapists and home remodeling service companies to households in need of accessible home modifications to enable homes to age with dignity.
  • Los Angeles-based Spark Neuro offers objective and accessible AI technology for the diagnosis and monitoring of brain health conditions.
  • Vitala, from Stockholm, Sweden, is a digital platform, enables health care providers to prescribe, monitor, and manage diagnoses-specific medical exercises for patients with chronic health conditions.

After the bootcamp, TMCi will decide which of the companies will move on to the six-month accelerator that's slated to start later this year. TMCi recently announced a new accelerator with Denmark, previously announced its spring cohorts.

Proxima Clinical Research has announced an office expansion — and more Houston innovation news. Photo via Twitter

Med tech firm expands footprint, Houston innovator assumes new role, and more local innovation news

short stories

Houston's innovation ecosystem has had some big news this month, from new job titles for Houston innovators to expanding office space.

In this roundup of Houston startup and innovation news, a Houston organization expands its footprint in the TMC, Rice University opens applications for a cleantech accelerator, and more.

Organization expands footprint in Houston

Proxima CRO has announced its expansion within TMCi. Photo via Twitter

Proxima Clinical Research, a contract research organization headquartered in Houston, announced that it is expanding its office space in the Texas Medical Center Innovation Factory.

"Texas Medical Center is synonymous with innovation, and the TMC Innovation space has proven an ideal location for our CRO. It's an important part of our origin story and a big part of our success," says Kevin Coker, CEO and co-founder of Proxima CRO, in a news release.

The expansion will include around 7,500-square feet of additional office space.

"The resources found across TMC's campuses allow for companies such as Proxima Clinical Research to achieve clinical and business milestones that will continue to shape the future of life sciences both regionally and globally. We are excited for Proxima to expand their footprint at TMC Innovation Factory as they further services for their MedTech customers," says Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, in the release.

$20M grant fuels hardtech program's expansion

Activate is planting its roots in Houston with a plan to have its first set of fellows next year. Photo via Activate.org

A hardtech-focused nonprofit officially announced its Houston expansion this week. Activate, which InnovationMap reported was setting up its fifth program here last month, received a $20M commitment by the National Science Foundation to fuel its entrance into the Bayou City.

“Houston’s diversity offers great promise in expanding access for the next generation of science entrepreneurs and as a center of innovation for advanced energy," says NSF SBIR/STTR program director Ben Schrag in a news release.

The organization was founded in Berkeley, California, in 2015 to bridge the gap between the federal and public sectors to deploy capital and resources into the innovators creating transformative products. The nonprofit expanded its programs to Boston and New York before launching a virtual fellowship program — Activate Anywhere, which is for scientists 50 or more miles outside one of the three hubs.

“We are delighted to be opening our newest Activate community in Houston,” says Activate Anywhere managing director Hannah Murnen, speaking at the annual Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy Innovation Summit. “Houston is a city where innovation thrives, with an abundance of talent, capital, and infrastructure—the perfect setting for the Activate Fellowship.”

Activate is still looking its Houston’s first managing director is actively underway and will select fellows for Activate Houston in 2024.

TMC names new entrepreneur in residence

Zaffer Syed has assumed a new role at TMC. Photo via TMC.org

Houston health tech innovator has announced that he has joined the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Factory as entrepreneur in residence for medtech. Zaffer Syed assumed the new role this month, according to his LinkedIn, and he's been an adviser for the organization since 2017.

Syed has held a few leadership roles at Saranas Inc., a medical device company founded in Houston to detect internal bleeding following medical procedures. He now serves as adviser for the company.

"As CEO of Saranas, he led the recapitalization of the company that led to the FDA De Novo classification and commercial launch of a novel real-time internal bleed monitoring system for endovascular procedures," reads the TMC website. "Zaffer oversaw clinical development, regulatory affairs and strategic marketing at OrthoAccel Technologies, a private dental device startup focused on accelerating tooth movement in patients undergoing orthodontic treatment.

"Prior to working in startup ventures, Zaffer spent the first 13 years of his career in various operational roles at St. Jude Medical and Boston Scientific to support the development and commercialization of Class III implantable devices for cardiovascular and neuromodulation applications."

