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Houston’s TMCx Accelerator Debuts First Class of Device Startups

Xconomy Texas — 

[Corrected 12/01/16, 10:19 am. See below.Houston—The Texas Medical Center’s startup accelerator TMCx will host a demo day Thursday featuring medical device startups.

The group of nine startups have been housed at TMCx over the last three months working on projects including devices for more precise spinal tap procedures, an exoskeleton for seniors and the physically disabled, and a closed-loop catheter system for liver patients, among others.

The demo day brings to an end the second of two classes of startups at TMCx this year. The first class, which specialized in digital health, presented in front of investors in June. TMC split the program in two this year after hosting its first accelerator class last year without having those companies specialize.

“From a curriculum standpoint, you have one track on how to build and scale and run a business that’s relevant to all [healthcare startups],” says Erik Halvorsen, the chief of TMC’s Innovation Institute, which runs the accelerator. “But to be able to customize the other track to be very specific for medical devices from prototyping, design, materials, regulatory path, preclinical and clinical testing, we can really focus on their needs.”

Halvorsen says he has seen the founders bond over the shared experience of building a healthcare startup, but has also been struck by the sheer diversity of the entrepreneurs. “We’ve got companies from all over the country and Mexico; the founders are international,” he says. “But the range of ages: we’ve got entrepreneurs in their young 20s and two founders—a husband and wife—who are in their 70s. It’s fascinating to have them in the mix.”

These are the startups making their pitches today:

Allotrope Medical (Houston): Provides precise ureter identification during minimally invasive surgery.
Blumio (San Francisco): Is developing a sensor that can measure blood pressure continuously, without the need to rely on the use of an inflatable cuff.  [Due to incorrect information provided, a company no longer part of the class was included in the list and Bloomio was left out.]
Briteseed (Chicago): Is developing smart surgical tools for surgeons.
Flexios (Houston): Provides streamlined surgical solutions for tendon repair that it claims improve strength, smoothness, and patient satisfaction.
IntuiTap Medical (Houston): Is a handheld device that aims to eliminate the guesswork from spinal taps.
Otricath (Houston): Is a closed-loop catheter system that it says changes the rules in the delivery of treatment for liver cancer.
NovaScan (Milwaukee): Developed an oncology diagnostic platform that aims to provide highly accurate, instantaneous detection of cancer without capital equipment.
Voyager Biomedical (College Station, TX): Developed a tool for what it says is better vascular access in dialysis patients.
WeaRobot (Monterrey, Mexico): Has developed an exoskeleton for seniors and the physically impaired.

The conclusion of programming for this latest startup cohort also comes about a year after the TMC announced that Halvorsen would be coming to Houston from Boston. A veteran of tech transfer and commercialization efforts at Harvard and Tufts universities and Boston Children’s Hospital, Halvorsen has presided over an expansion of TMC’s efforts to boost healthcare innovation.

In addition to beefing up the staff at the TMC Innovation Institute, the TMC has in the last year entered into partnerships designed to position Houston as a hub driving new advances in technology that are designed to make healthcare delivery better and more efficient.

Mostly recently, heart surgeon and serial entrepreneur William Cohn, who had been at the Texas Heart Institute, was appointed to be the first director of Johnson & Johnson Innovation’s new Center for Device Innovation, an entity that will work closely with TMCx’s device startups, Halvorsen says.

In March, the multinational pharmaceutical company opened its latest JLabs outpost at the TMC complex, which is home to more than 20 biotech startups seeking collaborations with J&J and the TMC. In June, telecommunications giant AT&T unveiled a Houston-based entity of its in-house skunkworks called Connected Health Foundry.

The goal for TMC, as well as for AT&T and J&J, is to harness the research capabilities, patient population, and potential entrepreneurs that exist at the medical center’s 50-plus institutions.

Connecting startup founders to people in relevant roles at those institutions can sometimes be a challenge, Halvorsen says. The effort is worth it, though, he adds. “The institutions are a tremendous resource to any early stage company,” he says.

The key, he adds, is finding the right people who have the time and capacity to take on pilot projects and work with startup founders seeking hands-on guidance. “It’s one of the biggest value-adds that our accelerator has over anyone else,” he says.

A year in, Halvorsen points to at least one metric of success: TMCx has received more than 100 applications for next year’s digital health startup class. “Applications don’t close until December,” he says. “The startup companies are telling other entrepreneurs about us. They are reaching out and saying, we want to be there.”