Houston innovators podcast episode 61

​Innovation hub exec wants to ensure Houston's diversity is well represented

Deanea LeFlore, director of partnerships at The Ion, joins this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo courtesy of Station Houston

The Ion is in its home stretch. Expected to open in early 2021, the rising innovation hub is inches away from its exciting entrance into the Houston market. Yet despite the physical location's ongoing construction, Deanea LeFlore and her team have been hard at work for months establishing partners and programming for The Ion's goal of serving Houston.

"The primary objective of The Ion is economic resilience," LeFlore, who is director of partnerships at The Ion says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We want Houstonians to be better off economically as a result of this project and as a result of them participating in the tech and innovation economy."

Meeting this goal is LeFlore's job priority and bringing economic support can mean upskilling, creating more new business, access to capital, resources for growing businesses, and diversifying the workforce — something she's personally committed to.

Recently, The Ion received a grant to create the Minority Business Enterprise Aerospace Innovation Hub focused on supporting minority innovators within the space and adjacent industries with an accelerator program and business programming. The program is providing informative sessions on how to get involved, and the next one is on Dec. 16.

"We're hoping that at the end of this, as startups get coaching and tips from NASA and partners, that they'll learn what it takes to expand in the aerospace industry," LeFlore says. "That's a really exciting development and a new opportunity for minority businesses in Houston."

Personally, LeFlore, who worked for the city's international relations for about 17 years, is excited to have a hub focused on innovation that is representative of the city.

"I think that when people walk into The Ion, what's personally important to me, is that it looks like Houston so that you see yourself reflected in the people in the building as well as the programming," LeFlore says. "That's my biggest hope and aspiration, and I believe we are well on track to be able to deliver on exactly that."

LeFlore shares more on what she's been working on — from online programming to growing partnerships at The Ion. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

5G could be taking over Texas — and Houston is leading the way. Photo via Getty Images

Based on one key measure, Houston sits at the forefront of a telecom revolution that could spark a regional economic impact of more than $30 billion.

Data published recently by the Texas Comptroller's Office points out that as of last November and December, Houston led all cities in Texas for the number of so-called "small cells." Small cells are a key component in the rollout of ultra-high-speed 5G wireless communication throughout the Houston area and the country.

As the Texas Comptroller's Office explains, small cells are low-powered antennas that communicate wirelessly via radio waves. They're usually installed on existing public infrastructure like street signs or utility poles, instead of the big communication towers that transmit 4G signals.

The comptroller's tally shows Houston had approved 5,455 small-cell sites as of the November-December timeframe. That dwarfs the total number of sites (1,948) for the state's second-ranked city, Dallas.

"Houston is in the vanguard of small cell permitting in Texas, and not just because it's the state's largest city; advocates have lauded its proactive approach to 5G. Other cities, particularly smaller ones, are lagging well behind," the Comptroller's Office notes.

According to CTIA, a trade group for the wireless communications industry, 5G holds the promise to deliver an economic impact of $30.3 billion in the Houston area and create 93,700 jobs. The group says industries such as health care, energy, transportation, e-commerce, and logistics stand to benefit from the emergence of 5G.

"Maintaining world-class communications infrastructure is a requirement for success in a rapidly changing global economy. Small cells and fiber technology are the key foundational components for network densification and robust 5G. Cities like Houston that have embraced the need for this infrastructure will see the benefits of 5G faster than others," Mandy Derr, government affairs director at Houston-based communications infrastructure REIT Crown Castle International Corp. and a member of the Texas 5G Alliance, tells InnovationMap.

Derr says leaders in Houston have embraced the importance of small-cell technology through "reasonable and effective" regulations and processes aimed at boosting 5G capabilities. Three major providers of wireless service — AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon — offer 5G to customers in the Houston area.

"More small cells and fiber provide greater and faster access for the masses, enabling the connectivity that is essential to our businesses today — whether it's accepting payments on a mobile card reader, completing a sale on the go, or reliably reaching consumers where they are," Derr says.

In a blog post, Netrality Data Centers, which operates a data center in Houston, proclaims that Houston is shaping up to be a hub of 5G innovation.

"Houston has always been on the frontline," Mayor Sylvester Turner said during a 5G roundtable discussion in 2019. "It is who we are. It is in our DNA. We are a leading city. We didn't wait for somebody else to go to the moon. Or to be the energy capital of the world. Or the largest medical center in the world. But you don't stay at the front if you don't continue to lead."

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