New McNair Ignition Fund Pledges $3M to Boost Houston Tech Startups

As many as 30 Houston tech startups could receive $25,000 in investment next year thanks to the McNair Houston Ignition Fund.

The fund is sponsored by the McNair Group, a financial and real estate firm owned by Houston Texans owner Bob McNair. McNair is investing $1 million a year for three years to boost tech startups—$25,000 at a time—that are hosted at the Houston Technology Center.

The first $25,000 award was given to Integrated Bionics, a Houston medtech startup that makes a headband with a sensor that can track the magnitude of hits received by an athlete, with a light that flashes after a particularly hard hit. The idea is to better gauge number and severity of concussions suffered.

“A month ago, I had a customer call me and ask, when are you ready?” says Stéphane Smith, founder and CEO of Integrated Bionics. “We’re still working on securing our IP and getting further down our commercialization process. This money will enable our beta testing and get athletes wearing the headbands.”

In particular, Smith says he is targeting girls’ and women’s athletics. “Women’s sports have been underserved, especially from the technology standpoint,” he says. “But girls are earlier adopters of technology and they care more about their health.”

The new fund was announced Friday at the end of HTC’s “graduation day,” when the organization celebrates clients that have achieved significant milestones. This year’s graduates included a handful of medtech and cleantech companies, including PipeWrap, which makes a composite that covers oil and gas pipes to prevent leaks and corrosion. PipeWrap was sold to Spartanburg, S.C.-based Milliken Infrastructure Solutions before it even finished the incubator program.

Another of the companies was Houston Medical Robotics, which is making image-guided hand-held robotics for use in various health care applications. It was founded by HTC alumnus Jeff Sheldon, who last year sold his medtech company Idev Technologies to Abbott Laboratories. Idev made stents used by interventional radiologists, vascular surgeons, and cardiologists to treat blockages in arteries in the leg.

Walter Ulrich, the HTC’s president and CEO, says he expects about 30 tech startups to receive McNair grants in 2015, with up to 40 the year after. Each of those companies must sign on to the HTC’s accelerator and be screened by the council’s executive board, of which Scott Schwinger, McNair Group’s president and CEO, is a member. “These are companies that are going to change the world,” Ulrich says.

Getting more money earlier, and proving—or not—concepts earlier is key, says Stephen White, founder of Qukku, an online marketing startup. “This allows them to move on to the next idea,” he says. “Founders are like feral animals. They can’t stop at just one idea.”


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