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

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.

Richard Kinder once again lands on this prestigious list. Photo courtesy of BBVA

11 Houston billionaires join Elon Musk on Forbes' list of the world's richest

mo' money

In the battle of the world’s billionaires, a newly minted Texan comes out on top — and nearly a dozen Houstonians fare quite well.

Forbes magazine’s new ranking of the world’s richest people puts Texas transplant Elon Musk at No. 1, with a net worth of $219 billion. That’s up from $151 billion in 2021, $24.6 billion in 2020, $22.3 billion in 2019, and $19.9 billion in 2018. The CEO of Austin-based vehicle manufacturer Tesla and leader of a host of other businesses, Musk was ranked second on Forbes’ 2021 list. He sat behind Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose net worth in 2021 was pegged at $177 million. This year, Forbes estimates Bezos’ net worth is $171 billion.

Here in Houston, 11 locals land on the prestigious list. They are:

  • Oil mogul Jeffery Hildebrand: tied for No. 316, $7.5 billion, up from $2 billion
  • Pipeline magnate Richard Kinder: tied for No. 316, $7.5 billion, up from $7 billion
  • Houston siblings and pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams: each tied for No. 375, $6.6 billion, up from $6 billion
  • Hospitality titan and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: tied for No. 471, $5.6 billion, up from $4.6 billion
  • Houston software entrepreneur Robert Brockman: tied for No. 601, $4.7 billion, down from $6 billion
  • Toyota mega-dealer Dan Friedkin: tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Houston Texans owner Janice McNair: tied for No. 687, $4.2 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Hedge fund honcho John Arnold: tied for No. 913, $3.3 billion, unchanged from last year

Meanwhile, Nearly 30 other Texans appear in this year’s top 1,000. Here, they are grouped by where they live and their global ranking, 2022 net worth, and 2021 net worth.

Austin

  • Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla: No. 1, $219 billion, up from $151 billion
  • Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies: No. 24, $55.1 billion, up from $45.1 billion
  • Venture capitalist Robert Smith: tied for No. 369, $6.7 billion, up from $6 billion
  • Tito’s Vodka baron Bert “Tito” Beveridge: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, down from $4.6 billion
  • Tech entrepreneur Thai Lee: tied for No. 709, $4.1 billion, up from $3.2 billion

Dallas

  • Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: tied for No. 185, $10.6 billion, up from $8.9 billion
  • Banking and real estate kingpin Andy Beal: tied for No. 201, $9.9 billion, up from $7.9 billion
  • Oil and real estate titan Ray Lee Hunt: tied for No. 386, $6.5 billion, up from $4.2 billion
  • Money manager Ken Fisher: tied for No. 509, $5.3 billion, down from $5.5 billion
  • Media magnate and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban: tied for No. 601, $4.7 billion, up from $4.4 billion
  • Oil and gas guru Trevor Rees-Jones: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $4 billion
  • Hotel and investment titan Robert Rowling: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $3.9 billion
  • Oil baron W. Herbert Hunt: tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $2 billion
  • Margot Birmingham Perot: widow of tech and real estate entrepreneur H. Ross Perot Sr., tied for No. 665, $4.3 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Oil and gas tycoon Kelcy Warren: tied for No. 728, $4 billion, up from $3.4 billion
  • Real estate bigwig H. Ross Perot, Jr.: tied for No. 951, $3.2 billion, up from $1.6 billion

Fort Worth

  • Walmart heiress Alice Walton: No. 18, $65.3 billion, up from $61.8 billion
  • Oil and investment guru Robert Bass: tied for No. 536, $5.1 billion, unchanged from last year
  • Private equity magnate David Bonderma: tied for No. 637, $4.5 billion, up from $4.1 billion
  • Investor and oilman Sid Bass: tied for No. 883, $3.4 billion, up from $2.9 billion

