Houston voices

Here's what makes a startup stand out, according to University of Houston research

From pitching to value proposition, here's what you should be thinking about to make your company stand out. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

During your pitch, investors will be looking to see what your startup's value proposition is. What can you offer that your competitors cannot?

Imagine if you will, your startup develops a watch that can detect when you're about to have a heart attack, and automatically sends an alert with your location to 911.

You've perfected the design and engineering intricacies of the device. It's ready to go out and save lives, and make you tons of money in the process.

Now imagine you can't get this product off the ground because your pitches keep falling flat. Investors don't have confidence in you as an entrepreneur, even if your product is amazing. Remember, you can have an awesome product, but you won't reap any rewards if that awesomeness cannot be expressed to financial gatekeepers.

That's where the art of the pitch matters. Pitching to a venture capitalist might be the most vital part of your startup's success. This is where you express how important your product is or how in demand your services are. This is where you convince investors your product (and you) is worth investing in.

Next, you'll have to determine your company's value proposition, which is the heart of your competitive advantage. This tells venture capitalists why they should invest in your company and not others.

Investors are putting their money and reputation on the line for your company. Their leap of faith has to be as educated as possible. If you can educate them very thoroughly why your startup is different, why it stands out from the rest, investors will feel much more comfortable with their decision to reject other bids in favor of yours.

You don't only need to convince them to choose your company, you also need to convince them that rejecting the other companies won't come back to bite them in the rear. Nobody likes to live with regret, least of all people who put themselves in a position to lose millions of their dollars on a bad decision. The best way to reaffirm an investor's faith in your company is to provide a product or service that is fairly new to the market. New products mean less saturation and higher demand, especially if the product solves a problem or provides a unique function.

There are plenty of toasters on the market, but what about wireless toasters? Outdoors-people everywhere would surely line up to buy that. You're providing a product of real value to a certain sect of people. Your competitive advantage is that your toaster is wireless and portable. That would be your company's value proposition to your investor.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Rene Cantu is the writer and editor at UH Division of Research.

Breakthrough research on metastatic breast cancer, a new way to turn toxic pollutants into valuable chemicals, and an evolved brain tumor chip are three cancer-fighting treatments coming out of Houston. Getty Inages

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

Photo via uh.edu

A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

Photo via rice.edu

Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."