Guest column

Here's how to make Houston the smartest city in America

Houston's new Ion Smart Cities Accelerator director on making our town a smart one. Getty Images

In an age of autonomous vehicles, smart buildings, virtual reality, and 5G, more and more cities across the country are deploying smart technologies. The breadth of these technologies can result in many opportunities to share information, drive economic growth, create access, and enhance the quality of life, safety, and connectedness for a city's citizens and communities.

Recently listed as a city of the future, America's most diverse and fourth largest city, Houston, is leveraging these technologies - from driverless pizza delivery to flood detection sensors. Enhancing transportation, public safety, resiliency and sustainability, and community engagement are foundational to Houston's mission of building a smarter, more resilient future, especially in the face of natural disasters, such as hurricanes. These factors also shape the collaborative vision for Houston as a smart city that enjoys economic growth, promotes and practices inclusion, and prioritizes public safety.

So, how do we achieve this vision? As attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker, "the best way to predict the future is to create it." This quotation speaks to the power of creativity in having a vision for what our future could look like, and in building this vision. To create this future, collaboration in the context of a strong, purposeful entrepreneurial ecosystem is crucial. With this in mind, Station Houston, an acceleration hub for startup technology companies, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, has partnered with Microsoft, Intel, TX/RX Labs, and the city of Houston in spearheading the creation of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, which announced its formation in April.

The 10-month program will foster startups and entrepreneurs in developing smart city technology geared toward tacking transportation, resiliency, mobility, and other needs. Participants will have access to city of Houston officials, free membership to Station Houston for the duration of the program, curated events and training, and a state-of-the art makerspace, and much more. The accelerator will prepare startups with an MVP for the opportunity to pilot their technology-based solutions in the city of Houston. The accelerator will be based out of Station Houston, and will move to the Ion when it opens.

As we create Houston's future, we must do so through from the foundation of leveraging technology to create access, equity, and opportunity for all; promoting sustainability and safety; upholding civic values and inclusion; and seeking to meet our citizen's greatest needs.

To achieve a vision of Houston as America's smartest city, our most valuable currency is our ability to collaborate through relationships and partnerships that unite and empower communities. Smart technology must be grounded in connecting people and empowering communities to share data, information, and knowledge. In these ways, smart technology truly enables a city to serve, and celebrate, its greatest asset: its people.

If you are interested in participating in the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, please apply here. Our website has a frequently asked questions section, a note from the director, and relevant media and news articles about the accelerator

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Christine Galib is the program director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator.

The Rice Management Company has created a new operations organization for The Ion and has selected Gabriella Rowe to lead it. Courtesy of Rice University

A Houston innovation leader is switching sides of the table to support on a highly anticipated entrepreneurial hub.

Rice Management Company has created an operating organization for The Ion and has named Gabriella Rowe as the executive director. Rowe has served as CEO of Station Houston since August 2018. The Ion, which broke ground on the site of the Midtown Sears building in July, is expected to deliver early 2021.

"To ensure that The Ion is a catalyst for the continued growth of the innovation ecosystem, we've been collaborating with Gaby and her team as well as civic leaders, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Harris County commissioners and Midtown Houston," says Allison Thacker, president and chief investment officer of the RMC, in a news release. "We know that under Gaby's leadership The Ion will become an innovation hub for not only all Houstonians, but for anybody looking to thrive and collaborate in an entrepreneur-first, tech-forward environment."

Station was previously announced as The Ion's exclusive program partner, however that's no longer the case, according to the release. RMC plans to have a mix of incubators, accelerators, and startup development organizations within The Ion, and Station will be among that group. Per the release, an advisory board will formed to steer the innovation hub's programming.

"Collaboration is key to accelerating the growth of Houston's technology economy," says Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, in the release. "The Ion will play an important role, serving the entire ecosystem as a place where those collaborations occur. Houston's incubators and accelerators, universities, corporations and venture capitalists will have a hub to leverage the innovation taking place all across the Houston region."

Station's newly named chief of staff, Stewart Cory, will oversee the organization until its new leader is named, and the nonprofit will focus on the needs of its startup entrepreneurs and growing its membership base, according to the release.

"It is a tremendous honor to be given such an incredible opportunity to serve Houston," Rowe says in the release. "I look forward to building partnerships and collaborations that will enable The Ion to engage and connect the innovation and startup community with Houston corporations and academic partners, to use the technology we're building right here in Houston to showcase our homegrown talent, and to create platforms for local entrepreneurs to take their offerings to new heights."

The Ion's early programming — like The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, which launched last month — is being hosted out of Station's downtown location. According to the rease, The Ion expects to deliver more programming from its partner organizations — like the Houston Independent School District, the University of Houston, Houston Methodist, Pumps & Pipes and TXRX Labs — by early 2020.

The Ion is the first phase of the 16-acre South Main Innovation District the city is envisioning.

"The Ion, with Rice University's stewardship, represents the best of our vision for the future of Houston — one where a kid like me from Acres Homes grows up with access to the opportunities that innovation and technology represent," says Mayor Turner in the release. "I couldn't be happier that Gaby will be leading the Ion towards that vision and believe that she has the energy to help make this project a reality that will transform our communities."

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Correction: Early information sent to InnovationMap reported that Rowe was leaving her position at Station, but she will maintain both roles, according to a representative at Station.

gaby rowe Gabriella Rowe will lead operations at The Ion.