Calling all sports tech startups ready to scale. Photo via Getty Images

Familiar names within Houston innovation have teamed up to launch a program for sports tech startups ready to scale.

Pokatok Labs announced five companies that make up its inaugural cohort. Pokatok is founded by Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon; Chris Buckner, founder of Mainline; and Alex Gras, former chief commercial officer of The Cannon. (Note: Lawson Gow is the son of David Gow, the CEO of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media.)

The new program is targeting growing seed and series A startups across the scope of sports technology — health tech, gaming, fan experience, and more. The nine-week program is free to its cohort member and will run twice a year. Participating companies receive access to a network of organizations, advisors, investors, and subject matter experts within sports tech.

“Houston has a huge potential to emerge as a global leader in sports innovation, and the launch of this program is an important step in that direction,” says Gow, who serves as Pokatok's CEO.

The program will be housed in The Cannon Sports in 53West, which opened last year. Kate Evinger, who previously oversaw gBETA Houston's early stage accelerator, will lead Pokatok Labs as director.

“Each of the five companies are true disruptors within the global sports community. It is a privilege and an honor to be working alongside them, and we look forward to the great things to come from each '' Evinger says.

The first cohort of startups includes:

  • Detroit, Michigan-based Miro AI builds cutting-edge computer vision that analyzes images and videos to unlock athlete data. The technology has analyzed over 50 million athletes.
  • Monarc, headquartered in Dallas, has created a robotic quarterback called the Seeker. Several universities — like West Virginia University, Louisiana State University, and Washington University — have already tapped into the technology, as well as NFL professionals, including George Kittle, James White and Adrian Amos.
  • RE Cooling Tech, based in Lafayette, Louisiana, has a technology that cools and increases the performance of athletes before, during, and after physical exertion. The technology was validated in a study with The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut showing efficacy in cooling and increased athletic performance.
  • Founded at MIT, Perch uses computer vision and machine learning to seamlessly track exercise, provide real time feedback, facilitate new types of competitions, and store the data for later analysis and progress tracking. The company has sold to more than 10 NFL teams, supporting two national championship college football teams, as well as a growing number of professional sports teams, colleges, military, high schools, performance facilities, and even individual home gyms.
  • Pennsylvania-based Reflexion is a portable neuro training service that gives athletes an edge with interactive lightboard based drills. Reflexion has raised over $4 million in venture funding to date, is used by thousands of athletes in homes and training centers, and is trusted by the likes of Under Armour, the Canadian National Soccer Team, and the Denver Nuggets.
The Cannon Galveston @ the MarMo has opened as a convening space for Galveston entrepreneurship. Photo via TheCannon.com

Houston coworking company opens new Galveston hub amid profound growth and expansion

seaside innovation

The Cannon Houston has expanded its footprint throughout 2021, and one of the coworking company's newest hubs has opened its doors seaside.

The Cannon Galveston @ the MarMo is a new coworking space with membership options starting at $180 a month for entrepreneurs. The building is a former credit union space that Galveston real estate entrepreneur, Jimmy McClure, bought and renovated. McClure is also one of The Cannon's board members as of a couple months ago.

"We've always felt there was this opportunity to create this coastal innovation community," says Alex Gras, chief commercial officer at the Cannon. "And we found a great partner in Jimmy McClure."

In the aftermath of the pandemic, Gras says people are going to be more intentional about where they spend their time, and this location offers its member companies something different.

The new space has membership options starting at $180 a month. Image via TheCannon.com

"Not only does Galveston have the allure of a coastal town with a more relaxed atmosphere, but it has some amazing support organizations," he says.

Gras is referring to the numerous innovative institutions on the island that have been operating in silos over the years — including University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, Texas A&M Galveston, Galveston College, Galveston ISD, Vision Galveston, and more. Gras says the feedback for The Cannon providing this neutral convening space for entrepreneurship has been so positive.

"Galveston really has the raw ingredients to become an amazing innovation ecosystem," Gras tells InnovationMap.

From a programming perspective, entrepreneurs can expect exactly what The Cannon has brought to its other locations. The team recently held a hacakathon in collaboration with The Ion, Vision Galveston, and UTMB — which was a major success, according to Gras — and plans to host a pitch competition on March 10.

The MarMo is a former credit union building renovated by Jimmy McClure. Image via TheCannon.com

"At the end of the day, entrepreneurs are looking for peers that they can do this with and not feel like they are so alone, as well as advisers, mentors, and coaches who help them think differently and investors who can provide some economic capital to help prop up their ideas," Gras explains. "Any programming we do in the future will have elements of social, networking, and education — but all in the confines of making sure we're providing all these different human, economic, and social capital to the entrepreneurs of Galveston."

It's not just toward the Gulf of Mexico where The Cannon has expanded profoundly this year. The company's sportstech hub opened in the Galleria area in collaboration with Braun Enterprises and Gow Media (InnovationMap's parent company).

