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.

Houston's moving on up in the worlds of economics and startup activity. Photo by Tim Leviston/Getty Images

The number four appears to be a sign of good fortune for Houston.

A new ranking from Business Facilities magazine places Bayou City at No. 4 for economic growth potential among large metro areas and at No. 4 for the country's best startup ecosystems.

Regarding the No. 4 ranking for economic potential, Susan Davenport, senior vice president of economic development for the Greater Houston Partnership, says Houston's industrial diversity has helped the region weather downturns in certain economic sectors "and now has us on a solid growth trajectory."

"The region's steady population increases, coupled with our relatively low costs of living and doing business, bode well for our economic growth potential reflected in this ranking," Davenport says.

Houston's status as the one of the top locations for Fortune 1000 headquarters in the U.S. elevates the region's position as a hub where both large and small companies can prosper, she adds.

Houston appeared at No. 1 in Business Facilities' 2018 ranking of the top large metros for economic growth potential. Representatives of Business Facilities couldn't be reached to explain why Houston dropped three places from 2018 to 2019.

Last year, the magazine pointed out that Houston's economy extends far beyond its standing as the Energy Capital of the World.

"The nation's fourth-largest city has a dynamic, diversified economy that is brimming with innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship," said the magazine, citing advantages such as Houston's strong manufacturing base, enormous healthcare presence, and storied aerospace legacy.

The magazine went on to hail Houston's "distinctly favorable business climate."

"The region benefits from a skilled workforce, world-class infrastructure and transportation system, and a pro-business environment that stimulates rather than stifles business growth," Business Facilities noted.

As for the No. 4 ranking in this year's Business Facilities startup category, Davenport says this indicates the recent work of the Houston Exponential initiative to foster the local startup environment is paying off.

Houston Exponential, established in 2017, seeks to make Houston a top 10 innovation ecosystem, generate $2 billion in venture capital annually, and create 10,000 new tech jobs a year by 2022.

Last October, Houston Exponential announced it had collected $25 million for its first venture capital fund. Making financial commitments to the fund were Insperity, Chevron, Shell, Quanta Services, Westlake Chemical, The Plank Cos., PROS, H-E-B, and Camden Property Trust.

"Factor in the demand being satisfied by a number of new incubators and accelerators, plus the four-mile Innovation Corridor running through the heart of the city and anchored by The Ion, and we're seeing momentum on a scale like never before," Davenport says.

In Houston's Midtown, Rice University is transforming the historic Sears building into The Ion, which will serve as an innovation hub designed to cultivate collaboration among startups, corporations, universities, and other elements of the local business community. It's the first development in Houston's evolving innovation district.

"The Midtown innovation district is an embodiment of our shared community vision to give professionals and families a means of seizing opportunity as Houston continues to grow as a leading city in technology," says Matt Thibodeaux, executive director of Midtown Houston.

Here is Business Facilities' 2019 list of the top 10 places for economic growth potential among large U.S. metros:

  1. Atlanta
  2. San Antonio
  3. Phoenix
  4. Houston
  5. Orlando, Florida
  6. Austin
  7. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
  8. Las Vegas
  9. Albuquerque, New Mexico
  10. Kansas City, Missouri

Here is Business Facilities' 2019 list of the 10 places with the best startup ecosystems in the country:

  1. Austin
  2. Denver
  3. New York City
  4. Houston
  5. San Jose, California
  6. Orlando, Florida
  7. Nashville, Tennessee
  8. Atlanta
  9. Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
  10. Salt Lake City