#StartupsEverywhere: Houston, Texas

#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Tom Luby, director, TMC Innovation

This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.


Finding and Commercializing Healthcare Solutions in Houston

TMC Innovation, a sector of the Texas Medical Center, provides resources to healthcare startups from around the world so they can commercialize solutions to meet the needs of their member institutions. Tom Luby, director of TMC Innovation, recently spoke with us about the institute’s work and role in the American innovation industry.

Can you tell us about the structure of TMC Innovation and what programs and organizations are included in this network?

TMC Innovation is an umbrella organization that is focused on bringing together healthcare focused talent and resources into the same physical space. The talent includes healthcare start-ups, the TMC Innovation team as well as the members of the innovation community from across Texas Medical Center.  This includes our advisor network, EIRs, alumni companies, employees of the medical center institutions, and our corporate partners. Our resources include the TMCx accelerator program, TMCx+ co-working space, our Biodesign fellowship program, TMC Venture Fund, corporate partners, service providers, and other investors. This community is located in a former cookie factory which allow us to collaborate with each other easily - the space houses a Starbucks and even a wine bar! 

What is your background and how did it lead you to your current role?

I am a trained scientist with a PhD in Immunology from Tufts University. I spent the first 10 years of my career at a biotech startup in Boston and slowly moved into business development roles at several larger companies, including Johnson & Johnson in Boston. While at J&J in Boston, I was offered the opportunity to move to the company’s JLABS site in Houston, which is part of the shared work space at TMC Innovation. At JLABS, I was exposed to what is being built here and saw an opportunity to get more involved in the TMC Innovation space. Moving over from my work at JLABS, I am now the Director of TMC Innovation, which means I am part of the team responsible for curating, coordinating, and supporting all of the talent, resources, and space on our campus. 

What are some major differences you have noticed in the startup ecosystems of Boston and Houston?

Boston’s biotech market has been developing since the 1970s. When I started in biotech in Boston in the 90s, the total startup presence was much smaller than it is now. It has been remarkable to see what has transpired in Boston since then with the explosive start-up growth as well as the number of healthcare corporations that have moved in; it is now arguably just as much of a healthcare corporate city as it is a healthcare start-up city. With that background in mind, it is not really fair to compare Houston to Boston without rolling back the tape in Boston by about 20 years. The density of healthcare startups in Houston is increasing, and there are more corporate partners popping up that are looking to support healthcare startups. I think Houston is poised for a sustained run in healthcare, but it is still in the early stages in comparison to Boston. 

How is TMC Innovation filling a gap in the American innovation industry?

At TMC Innovation, we are very focused on the commercialization of products and services in healthcare. We have the advantage of being embedded in the middle of the world’s largest medical city, which houses some of the best medical institutions in the world. We think if we can help startups be commercially successful here, then they will have a significant impact on a much broader scale in the United States and beyond. 

Where is your startup network concentrated geographically?

Our startup network is spread all over the world. Of course, we have companies from Texas, but we also have recruited a number from California – especially in the digital health field. We also attract many companies from the UK and Australia where we have established formal Biobridges. We also see a number from Israel, and others are spread out across the rest of the EU. We are focused on finding the best healthcare startup teams, with diverse healthcare solutions, and then attracting them to come to the world’s largest medical city. We are very comfortable looking globally for healthcare solutions that we think will meet the needs of our member institutions and our corporate partners.

What are some policy concerns you face from a national and state perspective?

From a Texas Medical Center standpoint, TMC’s Health Policy Institute, which is run by Dr. Tim Garson, has published extensively on some of the things we are thinking about on access and affordability to healthcare on a national scale.

In terms of Texas state policy, we are looking forward to the November 5th ballot where Texans will vote on the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) renewal. We are hopeful that voters in Texas will approve this, which would allow for an additional $3 billion in bond-funded initiatives for cancer research. This would continue to propel Texas forward as one of the best places for cancer care, cancer research, and cancer prevention.

What is on the horizon for TMC Innovation?

TMC remains steadfast in its support of our innovation initiatives, and we have an incredible combination of talent, resources, and space that we’ve pulled together. To date, we are approaching over 300 startups that have spent time with us in the last five years. We also have continually growing corporate partnerships; we just added ABB Robotics to the network. With access to some of the top healthcare institutions at the world’s largest medical city, we have created a place where healthcare startups can come and expect to have an increased probability of success from working and growing within this environment. 

All of the information in this profile was accurate at the date and time of publication.

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