6 startups join Houston sports tech program

ready to grow

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.


nVenue's proprietary predictive analytics appear at the bottom right corner of the screen on Apple TV broadcasts. Photo via nvenue.com

This Houston-born sports tech is changing the game when it comes to fan-accessible data

by the numbers

Using technology to solve big problems has always been Kelly Pracht's career, but she never thought she'd be able use her skills for the sports world she's a lifelong fan of.

After spending nearly 20 years at HP Inc. in various leadership roles and across technology, Pract was watching a baseball game when something clicked for her. Baseball — and its endless data points and metrics — wasn't serving up analytics that the fans cared about. Teams and leagues had their own metic priorities, but fans just want to engage with the game, their team, and the players.

"I saw a gap in how we handle the data coming from the field and how that can impact the fan — and nobody was getting it right," Pracht, co-founder and CEO of nVenue, tells InnovationMap. "I saw technologists coming up with the most nonsensical solutions. For fans like me, coming from my crazy sports family from West Texas where my dad was a coach, I knew that these solutions were a huge miss."

She gives the example of a wearable technology for the viewer at home that can feel what it feels like for the players on the field who get hit. Pracht says it seems like companies were trying to fit technology into the sport, rather than thinking of what the fans really wanted.

She had the idea for a data-driven fan tool in 2017 and nVenue was born. She started building out the code and the team started testing it out at Astros games at Minute Maid.

"What great years to develop this platform. It was fun — these were not boring baseball games," Pracht says. The Astros have won their division four out of the past five years, including winning the World Series in 2017.

Kelly Pracht is the CEO and co-founder of nVenue. Photo courtesy of nVenue

At first, nVenue was using historical data, and that in itself was impressive. But then, Pracht and her team decided to take it live. After building its proprietary analytics platform, nVenue could use data to make predictions in real time.

"We spent over a year — all of 2019 — mastering timing and putting it into a platform," Pracht says, explaining how they built out the artificial intelligence and designed an app for fans to interface with. "We wanted to be able to predict and play. We had over 180 people during the 2019 World Series and playoffs."

The app and algorithm were good — and nVenue expanded into football. Then, the pandemic hit and sports halted completely. Pracht says they pivoted to a B2B model but wasn't seeing any real opportunities for the platform — until the 2021 Comcast NBCUniversal SportsTech Accelerator.

"In kind of a last-ditch effort, we applied to the NBC Comcast accelerator somewhere around August or September of 2020," Pracht says, explaining that she wasn't seeing a sustainable business so it was get into the program or close up shop. "And we got in. They just resonated with everything we said — we found our people."

The accelerator gave nVenue the jumpstart it needed, and as sports returned, the company found its momentum again. Now, the company is headquartered in Dallas with 14 employees all over and three — including Pracht — in Houston. The company has raised its $3.5 million seed round co-led by KB Partners and Corazon Capital and plans to raise a Series A next year.

After a few broadcasts last season, opportunity came knocking by way of Apple TV and Houston-based TV Graphics. The companies collaborated on a deal and, two weeks before the 2022 season started, nVenue got the greenlight to have onscreen analytics on Apple TV broadcasts.

"In under two weeks we structured the deal, convinced them it worked, pulled together every bit of testing we could — by then we only had one week of pre-season games to test — and we pulled it off," Pracht says.

The technology has tons of potential when it comes to sports betting, which is a growing business across the country. Pracht says nVenue isn't looking to compete with the providers on the scene, but instead work with them as an analytics tool.

"We broke down the market down to microbets or in-the-moment bets that are going to happen annually by 2025 — it's 156 billion microbets a year, which turns out to be 3 billion a week," Pracht says.

She adds that new technologies in the streaming world – like no-delay, latency streaming — is only going to make the sports betting world more lucrative, and nVenue will be right there to ride that wave.

Fertitta just had an exit of one of his companies. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Tilman Fertitta's golden online gaming casino officially sold to major sports company

done deal

The acquisition of Tilman Feritta’s Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc. (Nasdaq: GNOG) by digital sports entertainment and gaming company DraftKings Inc. (Nasdaq: DKNG) is complete.

DraftKings announced that it has completed the acquisition, worth at approximately $1.6 billion (dubbed the “GNOG Acquisition”) on Thursday, May 5.

“This will be an alliance unlike any other in the digital sports, entertainment and online gaming industry,” Fertitta said in a statement . “Now that the acquisition is completed, I look forward to what the future will bring for our combined company and am confident this relationship will be a huge success.”

DraftKings notes in a press release that this GNOG Acquisition will allow the company to leverage Golden Nugget’s established brand to “broaden its reach into new customer segments and enhance the combined company’s iGaming product offerings through DraftKings’ vertically integrated tech stack and Golden Nugget Online Gaming’s unique capabilities – including Live Dealer.”

Notably, the GNOG Acquisition will not include brick and mortar Golden Nugget casinos; Fertitta will maintain ownership of those entities.

The GNOG Acquisition will deliver “significant” benefits to DraftKings, as well as expected savings of $300 million, a release notes. The company aims to deploy a multi-brand approach meant to enhance cross-selling opportunities and drive increased revenue.

Additionally, DraftKings and Fertitta Entertainment expect to rebrand some current and future retail sportsbook locations at Fertitta Entertainment-owned Golden Nugget properties into DraftKings sportsbooks.

