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."


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Building Houston

 
 

Auburn University's SwiftSku took first place in this year's virtually held Rice Business Plan Competition, but it was the second place company that went home with over half a million in cash and investment prizes. Photo via rice.edu

In its 21st year, the Rice Business Plan Competition hosted 54 student-founded startups from all over the world — its largest batch of companies to date — and doled out over $1.4 million in cash and investment prizes at the week-long virtual competition.

RBPC, which is put on by the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, took place Tuesday, April 6, to Friday, April 9 this year. Just like 2020, RBPC was virtually held. The competition announced the 54 participating startups last month, and coordinated the annual elevator pitches, a semi-finals round, wildcard round and live final pitches. The contestants also received virtual networking and mentoring.

Earlier this week, Rice Alliance announced the seven student-led startups that then competed in the finals. From this pack, the judges awarded the top prizes. Here's how the finalists placed and what won:

  • SwiftSku from Auburn University, point of sales technology for convenience stores that allows for real time analytics, won first place and claimed the $350,000 grand prize from Goose Capital. The company also won the $50,000 Business Angel Minority Association Prize, the $500 Best Digital Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $401,000. The company also won the CFO Consulting Prize, a $25,000 in-kind award.
  • AgZen from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a pesticide alternative spray and formulation technology company, won the second place $100,000 investment prize (awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The startup also won a $300,000 Owl Investment Prize, the $100,000 Houston Angel Network Prize, the $500 Best Energy Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, and the $1,500 Third Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $502,000. The company also won the $30,000 in-kind Polsinelli Energy Prize.
  • FibreCoat GmbH from RWTH Aachen University, a startup with patented spinning technology for the production of inexpensive high-performance composite fibers, won the third place $50,000 investment prize (also awarded by Finger Interests, Anderson Family Fund, Greg Novak, and Tracy Druce). The company also won the $100,000 TiE Houston Angels Prize and the $500 Best Hard Tech Elevator Pitch Prize from Mercury Fund, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $150,500.
  • Candelytics from Harvard University, a startup building the digital infrastructure for 3-D data, won the fourth place $5,000 prize.
  • OYA FEMTECH Apparel from UCLA, an athletic wear company that designs feminine health-focused clothing, won the fifth place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $5,000 Eagle Investors Prize, the $25,000 Urban Capital Network Prize, and the $1,000 Second Place Anbarci Family People's Choice prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $36,000.
  • LFAnt Medical from McGill University , an innovative and tech-backed STI testing company, won the sixth place $5,000 prize and the $20,000 Johnson and Johnson Innovation Prize, bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $25,000.
  • SimpL from the University of Pittsburgh, an AI-backed fitness software company, won the seventh place $5,000 prize. The company also won the $25,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize from the Pearland Economic Development Corp., bringing the company's grand total in cash and investment prizes to $30,000.

Some of the competition's participating startups outside of the seven finalists won monetary and in-kind prizes. Here's a list of those.

  • Mercury Fund's Elevator Pitch Prizes also included:
    • Best Life Science $500 Prize to Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Best Consumer $500 Prize to EasyFlo from the University of New Mexico
    • Best Overall $1,000 prize to Anthro Energy from Stanford University
  • The Palo Alto Software Outstanding LivePlan Pitch $3,000 Prize went to LiRA Inc. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • The OFW Law FDA Regulatory Strategy Prize, a $20,000 in-kind award went to Paldara Inc. from Oklahoma State University.
  • The Silver Fox Mentoring Prize, which included $20,000 in kind prizes to three winners selected Ai-Ris from Texas A&M University, BruxAway from the University of Texas, and Karkinex from Rice University as recipients.
  • The first, second, and third place winners also each received the legal service prize from Baker Botts for a total of $20,000 in-kind award.
  • The Courageous Women Entrepreneurship Prize from nCourage — a $50,000 investment prize — went to Shelly Xu Design from Harvard University.
  • The SWPDC Pediatric Device Prize — usually a $50,000 investment divided its prize to two winners to receive $25,000 each
    • Blue Comet Medical Solutions from Northwestern University
    • Neurava from Purdue University
  • TMC Innovation Healthcare Prize awarded a $100,000 investment prize and admission into its accelerator to ArchGuard from Duke University
  • The Artemis Fund awarded its $100,000 investment prize to Kit Switch from Stanford University
The awards program concluded with a plan to host the 22nd annual awards in 2022 in person.

If you missed the virtual programming, each event was hosted live on YouTube and the videos are now available on the Rice Alliance's page.

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