Elsewhere in Texas

  • Sports and entertainment mogul Stan Kroenke (Vernon): tied for No. 183, $10.7 billion, up from $8.2 billion
  • Walmart heiress Ann Walton Kroenke (Vernon): tied for No. 227, $9 billion, up from $8.4 billion
  • Oil tycoon Autry Stephens (Midland): tied for No. 552, $5 billion, not previously ranked

“The tumultuous stock market contributed to sharp declines in the fortunes of many of the world’s richest,” Kerry A. Dolan, assistant managing editor of Wealth at Forbes, says of this year’s ranking. “Still, more than 1,000 billionaires got wealthier over the past year. The top 20 richest alone are worth a combined $2 trillion, up from $1.8 trillion in 2021.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Tilman's Fertitta Entertainment is one of the largest privately owned businesses in America. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

4 Houston firms land on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies

BIG BIZ IN H-TOWN

Some Houston-area companies have some major bragging rights. Forbes has released its new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue, and five local firms land on the list. They are:

  • Car dealership group Gulf States Toyota, No. 45, $8.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Energy company Calpine, No. 48, $8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Petroleum and petrochemical products marketer Tauber Oil, No. 61, $6.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Casino, restaurant, and sports conglomerate Fertitta Entertainment, No. 166, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • BMC Software, No. 219, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

Elsewhere in Texas, San Antonio-based H-E-B ranks fifth on Forbes’ new list of the country’s largest privately owned companies based on annual revenue. According to Forbes, the grocery chain’s annual revenue is $32.8 billion, making it the largest private company in Texas. On its website, H-E-B reports annual sales of $32 billion.

The only other San Antonio company on the Forbes list is construction engineering company Zachry Group. It ranks 225th, with annual revenue of $2 billion.

Nearly all of the other Texas companies in the Forbes ranking are based in the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas. As well as the five Houston companies, 13 DFW companies companies show up on the list:

  • Grand Prairie-based alcohol and wine distributor Republic National Distributing, No. 25, $11.9 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based conglomerate Sammons Enterprises, No. 70, $5.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • McKinney-based roofing distributor SRS Distribution, No. 80, $5.4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based arts-and-crafts retailer Michaels, No. 81, $5.3 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based luxury retailer Neiman Marcus, No. 101, $4.7 billion in annual revenue.
  • Irving-based electrical systems and equipment maker Consolidated Electrical Distributors, No. 103, $4.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Fort Worth-based food and beverage distributor Ben E. Keith, No. 107, $4.2 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based oil and gas explorer Hunt Consolidated, No. 113, $4 billion in annual revenue.
  • Frisco-based transportation and logistics software provider Transplace, No. 127, $3.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Addison-based cosmetics retailer Mary Kay, No. 164, $2.8 billion in annual revenue.
  • Plano-based senior healthcare provider Golden Living, No. 178, $2.6 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based general contractor Austin Industries, No. 217, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.
  • Dallas-based transportation and logistics company Mode Transportation, No. 220, $2.1 billion in annual revenue.

One other company on the Forbes list, New Jersey-based IT company SHI International Corp., has a strong connection to Texas. Austin billionaire Thai Lee, with a net worth estimated at $4.1 billion, is co-founder, president, and CEO of SHI. The company ranks 28th on the Forbes list, with annual revenue of $11.1 billion.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Richard and Nancy Kinder are among America's most wealthy. Photo by Michelle Watson/Catchlight Group

Richard Kinder and 10 other Houston billionaires cash in on Forbes list of richest Americans

where's the money

Never one to overtly draw attention to himself, Houston pipeline magnate — and Memorial Park benefactorRichard Kinder has landed on a coveted list, as have 10 other Houstonians.

Forbes has released the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, and Kinder ranks eighth in Texas and 128th nationally with an estimated net worth of $7.1 billion.

Meanwhile, Houston hospitality king and Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta ranks 11th in Texas and 158th nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.3 billion.

