TMCx, the health IT accelerator hosted by Houston’s Texas Medical Center, held its first demo day last week, an important milestone for the Houston institution as it aims to help boost the city’s life sciences ecosystem.
The class was composed of 21 startups that participated in the six-month program, pitching innovative projects such as absorbable medical devices (Adient Medical), custom collagens (ECM Technologies), and software that can monitor the amount of blood loss during surgical procedures (Gauss Surgical).
“This was a wide array of really cool technology from practical to whiz-bang,” said David Schubert, chief operating officer with Accelerator in New York who formerly headed up a Rice University consortium to find promising biotech companies. “There was a spirit of entrepreneurialism here that this community has lacked.”
What was distinctive about the accelerator’s inaugural class was the maturity level of several of its companies. The average age of the entrepreneurs is 38, and several companies already have customers. These include BrainCheck, which has tablet-based software that can analyze cognitive function in the case of concussions, for example; and Delafield Solutions, which has a device that continuously emits hydrogen peroxide to kill bacteria, viruses, and molds in healthcare environments and sports facilities.
Another of the companies making rapid progress was Medical Adhesive Revolution, a German-born company that opened a Houston office after it won the $200,000 Goose prize at last year’s Rice Business Plan competition. (Goose is the group of Houston-based super angel investors led by Vanguard Ventures co-founder and Rice University professor Jack Gill.)
A few other notable companies include Noninvasix, a University of Texas Medical Branch technology that can measure oxygenation of a fetus’s brain during labor; and Laser Tissue Welding, which is for organs that can’t be easily sutured and is in phase 1 clinical trials. One company, iShoe, which is developing technology pioneered at NASA, has developed a scale that can track how likely a person is to fall. “It’s non-sexy, falls,” says Brett Giroir, the former CEO of the Texas A&M University Health Science Center and now an advisor at TMC. “But it’s a $34 billion market.”
All in all, nearly 400 investors, academics, and entrepreneurs from Houston’s life sciences community were in attendance. In between pitches, the TMC shared updates on other projects leaders there view as important to boosting Houston’s prowess in life sciences commercialization.
One potentially key change would be to put in place a single IRB (institutional review board) process that would allow a much more streamlined process for drug companies seeking to do clinical trials among the medical center’s dozens of institutions. Currently, there are 29 IRBs in place, which means research studies can take two years to get approved.
The medical center is also planning “TMC3,” an ambitious real estate project south of the current center’s campus, which would be made up of residential, retail, and major corporate headquarters and research space all targeting bio innovation. (Bill McKeon, the TMC’s executive vice president, chief operating officer, and chief strategy officer, showed the audience a rendering of the project, which includes a glass-walled building in the shape of a double helix.)
TMC leaders last fall announced it would run a new accelerator dedicated to young bio- and medical-tech companies and announced the initial cohort in January. TMCx houses and nurtures the companies free of charge; the medical center did not take a stake in any of the companies.
“There are so many accelerators around,” said Bobby Robbins, TMC’s president and CEO. “The uniqueness of ours is number one, we’re embedded in the middle of the world’s largest medical center.”