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.

A new sports festival is headed to Houston next year. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

New sports festival reveals plans to take over downtown Houston next spring

pokatok prep

A Houston team announced their plans to bring the “world’s fair for sports” to downtown Houston in April 2024.

Pokatok, the four-day 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, according to the release.

Gow Companies, founded by Lawson Gow (who is the son of David Gow, InnovationMap's parent company's CEO), announced that the team has secured support from Houston First, the Greater Houston Partnership, and the Harris County Houston Sports Authority to put on the event, which is slated to take place April 4-7, 2024. The company also owns Houston Exponential and a sports accelerator called Pokatok Labs.

“Pokatok will not only be the largest gathering of the entire sports tech ecosystem, it will also be a true fan festival for sports enthusiasts,” says Gow in the news release. “Everyone speaks the language of sport, it’s an incredibly powerful unifier of our society, and this festival will bring together people from around the world to experience hundreds of events revolving around the new and the next in sport.”

The festival will take place in April 2024 in downtown. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

The festival will feature two tracks — one focused on sports innovation and the other surrounding a fan experience. Pokatok X will include an expo and showcase focused on sports innovation, bringing together startups, investors, accelerators, athletes, and industry experts to dive into sports tech.

The Pokatok Fan Festival's track will include product releases, demos for sports technology, sporting events, competitions, tournaments, and more.

Houston is no stranger to hosting major sport events, Harris County - Houston Sports Authority CEO Janis Burke points out in the news release, including the 2023 NCAA Men’s Final Four and the upcoming 2024 College Football National Championship, the 2024 Cricket World Cup, and the 2026 FIFA World Cup.

"Houston is known as one of the best sports destinations in the world," Burke continues. "As an organization, we are consistently looking for ways to innovate and grow in the sports sector. Events like Pokatok are great for advancing sports within the region and providing unique opportunities for our community!"

Tickets are expected to go on sale in the fall, and the organization is looking for potential speakers and partners. The festival's name derives from sport of pok-a-tok, which dates back thousands of years as the world’s first team sport played throughout Mesoamerica.

“The City of Houston is a sports town to its core and has been host to some of the greatest events and moments in sports,” says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. “Pokatok will help further Houston’s vision of being a destination city for global sporting events and innovations. The business community also supports this venture, and I thank them for their involvement and support. This project is an excellent example of local business leaders joining forces to expand the attractions the City has to offer to both residents and visitors.”

Pokatok will take place in and around the George R. Brown Convention Center. Rendering courtesy of Pokatok

HX has been acquired by InnovationMap's parent company. Photo via Getty Images

Exclusive: Houston Exponential acquired by local media and innovation group

M&A

The nonprofit organization established in 2017 to advance awareness and opportunities for the Houston Innovation Ecosystem has been acquired by a local business.

Gow Companies has acquired of the assets of Houston Exponential. The terms of the deal were not disclosed. (Gow Companies' portfolio includes InnovationMap, as well as CultureMap, SportsMap, sports festival provider Pokatok, sports tech accelerator Pokatok Labs, ESPN radio, a sports tech-focused SPAC, and other strategic entities.)

The company plans to build upon the organization's mission and increase programming and access while leveraging new revenue streams, according to a news release.

“To say that HX was the ‘shot-in-the-arm’ Houston needed to accelerate our tech and innovation growth would be an understatement,” says Blair Garrou, HX board chair and managing director of early-stage venture capital firm Mercury. “HX has helped unlock the collaborative potential of founders and investors in the startup scene, local government, academic institutions, and the corporate sector to connect, promote and to attract talent, companies, and capital to Houston. This transaction celebrates that success and acknowledges the next stage of Houston’s evolution.”

Some of the accomplishments HX has observed in its tenure includes growing local VC activity from $284 million in 2016 to $2.34 billion in 2021, five Houston startups reaching valuations of more than $1 billion, increased local presence for several large tech companies, and attracting and standing up startup development organizations such as The Ion, Greentown Labs, The Cannon, and more.

The acquisition includes HX's brand and events — including the Houston Tech Rodeo and Houston’s tech gala, The Listies — and will recognize the sponsorships that have already been contracted with respect to upcoming events. The two events are in line with Gow Companies' mission, according to the release.

“HX plays a critical and unique role in the ecosystem and truly serves as Houston’s front door to our entrepreneurial community,” says Lawson Gow, partner of Gow Companies and founder of the Cannon. “Gow Companies is a collection of businesses that can be leveraged to advance the impactful work that HX has been doing in our city over the past five years.”

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

16 Houston-based companies hailed best places to work by U.S. News

the standouts

More than a dozen Houston-based companies are sharing the spotlight in U.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

The annual report examines publicly-traded companies around the world to determine the best employers based on six metrics including work-life balance and flexibility; quality of pay and benefits; job and company stability; career opportunities and professional development; and more. The companies were not ranked, but included based on reader surveys and publicly available data about each workplace.

New for the 2024-2025 report, U.S. News analyzed549 companies across 29 different lists, including the overall best companies list — which includes the best 300 companies across the U.S., the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Bermuda — 24 industry-specific lists, and four regional lists.

There were 16 total companies based around Houston that made the lists, with the majority being based in the city, while one each were located in Spring and The Woodlands.

Leading the pack in Houston is construction company Comfort Systems USA, which provides HVAC, plumbing, and electrical services. Comfort Systems employs 15,800 people, brings in $5.57 billion in annual revenue, and has a market cap of $11.21 billion. The company earned high ratings for its job stability, "belongingness," and professional development opportunities, according to U.S. News.