Houston pipeline heirs Dannine Avara, Scott Duncan, Milane Frantz, and Randa Duncan Williams tie for 12th place in Texas and tie for 161st nationally. Each has an estimated net worth of $6.2 billion.

Software entrepreneur Robert Brockman ranks 19th in Texas and ties for 229th nationally with a net worth of $4.7 billion.

Oil mogul Jeffery Hildebrand ranks 20th in Texas and ties for 240th nationally with a net worth of $4.6 billion.

Toyota mega-dealer Dan Friedkin ranks 24th in Texas and ties for 253rd with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion.

Houston Texans owner Janice McNair of Houston ranks 26th in Texas and ties for 269th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.2 billion.

Finally, local hedge fund honcho John Arnold ties for 30th in Texas and ties for 358th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.3 billion.

Here's how billionaires from other major metros in Texas fared on the Forbes 400 list.

Austin

No shocker here: Tesla and SpaceX guru Elon Musk ranks No. 2 among the richest Americans and No. 1 among the richest Texans. What is shocking, however, is how much Musk's net worth skyrocketed from 2020 to 2021. Hint: It's more than $100 billion.

This year, the Forbes 400 estimates his net worth stood at $190.5 billion as of September 3. To give that some context, the size of the economy in the state of Kansas exceeds $193 billion.

Last year, Musk's estimated net worth was $68 billion. This means that from 2020 to 2021, his net worth exploded by $122.5 billion, or 180 percent.

Among the richest Americans, only Amazon's Jeff Bezos beats Musk — but not by much. The Forbes 400 pegs Bezos' net worth at $201 billion as of September 3, up from $179 billion at the same time last year.

Forbes lists Musk's residence as Austin, although he has said he spends much of his time in Boca Chica. The Texas Gulf Coast community hosts Starbase, a launch site for SpaceX rockets. Regardless of precisely where he lives, Musk does spend a lot of time in the Austin area, where Tesla is building a $1.1 billion vehicle manufacturing plant. Musk relocated to Texas last year.

Before Musk arrived in the Lone Star State, Walmart heir Alice Walton of Fort Worth ranked as the richest person in Texas. She's now in second place, with a net worth estimated at $67.9 billion. Walton ranks as the 12th richest American and richest American woman on this year's Forbes 400.

Aside from Musk, Austin billionaires who appear on the Forbes 400 are:

  • Michael Dell, founder, chairman, and CEO of Round Rock-based Dell Technologies. Estimated net worth: $50.1 billion. Texas rank: No. 3. U.S. rank: No. 18.
  • Robert Smith, founder, chairman, and CEO of private equity firm Vista Equity Partners. Estimated net worth: $6.7 billion. Texas rank: No. 9. U.S. rank: No. 141.
  • Vodka titan Bert "Tito" Beveridge. Estimated net worth: $4.8 billion. Texas rank: No. 18. U.S. rank: No. 224 (tie).
  • IT entrepreneur Thai Lee. Estimated net worth: $4.1 billion. Texas rank: No. 27 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 273 (tie).
  • Software entrepreneur Joe Liemandt. Estimated net worth: $3 billion. Texas rank: No. 33 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 377 (tie).
  • Jim Bryer, founder and CEO of venture capital firm Bryer Capital. Estimated net worth: $2.9 billion. Texas rank: 35 (tie). U.S. rank: No. 389 (tie).

Dallas-Fort Worth

Banking and real estate mogul Andy Beal of Dallas holds the No. 5 spot in Texas and No. 78 nationally. His estimated net worth is $9.9 billion.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones of Dallas sits at No. 7 in Texas and No. 86 nationally with an estimated net worth of $9.1 billion.

Money manager Ken Fisher of Dallas ranks 10th in Texas and 151st nationally with an estimated net worth of $6.4 billion.

Oil and real estate titan Ray Lee Hunt of Dallas ranks 16th in Texas and ties for 188th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5.7 billion.