TMC is currently looking for an entrepreneur in residence for its TMCi Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics program.

Applications open for clean energy startup program

Calling all clean energy startups. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Clean Energy Accelerator, an energy transition accelerator housed at the Ion and run by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, has opened applications for Class 3. The deadline to apply is April 14.

The accelerator, which helps early-stage ventures reach technical and commercial milestones through hybrid programming and mentorship, will host its Class 3 cohort from July 25 to Sept. 22.

“Accelerating the transition to a net-zero future is a key goal at Rice University. Through accelerating the commercial potential of our own research as well as supporting the further adoption of global technologies right here in Houston, the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator is proof of that commitment,” says Paul Cherukuri, vice president of innovation at Rice, in a news release. “The Rice Alliance has all the critical components early-stage energy ventures need for success: a corporate innovation network, energy investor network, access to mentors and a well-developed curriculum. This accelerator program is a unique opportunity for energy startups to successfully launch and build their ventures and get access to the Houston energy ecosystem.”

According to Rice, the 29 alumni companies from Class 1 and 2 have gone on to secure grants, partnerships, and investments, including more than $75 million in funding. Companies can apply here, learn more about the accelerator here or attend the virtual information session April 3 by registering here.

Houston, home to the largest medical center in the world, had a lot of trending health tech stories this year. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Top 5 Houston health tech stories of 2019

2019 in review

Editor's note: As 2019 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. Within the health category, top stories included new details from the Texas Medical Center's ongoing TMC3 project, health tech and medical device startups in Houston, and more.

Texas Medical Center reveals new details and renderings for its TMC3 campus

The design and construction team has been announced for TMC3. Courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

The Texas Medical Center just announced the dream team of architects and designers that are making TMC3 into a reality.

Elkus Manfredi Architects, Transwestern, and Vaughn Construction are the three companies that will serve as the architectural and development team for the 37-acre research campus. TMC3's founding institutions — TMC, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — decided on the three entities.

"Texas Medical Center is eager to move forward with a bold, imaginative and dynamic new design vision for the TMC3 Master Plan," says TMC CEO and president, Bill McKeon, in a press release. "With the combined talents of Elkus Manfredi Architects, Transwestern, and Vaughn Construction on-board, I couldn't be more confident that this dream team will flawlessly execute the totality of the project's vision and fulfill its mission to bring together leading researchers and top-tiered expertise from the private sector to create the number one biotechnology and bioscience innovation center in the entire world."

TMC3 was first announced just over a year ago and is planned to open in 2022. The campus will incorporate research facilities, retail space, residential plans, a hotel and conference center, and green space. Parking will be underground to optimize surface area. To continue reading this top story, click here.

5 Houston medical device companies changing the industry

As medicine and technology both advance, these Houston startups are at the forefront of the industry. Getty Images

With the Texas Medical Center at the heart of Houston, health advancement opportunities are endless. Medical breakthroughs are happening across town, but as technology advances, the industry is seeing more and more startups popping up to take new tech tools and applying them to traditional medical devices and procedures.

These five Houston startups are developing the future of the industry — one device at a time. To continue reading this top story, click here.

Houston medical device company gains FDA approval

Houston-based Saranas has received de novo distinction from the FDA for its bleed monitoring technology. Courtesy of Saranas

When it comes to early bleeding detection, Houston-based Saranas, which closed $2.8 million in funding last year, is ahead of the game with its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System. The Food and Drug Administration has recognized the medical device company and granted it De Novo distinction.

"Gaining FDA approval for the Early Bird is a significant milestone for Saranas as it demonstrates our continued commitment to address an unmet need for real-time detection and monitoring of endovascular bleed complications," says Saranas president and CEO, Zaffer Syed in a release. "As the first and only device on the market for early bleed detection, we have the potential to significantly reduce bleeding complications and related healthcare costs, while improving clinical outcomes in patients undergoing endovascular procedures."