Comfort Systems also made appearances on U.S. News' industry-specific "Best in Construction" list, and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

Independent energy company Marathon Oil was another top-rated Houston employer, with nearly 1,700 employees, an annual revenue stream of $6.38 billion, and a $15.4 billion market cap. The company was specifically highlighted with a "Top Quality of Pay" label, but also boasts high ratings for its employees' work-life balance, job stability, and belongingness.

In addition to being included in the overall "Best Companies" list, Marathon Oil earned recognition in the industry-specific "Best in Energy" list and the "Best Companies in the South" list.

A second Houston-based energy company earning a spot among the top employers is Occidental (also known as Oxy). The petroleum corporation, which has been in operation since 1920, has nearly 12,600 employees and brings in $27,43 billion in revenue every year.

According to U.S. News, Occidental offers many financial, health and wellness, and workplace benefits including 401k matching, tuition assistance, an employee assistance program, flexible work arrangements, and much more. The company was also given a "Top Quality of Pay" designation.

Occidental appeared in U.S. News' "Best in Mining and Raw Materials," the overall "Best Companies," and "Best Companies in the South" lists.

Other top companies to work for in Houston include:

  • Insperity, Kingwood – Best in Professional Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Southwestern Energy Company, Spring – Best in Energy; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • PROS – Best in IT, Software and Services; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Powell Industries – Best in Manufacturing; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • Stewart – Best in Insurance; Best Companies (overall); Best Companies in the South
  • ConocoPhillips – Best in Energy, Best Companies in the South
  • LGI Homes, The Woodlands – Best in Construction; Best Companies in the South
  • Service Corporation International – Best in Consumer Products and Services; Best Companies in the South
  • Skyward Specialty Insurance – Best Companies in the South
  • Camden Property Trust – Best in Real Estate; Best Companies in the South
  • Cheniere – Best in Energy
  • EOG Resources – Best in Energy
  • Murphy Oil Corporation – Best in Energy

"Prospective and current employees understand the significant impact their employer has on their quality of life," said Carly Chase, vice president of careers at U.S. News and World Report, in a release. "Whether a new grad seeking a company to launch their career, an established professional looking for a change or an HR professional researching the strengths of their company and others, Best Companies to Work For provides a central space to see which companies are meeting their employees' needs best.

Top workplaces around Texas
In all, 42 different employers headquartered in the Lone Star State made it onto U.S. News' 2024-2025 "Best Places to Work For" lists. The Houston metro area tied with Dallas-Fort Worth with the highest number of top-rated employers, at 16 each. Only one company from West Texas made it onto the list: Diamondback Energy in Midland.

The top companies to work for in Austin are:

  • Cirrus Logic
  • CrowdStrike
  • Digital Realty
  • Silicon Labs
  • E2open
  • Q2

The top companies to work for in San Antonio are:

  • Frost Bank
  • iHeartMedia
  • Rush Enterprises, Inc., New Braunfels

The best places to work for across Dallas-Fort Worth are:

  • Thryv Holdings, Inc., Dallas
  • Comerica, Dallas
  • Veritex Community Bank, Dallas
  • Charles Schwab, Westlake
  • Southwest Airlines, Dallas
  • CMC, Irving
  • Sabre, Southlake
  • Texas Instrument, Dallas
  • Omnicell, Fort Worth
  • Enhabit, Dallas
  • Builders FirstSource, Irving
  • Invitation Homes, Dallas
  • Celanese, Irving
  • Atmos Energy, Dallas
  • Lennox, Richardson
  • Caterpillar, Irving
The full list of the best companies to work for can be found at usnews.com

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

$1M donation to Rice establishes pioneering neuro-policy center in Houston

brainy support

A big donation to Rice University will soon help researchers better understand the workings of the human brain.

Harry Yan and Weiman Gao have bestowed $1 million on the Baker Institute of Public Policy to establish the interdisciplinary Neuro-Policy Program.

Neuro-policy is a newer field that explores how brain health and function can help to fuel economic growth.

“The Neuro-Policy Program is at the forefront of pioneering data analysis, empirical research and policy application,” says Harris Eyre, the lead for the program, as well as a senior fellow in brain health at the Baker Institute, in a news release. “Investing in evidence-based strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain and mental health disparities, optimize cognitive development and performance and foster innovation to build more resilient communities.”

Eyre describes the collective value of the human brain as “brain capital.” That’s because brains that are suffering from any number of neurodegenerative or mental health disorders (including depression, anxiety, brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease) have actually taken a toll on the U.S. economy, Eyre explains.

The Neuro-Policy Program seeks to improve brain performance, and consequently enhance economic growth, national security, and our overall standing as a nation of healthy brains. The program’s primary projects include establishing a task force to advise Texas “brain and mind” legislative efforts as well as a Texas Brain Capital Dashboard, collaborating on Texas Forward (Texas Brain Health Plan) with the UT Dallas Center for BrainHealth, thereby working toward U.S. brain capital policy and investment advances. These projects are expected to yield deliverables as early as 2026.

“The Neuro-Policy Program aims to leverage the university’s proximity to the Texas Medical Center and the institute’s strong connections to state and federal policymakers. This is an important yet underrepresented area of research that Houston is poised to lead,” says David Satterfield, the director of the Baker Institute.

Yan and Gao said in a press release that they were inspired to gift the grant funds to Eyre and his research after attending a March 28 Baker Institute event on brain health that featured U.S. Rep. Morgan Luttrell, a co-chair of the Congressional Neuroscience Caucus.

"We are honored to support Dr. Harris Eyre and the Neuro-Policy program he leads. Dr. Eyre’s work has greatly impressed us, highlighting the critical importance of brain health in our society today,” say Yan and Gao. “We hope our contribution can inspire further support and advocacy in the field, helping individuals lead healthier lives through a comprehensive approach to prevention.”