Oil and investment mogul Robert Bass of Fort Worth ranks 17th in Texas and ties for 212th nationally with an estimated net worth of $5 billion.

Private equity kingpin David Bonderman of Fort Worth ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Media magnate and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Oil and gas honcho Trevor Rees-Jones of Dallas ties for 21st in Texas and ties for 247th nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.5 billion.

Hotel and investment guru Robert Rowling of Dallas ranks 25th in Texas and ties for 261st nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.3 billion.

Margot Birmingham Perot of Dallas, widow of tech and real estate entrepreneur H. Ross Perot Sr., ties for 27th in Texas and ties for 273rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $4.1 billion.

Oil and gas tycoon Kelcy Warren of Dallas ranks 29th in Texas and ties for 289th nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.9 billion.

Real estate bigwig H. Ross Perot Jr. of Dallas ranks 32nd in Texas and 363rd nationally with an estimated net worth of $3.2 billion.

Homebuilder Donald Horton and family of Fort Worth tie for 35th in Texas and tie for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

Oil baron W. Herbert Hunt of Dallas ties for 35th in Texas and ties for 389th nationally with an estimated net worth of $2.9 billion.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Tilman Fertitta's online gambling biz has changed hands. Photo by J. Thomas Ford

Houston businessman sells online gaming casino in $1.56B deal with fantasy sports tech company

m&a

DraftKings, the nationally renown fantasy sports and online sportsbook company (Nasdaq: DKNG), announced it will acquire Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta's Golden Nugget Online Gaming, Inc. (Nasdaq: GNOG) in an all-stock transaction valued at $1.56 billion. In addition, DraftKings has reached an agreement with Fertitta Entertainment on a partnership with the Houston Rockets, Golden Nugget casinos, and the Landry's vast network of restaurants.

"Our acquisition of Golden Nugget Online Gaming, a brand synonymous with iGaming and entertainment, will enhance our ability to instantly reach a broader consumer base, including Golden Nugget's loyal 'iGaming-first' customers," Jason Robins, DraftKings' CEO and chairman of the board, said in a statement. "We look forward to Tilman being an active member of our Board and one of our largest shareholders."

Golden Nugget Online Gaming began operating in New Jersey in 2013. The company offers online gaming such as blackjack and slot machines that are accessible by computers, tablets, and smartphones. Live dealers enhance the experience for players.

Fertitta took Golden Nugget Online Gaming public in 2020. At the time, the deal valued the company at approximately $745 million. Fertitta currently owns approximately 46 percent of the shares in GNOG, according to a press release, and serves as its chairman and CEO.

"This transaction will add great value to the shareholders as two market leaders merge into a leading global player in digital sports, entertainment and online gaming," Fertitta said. "We believe that DraftKings is one of the leading players in this burgeoning space and couldn't be more excited to lock arms with Jason and the DraftKings family across our entire portfolio of assets, including the Houston Rockets, the Golden Nugget casinos, and Landry's vast portfolio of restaurants. This is a strong commercial agreement for both companies."

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.

The boards of directors of both directors of both companies have approved the transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals. It is expected to close in the first quarter of 2022.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Post Oak Motor Cars now accepts Dogecoin and Bitcoin as payment. Photo courtesy of Fertitta Entertainment

Houston supercar dealer now accepting Dogecoin as payment

cryptocars

Post Oak Motor Cars is now accepting dogecoin, a cryptocurrency that recently gained new heights of popularity following support from Tesla founder Elon Musk, as a form of payment. New Bugatti, Bentley, Karma, and Rolls-Royce vehicles are sold at the boutique sales location next to Houston's only five-star hotel, The Post Oak Hotel at Uptown Houston.

This is the second form of cryptocurrency the Houston dealership has accepted. In 2018, Post Oak Motor Cars announced that it would allow customers to pay using bitcoin after integrating cryptocurrency processor Bitpay into its payment system.

