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Station Houston's newest director wants the city's startups to reflect its diversity

Deanea LeFlore is Station Houston's new director of community engagement, partnerships, and education. Courtesy of Station Houston

Deanea LeFlore, Station Houston's recently hired director of engagement, partnerships, and education, wants the startup incubator to foster more diversity — something that, considering Houston's status as the most diverse city in the nation, should be well within the realm of possibility.

LeFlore, who previously served as the chief of protocol for the city of Houston, as well as president of Casa Cultural de las Americas, stressed the importance of developing a diverse technology community at Station Houston and beyond.

"[Station Houston's] biggest need is to cultivate an environment of inclusivity and make sure everyone feels welcome and knows what the opportunities are," LeFlore says.

LeFlore spoke with InnovationMap about Station Houston's assets, how she wants Station to have changed by this time next year, and how her experience in overseeing the visits of thousands of international diplomats can be used at the technology incubator.

InnovationMap: What are your immediate goals?

Deanea LeFlore: Our goals are to make sure that the Houston community is aware of Station's existence, and by the Houston community, I mean some of the areas that we haven't tapped into proactively. My immediate goal is to share the story of Station Houston and let people know what resources are available.

IM: What areas do you see as untapped?

DF: I have good relationships with Houston's consular corps. Houston has more than 90 countries represented in the consular, and I think that's a great place to start. The consular general could connect us literally all over the world. I've been quote-unquote "selling" Houston access to them for almost two decades, and this is another area that needs to have more visibility. They can let their constituencies abroad know about [Station Houston].

Also, the local international communities that they serve, as well as different chambers of commerce and their members, would be other targets.

IM: What's Station Houston's biggest need?

DF: I think that the biggest need — not just for Station Houston, but the biggest need for the technology ecosystem — is to cultivate an environment of inclusivity and make sure everyone feels welcome and knows what the opportunities are. The biggest need is to get as many people involved as possible, so we can create better products for everybody.

IM: When you say "diversity," are you speaking about ethnic diversity, gender diversity, or a diversity of industries?

DF: All of the above. … Maybe it's because I'm new and overly eager, but I don't see it as being that difficult a task. I think the first key [to improving Station Houston's diversity] is awareness. In order to create that awareness, I'll be attending different events at chambers of commerce and [for women's' organizations].

IM: Are you hoping to model Station Houston's growth after the growth of another incubator?

DF: We want to partner and collaborate with other incubators. What makes Houston different is the type of company we have as a startup member. In Houston, we're very focused on B2B, we have the world's largest medical center, NASA, the Port of Houston … nowhere else on the planet can claim those things. We're already naturally distinguishable. I wouldn't say we want to compete or pull from [others], but see how we can complement each other.

IM: How did your time in the public sphere prepare you for this role?

DF: The type of work that I did — connecting with diverse communities – is really helpful. I have a really broad network across the city and [I can] bring them into Station.

Because I served as Chief of Protocol for the City of Houston, I'm very familiar with creating world-class experiences for people, members, and corporate and international members. We hope to continue to increase cross-cultural experiences and world-class hospitality at Station, and differentiate us from similar hubs in other cities.

IM: Twelve months from now, how do you want Station Houston to have changed?

DF: I would love for us to have many more technology companies that started in Houston, and that we helped springboard into success. I want technology companies that have [graduated] from the idea stage, and are now running successful multimillion dollar businesses. I want those companies to create jobs in Houston, contribute to our ecosystem, and be reflective of Houston's diversity.

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Portions of this interview have been edited.

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Building Houston

 
 

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world, says this expert. Photo courtesy

The state of Texas, as well as the rest of the nation, has been intensely impacted by the effects of climate change as well as aging utility infrastructure. Innovative drone technologies help address the pressing inspection and mapping needs of utilities and other critical infrastructure across the country, primarily bridges and roads, railways, pipelines, and powerplants.

There is a significant need for high-precision inspection services in today's market. Additional work will result if the proposed infrastructure bill passes. The bill has $73 billion earmarked toward modernizing the nation's electricity grid. Drone —or UAS (unmanned aerial systems)— technological advances, including thermal imaging, LiDAR (light detection and ranging), IRR (infrared radiation and remote sensing), and AI/ML (artificial intelligence/machine learning) are applied toward determining and predicting trends and are instrumental toward making our country safer.

"The newest advances in drone technology are not so much in the drones themselves, but rather, in the sensors and cameras, such as thermal cameras. Technologies such as LiDAR are now more cost-effective. The newer sensors permit the drones to operate in tighter spaces and cover more acreage in less time, with higher accuracy and fidelity", according to Will Paden, president of Soaring Eagle Technologies, a Houston-based tech-enabled imaging company servicing utility and energy companies.

Paden anticipates growth in the use of the technology for critical infrastructure including utilities, pipelines, power plants, bridges, buildings, railways, and more, for routine and post-storm inspections

"[Soaring Eagle's] ability to harness UAS technology to efficiently retrieve field data across our 8,000+ square mile area is unprecedented. Coupling this data with post-processing methods such as asset digitization unlocked a plethora of opportunities to visualize system resources and further analyze the surrounding terrain and environment," says Paige Richardson, GIS specialist with Navopache Electric Cooperative. "Our engineering and operations departments now have the ability to view 3D substation models, abstract high-resolution digital evaluation models, and apply these newfound resources as they work on future construction projects."

The promotion of drones helps the city of Houston transition to becoming the energy 2.0 capital of the world. The UAS (unmanned aerial systems) technology offers an environmentally cleaner option for routine and post-storm inspections, replacing the use of fossil fuels consumed by helicopters. The use of drones versus traditional inspection systems is significantly safer, more efficient and accurate than traditional alternatives such as scaffolding or bucket trucks. Mapping and inspection work can be done at much lower costs than with manned aircraft operations. These are highly technical flights, where the focus on safety and experience flying both manned and unmanned aircraft, is paramount.

There is much work ahead in high-tech drone technology services, especially for companies vetted by the FAA with high safety standards. According to one study, the overall drone inspection & monitoring market is projected to grow from USD 9.1 billion in 2021 to USD 33.6 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 15.7 percent from 2021 to 2030. North America is estimated to account for the largest share of the drone inspection & monitoring market from 2021 to 2030.

Paden predicts the use of machine learning/artificial intelligence (ML/AI) and data automation will continue to improve over the next 3-5 years, as more data is collected and analyzed and the technology is a applied to "teach it" to detect patterns and anomalies. He anticipates ML/AI will filter out the amount of data the end users will need to view to make decisions saving time and money for the end users.

Learn more at the Energy Drone & Robotics Summit taking place in The Woodlands on October 25 through October 27.

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Alex Danielides is head of business development for Houston-based Iapetus Holdings, a privately held, minority and veteran-owned portfolio of energy and utility services businesses. One of the companies is Soaring Eagle Technologies.

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