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New innovation ‘vertical village’ announced for downtown Houston

The Downtown Launch Pad will house accelerator programs MassChallenge and gener8tor and coworking space from The Cannon. Photo courtesy of Downtown Launch Pa

The Cannon Houston, a startup incubator and coworking space, and Houston-based Amegy Bank announced a partnership to create a 17,000-square-foot innovation space in downtown.

The Downtown Launch Pad is expected to open on a few floors of the Amegy Bank building at 1801 Main St. in the spring. Along with coworking space, the new hub will house MassChallenge Texas, which had its inaugural cohort earlier this year, and gener8tor, an early acceleration program announced in last month.

Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the project at Central Houston Inc.'s annual meeting on October 24. Both the accelerators that will be in the new hub received a combined combined $4 million in economic development grants from the Downtown Redevelopment Authority to be distributed over the next five years.

"Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority are committed to establishing Downtown Houston as a nexus for innovation and a leader in urban entrepreneurship," says Bob Eury, president of both entities, in a news release. "We've found strong, strategic partners in Amegy Bank and The Cannon, both of which are committed to fostering and sustaining a vibrant innovation culture in Houston, from startup to production."

Amegy Bank has tapped Gensler for the redesign. The 13th floor of the building will house the coworking space powered by The Cannon. This space is expected to open before the end of the year.

"We originally created The Cannon to be the missing piece in Houston's startup ecosystem," says Lawson Gow, founder and CEO of The Cannon and Cannon Ventures. Gow is the son of David Gow, owner of InnovationMap's parent company, Gow Media. "Through the Cannon Tower and The Downtown Launch Pad, we are excited to join up with Central Houston, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority and Amegy Bank to create an entire 'vertical village' of innovation—a system of floors at Amegy on Main that will provide Houston's entrepreneurs with all the programs and resources they need to thrive."

The building's 10th and 11th floors will also be a part of the Downtown Launch Pad. The 10th floor will house the two accelerators, and the 11th floor will be a dedicated event space. The lobby of the building will be a common space for all members of the Cannon Tower and will have meeting rooms, a game room, work stations, a coffee bar, and a deli.

"Amegy Bank has a long history of reinvesting in the local community and supporting Texas families and businesses," says Kelly Foreman, senior vice president and corporate real estate and facilities manager for Amegy. "Now, through our partnerships with The Cannon and The Launch Pad, we are taking our commitment to small businesses to the next level by converting a part of Amegy on Main into a hub for emerging technology and start-up companies that aligns all the players across the entrepreneurial spectrum—corporations, mentors, investors, service providers and the startups themselves. This combination of offerings and capabilities will unlock significant value for Downtown, helping to attract and retain companies from not only Houston, but from around the country."

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The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world, says this expert. Photo courtesy

The state of Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, has been intensely impacted by the effects of climate change as well as aging utility infrastructure. Innovative drone technologies help address the pressing inspection and mapping needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure across the country, primarily bridges and roads, railways, pipelines, and powerplants.

There is a significant need for high-precision inspection services in today's market. Additional work will result if the proposed infrastructure bill passes. The bill has $73 billion earmarked toward modernizing the nation's electricity grid. Drone —or UAS (unmanned aerial systems)— technological advances, including thermal imaging, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), IRR (infrared radiation and remote sensing), and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) are applied toward determining and predicting trends and are instrumental toward making our country safer.

"The newest advances in drone technology are not so much in the drones themselves, but rather, in the sensors and cameras, such as thermal cameras. Technologies such as LiDAR are now more cost-effective. The newer sensors permit the drones to operate in tighter spaces and cover more acreage in less time, with higher accuracy and fidelity", according to Will Paden, president of Soaring Eagle Technologies, a Houston-based tech-enabled imaging company servicing utility and energy companies.

Paden anticipates growth in the use of the technology for critical infrastructure including utilities, pipelines, power plants, bridges, buildings, railways, and more, for routine and post-storm inspections

"[Soaring Eagle's] ability to harness UAS technology to efficiently retrieve field data across our 8,000+ square mile area is unprecedented. Coupling this data with post-processing methods such as asset digitization unlocked a plethora of opportunities to visualize system resources and further analyze the surrounding terrain and environment," says Paige Richardson, GIS specialist with Navopache Electric Cooperative. "Our engineering and operations departments now have the ability to view 3D substation models, abstract high-resolution digital evaluation models, and apply these newfound resources as they work on future construction projects."

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world. The UAS (unmanned aerial systems) technology offers an environmentally cleaner option for routine and post-storm inspections, replacing the use of fossil fuels consumed by helicopters. The use of drones versus traditional inspection systems is significantly safer, more efficient and accurate than traditional alternatives such as scaffolding or bucket trucks. Mapping and inspection work can be done at much lower costs than with manned aircraft operations. These are highly technical flights, where the focus on safety and experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, is paramount.

There is much work ahead in high-tech drone technology services, especially for companies vetted by the FAA with high safety standards. According to one study, the overall drone inspection & monitoring market is projected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2021 to USD 33.6 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2021 to 2030. North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the drone inspection & monitoring market from 2021 to 2030.

Paden predicts the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) and data automation will continue to improve over the next 3-5 years, as more data is collected and analyzed and the technology is a applied to "teach it" to detect patterns and anomalies. He anticipates ML/AI will filter out the amount of data the end users will need to view to make decisions saving time and money for the end users.

Learn more at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit taking place in The Woodlands on October 25 through October 27.

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Alex Danielides is head of business development for Houston-based Iapetus Holdings, a privately held, minority and veteran-owned portfolio of energy and utility services businesses. One of the companies is Soaring Eagle Technologies.

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