making waves

Hot Houston summer spot plans to sell NFT membership

Each NFT pass to Lago Mar Crystal Lagoon is available for $170 to $210. Rendering courtesy of Land Tejas

One of the most hyped — and most baffling — tech innovations on the planet is making waves in Texas City.

The Lago Mar Crystal Lagoon waterpark says it’s now selling season passes based on NFT technology. NFT stands for non-fungible token.

“At a basic level, an NFT is a digital asset that links ownership to unique physical or digital items, such as works of art, real estate, music, or videos,” the Insider website explains. “NFTs can be considered modern-day collectibles. They’re bought and sold online, and represent a digital proof of ownership of any given item. NFTs are securely recorded on a blockchain — the same technology behind cryptocurrencies — which ensures the asset is one-of-a-kind.”

The Lago Mar lagoon, a 12-acre waterpark that opened in 2020, says its NFT-based season pass may be the first anywhere to enable admission into an attraction. The park’s traditional and NFT season passes provide unlimited access to the lagoon, which hosts annual events like Lagoonfest Texas. The lagoon anchors a planned 100-acre, mixed-use entertainment district.

Uri Man, CEO of The Lagoon Development Co., which developed the Lago Mar venue, says the NFT pass offers perks that a regular pass doesn’t. For example, the NFT pass lets you enjoy special activities at the state’s largest crystal lagoon, such as setting sail with a professional captain or going kayaking.

“This payment option is buzzing around the event and attractions community, with entertainment and crypto experts theorizing how places like Disney World might be able to offer NFT entry and experiences,” Man says in a news release. “We’re not just talking about it, though — we’re doing it, and we are the first in the world, as far as I know.”

Each NFT pass is available for $170 to $210. Passes can be purchased with several types of cryptocurrency.

The Lago Mar lagoon’s NFT partner is OpenSea, an NFT marketplace. OpenSea’s investors include Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank investor Mark Cuban, Austin entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss, and NBA star and former University of Texas basketball standout Kevin Durant.

It's possible that NFT passes someday could pop up at Lagoon Development’s other waterparks. It already operates a crystal lagoon in Humble, is building another one in Iowa Colony, and expects to break ground soon on lagoons in Cypress, Katy, and Splendora.

To say that NFTs are exploding in popularity in the Houston area and elsewhere is a massive understatement. One study shows NFT sales hit $17.7 billion in 2021, up from $82.5 million in 2020, according to the Axios news website. Investment bank Jefferies predicts the value of the global NFT market will exceed $35 billion in 2022 and $80 billion in 2025, the CoinDesk news website reports.

The Texas City lagoon is just one of many businesses being captivated by the growing allure of NFTs. For instance, speculation continues to swirl that Disney’s theme parks will eventually adopt NFT season passes.

Furthermore, the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks may turn to NFTs for ticketing, and Southern California’s annual Coachella music festival is selling lifetime passes as NFTs.

“NFT tickets have the ability to not only take ticketing technology to the next level, but to also enable direct relationships between the seller and the buyer, and the performer and the fan — creating a connection that begins as soon as the NFT ticket is purchased, and continuing long after the event has ended,” the Better Marketing blog points out.

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Building Houston

 
 

Ty Audronis founded Tempest Droneworx to put drone data to work. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

Ty Audronis quite literally grew up in Paradise. But the Northern California town was destroyed by wildfire in 2018, including Audronis’ childhood home.

“That’s why it’s called the Campfire Region,” says the founder, who explains that the flames were started by a spark off a 97-year-old transmission line.

But Audronis, who has literally written the book on designing purpose-built drones — actually, more than one — wasn’t going to sit back and let it happen again. Currently, wildfire prevention is limited to the “medieval technology” of using towers miles apart to check for smoke signals.

“By the time you see smoke signals, you’ve already got a big problem,” Audronis says.

His idea? To replace that system with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping, which exactly where his company, Tempest Droneworx, comes in.

When asked how he connected with co-founder Dana Abramowitz, Audronis admits that it was Match.com — the pair not only share duties at Tempest, they are engaged to be married. It was a 2021 pre-SXSW brainstorming session at their home that inspired the pair to start Tempest.

When Audronis mentioned his vision of drone battalions, where each is doing a specialized task, Abramowitz, a serial entrepreneur and founder who prefers to leave the spotlight to her partner, told him that he shouldn’t give the idea away at a conference, they should start a company. After all, Audronis is a pioneer in the drone industry.

“Since 1997, I’ve been building multicopters,” he says.

Besides publishing industry-standard tomes, he took his expertise to the film business. But despite its name, Tempest is a software company and does not make drones.

That software is called Harbinger. Audronis explains that the real-time management and visualization solution is viewable on practically any device, including mobile or augmented reality. The system uses a video game engine for viewing, but as Audronis puts it, “the magic happens” on the back end.

Harbinger is not just drone-agnostic, but can use crowd-sourced data as well as static sensors. With the example of wildfires in mind, battalions can swarm an affected area to inform officials, stopping a fire before it gets out of hand. But fires are far from Harbinger’s only intended use.

The civilian version of Harbinger will be available for sale at the end of 2023 or beginning of 2024. For military use, Navy vet Audronis says that the product just entered Technical Readiness Level (TRL) 5, which means that they are about 18 months away from a full demo. The latest news for Tempest is that earlier this month, it was awarded a “Direct to Phase II” SBIR (Government Small Business Innovation Research) contract with the United States Department of the Air Force.

Not bad for a company that was, until recently, fully bootstrapped. He credits his time with the Houston Founder Institute, from which he graduated last February, and for which he now mentors, with many of the connections he’s made, including SBIR Advisors, who helped handle the complex process of getting their SBIR contract.

And he and Abramowitz have no plans to end their collaborations now that they’re seeing growth.

“Our philosophy behind [our business] isn’t keeping our cards close to our vest,” says Audronis. “Any potential competitors, we want to become partners.”

The company was just the two founders until five weeks ago, when Tempest’s size doubled, including a full-time developer. Once Tempest receives its SIBR check, the team will grow again to include more developers. They are currently looking for offices in the city. As Audronis says, Tempest Droneworx is “100-percent made in Houston.” Paradise may have been lost, but with Harbinger soon to be available, such a disaster need never happen again.

Dana Abramowitz and Ty Audronis co-founded Tempest Droneworks. Photo courtesy of Tempest Droneworx

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