New to town

Downtown Redevelopment Authority approves $1.25 million grant for new-to-Houston accelerator program

The funds will go toward bringing a new, pre-accelerator program to Houston. Shobeir Ansari/Getty Images

Houston has yet again attracted a nationally recognized accelerator program to downtown. Wisconsin-based genera8tor has announced its plans to launch its pre-accelerator program, gBETA, in Houston in spring of next year thanks to a $1.25 million grant approved by the Downtown Redevelopment Authority.

"With gener8tor joining nonprofit global accelerator MassChallenge in Downtown, the Houston innovation ecosystem will be home to two nationally ranked accelerators," says Bob Eury, president of Central Houston and the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, in a news release. "This agreement furthers Central Houston's long-term goal to create a collaborative Innovation District within Downtown and helps bridge the gap between small local startups and the city's growing innovation economy."

The grant will not exceed $1.25 million and will be paid out over the next five years. Gener8tor will have two gBETA cohorts a year, and the seven-week program will have a max of five teams across industries. The program will be equity-free and at no cost to participants accepted into the program. The program will also host six lunch-and-learn events that will be free and open to the Houston innovation ecosystem.

"The city of Houston's leadership is supporting its community members to be the economic drivers of tomorrow," says Abby Taubner, partner at gener8tor and managing director of gBETA, in the release. "We are humbled and excited to be part of the palpable excitement surrounding the local startup ecosystem, and cannot wait to roll up our sleeves and get to work."

According to gener8tor, a third of gBETA graduates will advance to a later stage equity-based accelerator program or raise a seed round of at least $50,000, and gBETA graduates from across the organization's eight states have collectively raised $57.7 million and created 716 jobs.

This announcement comes on the heels of MasChallenge Texas launching its Houston program earlier this year, as well as Silicon Valley's Plug and Play Technology Center entering the Houston market as well this year. Houston's downtown landscape has become a major hotbed for tech and innovation, with UiPath opening a major Houston office and coworking space popping up across downtown.

"Innovation is the next economic frontier for Houston, and gener8tor's gBETA program will help bridge the gap between the city's legacy industries—energy, medicine, space exploration and the port—and our growing innovation ecosystem of startup accelerators, investors and entrepreneurs," says Mayor Sylvester Turner in the release. "gBETA is the latest leap into that future, following in the exciting footsteps of The Ion innovation hub; the relocation or expansion of Silicon Valley firms to Houston such as Bill.com, UiPath and Google Cloud; the plans for the Texas Medical Center's TMC3 translational research commercialization campus; and so much more."

The Rice Management Company has broken ground on the renovation of the historic Midtown Sears building, which will become The Ion. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

The Ion — a to-be entrepreneurial hub for startups, universities, tech companies, and more — is, in a way, the lemonade created from the lemons dealt to the city by a snub from Amazon.

In 2018, Amazon narrowed its options for a second headquarters to 20 cities, and Houston didn't make the shortlist.

"That disappointment lead to a sense of urgency, commitment, and imagination and out of that has come something better than we ever could have imagined," David Leebron, president of Rice University, says to a crowd gathered for The Ion's groundbreaking on July 19.

However disappointing the snub from Amazon was, it was a wake-up call for so many of the Houston innovation ecosystem players. The Ion, which is being constructed within the bones of the historic Midtown Sears building, is a part of a new era for the city.

"Houston's on a new course to a new destination," says Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Here are some other overheard quotes from the groundbreaking ceremony. The 270,000-square-foot building is expected to be completed in 18 months.


The historic Sears building in Midtown will transform into The Ion, a Rice University-backed hub for innovation. Courtesy of Rice University


The Sears opened in 1939. Natalie Harms/InnovationMap

“We have the capacity — if we work together — not only to make this a great innovation hub, but to do something that truly represents the Houston can-do, collaborative spirit.”

— David Leebron, president of Rice University. Leebron stressed the unique accomplishment the Ion has made to bring all the universities of Houston together for this project. "When we tell people the collaboration that has been brought together around this project, they are amazed," he says.

“The nation is seeing what we already know in the city of Houston. That this city has the greatest and most creative minds. We are a model for inclusion among people and cultures from everywhere. We are a city that taps the potential of every resident, dares them to dream big, and we provide the tools to make those dreams come true.”

— Mayor Sylvester Turner, who says he remembers shopping in the former Sears building as a kid, but notes how Houston's goals have changed, as has the world.

“When this store opened in 1939, it showcased a couple of innovations even back then: The first escalator in Texas, the first air conditioned department store in Houston, the first windowless department store in the country.”

— Senator Rodney Ellis, who adds the request that The Ion have windows.

“Many people ask us, ‘why not just tear down the old building and start new?’ We actually see this as a very unique opportunity for companies and entrepreneurs to be located within a historic building, while benefiting from an enhanced structure, state-of-the-art technology, and Class A tenant comforts.”

— Allison Thacker, president of the Rice Management Company. She describes the environment of being a beehive of activity.

“[As program partner for The Ion,] our mission is to build the innovation economy of Houston one entrepreneur at a time.”

— Gabriella Rowe, CEO of Station Houston. Rowe describes Station's role as a connector between startups, venture capital firms, major corporations, and more.