"The thing that's exciting about this profound growth is it's reflective of the two driving initiatives of the Cannon — one being establishing a network of programmatically connected innovation hubs throughout the entire expanse of the city of Houston," says Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon. "The other is looking for opportunities where Houston can go deep into an industry and be the best at that."

Sportstech is one of those avenues of opportunity, according to Gow, but the team is always looking for other verticals that might be a similar fit.

Additionally, The Cannon opened a new space in the Esperson building in downtown Houston. This space is small, says Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon, but has room to grow.

"We want to create network of hubs — some in the community want highly-programed environments," Gow explains, adding that the Esperson Coworking likely won't feature the same level of programming as seen at some of the other locations.

Gow explains that he expects to grow the team at The Cannon to sport these expansions, crediting Gras for building and cultivating the team. Gras joined The Cannon in February.

Alex Gras joined The Cannon as managing director in February, and recently transitioned into chief commercial officer. Photo via LinkedIn

"It wouldn't surprise us if we more than double our team within the next year," Gow says.

This profound growth comes after 18 months of uncertainty — which allowed Gow and his team to rethink some of their plans.

"Pre-covid had our eyes on expansion outside of the city, and we've dialed it back — it's been a healthy exercise", Gow says, "to reset our focus on the whole sprawl of Houston in setting up eight to 10 locations across the city so that we're truly democratizing access to all the tools entrepreneurs need to grow."

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Looking back: Top 5 most-read Houston research-focused stories of 2021

2022 in review

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In many cases, innovative startups originate from meticulous research deep within institutions. This past year, InnovationMap featured stories on these research institutions — from their breakthrough innovations to funding fueling it all. Here are five Houston research-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Texas nonprofit cancer research funder doles out millions to health professionals moving to Houston

These cancer research professionals just got fresh funding from a statewide organization. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

Thanks in part to multimillion-dollar grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, two top-flight cancer researchers are taking key positions at Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Pavan Reddy and Dr. Michael Taylor each recently received a grant of $6 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Reddy is leaving his position as chief of hematology-oncology and deputy director at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center to become director of the Baylor College of Medicine’s Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. C. Kent Osborne stepped down as the center’s director in 2020; Dr. Helen Heslop has been the interim director. Continue reading.

Rice University deploys grant funding to 9 innovative Houston research projects

Nine research projects at Rice University have been granted $25,000 to advance their innovative solutions. Photo courtesy of Rice

Over a dozen Houston researchers wrapped up 2021 with the news of fresh funding thanks to an initiative and investment fund from Rice University.

The Technology Development Fund is a part of the university’s Creative Ventures initiative, which has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2016. Rice's Office of Technology Transfer orchestrated the $25,000 grants across nine projects. Submissions were accepted through October and the winners were announced a few weeks ago. Continue reading.

Houston researchers create unprecedented solar energy technology that improves on efficiency

Two researchers out of the University of Houston have ideated a way to efficiently harvest carbon-free energy 24 hours a day. Photo via Getty Images

Two Houstonians have developed a new system of harvesting solar energy more efficiently.

Bo Zhao, the Kalsi Assistant Professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston, along with his doctoral student Sina Jafari Ghalekohneh, have created a technology that theoretically allows solar energy to be harvested to the thermodynamic limit, which is the absolute maximum rate sunlight can be converted into electricity, as reported in a September article for Physical Review Applied.

Traditional solar thermophotovoltaics (STPVs), or the engines used to extract electrical power from thermal radiation, run at an efficiency limit of 85.4 percent, according to a statement from UH. Zhao and Ghalekohneh's system was able to reach a rate of 93.3 percent, also known as the Landsberg Limit. Continue reading.

Texas A&M receives $10M to create cybersecurity research program

Texas A&M University has announced a new cybersecurity-focused initiative. Photo via tamu.edu

Texas A&M University has launched an institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity.

The Texas A&M Global Cyber Research Institute is a collaboration between the university and a Texas A&M University System engineering research agency, the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station. The research agency and Texas A&M are also home to the Texas A&M Cybersecurity Center.

The institute is funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors. Continue reading.

Houston research organization doles out $28M in grants to innovators across Texas

Houston-based Welch Foundation has awarded almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. Photo via Getty Images

Chemical researchers at seven institutions in the Houston area are receiving nearly $12.9 million grants from the Houston-based Welch Foundation.

In the Houston area, 43 grants are going to seven institutions:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Rice University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas A&M University Health Science Center
  • University of Houston
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston

The Welch Foundation is awarding almost $28 million in chemical research grants throughout Texas this year. The money will be allocated over a three-year period. Continue reading.

University of Houston powers up first robot food server in a U.S. restaurant

order up

The University of Houston is taking a bold step — or, in this case, roll — in foodservice delivery. UH's Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership is now deploying a robot server in Eric’s Restaurant at its Hilton College.

Booting up this new service is major bragging rights for the Coogs, as UH is now the only college in the country — and the only restaurant facility in Houston — to utilize a robotic food delivery.

