Top 5 Houston health tech stories of 2019

2019 in review

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

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 solar energy exec shines light on company growth and IPO

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 15

It was all about the timing for John Berger, founder and CEO of Sunnova, a Houston-based residential solar energy company.

When he founded his company in 2012 in Houston, solar energy wasn't the trendy sustainability option it is today, but Berger saw the potential for technology within the industry. So, with a lot of perseverance and the right team behind him, he scaled Sunnova through nationwide expansion, billions of money raised, and a debut on the stock market last July — something that also happened with great timing.

About 72 hours after Sunnova went public last July, the Federal Reserve System announced it was going to cut rates. Additionally, Sunnova's IPO occurred ahead of WeWork's failed IPO.

"We went public in a market that still isn't back open again, I think, for IPOs," Berger says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We had pretty good timing when we went out the door."

However great the timing was, Sunnova's success is built on the hard work and skills of the company's employees, Berger explains on the podcast, and now running a public company requires a dynamic leader.

"I really look at myself and how I can change myself," Berger says. "I'm a different CEO today than I was 12 months ago, and hopefully I'll be a different CEO in 12 months, because the company demands it."

In the episode, Berger lifts the curtain on Sunnova's IPO, explains where he sees the solar energy industry headed, how battery storage technology has evolved, and why he's not worried about who ends up in the White House. Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


California self-driving vehicle startup has all eyes on Houston — here's why

On a roll

Houston — with its sprawl and winding roads broken up across various neighborhoods — is particularly challenging when it comes to self-driving car navigation. And that's exactly why Nuro, a California-based tech startup that's raised over $1 billion in funding, decided to focus on the Bayou City for its autonomous vehicle delivery pilot programs.

"Houston is our first full-scale operations city," Sola Lawal, product operations manager in Houston, tells InnovationMap. "All eyes at Nuro are focused on Houston."

Last year alone, Nuro launched three pilots in six of Houston's ZIP codes from Bellaire to the Heights. The first of which was a partnership with Kroger in March, followed by the announcement of autonomous pizza delivery from Domino's in June. Last month, Nuro announced its latest delivery partner was Walmart.

Lawal explains Houston's appeal to Nuro in a few ways, but the challenging landscape is key. Nuro cars are learning from the narrow, tree-laden streets of West University or the pedestrian-heavy, ditch-lined paths in the Heights.

"There's a ton for us to learn, but it's a great microcosm of the United States in a number of different ways," he says.

In addition to its diversity within its street types, Houston, named the most diverse city in the country, represents an ideal customer base, says Lawal, a Houston native himself. Houstonians are open minded about new experiences.

"If you think and look across Houston, the average commute is over 60 minutes for people to get back and forth," Lawal tells InnovationMap. "As we surveyed across major cities we were interested in, Houston stood out as a place where customers said they don't want go to the grocery store if they don't have to or get in their cars again to pick up their pizza."

The third reason Houston was a great market for Nuro is the amount of regulatory support the state of Texas has — Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the Texas Connected and Autonomous Vehicle task force a year ago — as well as the support at the city level.

"It's been a welcoming environment from the mayor's office down for us to be here," Lawal says.

Since entering the Houston market, Nuro's local operations have grown to over 100 employees. The company still has software operations out of California, and some work being done in Arizona, but the Houston is the largest — and growing as the company seeks new partnerships with more stores with a goal of eliminating errands once and for all.

"The way that we think about this is that this new technology and our mission of accelerating robotics for everyday life, is we will bring the people what they want," Lawal says when asked about what types of stores Nuro is looking to partner with.

Eventually, Lawal says, the plan would be to have every errand be delivery optimized with Nuro technology — from big-box stores like Walmart to your local florist.

"Our goal is to have a platform that retailers can connect to in order to provide easy and inexpensive delivery," he says.

Currently, Nuro's technology is still in learning mode. Nuro's fleet of Prius cars with staff onboard are driving up and down Houston streets mapping and taking notes on a daily basis. The company also has bots, called the R2 fleet, that are designed to be unmanned.