The Early Bird technology is designed to detect bleeding from vessel injury caused by a surgery, for instance. One in five patients experienced a bleed complication in over 17,000 large-bore transcatheter procedures, according to the release which cites the National Inpatient Sample Database. To continue reading this top story, click here.

5 Houston biotech companies taking health care to new levels

With the Texas Medical Center in their backyard, these Houston biotech companies are creating breakthrough technologies. Getty Images

Houston is the home of the largest medical center in the world, so it comes as no surprise that the Bayou City is also home to breakthrough technologies. Here are five Houston companies developing some of this biotech advancements. To continue reading this top story, click here.

TMCx announces its next medical device cohort with 5 startups hailing from Houston

The next TMCx cohort begins August 5. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center's startup accelerator, TMCx, has added 19 companies from all around the world to join its medical device family.

The TMC Innovation Institute team narrowed down 140 applications to 40 for the second round of the process, which includes face-to-face interviews, according to a release. After those, 18 companies were selected to join the TMCx09 class, which focuses on medical devices. The last cohort, which specialized in digital health, concluded on June 6.

Out of the 18 companies, five are from Houston. Four other startups hail from other corners of the United States, while 10 international companies also made the cohort. The program commences on August 5, and will run for four months before concluding in a demo day event in November. To continue reading this top story, click here.

Houston-based Saranas' technology is now being premiered in the United States. Courtesy of Saranas

Houston medical device company launches is product in the U.S. and hires new exec

Early bird gets the worm

A Houston company is changing the game when it comes to early bleed detection, and now the company can provide its life-saving service to the United States.

Saranas Inc., which received FDA approval for its Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System in March, announced that it is launching its device in the US. at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics Conference next week in San Francisco. The device is designed to detect and track bleeding complications related to endovascular procedures. These medical procedures treat problems, such as aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

"As the first and only early bleed detection system on the market, the Early Bird is ideally positioned to play a key role in making the rapidly expanding, minimally-invasive catheter-based procedures safer by providing physicians with bleed monitoring in real-time," says Saranas president and CEO, Zaffer Syed, in a news release. "With the launch of the Early Bird, physicians will now have a standard of care to monitor the bleed status of the patient during and post procedure, receive timely notifications of actual bleeds, and potentially reduce the severity of bleeding complications and resulting costs, while protecting clinical outcomes in patients undergoing endovascular procedures."

Around 20 percent of patience suffer a bleeding complication during endovascular procedures, like transcatheter aortic valve replacement, endovascular aneurysm repair, and percutaneous hemodynamic support, and, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, these complications result in higher mortality, longer hospital stays, and higher medical bills.

In other exciting news for the company, Saranas hired Tom Lucas as vice president of sales and marketing. He has 28 years of experience in medical sales, and he is tasked with business development, marketing, sales, and more for the company.

"Tom is a critical strategic hire for Saranas as we launch our first product in the U.S.," Syed says in the release. "His expertise will be invaluable as we expand distribution of the Early Bird into additional centers of excellence."

Saranas began its clinical trials last year after raising $2.8 million. The company revealed the results of those trials earlier this year, leading to the FDA approval.

"Our first-in-human study demonstrated that clinical concordance with Early Bird detection and CT scans (primary endpoint) was near perfect, and the early discovery of bleed onset and progression during the procedure occurred in 31 percent of cases with 69 percent occurring post procedure," says Saranas Chief Medical Officer Dr. Philippe Généreux in the release. "Compared to the current paradigm of waiting for symptoms, which could take hours to develop, the Early Bird allows physicians to detect bleeding in real-time and take the necessary actions quickly to protect the outcomes of the procedure and aid recovery for the patient."

The results are in for Houston-based Saranas' clinical trials. Courtesy of Saranas

Houston early bleeding detection device company reveals results of its clinical trials

blood tests

A Houston-based startup is closer to taking flight with a medical device designed to catch bleeding complications during medical procedures that involve blood vessels.

On May 22, researchers presented the results of a study showing the Early Bird Bleed Monitoring System from Houston-based Saranas Inc. detected various levels of bleeding in 63 percent of the patients who underwent endovascular procedures. These procedures treat problems, such as aortic aneurysms, that affect blood vessels.

