Starting smart

Station Houston unveils its Ion Smart Cities Accelerator program and prototyping lab

The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator's space is open for business. Carter Smith/Station Houston

With the inaugural cohort selected and the new office space's ribbon cut, Station Houston's Ion Smart Cities Accelerator has officially launched.

The program, which is backed by Intel and Microsoft with support from Station, the city of Houston, and TX/RX, announced the 10 startups selected for the 10-month program in late August. The program commenced September 4, but on September 23, the program officially opened its new space in Station.

"The purpose of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator is to address the needs of the Houston community by developing and deploying technology to enhance the civic fabric that makes Houston so innovative," says Christine Galib, director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator, in a news release. "It was imperative to create a space that represents the intersections of collaboration, innovation, and technology and makes these intersections accessible."

The new space has key features important for the startups to develop their ideas. A prototyping lab and makerspace will be available for the entrepreneurs and will even have engineering experts available for supervision, programming, and other support for the startups. The cohort can also utilize the XR Lab, which comes equipped with virtual reality technology.

While going through the program, each of the participating companies will work in "design-thought" flex space and be able to access programming focused on tech, data, design, and business provided by General Assembly, a leader in educational programming.

The accelerator's Demo Day is scheduled for December 4, and then the participants will complete a pilot program with the city from January to June, Galib says. Based on the issues the cohort aims to solve — resilience and mobility — the program and the city of Houston decided on Near Northside as a focus for the companies.

Show and tell

Carter Smith/Station Houston

ION Accelerator ribbon cutting event, with Mayor Sylvester Turner and business partners.

The new makerspace and prototyping lab comes equipped with state-of-the-art technologies.

The Ion's accelerator program has pivoted to more prominately feature startups with resiliency solutions. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion's accelerator program has taken the current COVID-19 outbreak as an opportunity to focus on resiliency. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, as it's now known, will launch it's second cohort virtually at the end of the month.

"Resiliency has always been a core pillar of our accelerator — in my opinion, you really can't have a smart city unless you're a resilient city," Galib tells InnovationMap. "Language is so important to our culture, and we had not had that word in the accelerator, and so now we do."

The change is effective immediately and comes just ahead of the accelerator's second cohort, which will focus on air quality, water purification, and clean tech. Just like the first cohort, the selected startups will participate in a few months of programming — this time, all online — before entering into pilot programs with the city of Houston.

Later in this spring, the accelerator plans to call for remote education and online technologies. With schools closed, Galib says she's seen a need for tech optimization for both students and teachers.

"By harnessing smart technologies, cities become more resilient in the face of crises," says Gabriella Rowe, executive director of The Ion, in a news release. "The innovation of the Ion Smart & Resilient Cities Accelerator will empower and create the smart technology we need to keep our city's operations moving and our residents safe as we inevitably face sociological challenges and natural disasters. We are excited to play a role in improving our city's fabric and quality of life."

The first cohort resulted in a collective fifteen projects across nine startups. The program is backed by the city of Houston, Microsoft, Intel, and TXRX. The third cohort is expected to launch toward the end of 2020, and Galib says she's not sure what the focus will be yet.

"As we look toward the Ion's opening in January 2021, I look at the accelerator program and its capacity to accelerate entrepreneurship spirit," Galib says. "I truly see the next few months as a chance for us to double down on our efforts to find entrepreneurship everywhere in Houston so that we see every entrepreneur from all walks of life."