These sports innovation companies have joined Pokatok. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based organization focused on advancing sports tech startups has named its latest cohort.

Pokatok Labs announced the addition of six companies to its portfolio as the program — focused on seed and series A startups across health tech, gaming, fan experience, and more — kicks off. Lasting nine weeks and held twice a year, Pokatok's inaugural cohort was announced in May. Participating companies receive access to a network of organizations, advisors, investors, and subject matter experts within sports tech.

"We are pumped to launch our second cohort of all-star companies. If it's possible, this collection of startups may be even more outstanding than the last group," says Lawson Gow, Pokatok's co-founder. "We are eager to immerse them into the Texas market and to otherwise support their growth in any way that we can."

Gow, founder of The Cannon, launched the program with 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 fall 2022 cohort for Pokatok includes:

Adapt Brands

Image via adaptbrands.com

California-based Adapt Brands is a superfood company that's creating Hemp-infused products as natural alternatives to synthetic beverages, supplements, and opioids. The company is founded by CEO Richard Harrington.

AGOGIE

Image via agogie.com

AGOGIE — based in St. Louis, Missouri, and founded by CEO Aaron Mottern — designs apparel with resistance bands built inside, creating a new category of apparel that burns calories and fat, activates and strengthens muscle, and is suitable for all day wear.

Fabric

Photo via fabric.space

Los Angeles-based Fabric brings fandom to the metaverse with its a geospatial web platform that enables sports teams to create and launch a Space, an interactive and social 3D jumbotron.

Ongo

Image via ongo.com

Ongo, headquartered in San Francisco, is a subscription-based software company designing solutions for users to approach health and wellness.

Recut

Image via Unsplash

New York-based Recut provides tools for users to personalized video content at scale.

Tallysight

Image via tallysight.com

Tallysight, founded in San Diego by CEO Matt Peterson, is an all-in-one creator monetization platform for individuals and businesses in digital sports media and betting.


Kate Evinger joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss Pokatok Labs, a sportstech program in its first year. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston sportstech-focused lab wraps up inaugural cohort, opens apps for fall

houston innovators podcast episode 141

Houston is having a moment when it comes to sports. Fresh off the announcement of Houston being selected as a FIFA World Cup host in 2026 and just a year away from hosting another NCAA Final Four, the city is also home to a growing sportstech hub.

And one new Houston company, Pokatok, is hoping it can help support the local sports innovation community. Pokatok, which is part of the same business family as InnovationMap and Gow Media, was founded to create momentum in local sportstech activity, Kate Evinger says on this week's Houston Innovators Podcast.

"Our mission is to help be a partner with all the exciting things happening in Houston — from the startup entrepreneurship side to the things we're seeing in the sports community — to continue to elevate and uplift the voices here in addition to bringing folks in from all over the world to celebrate the human experience in sports and to continue driving innovation in this space," she says on the show.

One of the ways the company is spurring sports innovation is through Pokatok Labs, a scale-up program for seed and series A startups in the sportstech space. Evinger, who leads the program as director, says the inaugural cohort has wrapped up — and the team is already accepting applications for the fall program, which will run September 20 through November 18.

"We are looking for anything and everything under the sun within sportstech — even if you're the founder of a company that may have ties to sports but you're not sure, we're happy to have that conversation," Evinger says. "It could be nutrition, health and wellness, athlete performance, fan engagement, or smart venue."

Evinger shares more about Pokatok Labs and the potential she sees for Houston to continue evolving as a hub for sports innovation on the podcast.

Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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

Sports tech scale-up program launches in Houston, names inaugural cohort

game on

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.
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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.