No troubles were reported with the Early Bird device during the clinical trial, the researchers say.

Before this study, the Early Bird device hadn't been tested in humans. In all, 60 patients in five states participated in the clinical trial, which ran from August to December last year. Findings of the study were unveiled at the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography Interventions 2019 Scientific Sessions in Las Vegas.

The study's authors say they plan to continue evaluating the device at medical institutions that want to better manage bleeding during endovascular procedures.

"This is the first time we're seeing how this device could help in a real-world patient setting, and we were very encouraged by the results. Right now, patients have a risk of vessel injury when undergoing endovascular procedures where the femoral artery or vein is used for vascular access," Dr. Philippe Genereux, principal investigator for the study and a cardiologist at Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, New Jersey, says in a news release.

"This technology allows us to detect bleeding in real-time," Genereux adds, "which means we can take action quickly and improve the outcomes of the procedure and recovery for the patient."

In March, the Early Bird device — invented at Houston's Texas Heart Institute — received the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's approval as a "novel" medical device.

Saranas says Early Bird is the first and only device of its type. The FDA approval and the promising results of the clinical trial pave the way for the eventual launch of the device into the healthcare market.

A forecast from professional services firm KPMG predicts the global market for medical devices will reach nearly $800 billion by 2030. Early Bird aims to capture a sliver of that market by addressing an expensive and potentially fatal problem. One-fifth of patients experience bleeding complications during large-bore endovascular procedures. Research shows these complications are associated with a greater risk of death, longer hospital stays, and higher healthcare costs.

The Early Bird device is meant to decrease those complications by quickly alerting medical professionals to signs of bleeding during endovascular procedures.

As explained by the Texas Heart Institute, the Early Bird employs a sheath — a plastic tube that helps keep arteries and vessels open — embedded with sensors that measure the electrical resistance across a blood vessel. When the Early Bird senses a change in the electrical resistance, medical professionals receive audible and visual notifications about potential internal bleeding. If detected early, this bleeding can be minimized.

Altogether, Saranas has raised $12 million from investors, including a $2.8 million round in May 2018. The company was founded in 2013.

"What attracted me to Saranas is that our solution has the potential to meaningfully reduce serious bleeding complications that worsen clinical outcomes and drive up healthcare costs," says Zaffer Syed, who joined the startup as president and CEO in 2017. "In addition, our device may support access of important minimally invasive cardiac procedures by allowing them to be performed more safely."

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Houston ecommerce scale-up company acquires Amazon advertising partner

all aboard

A Houston tech company has tapped an Amazon partner in a strategic acquisition and is bringing the company's full team on board.

Cart.com acquired Ohio-based Amify, a company that provides optimization and advertising solutions. The terms of the deal were not disclosed but Cart.com will on board Amify’s entire employee base, including its founder Ethan McAfee, CEO Chris Mehrabi, and COO Christine McCambridge.

As chief delivery officer, Mehrabi will take the helm of Cart.com’s professional services business and McCambridge will lead Cart.com’s marketplace services team as vice president of marketplace services operations.

“I’m happy to welcome the entire Amify team to Cart.com and have industry veterans Chris Mehrabi and Christine McCambridge join our leadership team,” Cart.com Founder and CEO Omair Tariq says in a news release. “Amify has been widely recognized for their expertise and technology and we’re excited to leverage their experience to help our customers maximize their potential across channels.”

Cart.com's membership will have access to Amify's proprietary technology platform, including advertising, creative content, supply chain strategy, and analytics. The company, which was founded in 2011, currently supports over 50 global brands and manages approximately $1 billion in gross merchandise value. According to LinkedIn, Amify has over 50 employees.

“We could not be more excited to join Cart.com and leverage the company’s resources and scale to deliver value to both our customers and employees,” Mehrabi says. “I’m honored to step into the role of Chief Delivery Officer and contribute to Cart.com’s incredible growth story and innovative reputation.”

Founded in Houston in 2020, Cart.com provides comprehensive physical and digital infrastructure for online merchants. The company raised a $60 million series C and grown its customer base to over 6,000 users. After making several acquisitions, the company also operates 14 fulfillment centers nationwide.

