In Houston’s greatest endeavor to advance entrepreneurship, The Ion is only days away from opening its doors.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ion hosted virtual programs such as the Family Tech Night and startup events. However, officials hope that physical space will serve as the core of collaboration, exploration and innovation by bringing together the entrepreneurial, business and academic communities.
“People involved in the ecosystem are very excited about the changes they are seeing,” said Deanea LeFlore, senior director of partnerships at The Ion.
Launched in July 2019, The Ion is a six-story redevelopment of the former Sears building between downtown and the Texas Medical Center. The 288,000 square meter building has classrooms, laboratories and prototypes, co-working and office space as well as restaurants.
The Ion at 4201 Main Street also offers around 50,000 square feet of public space and a common space for events and programs.
Despite its success in the energy, aerospace and medical sectors, Houston struggled to attract technology companies to expansion projects. In many cases, these jobs went to the Austin and Dallas neighbors.
In recent years, executives from the city, business and education have taken note of the rejection and committed to expanding the innovation ecosystem.
Jan Odegard, senior director of industry and academic partner, as a professor at Rice University, said he had observed how many Houston graduates had fled to find work in other cities. The students didn’t “see” the technology jobs.
Odegard said it was “disheartening” because technology is available in Houston. For example, many energy companies are looking for IT professionals, but these are not traditional tech jobs.
The Ion aims to improve the connectivity of emerging industries while providing a safe space for a diverse community to learn new skills, start new businesses, and accelerate businesses.
Supported by the Rice Management Company and all major educational institutions in the Houston area, the center offers boot camps, short term certifications, accelerator programs, angel investing, and other events.
Residents also get access to career development opportunities.
“We’re building the infrastructure that will support this. We want to continue to attract and retain talent in Houston, ”said LeFlore.
With the seeds of innovation rooted across the city, the Ion leadership believes the city is headed in the right direction.
“The data shows an increase in the number of resources available to startups, the number of collaborating locations and the amount of venture capital entering the Houston market,” said LeFlore.
In terms of venture capital investment, a key metric for measuring technology and innovation, Odegard says Houston is targeting a $ 1 billion annual VC investment in startups and entrepreneurship in Houston. That could exceed the reported $ 700 million invested in 2020.
The Ion leadership said the goal is to reinforce what is already being done in the community. LeFlore said partnerships are essential.
“We’re not going around recreating the wheel, we’re complementing, building and growing together,” she said.
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