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 Ion Smart Cities Accelerator program's inaugural cohort is moving into its next phase, and some participating startups earned some cash along the way. Courtesy of Station Houston

The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator wrapped up the first phase of its inaugural program with a demo day this week as the startups move onto the pilot phase.

Over the past three months, the 10 selected startups have been working with mentors and the Station Houston resources to hone their companies within the program's new dedicated space, which includes a prototyping lab. At the demo day, which represents the conclusion of the first part of the Intel- and Microsoft-backed program, the startups presented their companies, what they've accomplished, and where they are headed.

Two companies received $5,000 checks from sponsors. GoKid, a carpooling optimization tool, received a prize from Brex, a credit card for startups. The other big winner was Aatonomy, a self-driving communities technology, which was awarded by Gulf States Toyota.

Ion Accelerator Demo Day F. Carter Smith

The second leg of the journey begins in January with pilot programs for the next six months. According to Christine Galib, director of Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, the companies have 15 pilots in the Houston area that hope to positively affect the lives of Houstonians.

"Our startups' technology focuses on connecting people. And this is what makes Houston truly the smartest city in America," says Galib. "To truly be the smartest city in America, we must continue to focus on how we connect people, and why we connect people, as well as to provide the processes and partnerships for these connections — not only to occur by chance, but also to be sustainable."

Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, echoed the importance people had on the smart cities equation.

"The great success that this accelerator has experienced over the last three months has really been because of people," she says.

Among those people who received a special shoutout from Rowe were the program's inaugural set of mentors. Several of these mentors introduced each of the startups as they presented.

"All of you opened your calendars, your time, and your wisdom to help these startups, but also to help our city," Rowe says to the crowd, which included the program mentors. "And to express a universal desire to make Houston the best possible city it can be, accessible to all Houstonians in every way as we grow to be that innovation economy and city of the future."