Every day, innovative solutions in health care are redefining the boundaries of possibility. In the world of wound closure, where staples and sutures can create an entry point for infections, the next generation of surgical adhesives looms on the horizon. While identifying cognitive impairment—from sideline concussion assessment to early detection of Alzheimer’s—can seem nebulous and imprecise, a mobile tablet technology seeks to detect issues of brain functionality in five minutes or less. Despite meticulous efforts to scrub away mold and mildew, health care-acquired infections and allergens in our schools, homes and workplaces still seep through—but one company’s antimicrobial technology aims to fill in those gaps. As a multitude of different electronic medical records applications are brought into the clinical landscape, innovators are striving to make the Texas Medical Center the most interoperable health network on the planet.
These breakthroughs represent just a few of the companies that were welcomed into the inaugural class of TMC|X—the accelerator program that serves as one of the core components of the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Institute. Housed within a stylish 100,000-square-foot facility, almost unrecognizable from its former days as a Nabisco cookie factory, barring the original factory floors and pipes, TMC|X is designed to catapult the development of early-stage companies. Hailing from across the globe, including Germany, Israel and throughout the United States, 22 TMC|X startups were selected from a pool of over 260 applicants.
“We’re extremely proud to welcome the first class of startup companies into TMC|X,” announced Robert C. Robbins, M.D., president and chief executive officer of the Texas Medical Center. “Our job here is to help make you successful in every way that we possibly can—to help you realize your hopes and your dreams. There is no doubt that your talents and innovations will change not only Houston, but the world.”
In choosing companies that would help establish the burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem of TMC|X, and winnow down the expansive pool of applicants, no corners were cut.
“Our intention was always to take a select number of companies,” explained William F. McKeon, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Texas Medical Center. “We wanted the best of the best so that we could really focus our resources around these companies—it’s about helping them achieve success while connecting them with the resources available in the heart of this incredible medical city.
“The unifying thread is that our team who looked at this really identified companies that have the potential to advance care,” he added. “Whether that’s in the form of a technology to monitor blood loss during surgery or a new method of wound care, in each case we truly felt they had something compelling to offer to the medical community.”
In navigating the rigorous application and interview process—one that included an online peer-review evaluation that ranked all 260 companies followed by a more comprehensive examination by a multidisciplinary team—a cross-section of advisors from Texas Medical Center institutions and the Houston community all provided equal input.
“Having broad representation from across the medical center is absolutely critical to our success,” noted George L. McLendon, Ph.D., the Howard R. Hughes Provost and professor of chemistry at Rice University, who acted as an advisor during the selection process. “All of us tried to review companies as thoroughly as we could so that we could get good collective input on not only the strength of their organization, but the fit to what we were trying to accomplish within the Texas Medical Center.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Alexander Izaguirre, Ph.D., vice president and chief technology officer of information technology at Baylor College of Medicine, who also lent his expertise. “I think there’s a hidden gem here that hasn’t been talked about—these companies are seeking out opportunities among all of us, and they’re the ones who are going to hear what our needs are,” he said. “Inherently, in the process, they’re going to shine a spotlight on all of these collaborative opportunities. I’m really excited to see how this plays out.”
Thorsten Melcher, senior director of new ventures and partnerships at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, as well as a TMC|X advisor, provided some input on the qualities that pave the path to commercialization for aspiring startups. “Success is really dictated by the three ‘T’s: technology, team and timing,” he observed. “Those things have to come together in some sort of productive configuration and it has to be something that is financeable. By being a part of TMC|X, and paying close attention during the selection process, hopefully we’ll be able to avoid some common pitfalls that entrepreneurs encounter.”
The Texas Medical Center and Johnson & Johnson Innovation continue to solidify their relationship, sowing the seeds for the arrival of JLABS @TMC—an addition to Johnson & Johnson’s network of life science incubators that will include a new facility located within the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Institute.
TMC|X will provide a comprehensive and practical curriculum to assist participating founders on their entrpreneurial path. Startups will spend the first two weeks of the program in Lean Launch Boot Camp—an intensive series of workshops, presentations and hands-on events to crystallize their value proposition, determine their market fit and glean insights through customer discovery. LaunchPad Central, an organization striving to accelerate commercialization and uncover opportunities for growth for early-stage companies, led the Lean Launch Boot Camp. The roots of their approach can be traced to co-founder Steve Blank’s lean methodology for rapid iteration and growth—they have since become the gold standard for startups, accelerators, governments and large corporations seeking to speed up the trajectory from idea to impact.
“We’re here to help kick off this accelerator,” explained Andrea Kates, chief executive officer of LaunchPad Central. “The conventional approach focuses on things like benchmarks, market research, focus groups and other traditional tools—but it turns out those elements don’t work that well in taking a startup from the initial idea to commercial success. One of our mantras is to ‘get out of the building’ or ‘get out of the laboratory.’ We have our entrepreneurs go out into the market and dig in deeply, in the form of over 100 customer discovery interviews, to figure out the right customer for their idea.”
Following the Lean Launch Boot Camp are a series of topical sessions and workshops structured to help startups surpass common hurdles in commercializing medical technologies. Successful entrepreneurs, subject-matter experts, industry professionals and hospital leaders will guide the participating companies in everything from intellectual property to fundraising.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve had a very successful research track, and all of our technology has been well received in the academic world, but now we need to figure out how to get it off the bench so that people can utilize it,” said Brooke Russell, Ph.D., vice president of EMC Technologies—a company that is designing collagens for biomedical needs—as well as assistant professor at the Center for Infectious and Inflammatory Disease at Texas A&M Health Science Center Houston (TAMHSC) Institute of Biosciences and Technology. “I hope that we come out of this program with a well-formulated business model and a clear path towards our first clinical trial.”
For Delafield Solutions, a company aiming to provide round-the-clock, real-time disinfection of air and surfaces in office and health care environments, the wealth of clinical settings available are a rich deposit for validating their product’s viability. “We’re constantly looking to challenge our technology,” said Jeff Castille, executive vice president of operations at Delafield Solutions. “We’ve learned that to properly represent our capabilities, we have to be tested in a lab environment. It’s about verifying whether or not we have a product that can be commercialized in that context—we believe we do, and we’re looking for opportunities to prove that.”
In cultivating an entrepreneurial ecosystem, connecting people and resources isn’t always enough. For Niko Skievaski, co-founder of Redox, a company aiming to make it easier to integrate with electronic medical records, knitting together institutions electronically as well as interpersonally is key.
“We’re trying to solve a problem that is one of the biggest issues of technology adoption in health care,” he said. “We want to figure out how to make this medical center one of the most interoperable places in the country. If the Texas Medical Center is going to establish itself as the hub of innovation, that innovation can’t happen without technology adoption, and technology adoption can’t happen without some sort of interoperability solution.”
Some companies have crossed oceans to be here at TMC|X. Alexander Schueller, president of Medical Adhesive Revolution—a company that has developed a polyurethane surgical adhesive with the potential to reinvent wound closure—came all the way from Germany to access the treasure trove of opportunities that the Texas Medical Center offers. “Being here, we have a unique inroad to the Texas Medical Center—its resources, people and key opinion leaders that will help us shape our strategy,” he said. “The mentorship that goes along with this program is going to be a huge component—there are some very advanced and experienced people here to support us. Most importantly, the environment that they’ve been creating here for all of the teams is so rewarding. I’m looking forward to exchanging ideas with these amazing people. It’s all about helping each other.”
Enveloped by that atmosphere of solidarity and support, it’s hard to imagine what these companies aren’t capable of achieving.