Incubating medical opportunity in Houston accelerator

Incubating medical opportunity
in Houston accelerator

by LISA POPE-WESTERMAN and JOHN HABA, Gensler | June 8, 2015

This article is the third in series on Academic Incubators from Gensler's Design Thinking blog. To read the previous entry, click here.

Bold ideas like the Texas Medical Center’s new TMCx business accelerator can change cities and affect the lives of millions of people the world over. Not only will new discoveries born at TMCx reflect well on its hometown, Houston, they could also change the future of healthcare delivery and advance care.

It takes visionary leadership to set a course that can lead to that type of transformation. The new leaders of the Texas Medical Center, Dr. Robert Robbins and William McKeon, have made it their mission to shine the world’s spotlight on Houston and the Texas Medical Center. Their goal is nothing less than changing the world by supporting early stage biomedical companies to develop breakthrough ideas and technologies.

Many people are unaware that the Texas Medical Center (TMC) in Houston is the largest medical center in the world with 21 hospitals, 7,000 patient beds, and over 7.2 million patients a year. Doctors, nurses, scientists and other health professionals come from all over the world to receive their training at many of TMC’s member institutions—MD Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Methodist, Texas Children’s Hospital, The University of Texas Health Science Center, and others.

TMCx provides life science & digital health entrepreneurs with free space to dream and share. Image © Shau Lin Hon

TMCx provides life science & digital health entrepreneurs with free space to dream and share. Image © Shau Lin Hon

Up until recently, most of these institutions conducted their own research within their own walls with limited collaboration with each other. But Robbins, McKeon and the rest of the TMC leadership have set a plan in motion to change that. They are bringing the best and brightest minds to Houston and providing them with the support they need to bring their ideas to market.

An important element of this initiative is a six-month business accelerator program located in an innovative co-working space near the TMC main campus. Life science and digital health entrepreneurs accepted into the TMCx program are provided a collaborative work environment, legal, business and regulatory advisors at no cost. TMCx also has funds and is willing to invest in promising startups. TMCx is the connective tissue between all of the medical center’s institutions.

Located in a former Nabisco factory which has been converted into office, lab and maker spaces, TMCx offers a 30,000-sf, 24/7 co-working site with seminar and training spaces, recreation area, kitchens, conference rooms, and more.  Built to accommodate 50 start-up companies, TMCx features lots of natural light, tall ceilings, bold graphics, and flexible furniture that can adapt as work requires.

Bold graphics set the tone for the forward-leaning workspace. Image © Shau Lin Hon

Bold graphics set the tone for the forward-leaning workspace. Image © Shau Lin Hon

Various degrees of group interaction are built into the design of the space, yet all of it is easily reconfigured to meet individual user needs.  It’s a hackable workplace. A portal that separates the front of the house from the workspace was inspired by the movie ‘Being John Malkovich’.  It embodies the whole idea of a transition moment between the ‘real world’ and a more free-thinking space. The space preserves elements of its industrial roots—concrete floors, industrial lighting, etc.  Environmental graphics throughout have bold messaging and feature patent drawings for game changing innovations.

Reconfigurable furniture enables users to ‘hack’ the workplace. Image © Shau Lin Hon

Reconfigurable furniture enables users to ‘hack’ the workplace. Image © Shau Lin Hon

What sets this business accelerator apart is that the purpose is not to mine talent or use innovations as an investment vehicle, it is purely to help promising ideas and entrepreneurs bring their products to market.  When companies graduate from the six-month TMCx program, they can move into an adjacent facility which provides small office suites and amenity areas, dubbed "TMCx-plus".

Not only does TMC hope this program will spur revolutionary new ideas that will improve human health and healthcare delivery around the world, it also wants to provide these new companies incentives to stay in Houston.  The fiscal and intellectual capital benefit to the city could be very significant. Houston has always been a place where people dream big. TMCx and the TMC leadership are continuing that legacy.

Lisa Pope-Westerman is a design director in Gensler’s Houston office. During her 18-year career, Lisa has designed a variety of award-winning restaurant, retail, and hospitality projects. Her projects are innovative and distinguished by their urban sensibility. Contact her at

John Haba is a 10-year veteran at Gensler. He has a passion to work closely with clients to create elegant architectural solutions that work on multiple levels—for the people who will occupy them, for the owners’ bottom line, and for the communities that surround them. John’s construction management, technical design and project management skills consistently make him the “go to” guy. Contact him at

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