New Space Health Challenge Aimed at Life Science Innovators

Xconomy Texas — 

An important untapped resource for biotech researchers? That’s the final frontier.

So say the organizers of a new startup initiative called the Launch Health Challenge, a year-long effort to help healthcare entrepreneurs leverage the environment of space in order to accelerate their proposed medical devices and, possibly, therapies.

“Many researchers don’t know how easy it can be to payload” experiments onto the International Space Station, says Brian Lang, the founder of Energizing Health, which is producing the space health challenge. “There is a real opportunity to use zero-gravity to move experiments forward.”

The initiative was announced Thursday at the first Spacecom conference, a three-day event that brought together academics, researchers, investors, and those from the defense community interested in a post-NASA private-sector space industry.

Starting in January, the program will hold monthly programs for entrepreneurs interested in space. The idea is to get startups in shape to pitch at next year’s Spacecom conference for $50,000, and a place in the DreamIt Accelerator’s program, which will be opening a Houston hub.

Houston has a number of efforts geared toward boosting space-related entrepreneurship. The Houston-based National Space and Biomedical Research Institute in Houston, a venture capital arm of NASA that provides seed funding to healthIT and biotech startups nationally.

As NASA has increasingly sought to commercialize its technologies, a cluster of startups have formed around the Johnson Space Center. Among them are Intuitive Machines, which creates software for oil companies to use technologies developed in space for more precise drilling, and Nanoracks, a space tech company that sells to researchers access to lab space at the International Space Station that is also working with Blue Origin to lift experiments to the edge of space. Houston also has plans for a Spaceport—which would be the 10th such facility in the United States—and would include an incubator program to entice other entrepreneurs to join those ranks.

“We really think this is going to be the time when we get these innovations out of NASA and into things that can help people on Earth,” says Steven Gonzalez of NASA’s strategic partnership office.