As CultureMap previously reported, DraftKings' agreement with Fertitta Entertainment will provide for it to become the exclusive daily fantasy sports, sports betting, and iGaming partner of the Houston Rockets. Additionally, if sports betting becomes legal in Texas, DraftKings will open a sportsbook at the Toyota Center.

As the Houston Chronicle reports, DraftKings, headquartered in Boston, more than doubled its revenues to nearly $1.3 billion in 2021 from about $615 million in 2020, according to SEC filings. Its net loss widened to about $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion in 2020.

“Acquiring Golden Nugget Online Gaming gives us synergies across our business,” said Jason Robins, chairman and CEO of DraftKings, in a statement. “We anticipate that this acquisition will provide meaningful revenue uplift by utilizing our data-driven marketing capabilities and a dual brand iGaming strategy, gross margin improvement opportunities, and cost savings across external marketing and SG&A. I am proud to welcome the Golden Nugget Online Gaming team to the DraftKings family.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

A new collaboration between Houston institutions is looking into physiology, injury prevention, and rehabilitation. Photo via Getty Images

Rice University, Houston Methodist announce human performance joint research project

investigation nation

Rice University and Houston Methodist have teamed up to launch an initiative designed to enhance research and education about human performance.

The Houston Methodist-Rice University Center for Human Performance will enable physicians, academic researchers, and university students to collaborate with student athletes, trainers, and coaches. Their work will advance joint research, establish critical care programs, and promote educational activities in exercise physiology, injury prevention, and rehabilitation.

“Enhancing performance means optimizing results, and the study of human performance applies to more than sports,” Heidi Perkins, teaching professor and chair of Rice’s Department of Kinesiology, says in a news release. “Research in human performance benefits athletes, but it also benefits older adults, performing artists, people with disabilities, surgical patients — basically anyone who needs to function better and improve their quality of life through some combination of physical activity, nutrition, sleep, and the like.”

The center — led by Houston Methodist’s Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Rice Kinesiology, and Rice Athletics — is being housed in 6,000 square feet of renovated space at the university’s Tudor Fieldhouse. Technology at the center will allow such activities as 3D motion capture, measurement of bone density, cardiovascular screening, and aerobic performance testing.

Tom Killian, dean of natural sciences at Rice, says development of the center is a “transformational moment” for the university’s kinesiology department.

“The Center for Human Performance will attract new faculty, provide student research and internship opportunities, and create opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations between Rice Kinesiology faculty and peers in biomechanics, neuroscience, human factors, robotics, wearable technologies, data sciences, biosciences, and other disciplines,” Killian says.

Dr. Patrick McCulloch, the John S. Dunn Chair of Orthopedics at Houston Methodist, says the center offers a “unique opportunity” to propel research and knowledge about human performance.

“Researchers with the center will develop novel techniques to prevent, treat, and recover from musculoskeletal injuries and diseases,” McCulloch says. “Ultimately, these efforts will have a huge benefit for our patients at Houston Methodist. High-performance athletes, older adults, and everyone in between will have access to treatment that is informed by the cutting-edge research undertaken at the center.”

Aaron Knape joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to share how he's taking the sEATz platform into a new vertical. Photo courtesy of sEATz

Houston sportstech startup scales, plans expansion into health care

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 109

When sEATz launched, the startup was looking to provide a way for sports fans to order their beer and hotdog to their seat without having to miss a moment of a game. Over the years, the Houston company has expanded its technology to be a reliable platform for mobile order management in stadiums and arenas — and now Aaron Knape, co-founder and CEO, knows the technology can do so much more.

"We started this company with a focus on mobile ordering for sports and entertainment venues," Knape says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We've always known we wanted to get into other industry verticals, and one that stuck out, primarily because it's such a big deal in Houston, is the health care industry."

Knape says he and his co-founder, Marshall Law, let this idea be known to their vendor partners, and eventually sEATz got the right connection to a health care campus to try out a new product: MyEatz.

"What we're building now is a mobile ordering platform for these large health care campuses," Knape says, explaining that the campuses have thousands of employees with limited space and time for dining. "We're starting on our first pilots in the health care industry where we provide that mobile ordering platform and back-end support with our partner Aramark."

Among the first groups to pilot the new product is Houston Methodist, Knape says. The pilots should launch this quarter — either this month or next.

"This could be a much bigger market than sports and entertainment," Knape says. "Sports will continue to be our core market, but this will be a little less seasonal."

And, in light of the last 18 months, less averse to the effects of a shutdown of sports and entertainment. However, the sEATz team entered the COVID-19 pandemic with uncertainty — like most of the world — but the team was able to market sEATz mobile ordering platform as something crucial to bringing back fans in stadiums.

"Our goal was to go out and market ourselves and push the branding of 'we facilitate social distancing, mitigate crowds, and get rid of lines,'" Knape says on the show. "That really resonated with a lot of our clientbase."

Remarkably, sEATz even raised fresh funding amid the pandemic. In November of 2020, the startup closed an oversubscribed $1.6 million seed round led by Valedor Partners. Knape says he's currently focused on the company's to support scaling and growing the team by six or so new employees over the next few months.

"I tell the team that we're kind of coming out of stealth mode — I know we're not in a true stealth mode, but we haven't spent a lot of money on sales and marketing," Knape says. "Now it's time to start putting that emphasis on who we are, that we're here, and we're ready to take over."

Knape shares more on how sEATz is growing and the potential for Houston to build a sportstech niche within the innovation ecosystem on the podcast. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.