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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Among this week's top Houston innovation stories was that Aramco Americas has been named a founding partner at The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

Editor's note:Another week has come and gone, and it's time to round up the top headlines from the past few days. Trending Houston tech and startup news on InnovationMap included innovators to know, who's raised venture capital dollars so far this year, and more.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, Adrienne Mangual of The Artemis Fund, and Derrick Morse of Rugged Robotics. Courtesy photos

In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from virtual reality to robotics — recently making headlines in Houston innovation. Click here to read more.

Energy company joins Ion Houston as founding partner

Aramco Americas has been named a founding partner at The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

A leading energy company has announced a new partnership with an innovation hub in the heart of Houston.

Aramco Americas, the U.S. subsidiary of Aramco, has joined as a founding partner of The Ion. Through the partnership, the two organizations will create educational programming, events, workforce development opportunities, energy transition leadership, and more. The partnership will take place over the next three years.

“The addition of Aramco as a founding partner of The Ion is another step forward in the realization of our vision of The Ion as a globally connected innovation hub that brings new possibilities to the people of Houston,” says Rice University President David Leebron in a news release. “We know the aspiring innovators and entrepreneurs of Houston will benefit from Aramco’s engagement, for which we are grateful.” Click here to read more.

These 11 Houston startups closed funding rounds so far this year

Here are 11 Houston startups that together have raised over $140 million in venture capital investment so far this year. Photo via Getty Images

Venture capital investment is moving and grooving in Houston this year so far, which really is a continuation of the leap in VC investment from 2021.

According to a recent report from Houston Exponential, Houston’s average early-stage deal size of $18 million represents a 68 percent growth rate since 2019. Compared with the national growth rate of 23 percent, “this demonstrates the broader expansion and maturities within the Houston ecosystem,” the analysis says.

Last year, local startups collected $2.02 billion in VC funding, according to PitchBook data. That’s up 175 percent from the $734.2 million raised in 2020. Click here to read more.

University of Houston: New open index of scholarly articles helps researchers connect

Go and get connected to this global research system. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

We have all needed scholarly articles to cite in our academic careers. Now, there is a place where researchers can get millions of them, all on one site.

Named after the Library of Alexandria, OpenAlex is an index of over 200 million scientific documents including publication sources, author information and research topics that can be used to conduct studies and build research tools. According to its founders, the goal of this index is to “create a comprehensive, interlinked database of the global research system.” Click here to read more.

Houston aerospace startup secures $20M series A investment round

Houston-based Venus Aerospace has raised $20 million — and is one step closer to providing one-hour global travel. Photo courtesy of Venus Aerospace

A year after raising $3 million in seed funding, a Space City startup has closed its high-flying series A round to the tune of $20 million.

Venus Aerospace, which is working on a zero-carbon emission spaceplane that will enable one-hour global travel, closed its series A funding round led by Wyoming-based Prime Movers Lab. The firm has a few dozen breakthrough scientific companies in its portfolio, including another Houston-based, space-focused startup, Axiom Space. The round also saw participation from previous investors: Draper Associates, Boost, Saturn 5, Seraph Group, Cantos, The Helm & Tamarack Global.

Venus Aerospace was founded by Sarah "Sassie" and Andrew Duggleby, who serve as the company's CEO and CTO, respectively, in 2020 in California. The Texas A&M University alumni later moved the business into its current facilities in the Houston Spaceport.

"The U.S. is in the middle of a global race for hypersonic technology, and the breakthroughs being developed by Sassie, Andrew, and their team have numerous civilian and defense applications," says Prime Movers Lab General Partner Brandon Simmons in a news release. "Venus hit critical engine tests, vehicle design, and growth milestones that make me tremendously excited about the future of American hypersonic flight." Click here to read more.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based Melax Tech has developed multiple Natural language processing tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations. Photo via MelaxTech.com

Melax Tech Partners, a leader in natural language technology processing, announced a new partnership with the University of California at Irvine that will help researchers derive insights from the UCI Health Data Science Platform’s electronic health records system and improve patient care.

Melax will implement its signature text annotation tool LANN to pull information from clinical notes, and its CLAMP product to develop natural language processing customizations through the use of AI, according to a statement from the company.

“There has been a strong desire among UCI researchers to have the capability to analyze free-text clinical narrative data using cutting-edge NLP technologies," Kai Zheng, chief research information officer at UCI Health Affairs, says in a statement. "We are delighted to have this opportunity to work with Melax Tech to deploy their AI-driven annotation and analytics tools to help our researchers advance their research agenda by leveraging the vast amount of free-text data that our health system has accumulated in the past two decades.”

Natural language processing, or NLP, allows organizations and healthcare groups to sift through and analyze massive amounts of data at a rapid rate through the use of machine learning and AI. Houston-based Melax Tech, founded in 2017, has developed multiple NLP tools that are used by more than 650 health care and life science organizations, according to its website.

In addition to the recent partnership with UC Irvine, Melax has also recently partnered with Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Western Pennsylvania on similar clinical projects.

Melax has also used its platforms to pull vital information from datasets relating to COVID-19, in both medical and social settings.

In March 2022, it was awarded a Phase 1 NIH Award, valued at $300,000, to develop informatics tools based on COVID-19 datasets with the San Diego Supercomputer Center at UC San Diego. The tool aims to help researchers better understand vast amounts of virus-related data and connect findings with other similar results.

In August, Melax also received another $300,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop NLP-based algorithms that will "model, extract and synthesize vaccine misinformation from multiple popular social media sources," according to a statement. Melax will also develop a visualization that presents its findings on the misinformation into a compressible format.

"This is a very real topic affecting culture at present," Andre Pontin, CEO at Melax Tech, says in a statement. "And shows that we as a collective business and group of experts continue to be on the cutting-edge of science in the NLP and AI domain."

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