A deal that's been a year in the making has officially closed. Photo via Getty Images

A sports tech-focused special purpose acquisition company has sealed the deal on its acquisition of a company with thermal imaging and sensing platform technology.

SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP) announced the close of its acquisition of Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. (ICI), which will be the name of the combined company. The new ticker symbol for the combined company’s common stock and public warrants will be ticker symbols “MSAI” and “MSAIW,” respectively.

“The close of the business combination represents a monumental milestone for our company, as we view the business to be well-suited for the public market," Infrared Cameras’ CEO Gary Strahan says in a news release. Strahan and his executive team will continue to lead the company.

Originally announced in the fall of 2021, the $100 million blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets InnovationMap, EnergyCapitalHTX, SportsMap, and CultureMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The SPAC revealed it would be acquiring ICI just over a year ago. According to the news release, SMAP’s stockholders approved the deal at a special meeting held on December 8.

"I’m happy to complete the business transaction, and equally excited to see Gary and his team deliver a unique product and solution to a diversified sub-set of market verticals," Gow says in the release. "We view this event to serve as the initial catalyst for the Company to deliver long-term shareholder returns.”

ICI's technology includes a patented single pane-of-glass view that can be used to monitor and analyze live imaging and sensing data across industries, including monitoring overheating equipment and methane gas leaks in the oil patch. ICI provides both the physical technology as well as a software-as-a-service component. Following the close of the deal, ICI reports that it will be focused on "new customer expansion, becoming a global online retailer, solidifying operational excellence, and continual improvements" to its technology.

“We have built a diversified integrated thermal imaging and sensing platform that is enhanced by our cloud-enabled technology, allowing for improved operations and critical asset protection," Strahan says. "We believe the support of investors as a public entity will aid our ultimate strategic objective of driving growth through increased enterprise customers, while, over time, positively transforming our margins as a result of our SaaS unit economics.”

EnergyCapitalHTX is now live and reporting on Houston's role in the energy transition. Photo via Getty Images

Gow Media's media platform launches to report on Houston energy transition news

it's go time

Houston's newest media platform has officially gone live.

EnergyCapitalHTX.com, originally announced in March, is now up and running. Houston-based Gow Media, a multi-platform media company and the parent company of InnovationMap, CultureMap, SportsMap, and ESPN Radio 97.5FM and 92.5FM, launched the site tonight at an event at Gow Media's office.

“We are excited to roll out our new outlet, EnergyCapitalHTX.com. We have been very impressed by Houston’s efforts to lead the global transition of energy and to address the 'dual challenge' of meeting the world’s growing demand for energy while at the same time reducing carbon emissions,” says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media.

“On our new site, we plan to provide informative, unbiased coverage of the Houston-based initiatives, spanning big corporations and startups," he continues. "We hope that a site dedicated to the transition will bring visibility to the city’s substantive progress and to the path forward.”

The site will cover Houston's energy transition ecosystem — the people, companies, capital sources, and numerous initiatives in Houston. Lindsey Ferrell serves as the inaugural editor of the site.

The site’s inaugural sponsor is HETI, which launched in 2021. Led by Executive Director Jane Stricker, HETI was founded to drive economic growth in the Houston area within the energy transition toward a lower carbon future.

“We are excited to support Gow Media with the launch EnergyCapitalHTX.com,” Stricker says in an earlier news release. "There is so much innovative and exciting activity in our ecosystem. Houston is the Energy Capital of the World, and this platform will amplify the energy leadership that is already happening here.”

Houston, we have a new energy transition news outlet. Photo via Getty Images

Gow Media announces new energy transition media platform backed by GHP

breaking news

Houston has historically been home to a significant portion of the energy industry. Now, among the energy transition, the city has plans to hold a big role in that sector too, and a news outlet is emerging to cover that journey.

Houston-based Gow Media, a multi-platform media company and the parent company of InnovationMap, CultureMap, SportsMap, and ESPN Radio 97.5FM and 92.5FM, announced its plans to launch energycapitalhtx.com.

Launching in the second quarter of this year, the site will cover Houston's energy transition ecosystem — the people, companies, capital sources, and numerous initiatives in Houston.

“Houston is aligning some of the city’s best and brightest to lead the energy transition,” says David Gow, CEO of Gow Media. “We have been deeply impressed by the efforts of the Greater Houston Partnership’s Houston Energy Transition Initiative and are excited for energycapitalhtx to be the voice of the energy transition.”

The site’s inaugural sponsor isHETI, which launched in 2021. Led by Executive Director Jane Stricker, HETI was founded to drive economic growth in the Houston area within the energy transition toward a lower carbon future.

“We are excited to support Gow Media with the launch energycapitalhtx.com,” says Stricker. "There is so much innovative and exciting activity in our ecosystem. Houston is the Energy Capital of the World, and this platform will amplify the energy leadership that is already happening here.”

