X marks the spot

5 things to know about TMCx's newest cohort

TMCx's eighth cohort started Monday. Of the 21 companies, 10 are international and two are from Texas. Courtesy of TMCx

On Monday, 21 startups settled in for a wild, four-month ride at the Texas Medical Center's Innovation Institute, and TMCx's eighth cohort, which is focused on digital health, is officially ongoing.

The companies will be absorbing the curriculum and guidance from TMCx and its partners for the next four months, and this particular cohort is exciting for Lance Black, associate director at TMCx, for a few reasons.

"I'm really honored to be able to support these startup companies because, in my mind, it's this entrepreneur spirit that's going to change health care for the better," says Black.

From where the startups are from to where they're going, here's what you need to know about TMCx's eighth cohort.

Digital health companies are defined as those with a software component. 

Each year, TMCx hosts two four-month cohorts — one focusing on medical device companies and the other on digital health. Last fall, TMCx concluded its medical device cohort, so its time to turn the focus on digital health, which Black says TMCx defines as companies with a software element to their product.

The 21 companies in X8 focus on a myriad of medical issues — neurology, mental health, and oncology — as well as logistical applications — patient experience, hospital efficiency, process improvement, clinical decision support, and more.

Black says one type of cohort isn't harder than the other, but the process and curriculum is different. Medical device companies need to have an established prototype, which can take a while. Meanwhile, a digital health company can turn around an app in a matter of weeks.

It might be a bit of a gray area as to what all falls under digital health, but one thing's for sure — TMC is a great opportunity for the companies.

"Overall, our digital health companies do really well in the Texas Medical Center because there's a lot of large hospital systems that are eager and hungry to improve their processes in a number of ways," Black says. "So, we've seen digital health get picked up quickly."

It's the accelerator's most international cohort.

Black says his team evaluated hundreds of startups and, of the 150 companies, 70 were interviewed before getting pared down to 21. What was particularly surprising was the amount of international companies were interested. Ten of the cohort's startups are internationally based.

"What we really tried to do is put the blindfolds on for where they are from and what their background is and really look at the company and its technology, and pick the highest quality of the companies," Black says.

The countries represented are Canada, Australia, Israel, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.

"It shows not only what TMC has done but how Houston has come up in ranking as an international location for these companies," says Black. "For the majority of the 10, this is their first time in the U.S. They are looking at Houston as their entry to the U.S. market."

One Houston company made the cut.

Texas has two companies in the cohort — one from Austin and one from Houston.

Houston-based PreopMD makes the preoperative experience — for patients and clinicians — a whole lot easier. Improved patient communications and monitoring is the main goals of the company, and the website describes the technology as a "virtual operating room command center."

Austin-based Cloud 9 is on a mission to make mental health care more accessible to the population. According to their website, 20 percent of the population has mental health issues, but only 8 percent receive treatment. By engaging mental health care providers and making access to data and communication more available, Cloud 9 can help to fix the broken system.

There's a new guy in charge. 

After TMCx's former director, Erik Halvorsen, left his position in December, Black has stepped up to the plate as interim director to lead the cohort. The responsibilities are definitely different, Black says.

"As a strategist my focus was primarily the companies and being their point of contact," he says. "My day to day had a lot to do with communicating with the companies, and making sure they got the most out of the program. Now, in my current role, It's a little bit one step removed from that. I'm looking over the entire program and thinking about it strategically."

Black says that for him this means finding areas where the cohort can be improved or expanded.

It's the best time to be a TMCx company.

In the past few years, Black says the program has improved dramatically from the curriculum to the programing and what TMC has to offer its startups.

Now, the cohort has access to local talent through the intern program, fundraising events, the new Center of Device Innovation, and more.

"The more that we throw at them, the more they absorb and the better that they do," Black says. "So, we're always looking for ways to improve on their experience."


Ten Houston innovators took the stage for five fights on the role technology plays in the future of industry. Emily Jaschke/InnovationMap

On Wednesday, Houston's innovation ecosystem hosted the rowdiest crowd at a professional business event that the city has ever seen.

