Cha-cha-changes

Station Houston announces its transition into becoming a nonprofit

Station Houston's stakeholders voted in favor of the organization transitioning to a nonprofit. Station Houston/Facebook

Houston's startup scene just got a little more accessible. Station Houston's stakeholders voted to transition the organization to nonprofit status from the C-corp status it currently holds.

The status change is effective January 1, 2019, for the acceleration hub, which is based in downtown Houston. The news was announced to its members in an email sent on December 13.

"Following in the footsteps of successful hubs such as 1871 in Chicago or Mass Challenge in Boston, we see that non-profit status allows these organizations to stay true to their missions while providing best-in-class services to members," reads the email. "We are excited to announce that this week, all Station stakeholders voted in favor of the conversion to non-profit status."

Station's CEO, Gabriella Rowe, tells InnovationMap that the announcement is part of a larger change for the organization, which will announce its plans for Station 3.0 in January.

"This opens up so many more funding and programing opportunities for us, so that we can charge our entrepreneurs and startups as little as possible and give them all the depth of services and support," Rowe says. "That's really what it comes down to."

Station Houston is among the partners — along with the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship — for the Houston innovation district that plans to open in the rehabilitated Sears building in Midtown. The space plans to open in 2020 and hasn't yet broken ground. Rowe discussed Station 3.0 and the district in an interview with InnovationMap in November.

"We're going to be doing a huge launch of Station 3.0 in January," she said in the interview. "It will really allow us to tell the world not just what we're going to be for the next three months, but what we're going to be over the next three years."

Station Houston recently hosted the Texas Digital Summit with Rice University and the Rice Alliance. The all-day summit consisted of panel discussions, keynote speakers, and a startup pitch of 39 companies. At the conclusion of the day, Rowe and Brad Burke from Rice announced 10 of the most promising startups from the summit. You can read about those companies here.

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.