The news site will launch in Q2. Screenshot via energycapitalhtx.com

This Houston-based SPAC has announced the tech company it plans to merge with. Photo courtesy of Gow Media

Houston SPAC announces merger with Beaumont-based tech company in deal valued at $100M

speaking of spacs

A Houston SPAC, or special purpose acquisition company, has announced the company it plans to merge with in the new year.

Beaumont-based Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc., a provider of thermal imaging platforms, and Houston-based SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAP), a publicly-traded SPAC with $117 million held in trust, announced their agreement for ICI to IPO via SPAC.

Originally announced in the fall of last year, the blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The deal will close in the first half of 2023, according to a news release, and the combined company will be renamed Infrared Cameras Holdings Inc. and will be listed on NASDAQ under a new ticker symbol.

“ICI is extremely excited to partner with David Gow and SportsMap as we continue to deliver our innovative software and hardware solutions," says Gary Strahan, founder and CEO of ICI, in the release. "We believe our software and sensor technology can change the way companies across industries perform predictive maintenance to ensure reliability, environmental integrity, and safety through AI and machine learning.”

Strahan will continue to serve as CEO of the combined company, and Gow will become chairman of the board. The transaction values the combined company at a pre-money equity valuation of $100 million, according to the release, and existing ICI shareholders will roll 100 percent of their equity into the combined company as part of the transaction.

“We believe ICI is poised for strong growth," Gow says in the release. "The company has a strong value proposition, detecting the overheating of equipment in industrial settings. ICI also has assembled a strong management team to execute on the opportunity. We are delighted to combine our SPAC with ICI.”

Founded in 1995, ICI provides infrared and imaging technology — as well as service, training, and equipment repairs — to various businesses and individuals across industries.

The Cannon's new sportstech hub is just one step in putting a national spotlight on Houston as a city for vibrant sports innovation. Graphic courtesy of The Cannon

Newly opened hub to put Houston on the map for sports innovation

sportstech

Silicon Valley emerged as a consumer tech capital, and Atlanta has carved out a niche for fintech — but as sports innovation continues to be driven by startups and new technology, where should the innovators set up shop?

"There isn't really a sports tech town, and we felt there's an opportunity to stick a stake in the ground and claim Houston as the sports tech capital of the world," says Lawson Gow, founder of The Cannon.

The Cannon in collaboration with Braun Enterprises and Gow Media opened Houston's first dedicated space to sports innovation. (Gow Media is the parent company of InnovationMap.) The new two-story space includes 23 offices and a 1,500-square-foot open space in 53 West, a Galleria-area office building recently renovated by Braun. The hub is adjacent to Gow Media's office alongside Gow Broadcasting LLC and the SportsMap Radio Network, which includes local sports station ESPN 97.5 as well as national syndicated content.

The idea for a sports-focused tech hub has been on the minds of The Cannon team since the early days of The Cannon, where sportstech activity started occurring naturally.

"The sportstech startup scene in Houston caught us by surprise at the very early stages of the Cannon," Gow tells InnovationMap. "We were created to transform Houston's innovation community and part of that was thinking about what things we could win at. Sportstech, for a lot of reasons, seemed really logical to us."

The Cannon's new space is in 53 West, a Galleria-area office building recently renovated by Braun Enterprises. Graphic courtesy of The Cannon

Over the years, The Cannon has grown its network of sportstech startups and developed its programming within the industry. Now, these efforts have a home in The Cannon Uptown - Sports + Media.

"Houston has never been able to attract tech entrepreneurs for any reason, and sports tech can be that reason," Gow says. "Having a sports innovation hub in Houston is only one of a dozen grand initiatives that needs to happen."

Some of those other initiatives include growing sports tech density, introducing new sports-focused accelerators, more events, funding — including venture capital and angel investment — and interest from professional teams.

Another recent sportstech opportunity that's come about in Houston is the SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAPU) going public as a blank-check company last month at $115 million. The SPAC is run by David Gow, Lawson Gow's father and CEO of Gow Media, and plans to find a sports tech business to acquire, specifically in one of four categories within the industry: fan engagement, health and wellness, esports, or fantasy/gambling.

"With the IPO complete, we now begin the search for a company to acquire in the sports tech industry, which we define as the realm where technology is transforming sports," says David Gow. "We have not been able to talk with target companies yet, but have been doing our homework to develop a list. We also plan to tap into the extensive relationships of our board."

The company is backed by an all-star team making up the board, including Oliver Luck, Reid Ryan, David Graf, and Steve Webster.

A new SPAC, SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp., went public this week. Photo courtesy of Gow Media

Houston entrepreneur launches $100M SPAC, plans to target sports tech

IPO-ed

A new SPAC — a special purpose acquisition company — has officially started trading this week, targeting $100 million in investment and looking for an innovative sports tech company to back.

SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. (NASDAQ: SMAPU) announced its initial public offering of 10,000,000 units at a price to the public of $10 per unit, and trading began on October 19. The blank-check company is led by David Gow, CEO and chairman. Gow is also chairman and CEO of Gow Media, which owns digital media outlets SportsMap, CultureMap, AutomotiveMap, and InnovationMap, as well as the SportsMap Radio Network, ESPN 97.5 and 92.5.

The SPAC, which has potential for oversubscription, plans to find a sports tech business to acquire, specifically in one of four categories within the industry: fan engagement, health and wellness, esports, or fantasy/gambling.

"With the IPO complete, we now begin the search for a company to acquire in the sports tech industry, which we define as the realm where technology is transforming sports," says Gow. "We have not been able to talk with target companies yet, but have been doing our homework to develop a list. We also plan to tap into the extensive relationships of our board."

The company is backed by an all-star team making up the board, including Oliver Luck, Reid Ryan, David Graf, and Steve Webster.

"We have assembled a really strong board," Gow says. "In addition to his great tenure at the Astros, Reid has founded banks, served as president of a minor league team and has been investing in sports tech through his family office. Oliver has held positions across multiples sports at both the professional and collegiate levels. David Graf is the founder and CEO of a very successful sports tech company, HUDL. And Steve Webster has had an extraordinary track record in business, as one of the savviest PE and public company investors in Houston.

"The group has a great complement of financial, operations, and transactions experience," he continues.

Leadership for the company also includes David Gow's son, Lawson Gow, who founded the coworking and entrepreneurship hub, The Cannon. He will serve as chief strategy officer for SportsMap Tech Acquisition Corp. Jacob Swain will be the CFO of the SPAC.

David Gow (right) is the chairman and CEO of the new SPAC, and Reid Ryan will serve on the board. Photo by Michele Lee Sparks/Archer Sparks

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Houston tech platform raises series C round backed by Mastercard

money moves

Hello Alice, a fintech platform that supports 1.5 million small businesses across the country, has announced its series C round.

The amount raised was not disclosed, but Hello Alice reported that the fresh funding has brought the company's valuation to $130 million. Alexandria, Virginia-based QED Investors led the round, and investors included Mastercard, Backstage Capital, Guy Fieri, Golden Seeds, Harbert Growth Partners Fund, How Women Invest I, LP, Lovell Limited Partnership, Tyler “Ninja” and Jessica Blevins, and Tamera Mowry and Adam Housley, per a news release from the company.

“We are thrilled to hit the milestone of 1.5 million small businesses utilizing Hello Alice to elevate the American dream. There are more entrepreneurs launching this year than in the history of our country, and we will continue to ensure they get the capital needed to grow,” Elizabeth Gore and Carolyn Rodz, co-founders of Hello Alice, say in a news release. “In closing our Series C, we welcome Mastercard to our family of investors and continue to be grateful to QED, How Women Invest, and our advocates such as Guy Fieri.”

The funding will go toward expanding capital offerings and AI-driven tools for its small business membership.

“Our team focuses on finding and investing in companies that are obsessed with reducing friction and providing superior financial services solutions to their customers,” QED Investors Co-Founder Frank Rotman says in the release. “Hello Alice has proven time and time again that they are on the leading edge of providing equitable access to capital and banking services to the small business ecosystem."

Hello Alice, which closed its series B in 2021 at $21 million, has collaborated with Mastercard prior to the series C, offering small business owners the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard in 2022 and a free financial wellness tool, Business Health Score, last year. Mastercard also teamed up with other partners for the the Equitable Access Fund in 2023.

“With Hello Alice, we’re investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, helping to address one of the most cited business challenges they face,” Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America Small Business Lead, adds. “By working together to simplify access to the products and services they need when building and growing their business, we’re helping make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large.”

While Hello Alice's founders' mission is to help small businesses, their own company was threatened by a lawsuit from America First Legal. The organization, founded by former Trump Administration adviser Stephen Miller and features a handful of other former White House officials on its board, is suing Hello Alice and its partner, Progressive Insurance. The lawsuit alleges that their program to award10 $25,000 grants to Black-owned small businesses constitutes racial discrimination. Gore calls the lawsuit frivolous in an interview on the Houston Innovators Podcast. The legal battle is ongoing.

Inspired by the lawsuit, Hello Alice launched the Elevate the American Dream, a grant program that's highlighting small businesses living out their American dreams. The first 14 grants have already been distributed, and Hello Alice plans to award more grants over the next several weeks, putting their grant funding at over $40 million.


NASA awards $30M to Houston space tech company to develop lunar rover

moon rider

Houston-based space technology company Intuitive Machines has landed a $30 million NASA contract for the initial phase of developing a rover for U.S. astronauts to traverse the moon’s surface.

