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."


Need a job in STEM? You've come to the right place. Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Sure, Houston can boast that it's the Energy Capital of the World. That's undisputed. However, Houston also is making strides in the wider range of STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

A new study from the American Enterprise Institute's Housing Center finds Houston is No. 2 among the best U.S. metro areas for STEM workers. Dallas-Fort Worth topped the ranking, and Austin earned the No. 4 spot.

The American Enterprise Institute sifted through data in three categories — STEM employment in 2018, overall employment growth since 1990, and affordability for first-time homebuyers — to devise its ranking. In all, the institute examined the 30 metro areas with the most STEM jobs.

Houston landed at:

  • No. 10 for STEM employment, with 207,000 jobs in 2018. (The Greater Houston Partnership puts the current figure at more than 240,000).
  • No. 6 for overall employment growth (70 percent) since 1990.
  • No. 6 for median home price for first-time buyers.

The study notes that the vibrancy of home construction helped Houston maintain a high rate of employment growth and a high score for home affordability.

"On one hand, some metro areas with relatively high home prices are desirable places to live in terms of jobs and local amenities," the study says. "On the other hand, house prices may be higher than they really need to be due to local policies that needlessly drive up the price of land and thereby constrain the amount of new housing. Households should be aware of these tradeoffs."

Houston fared better in the American Enterprise Institute study than it did in a recent STEM ranking from personal finance website WalletHub. To determine the best markets for STEM professionals, WalletHub compared the 100 largest metro areas across 20 key metrics. Houston ranked 33rd, while Dallas-Fort Worth ranked 38th and Austin came in at No. 4.

Whether Houston stands at No. 2 or No. 33, business leaders are confident the region is fertile territory for STEM.

"Houston's talent base of 300,000 educated millennials and more than 240,000 STEM workers power our leading industries, including life sciences, energy, and manufacturing and logistics," says Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development at the Greater Houston Partnership.

"For us to continue to compete and grow in these critical sectors," Davenport adds, "we need to continue to foster and attract new STEM talent and market the positive attributes that make Houston a great place to live."

The Greater Houston Partnership touts several strengths that will propel the region's STEM sector, including:

  • The Texas Medical Center's recently announced TMC3 research hub.
  • A firm foothold in the life sciences industry, thanks to the Texas Medical Center, the world's largest complex of healthcare and life science institutions.
  • NASA's Johnson Space Center.
  • A cluster of more than 6,000 manufacturers.

Davenport points to establishment of Houston's four-mile-long Innovation Corridor — featuring an array of startup accelerators and tech incubators — as another vehicle for STEM success. At the heart of the corridor will be Rice University's new $100 million innovation hub, known as The Ion.

The corridor, she says, "will help Houston create the next generation of companies solving big problems."