These rolling delivery bots come from the state-of-the-art food service robot called Servi. The bots, created by Bear Robotics, are armed with LiDar sensors, cameras, and trays, and automatically return to their posts when internal weight sensors detect a delivery has been completed.

Not surprisingly, these futuristic food staffers are booting up plenty of buzz at UH.

“People are excited about it,” says Dennis Reynolds, who is dean of the Conrad N. Hilton College of Global Hospitality Leadership and oversees the only hospitality program in the world where students work and take classes in an internationally branded, full-service hotel. Launching robot waitstaff at UH as a test market makes sense, he notes, for practical use and larger implications.

The Servi robots deliver food from the kitchen to the table. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

“Robotics and the general fear of technology we see today are really untested in the restaurant industry,” he says in an announcement. “At Hilton College, it’s not just about using tomorrow’s technology today. We always want to be the leader in learning how that technology impacts the industry.”

Bear Robotics, a tech company founded by restaurant experts and tech entrepreneurs, hosted a Servi showcase at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago earlier this year. After seeing the demo, Reynolds was hooked. UH's Servi robot arrived at Eric’s Restaurant in October.

Before sending the bot to diners' tables, the bot was prepped by Tanner Lucas, the executive chef and foodservice director at Eric’s. That meant weeks of mapping, programming, and — not surprisingly — “test driving” around the restaurant.

Tanner even created a digital map of the restaurant to teach the Servi its pathways and designated service points, such as table numbers. “Then, we sent it back and forth to all of those points from the kitchen with food to make sure it wouldn’t run into anything," he adds.

But does having a robot deliver food create friction between human and automated staff? Not at Eric's. “The robot helps my workflow,” Joel Tatum, a server at Eric’s says. “It lets me spend more time with my customers instead of just chasing and running food.”

Once loaded, the kitchen staff can tell the Servi robots where to take the dishes. Photo courtesy of the University of Houston

Reynolds believes robots will complement their human counterparts and actually enhance the customer experience, even in unlikely settings.

“Studies have been conducted in senior living facilities where you might think a robot wouldn’t be well received, but it’s been just the opposite,” Reynolds says. “Those residents saw the change in their lives and loved it.”

To that end, he plans to use Servi bots in other UH venues. “The ballroom would be a fantastic place to showcase Servi – not as a labor-saving device, but as an excitement generator,” Reynolds notes. “To have it rotating through a big event delivering appetizers would be really fun.”

Critics who denounce robot servers and suggest they will soon displace humans are missing the point, Reynolds adds. “This isn’t about cutting our labor costs. It’s about building our top-line revenues and expanding our brand as a global hospitality innovator,” Reynolds says. “People will come to expect more robotics, more artificial intelligence in all segments of hospitality, and our students will be right there at the forefront.”

Servi bots come at a time of dynamic growth for Hilton College. A recent rebrand to “Global Hospitality Leadership” comes as the college hotel is undergoing a $30 million expansion and renovation, which includes a new five-story, 70-room guest tower. The student-run Cougar Grounds coffeehouse reopened this semester in a larger space with plenty of updates. The neighboring Eric’s Club Center for Student Success helps with recruitment and enrollment, undergraduate academic services, and career development.

“To be the first university in the country to introduce robotics in the dining room is remarkable,” Reynolds adds. “There are a lot of unique things we’re doing at Hilton College.”

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston innovator on seeing a greener future on built environment

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 162

An architect by trade, Anas Al Kassas says he was used to solving problems in his line of work. Each project architects take on requires building designers to be innovative and creative. A few years ago, Kassas took his problem-solving background into the entrepreneurship world to scale a process that allows for retrofitting window facades for energy efficiency.

“If you look at buildings today, they are the largest energy-consuming sector — more than industrial and more than transportation,” Kassas, founder and CEO of INOVUES, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. “They account for up to 40 percent of energy consumption and carbon emissions.”

To meet their climate goals, companies within the built environment are making moves to transition to electric systems. This has to be done with energy efficiency in mind, otherwise it will result in grid instability.

"Energy efficiency goes hand in hand with energy transition," he explains.

Kassas says that he first had the idea for his company when he was living in Boston. He chose to start the business in Houston, attracted to the city by its central location, affordable labor market, and manufacturing opportunities here.

Last year, INOVUES raised its first round of funding — a $2.75 million seed round — to scale up the team and identify the best markets to target customers. Kassas says he was looking for regions with rising energy rates and sizable incentives for companies making energy efficient changes.

"We were able to now implement our technology in over 4 million square feet of building space — from Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland, and very soon in Canada," he says.

Notably missing from that list is any Texas cities. Kassas says that he believes Houston is a great city for startups and he has his operations and manufacturing is based here, but he's not yet seen the right opportunity and adaption

"Unfortunately most of our customers are not in Texas," "A lot of work can be done here to incentivize building owners. There are a lot of existing buildings and construction happening here, but there has to be more incentives."

Kassas shares more about his growth over the past year, as well as what he has planned for 2023 on the podcast. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.