Dogecoin was created in 2013 by software engineers from IBM and Adobe. In 2014, the currency briefly passed Bitcoin and all other cryptocurrencies in trading volume. Fast forward to 2020 when a TikTok trend encouraged people to purchase dogecoin in an effort to get the value to $1. By January 2021 Musk, Gene Simmons, Snoop Dogg, and GameStop short squeeze Redditors were all in on the buying binge pushing dogecoin's value to new heights.

Buy Sport, Premium and Luxury cars with Bitcoin from Post Oak Motor Cars. www.youtube.com


In March of this year, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban announced that the team would allow the public to purchase tickets and products with the digital currency. Within two days, the Mavs had carried out over 20,000 Dogecoin transactions.

Last week, dogecoin's value was up 400 percent week-over-week, hitting an all-time high of $0.46 valuation on April 16. It is currently the fifth-highest valued cryptocurrency and its value is up 6,000 percent year-to-date. According to CNN, the total value of the dogecoins in circulation is nearly $50 billion.

Post Oak Motor Cars is owned by businessman Tilman Fertitta, CEO of Fertitta Entertainment. The billionaire is also the the chairman, CEO, and owner of Landry's, Inc. and owner of the Houston Rockets NBA team. The Rockets online shop currently allows customers to purchase items using Bitpay. Bitpay facilitates transactions for users wishing to complete a purchase using Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrencies.

Buyers are currently able to buy a Tesla using Bitcoin, but despite Musk's appreciation for the brand faced by a Shiba Inu, dogecoin is not currently accepted as a form of payment.

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This article was originally run on AutomotiveMap.

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Early-stage startup accelerator names latest Houston cohort, new local leader

new to Hou

A national startup accelerator has announced its fifth local cohort, which includes five Houston companies participating in the spring 2022 class.

Madison, Wisconsin-based gener8tor has announced today the five participating startups in gBETA Houston. The program will be led by Muriel Foster, the newly named director of gBETA Houston, which originally launched in Houston in 2020 thanks to a grant from from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

The program, which is designed to help guide early-stage startups find early customer traction, connect with mentors, and more, is based in the Downtown Launchpad, and is free and does not take equity in the participating companies. The cohort kicked off on April 21 and concludes on June 10.

The new cohort includes:

  • Founded by CEO Steffie Thomson a year ago, Getaway Sticks has designed a shoe that gives women the painless support they need using athletic foam to create a shoe that gives women the painless support they need. Getaway Sticks provides the solutions to women’s #1 wardrobe complaint of high heel pain. Since launch, the company has earned over $35,000 in revenue from over 150 customers.
  • Through a combination of software and hardware technology, LocBox is rethinking the shopping experience for online and local purchases. If you shop, ship, or have food delivered to your house, LocBox will make your life easier. Led by CEO Sterling Sansing, LocBox has previously participated in the Texas A&M MBA Venture Challenge.
  • SpeakHaus is focused on equipping young professionals and entrepreneurs with public speaking skills through its on-demand training platform and group coaching program. Since launching in October 2021, SpeakHaus has facilitated 6 corporate trainings and coached 61 business leaders generating over $49,000 in revenue. The company is led by CEO Christa Clarke.
  • Led by CEO LaGina Harris, The Us Space is creating spaces intentionally for women of color, women-led businesses, and women-centric organizations. Since launching in June 2021, The Us Space has created partnerships with more than a dozen community organizations, sustainable businesses, and organizations creating positive economic impact in the City of Houston.
  • Founded in August 2021, Urban Eatz Delivery is a food delivery service app that caters to the overlooked and underrepresented restaurants, food trucks, and home-based food vendors. Urban Eatz Delivery has earned over $88,000 in revenue, delivered to over 2,000 users, and worked with 36 restaurant and food vendors on the app. The company is led by CEO D’Andre Good.

