funds for the future

Houston-based research grant program doles out $23M to Texas scientists

The Welch Foundation has announced millions in Texas research funding. Photo via Getty Images

One of the nation's largest private funders for health care research has announced $23 million in fresh funds — and about a third of that is going into the hands of Houstonians.

The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, announced its 2021 research grant funding last week. Over the next three years, the funds will be be distributed in $7,520,000 payouts annually across the state of Texas. Since its founding in 1954, the foundation has doled out almost $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry.

"Ongoing basic chemical research is critical and provides the building blocks to help solve current and future problems," says Adam Kuspa, president of The Welch Foundation, in a news release. "Funding from The Welch Foundation is a valuable resource to Texas institutions. It helps set our state's researchers apart from others and we look forward to seeing what invaluable scientific contributions come from this year's grant recipients."

The universities in the Houston area that received a cut of this chunk of funding include Rice University, Texas A&M University, University of Houston, and Baylor College of Medicine for a total of $8,400,000 across 35 grants.

One of the Houston-area researchers who received funding is Leila Romero, assistant professor and CPRIT Scholar in Cancer Research at Baylor University's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Romero and her team is exploring modes of asymmetric catalysis and to study how these new processes work. According to the release, the funding will also support the training of young graduate students at the institution who are on track to become future innovators in chemical synthesis.

Other Texas institutions in other major cities also received funding:

  • The Dallas/Fort Worth area received funding for 42 grants, totaling $10,080,000. The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, The University of Texas at Dallas, University of North Texas, Baylor University, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Christian University were the recipient institutions.
  • In Austin, the University of Texas Received funding for 11 grants, totaling $2,640,000.
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio and Trinity University received the three grants — totaling $720,000 — that went to the San Antonio area.
  • In West Texas, The University of Texas at El Paso received funding for 1 grant, totaling $240,000.
  • Texas Tech University received funding for two grants, totaling $480,000

Last year, the Welch Foundation announced a $100 million gift to Rice University to establish The Welch Institute. The institute will foster the study of matter, the design and discovery of new materials, and nanotechnology, and it will be led by an independent board of directors and scientific advisory board.

Kuspa, who's led the foundation since September 2019, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast last December to discuss the new institute and the importance of supporting researchers in Texas.


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Building Houston

 
 

These three startups walked away from a pitch competition with thousands of dollars in equity-free prizes. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Three startups founded by Rice University graduates have won investment prizes at an annual pitch competition.

The annual H. Albert Napier Rice Launch Challenge, or NRLC, welcomed a panel of judges to hear from six alumni-founded startups in the finals last week. The prizes on the line totaled $65,000 in equity-free funding. The event, which is separate from the student version of the competition, is hosted by Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The big winner of the 2022 competition was Rhythio Medical, a preventative heart arrhythmias treatment startup. The company won first place, which included $30,000 in equity-free funding, as well as the Audience Choice Award that came with $1,500.

Taking second place, Synopic, which facilitates faster and more accurate surgical procedures through improved endoscopic vision technology, won $20,000 in equity-free funding. Lastly, Green Room, a platform that streamlines taxes and payments for touring artists, clinched third place and $15,000.

The event, named for Rice professor emeritus and entrepreneurship program founder H. Albert Napier, was sponsored by Mercury Fund, T-Minus Solutions and Chevron Technology Ventures. This year's finalists were selected by judges made up of Rice alumni. Three judges — Danielle Conkling, director at Silicon Valley Bank, Paul Manwell, senior director at Google, and Joanna Nathan, manager of new ventures at Johnson & Johnson — listened to and evaluated each company's five-minute pitch and followed up with questions.

Rhythio Medical was founded by CEO Kunal Shah, class of 2022, and Savannah Esteve, who also serves as head of product. The technology includes a surgically injected wire that makes an irregular heart work like a healthy one. It works alongside a traditional implantable cardioverter defibrillator, however, the wire but works to prevent arrhythmias, while ICDs treat arrhythmias with a painful shock to the patient’s heart. The company lists the Texas Heart Institute and the University of Texas at Austin as its research partners.

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