game changer

Tech company uses machine learning to buy homes in Houston

This Houston company has the key to a more exact searching process when it comes to finding a new home to buy. Courtesy photo

For most consumers, the home buying process includes a very specific online search. People specify their neighborhood requirements, the number of bedrooms or bathrooms, backyard size, and more — yet still, the search results in a staggering amount of homes. It's way more than anyone can reasonably look at.

That's where Martin Kay and Entera Technology, the company he founded and is CEO of, come in. Kay, a 20-year veteran of the tech sector, who's bought multiple homes as rental properties, realized the way to solve the problem of that kind of search engine overload was through machine learning. He now works with some of the largest home-buying companies in the world, helping them find properties that match the specifications they have to attract the clients they want.

"All residential real estate is a consumer product," he says. "Ultimately, the people who are going to live in that home care most about, is it a nice home with a big backyard neat good schools, is it safe? The [home buying] companies are trying to figure out what do the end consumers really care about so we can give them exactly what they need?"

To do so, Entera collects data — lots and lots of it. Kay and his team have taught their software programs what a chef's kitchen is, for example. They did so by compiling tens of thousands of photos of kitchens and telling the software, "This is a kitchen." Then, they taught it to recognize what makes a chef's kitchen — a larger size, more than one sink, high-end appliances. They used the same techniques in identifying things like millennial-friendly neighborhoods or neighborhoods that were up-and-coming on the real estate scene. They draw from listings available with the Houston Association of Realtors and beyond, a vast array of tens of thousands of homes.

Officially launched in 2017, Entera blends its data collection and analysis with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

"We're a little bit like Netflix," he says. "They go out and get content from everyone, and they begin to watch your behavior. So, Netflix has 2,000 profiles and you probably fit five or six of those. We have almost 100 profiles and what we do is say, we're going to understand what you want, watch your behavior and instead of giving you 40,000 properties on a big map, we actually match you based on your preferences, to the five or six houses that are best for you."

While Entera has been working with larger home-buying companies — like firms that buy tens of thousands of homes every year — Kay says they have begun working with smaller entities, and he figures within the next few years, Entera will be using the same data collection and machine learning to work with individual home buyers.

Based in Houston, Entera has operations in New York and San Francisco as well. The company has 17 full-time employees, along with approximately 100 contractors in its markets. And while Kay understand a human touch is needed in business, he loves that he can use a data model to present unbiased opinions to his clients.

"[Real estate] actually affects people's lives meaningfully," Kay says. "Real estate data — where you live, what your neighborhood is, how you make that choice — …this data matters to people in a way they can tangibly touch and understand and feel. We can help people make what are big, complex choices that are often highly ambiguous. I love it because it matters. You can measure how it matters immediately."

Data-driven tech

Courtesy of Entera

Entera focuses on collecting data and analysis and pairs it with on-the-ground service. After Entera's proprietary software collects what it thinks home-buying companies want, members of Entera's service team go out to look at the homes.

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A Rice research team is tapping into materials science to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, a UH professor is developing a treatment for hereditary vision loss, and a BCM researcher is looking at stress and brain cancer. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

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.”

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