Health tech

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.

Here are the medical device startup companies joining the TMCx09 cohort.

See update at the bottom of this story.

Vascular devices

  • Neurescue (Copenhagen, Denmark) — Neurescue has developed a computer-aided aortic occlusion catheter to help save the lives of patients in the emergency care setting.
  • Venari Medical (Galway, Ireland) — Venari Medical is developing BioVena — a medical device that treats varicose veins and venous leg ulcers with a minimally invasive approach intended to reduce pain.
  • Obsidio (Solana Beach, California) — Obsidio is developing a universal gel embolic material to shrink lesions or to treat internal bleeds, aneurysms and vascular malformations.

Novel therapies

  • PATH EX (Houston) — PATH EX is developing an extracorporeal blood cleansing device designed to selectively remove pathogens, including multi-drug resistant bacteria, and endotoxins from circulating blood to diagnose and treat sepsis.
  • Innosphere (Hafia, Israel) — Innosphere is a medical device company developing brain stimulation solutions for treating cognitive disorders, with a focus on ADHD.

Rehab

  • AbiliTech (St. Paul, Minnesota) — AbiliTech is restoring independence to patients with upper limb neuromuscular conditions by offering a wearable assistive device that allows the user to perform independent activities of daily living.
  • Komodo OpenLab (Toronto, Ontario, Canada) — Komodo OpenLab has developed Tecla, an assistive device giving individuals with physical disabilities the ability to communicate, control, and connect with the world.

Surgery

  • CNX Medical (Houston) — CNX Medical is developing a transcutaneous neurostimulator that is placed in the ear and helps reduce inflammation after abdominal surgery, with a focus on post-operative ileus.
  • CorInnova (Houston) — CorInnova has developed a soft robotic non-blood contacting biventricular cardiac assist device for the treatment of heart failure that would eliminate the many adverse events associated with current technologies.
  • Ictero Medical (Houston) — Ictero Medical is developing a minimally invasive ablation solution to treat high-risk patients with gallstone disease and offer patients the benefits of surgery without the risk. The company was among the big winners at the Texas A&M New Ventures Competition.

Diagnostics

  • Artidis (Basel, Switzerland) — InArtidis has developed a nanomechanical biomarker technology using precise tissue measurement in combination with data analytics to personalize cancer diagnosis.
  • Inveox (Munich, Germany) — Inveox automates the pre-analytical process in cancer diagnosis to improve patient safety and lab efficiency.
  • Cambridge Respiratory Innovations Ltd. (Cambridge, United Kingdom) — CRiL has developed, N-Tidal, a device that analyzes CO2 end-tidal breathing to improve respiration monitoring.

Toward home health

  • Kegg (San Francisco) — Kegg is on a mission to simplify every woman's journey towards taking charge of her fertility with a user-friendly monitoring device.
  • TestCard (London) — TestCard is a flat pack urine test kit that functions in combination with a mobile phone application, turning a phone's camera into a clinical grade scanner.
  • Patch'd (New South Wales, Australia, and San Francisco) — Patch'd uses deep learning and wearable devices to predict the onset of sepsis in the at-home patient.

Transplant

  • Volumetric (Houston) — Volumetric's 3D bioprinting platform creates materials with living cells with applications in biomaterials, cancer research, and eventually human organ replacements. The company's technology started out of Rice University.
  • Tevosol (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada) — Tevasol is developing organ transplant transportation solutions. Their portable warm perfusion machines will help surgeons transplant more organs today and solve organ shortage tomorrow.

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Diagnostic Photonics withdrew from the program after the article published.

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Building Houston

 
 

Cheers Health has expanded its product line as it evolves as a wellness-focused brand. Photo courtesy of Cheers

Houston-based startup Cheers first got a wave of brand devotees after it was passed over by investors on Shark Tank in 2018. In the years since, Cheers secured an impressive investment, launched new products, and became a staple hangover cure for customers. When the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted businesses, the company rose to the occasion and experienced its first profitable year as drinking and wellness habits changed across America.

Cheers initially started its company under the name Thrive+ with a hangover-friendly pill that promised to minimize the not-so-fun side effects that come after a night out. The capsules support the liver by replacing lost vitamins, reduce GABAa rebound and lower the alcohol-induced acetaldehyde toxicity levels in the body. The company's legacy product complemented social calendars and nights on the town, providing next day relief.

With COVID-19 lockdowns and social distancing measures, the days of pub crawls and social events were numbered. Cheers founder Brooks Powell saw the massive behavior change in people consuming alcohol, and leaned into his vision of becoming more than just a hangover cure but an "alcohol-related health company," he says.

