Sports Talk

Inaugural panel discussion dives deep into emerging tech partnerships

Courtesy photo

On March 24, more than 100 guests gathered at alliantgroup's head-turning conference center in the Galleria area for an exciting discussion on the sportstech industry, co-sponsored by InnovationMap. The panelists included Houston-based thought leaders, founders, and investors who shared their insights while discussing how the city of Houston can emerge as a leader in sports technology.

With the backdrop of Houston’s skyline, the event began with an hour of networking, drinks, and light bites. Then alliantgroup’s CEO, Dhaval Jadav, kicked off the discussion by sharing his enthusiasm for the inaugural Future Focus series and introduced David Gow as the moderator for the night’s topic.

Gow is the CEO of Gow Media and the CEO of a SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Corp) that has raised $115 million to invest in sportstech. He explained how “technology is transforming the sports industry, creating new billion-dollar industries seemingly overnight.”

He defined sportstech within four categories: health and performance, fan engagement, e-sports, and fantasy and gambling. Across these categories, technology is enabling interconnectedness through social interaction, new communities, improved health, subscriber-based business models, software as a service, and new revenue streams.

And this doesn’t even do justice to all the changes happening with NIL, NFTs and Web3.

The panel included an all-star cast, with two from academia, an executive from the Houston Astros, and two sportstech entrepreneurs:

  • Beena George, chief innovation officer and professor of management at University of St. Thomas
  • Tom Stallings, professor of sports management at Rice University
  • Jimmy Comerota, director of strategic partnerships for the Houston Astros
  • Dez, co-creator of Apollo Houston
  • Jorge Ortiz, CEO of VarsityHype

Future Focus sportstech

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Gow began by asking the panelists “which innovation intrigues you the most?” and responses ranged from wearables to enhance wellness to new training equipment to the rise of e-sports and the metaverse, the latter of which Ortiz displayed particular enthusiasm about. He has already made a bet on the future — last year he bought a tavern in the metaverse, naming it “Isla,” after his newborn.

Gow cited Houston-based company nVenue as being well positioned for the future of sports betting.

“The company will profit from microbetting, which is rapid bets on individual moments within a game, e.g. a bet on whether a batter will get on base, etc," said Gow. "It takes raw, historical data, such as a batting average, and turns it into betting odds real-time, pitch by pitch.”

George noted that University of St. Thomas now has an e-sports team. “The young demo in e-sports suggests a high-growth future,” she shared.

The panel agreed that we are already seeing the impacts on the merging of sports and technology and how it’s shaping our engagement here in Houston.

"Everyone that knows me knows that I am a sports fanatic, and I was absolutely blown away by the panel and their discussion on what’s on the horizon for the fan experience," said Jadav. "I was riveted by the discussion and they covered so many exciting topics. I am also super excited about how Web3 and the metaverse will change how we interact with athletes and creatives and create a more immersive experience for all. I can’t wait for the next event.”

Future Focus: Sportstech was the first of many planned discussions that alliantgroup and InnovationMap are hosting. The series was created as a way for industry leaders and burgeoning startups to exchange ideas and talk about what the future of technology looks like for all of us.

The next event will focus on spacetech and is scheduled for May 5. It will be moderated by alliantgroup chairman of robotics and artificial intelligence Dr. Robert Ambrose, who recently retired from NASA, where he served as the chief of software, robotics, and simulation division at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

The panel will include Dr. Seth Shotak, senior astronomer and director of the Center for SETI Research at the SETI Institute in California.

These Future Focus panels are free to attend, though registration is encouraged.

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Building Houston

 
 

After working with thousands of interns, Allie Danziger of Ampersand Professionals says she's now got a product to upskill and train new hires for employers. Photo courtesy of Ampersand

After seeing success with her internship training and matchmaking platform, Allie Danziger, founder and CEO of Ampersand Professionals, has expanded the concept to include a new hire training service that allows employers to better optimize the onboarding process and have a well-trained new staff member from day one.

In just over a year, Ampersand has worked with over 7,000 professionals through its original concept of upskilling and matching young professionals to internship programs. A few months ago, Danziger and her team expanded to include career development training for students first entering the workforce with the City of Houston's Hire Houston Youth program. Danziger says it was developing out the platform for this program that proved there was a need for this type of training.

"While we have focused on matching professionals with businesses for paid internships, we recognized a further gap with employers that have their own recruiting/talent acquisition teams, or just their own preferred way of bringing on entry-level talent, and didn’t have a need for our matching platform," Danziger tells InnovationMap. "But, they recognized the benefit of our proven training platform that pre-vets and de-risks their hires, and still wanted access to the training for their own hires."

The new program has evolved from training interns to new hires, so parts of the program that focuses on interviewing or applying for a job have been removed. Instead, the 8.5 hours of training focuses on networking, best practices for working with a manager and team, performance reviews, common software training, and more.

Danziger says usually new hires need the most experienced mentor or manager, but they don't usually get that support — especially when it comes to businesses that don't have their own built-out mentorship or training program.

"Ampersand’s new training product fills that gap — it gives employers of any size any easy solution to provide basic job readiness training to employees, access to our team of dedicated coaches, and a detailed report at the end of their training summarizing how their new hire did in the training and any trends recognized and tips for managing this employee based on what the platform uncovered," she says. "Businesses can also sign up for additional coaching sessions and customize training materials, as an add-on if interested."

The program costs the employer $100 per new employee, and checkout online takes less than a minute. Through both this program and the original internship program, Ampersand is constantly evolving its training content.

"These professionals are going through the same training experience that we have proven out over the last year, and we are constantly adding to based on data we see in the user experience," Danziger says.

Danziger recently joined the Houston Innovators Podcast discuss some of the benchmarks she's met with Ampersand, as well as the importance of investing in Gen Z hires. Listen to that episode below.


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