These bots are smaller than normal cars and are completely electric. Rather than being designed to protect passengers inside like traditional automobiles, the R2s are designed to be safe for people outside the vehicle.

"It's a new way of thinking about transportation and what our vehicles can and should do," Lawal says.

2020 is the year of these R2 bots, and some areas can expect to see them in action — specifically focused on Domino's pizza delivery — in just a matter of weeks.

Houston flight-tracking software company grows its local and international presence

taking flight

FlightAware LLC's business success has, for the most part, flown under the radar in Houston.

Many travelers know about the B2C flight-tracking functionality of FlightAware. "That's a very, very competitive space. We play in that space, but it's not our core business," founder and CEO Daniel Baker says.

These days, the privately held Houston company earns most its revenue from the B2B data it provides to airlines and other aviation clients, according to Baker. He declines to reveal revenue figures, but notes that the company — which bills itself as the world's largest flight-tracking and flight data platform — hasn't taken a penny of outside funding since it started in 2005.

Today, FlightAware employs about 110 people, with the majority of them located in Houston, Baker says. The company also maintains offices in Austin, New York City, London, and Singapore.

By the end of 2020, the companywide workforce should exceed 135, as FlightAware aims to add three new hires per month this year in areas such as Internet of Things, data science, sales, and administration, Baker says. Most of the new employees will work in Houston.

Baker says FlightAware takes an aggressive approach to hiring, with the goal of bringing aboard "really awesome people" who share levels of talent, collaboration, and "culture fit" similar to those of current employees.

By the end of 2021, FlightAware likely will run out of room in its 24,000-square-foot office at 11 Greenway Plaza in the Greenway/Upper Kirby area, Baker says. That means FlightAware will need to take about 15,000 additional square feet at 11 Greenway Plaza or relocate to a different building, he says. The company moved into its current home in 2017 from a 14,000-square-foot office at 8 Greenway Plaza.

Baker, who's a private pilot and a board member of the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum, launched the company 15 years ago as a way to combine two passions: software development and aviation.

"It was originally a hobby, and it became a business," Baker says. "It's an unlikely story. We're really, really fortunate that the timing was right."

Although FlightAware started off tracking flights in the general aviation space, it has since expanded to supply aviation data to both travelers and businesses. Each month, about 15 million passengers use the FlightAware app, which earns praise from a slew of travel critics.

Among flight-tracking apps, FlightAware "is a bit of a Swiss army knife," Condé Nast Traveler magazine observes. The FlightAware app lets you follow flights in real time, including where an incoming plane is coming from, how close it is to arriving, and what kind of weather it's encountering en route, the magazine notes. In addition, the app can send push notifications about arrivals, departures, gate changes, flight delays, and flight cancellations.

Now, FlightAware relies on the consumer-facing technology "as a stepping stone to have a bigger impact," Baker says. "Every project that we undertake is larger than the last one."

That "bigger impact" involves cranking out data that enables commercial airlines, cargo carriers, business aviation companies, and air traffic controllers to be proactive instead of reactive regarding flight activity, he says.

FlightAware's corporate customers include United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, business-jet operator NetJets and GPS technology provider Garmin. Baker says a North American airline that he declines to name will soon roll out FlightAware technology to its airport gate agents.

For airlines, FlightAware's software delivers accurate data to help cut down, among other issues, on problems with flight delays, gate assignments, and flight connections, Baker says. FlightAware pulls data from more than 25,000 aircraft surveillance websites covering nearly 200 countries as well as air traffic control systems in more than 45 countries.

While the consumer-oriented features of FlightAware's technology face competition from the likes of FlightStats, FlightView, and The Flight Tracker, the B2B landscape is less populated. Over the years, corporate giants like Airbus, Boeing, and IBM have tackled aviation data on their own but have wound up forging data partnerships with FlightAware, according to Baker."

We see every potential competitor as a future customer," Baker says.