Digital Fight Club, a Dallas-based event company, had its first Houston event at White Oak Music Hall on November 20 thanks to presenting sponsors Accenture and InnovationMap. The event featured 10 fighters and five referees across five fights that discussed cybersecurity, the future of primary care, and more.

"This is Digital Fight Club," says Michael Pratt, CEO of the company. "You get subject matter experts, and serious founders and CEOs on the stage and make them make their case. You learn something, it's a lot of fun, and it's a lot better than a panel."

If you missed the showdown, here are some of the nights zingers made by the entrepreneurs and subject matter experts that were the fighters of the evening.

"I believe that computers can get a lot of information to create [something new]. That's my job, that's what I do, and I see it done."

Pablo Marin, senior AI leader at Microsoft, during the fight on robotics and AI in the workforce. Marin's argument was that artificial intelligence and robotics can and will replace all repetitive jobs. However, he also believes that computers have the ability to create, as well, based on their ability to see the whole world and have access to all the world's information.

"AI is mostly bullshit."

Matthew Hager, CEO of Poetic Systems. Hager, who won the first fight of the night, responded to Marin that, while businesses like to believe that AI is actually able to deliver results so that they can sell more, the technology hasn't actually arrived yet. Plus, Hager says AI will never be creative without the human element. "Creativity is about who created it. It's about the photographer, not the camera," he says.

"What if the seatbelt laws and the speed limits were defined by Dodge, Ford, or Chrysler?"

Ted Gutierrez, CEO and co-founder of Security Gate, who argued for government to take the reigns of cybersecurity. He adds that companies are never going to be able to agree to one set of rules. "We gotta get one group to set the standard, and it's up to everyone else to refine that and innovate for it," he says.

"Compliance doesn't mean you're secure."

Tara Khanna, managing director and security lead at Accenture, who won the fight on cybersecurity needing to be figured out by the business industry. She argues that the private sector wins the war on talent and recruiting, so it has the money and resources to dedicate to the issue in more ways than the government ever will.

"I was born, I'm going to die, and there is nothing like earth in the universe as we know it. It is worth preserving and protecting."

Steven Taylor, co-founder of AR for Everyone, in the fight over the oil and gas industry's responsibility to the environment. He argued that it's going to be a mix of policy and corporate initiatives that changes the industry.

"I think the free market is going to get there if the consumer has the choice to pick what they want to do."

Michael Szafron, commercial adviser for Cemvita Factory, who took home the win for the oil and gas and the environment fight. Szafron's argument was that corporations are going to do what their consumers want, so that's who would drive them to action. "Let's look at California —very regulated environmentalists, and a million of those people get moved to Texas," he says.

"Disconnecting our personal lives from technology would not only limit ourselves, but it would also limit our capacity to adopt those tools to the needs of our society." 

Javier Fadul, chief innovation officer at HTX Labs, during the fight on digital in our personal lives. Fadul argues that not only does technology allow us to connect worldwide, but disconnecting would prevent that technology from developing further.

"I love tech, but now that it's on all the time everywhere, we need to make time to unplug."

Grace Rodriguez, CEO of Impact Hub Houston, who won the fight on personal technology. She says that yes, technology can help international connectivity, but it does more harm than good as people use personal tech as a default or distraction from humans right in front of them. "When your with people, be present," she says.

"Part of our innovation to redesign primary care is really to deploy technology out there to seamlessly provide care."

Nick Desai, chief medical information officer at Houston Methodist, who argued that the future of primary care is new innovations within traditional medicine. He adds that virtual care, which is something Methodist is working on, can help improve accessibility.

"The future of primary care is here. It's called direct primary care." 

Geetinder Goyal, CEO of First Primary Care, who won the fight on the future of primary care with his argument for a new, free market approach to medicine. Direct primary care opens up treatment and access to physicians with a monthly fee for patients to work outside of health care plans.