“The five companies selected for the Spring 2022 cohort tackle unique problems that have propelled them to create a business that solves the issues they once faced," Foster says in a news release. "From public speaking, apparel comfort, and food delivery from underrepresented restaurant owners, these founders have found their niche and are ready to continue to make an enormous impact on the Houston ecosystem."

it's Foster's first cohort at the helm of the program. A Houston native, she has her master’s in public administration from Texas Southern University and a bachelor’s in marketing from Oklahoma State University. Her background includes work in the nonprofit sector and international business consulting in Cape Town, South Africa, and she's worked within programming at organizations such as MassChallenge, BLCK VC, and now gener8tor.

The program is housed at the Downtown Launchpad. The five startups will have access to the space to meet with mentors, attend events, and run their companies.

"Creating (the hub) was a little like a moonshot, but it’s paying off and contributing enormous impact to the city’s economy. The five startups selected for the gBETA Houston Spring cohort will continue that legacy,” says Robert Pieroni, director of economic development at Central Houston Inc., in the release. “As these entrepreneurs chase their dreams and create something epic, they will know Downtown Houston is standing behind them. I am so proud of what Downtown Launchpad is already, and what it will become.”

Muriel Foster, a native Houstonian, is the new director of gBETA Houston. Image via LinkedIn

Vote now for your favorite 2022 Houston science teacher

Rewarding the Spark

Since 2019, alliantgroup and the Houston Independent School District have been partnering for the SPARK Award, a program that rewards outstanding HISD science teachers who are increasing student engagement and achievement through innovative lesson plans that emphasize both the importance and fun aspects of science.

The overall winner receives a $3,500 personal award plus $500 for their classroom, and the other five finalists receive $1,300 each plus another $500 to spend on their classrooms.

Get to know this year's crop of nominees below, then be sure to cast your vote once a day here until May 25.

After working for three years as an accountant, Lynell Dillard taught a weekly finance class where her students became her inspiration to pursue a full-time career in the classroom.

She secured her first teaching position in 2002 and hasn’t looked back. For three years now, she has been teaching science and giving her students hands-on learning opportunities they may not experience outside of the classroom.

Dillard explains that for many of her students, her role as a teacher is to give them as many opportunities to interact with the natural environment as possible. She knows many of her students and their families would not have access to these resources if it were not for the school district.

"We all learn in a different way, so we have to be willing to help that other person if they don’t get what I get, and there’s no criticism in it," Dillard says. "I tell them they are my future. Every single part of your education is important."


"Before I went to foster care, I was not doing well in my education," Ruth Giles says. "My foster mom, Nancy, took the time to figure out how I learned. She figured out I’m good with memorization, flashcards, and practicing. I would not be here without her today."

Sadly, Nancy passed away in January from COVID-19. Now, more than ever, it’s important to Giles that she continue sharing her experiences with her students to keep Nancy’s legacy alive.

Giles says the best part of teaching fifth-grade science is helping her students view the world in a different way, just like Nancy did for her.


Melanie Jenkins has been a fifth grade ESL teacher at Katherine Smith Elementary School for three years, but first got started in substitute teaching. She then went on to fulfill her childhood dream of working in finance, but found it wasn’t all she thought it would be.

"I still had in the back of my mind these kids whose lives I touched and who remembered me and understood what I was trying to teach them," she says.

Now she can't imagine doing anything else. It's challenging that many of her students are learning English for the first time, but she focuses on vocabulary and giving them resources in both English and Spanish is key, along with truly forming relationships with them.

“I try to figure out who likes what and how I can bring that into the classroom,” says Jenkins. “If you are a hands-on learner, we have the opportunities to put our hands on things. If you are a project-based learner, you have the opportunity to do projects. So there’s no one size fits all.”


According to science teacher Mimi Muñoz, STEM education is important but learning to be kind should be first in any classroom environment.

She also works hard to get her fifth-grade students engaged in their lessons and understand why science is important to their everyday lives.