Earlier this year, Tariq sat down with the Houston Innovators Podcast to share a bit about how the company is currently in scale-up mode.

Houston health tech innovator collaborates on promising medical device funded by DOD

team work

The United States Department of Defense has awarded a grant that will allow the Texas Heart Institute and Rice University to continue to break ground on a novel left ventricular assist device (LVAD) that could be an alternative to current devices that prevent heart transplantation and are a long-term option in end-stage heart failure.

The grant is part of the DOD’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP). It was awarded to Georgia Institute of Technology, one of four collaborators on the project that will be designed and evaluated by the co-investigator Yaxin Wang. Wang is part of O.H. “Bud” Frazier’s team at Texas Heart Institute, where she is director of Innovative Device & Engineering Applications Lab. The other institution working on the new LVAD is North Carolina State University.

The project is funded by a four-year, $7.8 million grant. THI will use about $2.94 million of that to fund its part of the research. As Wang explained to us last year, an LVAD is a minimally invasive device that mechanically pumps a person’s own heart. Frazier claims to have performed more than 900 LVAD implantations, but the devices are far from perfect.

The team working on this new research seeks to minimize near-eventualities like blood clot formation, blood damage, and driveline complications such as infection and limitations in mobility. The four institutions will try to innovate with a device featuring new engineering designs, antithrombotic slippery hydrophilic coatings (SLIC), wireless power transfer systems, and magnetically levitated driving systems.

Wang and her team believe that the non-contact-bearing technology will help to decrease the risk of blood clotting and damage when implanting an LVAD. The IDEA Lab will test the efficacy and safety of the SLIC LVAD developed by the multi-institutional team with a lab-bench-based blood flow loop, but also in preclinical models.

“The Texas Heart Institute continues to be a leading center for innovation in mechanical circulatory support systems,” said Joseph G. Rogers, MD, the president and CEO of THI, in a press release.

“This award will further the development and testing of the SLIC LVAD, a device intended to provide an option for a vulnerable patient population and another tool in the armamentarium of the heart failure teams worldwide.”

If it works as hypothesized, the SLIC LVAD will improve upon current LVAD technology, which will boost quality of life for countless heart patients. But the innovation won’t stop there. Technologies that IDEA Lab is testing include wireless power transfer for medical devices and coatings to reduce blood clotting could find applications in many other technologies that could help patients live longer, healthier lives.

Houston investor on SaaS investing and cracking product-market fit

Houston innovators podcast episode 230

Aziz Gilani's career in tech dates back to when he'd ride his bike from Clear Lake High School to a local tech organization that was digitizing manuals from mission control. After years working on every side of the equation of software technology, he's in the driver's seat at a local venture capital firm deploying funding into innovative software businesses.

As managing director at Mercury, the firm he's been at since 2008, Gilani looks for promising startups within the software-as-a-service space — everything from cloud computing and data science and beyond.

"Once a year at Mercury, we sit down with our partners and talk about the next investment cycle and the focuses we have for what makes companies stand out," Gilani says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The current software investment cycle is very focused on companies that have truly achieved product-market fit and are showing large customer adoption."



An example of this type of company is Houston-based RepeatMD, which raised a $50 million series A round last November. Mercury's Fund V, which closed at an oversubscribed $160 million, contributed to RepeatMD's round.

"While looking at that investment, it really made me re-calibrate a lot of my thoughts in terms what product-market fit meant," Gilani says. "At RepeatMD, we had customers that were so eager for the service that they were literally buying into products while we were still making them."

Gilani says he's focused on finding more of these high-growth companies to add to Mercury's portfolio amidst what, admittedly, has been a tough time for venture capital. But 2024 has been looking better for those fundraising.

"We've some potential for improvement," Gilani says. "But overall, the environment is constrained, interest rates haven't budged, and we've seen some potential for IPO activity."

Gilani shares more insight into his investment thesis, what areas of tech he's been focused on recently, and how Houston has developed as an ecosystem on the podcast.