who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Joy M. Hutton of Joy of Consulting, Michael T. Suffredini of Axiom Space, and Kim Raath of Topl. Courtesy photos

Editor's note: In the last weekly roundup of Houston innovators of 2020, I'm introducing you to three innovators across the city — the new local leader of a new Google program, the CEO of a space tech company, and a startup founder with fresh funds.

Joy M. Hutton, local leader of Grow with Google's Digital Coach program

Joy M. Hutton leads the Grow with Google in Houston. Photo courtesy of Google

Joy M. Hutton is a serial entrepreneur and has just signed on to help guide other startup founders as the local leader of the Grow with Google Digital Coach program in Houston. Just like any other entrepreneur this year, Hutton, who was planning to launch her company On the Go Glam in March, was challenged to pivot her own startup amid COVID-19 and its accompanying obstacles.

On this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, Hutton shares how the pandemic caused her to rethink the timeline on some of the features she had in mind for the company.

"The pandemic was kind of a good thing, because it allowed me to take a step back and add additional services for men," Hutton says, adding that expanding into offering barbershop services was always a plan, but the new need pushed her to quickly pivot. Read more and stream the episode.

Michael T. Suffredini, president and CEO of Axiom Space

Michael T. Suffredini co-founded Houston-based Axiom Space. Photo via AxiomSpace.com

A veteran of the space business, Michael T. Suffredini now leads Axiom Space, which just announced a partnership with the Houston Spaceport. Mayor Sylvester Turner announced that Axiom Space will construct a 14-acre headquarters.

The headquarters "will be the world's first free-flying internationally available private space station that will serve as humanity's central hub for research, manufacturing, and commerce," Turner said.

The partnership is expected to bring more than 1,000 high-paying jobs, from engineers to scientists, mathematicians, and machinists. Read more.

Kim Raath, CEO of Topl

Kim Raath is ending her year with news of a VC deal. Courtesy of Topl

Unfortunately, the pandemic has had its detrimental effect on venture capital — especially when it comes to female-founded companies. Crunchbase reported a 27 percent decrease in funding for female-founded companies.

In light of this statistic, Kim Raath, CEO and co-founder of Houston-based Topl, is feeling pretty proud of leading her company to closing a $3 million round with support from investors both locally and across the country.

"We're grateful to have closed an oversubscribed venture round during a pandemic, especially given the unfortunate truth that many women-led startups are getting much less investment during this time," says Kim Raath, CEO of Topl, in a press release. "Bringing transparency to causes dedicated to environmental and social good has never been more important. We are building a modern blockchain for a world where purpose and profit go hand in hand." Read more.

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Pokatok, which will take place in April 2024 in downtown Houston, named two new partners. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

A sports-focused festival planning to premiere this spring has named two brand partnerships today.

Pokatok announced its teaming up with Beasley Esports and World Freestyle Football Association for the festival set to take place in downtown Houston on April 4 to 7, 2024.

“We’re building the world’s fair for sports which means showcasing as wide a variety of different sports as we can,” Lawson Gow, Pokatok co-founder, says in the news release, “and these two partners could not be more illustrative of the mix we are trying to achieve.”

Beasley Esports, which owns the Houston Outlaws, Team AXLE, and Juggernaut, will drive esports and gaming at the festival, as well as assist on programming, competitions, and more. The organization will also help coordinate activities — such as meet and greets and competitions — with esport professionals.

“I am most excited to see traditional sports and esports share the big stage — redefining the evolution in sports and technology and spotlighting all the excitement that lies ahead for sports enthusiasts — as it’s never been done before,” Lori Burgess, COO of Beasley ESport, says in the release.

The other newly announced partner, WFFA, will feature programming of its unique sport, freestyle football, which is defined in the release as a fusion of acrobatics, dance, music, and tricks with a football.

“The vibe and energy of what the Pokatok Festival will be, is perfectly in sync with the sport of Freestyle Football and what we do,” Dan Wood, co-founder of the WFFA, says in the release. “With the FIFA World Cup coming to Houston in 2026, it’s a great opportunity for everybody to already experience some other forms of Football related sporting entertainment.”

Pokatok was officially announced earlier this summer by its parent company Gow Companies, founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO). The festival will feature a sports tech expo, a film festival, speakers and panels, live music, pitch competitions, and more. The venue will be George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green, and various nearby hotels. The full lineup of events has not yet been released, but interested parties can opt in for pre-sale information online.

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