When the pandemic first hit, Powell and his team noticed an immediate dip in sales — a relatable story for businesses in the grips of COVID-19.

"There is a three day period where we went from having the best month in company history to the worst month in company history, over a 72 hour stretch," he remarks.

He soon called an emergency board meeting and rattled off worst-case "doomsday" scenarios, he says.

"Thankfully, we never had to do any of these strategies because, ultimately, the team was able to rally around the new positioning for the brand which was far more focused on alcohol-related health," he says.

"We found that a lot less people were getting hangovers during 2020, because generally when you binge drink, you tend to binge drink with other people," he explains.

He noticed that health became an important focus for people, some who began to drink less due to the lack of social gatherings. On the contrary, some consumers began to drink more to fill the idle time.

According to a JAMA Network report, there was a 54 percent increase in national sales of alcohol for the week stay-at-home orders began last March, as compared to the year prior.

"All of a sudden, you have all of these people who probably aren't binge drinking but they're just frequently consuming alcohol. Their drinks per week are shooting up, and they're worried about liver health," explains Powell.

Outside of day-after support, Cheers leaned into its long-term health products to help drinkers consume alcohol in a healthier way. Cheers Restore, a dissolvable powder consumers can mix into their water, rehydrates the body by optimizing sodium and glucose molecules.

For continued support, Cheers Protect is a daily supplement designed to increase glutathione — an antioxidant that plays a key role in liver detoxification — and support overall liver health. Cheers Protect, which was launched in 2019, became a focus for the company as they pivoted its brand strategy and marketing to accommodate consumer behavior.

"The Cheers brand is just trying to reflect the mission statement, which is bringing people together through promoting fun, responsible and health-conscious alcohol consumption," says Powell. "It fits with our vision statement, which is a world where everyone can enjoy alcohol throughout a long, healthy and happy lifetime,."

At the close of 2020, Cheers had generated $10.4 million in revenue and over $1.7m in profit — its first profitable year since launch.

During the brand's mission to stay afloat during the pandemic, the Cheers team was also laying the groundwork for its entry into the retail space. When Powell launched the company during his junior year at Princeton University, bringing Cheers to brick-and-mortar stores had always been a goal. He envisioned liquor and grocery stores where Cheers was sold next to alcohol as a complementary item. "It's like getting sunscreen before going to the beach, they kind of go hand in hand," he says.

"When we spoke with retailers, specifically bars and liquor stores, what we learned is that a lot of these places were hesitant to put pills near alcohol," he says. Wanting an attractive and accessible mode of alcohol-support, the Cheers team created the Cheers Restore beverage.

Utilizing the technology Cheers developed with Princeton University researchers, the Cheers Restore beverage incorporates the benefits of the pill in a liquid, sugar-free form. The company states that its in-vivo study found that the drink is up to 19 times more bioavailable than pure dihydromyricetin (DHM), a Japanese raisin tree extract found in Cheers products and other hangover-related cures.

"What we figured out is that if you combine DHM — our main ingredient — with something called capric acid, which is an extract from coconut oil, the bioavailability shoots way up," says Powell. He notes the unique taste profile and the "creaminess" capric acid provides. "Now you have this lightly carbonated, zero-sugar, lemon sherbert, essentially liver support, hangover beverage that tastes great in 12 ounces and can mix with alcohol," he explains.

The Cheers Restore beverage is already hitting the Houston-area, where its found a home on menus at Present Company. The company has also run promotions with Houston hangouts like Memorial Trail Ice House, Drift, and The Powder Keg.

Currently, the beverage is only available in retail capacity and cannot be ordered on the Cheers website. As Powell focuses on expanding Cheers Restore beverage presence in the region, he welcomes the idea of expanding nationally in the future to come. While eager customers await the drink's national availability, they can actively invest in Cheers through the company's recently-launched online public offering.

Though repivoting a company and launching a new product is exciting, the process did not come without its caveats and stressors. While Cheers profited as a business in 2020, the staff and its founder weren't immune to the struggles of COVID-19.

"I think 2020 was the first year that it really became real for me that Cheers is far more than just some sort of alcohol-related health brand and its products," says Powell. "Cheers is really its employees and everything that goes into being a successful, durable company that people essentially bet their careers on and their family's well-being on and so forth," he continues.

"It really does weigh on you in a different way that it's never weighed on you before," says Powell, describing the stress of the pandemic. The experience was "enlightening," he says, and he wants others to know it's not embarrassing to need help.

"There is no lack of great leaders out there that at long periods of their life they needed help in some way," he says. "For me that was 2020 and being in the grinder and feeling the stress of the unknown and all of that, but it could happen to anyone," he continues.

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