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.

Gabriella Rowe has transitioned from CEO of Station Houston into her role as Executive Director of The Ion following Station's merger with Austin-based Capital Factory. Courtesy of Station Houston

Among the top news for Houston's innovation ecosystem for the year so far has been the announcement that Austin-based Capital Factory has merged with Station Houston.

The merger is officially completed, and how the combined startup development organization will interact with Houston's entrepreneurs is clear for Gabriella Rowe: It's about bringing Station Houston's mission back to why it was founded in the first place.

Rowe joined this week's edition of the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the merger, as well as her position as executive director of The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot innovation hub being developed by Rice Management Company. Station was tapped to be the program partner for The Ion, but it's come a long way since its founding by John Reale, Grace Rodriguez, and Emily Keeton in 2016.

"Station was started originally to give entrepreneurs to give that place — that landing pad and cohort of colleagues. Over time as it grew and moved to 1301 Fannin St., it continued to do that," Rowe says on the podcast, explaining that the passion of the founders grew Station way beyond that. "That culminated in a lot of ways with Station being selected as the programming partner of The Ion."

Through this growth and transition, Rowe describes two different versions of Station Houston emerging. One was focused on longer term initiatives to bring programming that drives talent and attracts capital. But startups and entrepreneurs need funding help and business development mentorship now — not in a longer term way.

"That kind of attention is exactly what Capital Factory is all about," Rowe says. "[The merger is] about making sure that Station goes back to its roots to focus on the entrepreneurs."

Now that she is focused full time on The Ion, Rowe is ideating how to make the facility a vehicle for innovation development, but also create a diverse and inclusive environment reflective of Houston's own diversity.

"We're creating an opportunity for Houstonians," Rowe says on the episode, explaining why she's focused on bringing in a wide range of programming and education into The Ion.

In the episode, Rowe also discusses the Ion Smart Cities Accelerators, which has 10 companies from its inaugural cohort in pilot mode across Houston and has launched applications for its second cohort, as well as why she thinks Houston's innovation ecosystem is sure to succeed this time around.

Listen to the full episode below — or wherever you get your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.