“They get so excited to do hands-on activities, experiments, and projects,” Muñoz explains. “One thing I really want them to understand is that you need learning every day of your life. And learning science, as well as the world around us, is their real life. The things I’m teaching you [in the classroom] are important.”

Muñoz has been teaching for three years and spent her entire career at Seguin Elementary. She says the last two years were very tough on her students because of the pandemic, but despite virtual learning, it has only strengthened the way she connects to her students.


An educator of 17 years, Gerjuan O’Neal is following in her family’s footsteps.

"My maternal grandmother was a second and third grade teacher, and my maternal grandfather was a high school government teacher," she says. "My great-aunt was an elementary teacher and then a homebound teacher. My favorite thing is that I teach kindergarten through fifth grade, so every day is different."

She loves teaching STEM to her students because they can see how it applies to the other subjects they are also learning in school.

"I really like for my students to be creative problem solvers, and I like to show them all the different components of STEM," O’Neal explains. "If we are doing a science technology map, everything fits together. If we do a Lego build, we’re doing estimating with numbers. If we are coding, they get to see where math is involved and where they must be critical thinkers."


Although this is her first year teaching at Bonner Elementary School, Leticia Sifuentes is a veteran of the classroom with 24 years of experience.

Her favorite part about teaching is seeing her students become just as passionate about science as she is.

“I tell my students I’m a science nerd. We watch a movie — where’s the science? We go somewhere — where’s the science? They’re able to bring science to everything they talk about. It’s in reading, it’s in math, it’s just the way we can incorporate science in everyday life.”

Sifuentes was named an honorable mention teacher for alliantgroup’s 2019 SPARK Award, but three years later she says she is a better educator after working through the challenges of a pandemic and virtual learning. She now realizes that as an educator it is not only her responsibility to ensure her students are performing well academically but also emotionally, socially, and mentally.

CAST YOUR VOTE ONCE A DAY HERE before May 25.

Houston ranks as No. 3 city for Asian American entrepreneurs

diverse city

Known for its diversity, Houston ranks as the third best major metro area in the U.S. for Asian American entrepreneurs, according to a new study.

Personal finance website SmartAsset analyzed data for 52 of the largest metro areas to come up with the ranking. The analysis looked at nine metrics in three categories: prevalence of Asian-owned businesses, success of new businesses, and income and job security.

About 9 percent of the Houston metro area’s residents identify as Asian.

The SmartAsset study puts Houston in fifth place for the number of Asian-owned businesses (nearly 19,900) and in fourth place for the share of Asian-owned businesses (almost 17.9 percent) among all businesses. Furthermore, Houston ranks 14th for the increase (nearly 9.6 percent) in the number of Asian-owned businesses from 2017 to 2019.

Leading the SmartAsset list is the San Francisco metro area, followed by Dallas-Fort Worth. Austin comes in at No. 11 and San Antonio at No. 14.

The largest minority-owned business in the Houston area, as ranked by annual revenue, is Asian-owned private equity firm ZT Corporate.

Founded in 1997 by Chairman and CEO Taseer Bada, who was born in Pakistan, ZT Corporate is valued at more than $1 billion. ZT Corporate generates more than $600 million in annual revenue and employs over 3,000 people.

“As we look ahead, the vision for ZT Corporate is limitless. Our team will continue pushing boundaries and finding the bright spots in the economy that produce consistent financial gains for our investors,” Bada says in a news release marking his company’s 25th anniversary.

ZT Corporate’s flagship businesses are:

  • Altus Community Healthcare, a provider of health care services.
  • ZT Financial Services, a wealth management firm.
  • ZT Motors, which owns and operates auto dealerships. Last year, ZT Motors bought three Ron Carter dealerships in the Houston area.

“ZT Corporate is a vital asset to our citizens as a longtime local employer,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner says, “and has positively affected many lives through their health care organizations and philanthropic efforts.”