Intuitive Machines is one of three companies chosen by NASA to perform preliminary work on building a lunar terrain vehicle that would enable astronauts to travel on the moon’s surface so they can conduct scientific research and prepare for human missions to Mars.

The two other companies are Golden, Colorado-based Lunar Outpost and Hawthorne, California-based Astrolab.

NASA plans to initially use the vehicle for its Artemis V lunar mission, which aims to put two astronauts on the moon. It would be the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972 that astronauts would step foot on the lunar surface.

The Artemis V mission, tentatively set for 2029, will be the fifth mission under NASA’s Artemis program.

“This vehicle will greatly increase our astronauts’ ability to explore and conduct science on the lunar surface while also serving as a science platform between crewed missions,” says Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Intuitive Machines says the $30 million NASA contract represents its entrance into human spaceflight operations for the space agency’s $4.6 billion moon rover project. The vehicle — which Intuitive Machines has dubbed the Moon Reusable Autonomous Crewed Exploration Rover (RACER) — will be based on the company’s lunar lander.

“Our global team is on a path to provide essential lunar infrastructure services to NASA in a project that would allow [us] to retain ownership of the vehicle for commercial utilization during periods of non-NASA activity over approximately 10 years of lunar surface activity,” says exploration,” says Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines’ partners on the RACER project include AVL, Boeing, Michelin, and Northrop Grumman.

Intuitive Machines plans to bid on the second phase of the rover project after finishing its first-phase feasibility study. The second phase will involve developing, delivering, and operating the rover.

In February, Intuitive Machines became the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon with no crewmembers aboard. NASA was the key customer for that mission.

Houston expert: How to avoid 'ghost hiring' while attracting top talent

guest column

One of the latest HR terms grabbing attention today is “ghost hiring.” This is a practice where businesses post positions online, even interviewing candidates, with no intention to fill them. In fact, the role may already have been filled or it may not exist.

Usually, an applicant applies for the job, yet never hears back. However, they may be contacted by the recruiter, only to learn the offer is revoked or a recruiter ghosts them after a first-round interview.

Applicants who are scouring job sites for the ideal position can become discouraged by ghost hiring. Employers do not usually have any ill intentions of posting ghost jobs and talking with candidates. Employers may have innocently forgotten to take down the listing after filling the position.

Some employers may leave positions up to expand their talent pool. While others who are open to hiring new employees, even if they do not match the role, may practice ghost hiring when they want a pool of applicants to quickly pull from when the need arises. Finally, some employers post job roles to make it look like the company is experiencing growth.

When employers participate in ghost hiring practices, job candidates can become frustrated, hurting the employer brand and, thus, future recruiting efforts. Even with the tight labor market and employee turnover, it is best not to have an evergreen posting if there is no intention to hire respondents.

There are several ways employers can engage candidates and, likewise, build a talent pool without misleading job seekers.

Network

A recruiter at their core is a professional networker. This is a skill that many have honed through the years, and it continues to evolve through social media channels. While many recruiters lean on social media, you should not discount meeting people face-to-face. There is power in promoting your organization at professional meetings, alumni groups and civic organizations. Through these avenues, many potential candidates will elect for you to keep them in mind for future opportunities.

Employee Referrals

When recruiters want to deepen their talent pool, they cannot discount the employee referral. Simply letting employees know and clearly stating the exploratory nature of the conversation can lead to stellar results. Employees understand the organization, its culture and expectations, so they are more likely to refer the company to someone who would be a good fit and reflect highly on them.

Alternative Candidates

In recent years, organizations and recruiters are more dialed into skills-first recruiting practices. Creating job postings that emphasize the skill sets needed rather than the years of experience, specific college degree or previous job titles, can yield a crop of candidates who may be more agile and innovative than others. Fostering relationships with people who fit unique skills needed within the organization can help you develop a deeper bench of candidates.

Contingent Workforce

Part-time workers, freelancers, and independent contractors are a great way to build connections and the talent pool. These workers and their skills are known entities, plus they know the organization, which makes them valuable candidates for open roles. If their expertise is needed on a regular basis, it is easier to have open conversations about a potential expansion of their duties or offer full-time work.

Internal Talent

Human resources and recruiters need to work with managers and leadership to intimately know what kind of talent lies within their own organization. Current employees may have the strengths, skills, and capabilities to fill new positions or roles. Through conversations with employees and their managers, you can identify who can flex different skills, but even more importantly, the ambition to grow within the company.

In every instance, it is crucial for recruiters and hiring managers to be transparent in their intentions. Communicating within your network that you are always looking for great talent to fill future roles sets the tone. When communicating with candidates, whether there is a pressing job opportunity or not, be clear from the onset regarding your intentions for hire. With a transparent approach to hiring and candidate development, you will keep the employer brand intact and maintain recruiting power.

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Jaune Little is a director of recruiting services with Insperity.