The Ion Smart Cities Accelerator launched earlier this year with a goal of engaging startups from around the world to solve some of Houston's most prevalent challenges. Backed by Intel and Microsoft and partnered with the city of Houston and Station Houston, the program has developed a curriculum and selected its first cohort.
Ten startups from around the world — half of which from right here in Houston — were selected to be a part of the program. And narrowing down to 10 was tough for the program's judges, says Christine Galib, director of the Ion Smart Cities Accelerator.
"Selecting the participants for our first cohort was difficult, due to this amazing pool of talent — that's always the problem you want to have," she tells InnovationMap.
The program will be a 10-month process, beginning Wednesday, September 4. 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.
"We focused on aligning to the needs of the city of Houston and our spotlight community, Near Northside," Galib says. "We really considered the focus areas that we have identified that were needs or challenges in the area, like aging infrastructure or health and safety."
The entrepreneurs will attend local meetings, connect with the community, and zero in on the neighborhood for solutions. This provides a more accessible avenue of integration for each of the companies' technologies and allows for the entrepreneurs to receive feedback in real time from the community.
"One of my biggest things with the accelerator is technology will be for the people, and not the other way around. We're really hoping that we can build relationships with community members in Near Northside such that they'll be able to have access to our startups and their technology in a very integrated way."
Along with this new neighborhood focus, the program also announced a partnership with the University of Houston.
"We're collaborating with the UH Technology Bridge such that professors, researchers, and startups associated with UH can have a pipeline from the world of academia and research to industry and urban planning," says Galib.
Here are 10 selected startups for the inaugural cohort.
Houston-based Aatonomy has developed a device that allows for Houston drivers to instal self-driving technology in their own vehicles.
"They're basically Tesla's autopilot — but for cars we already own," Galib says.
The technology makes for safer, smarter driving around town.
Another homegrown company, AeoShape is in the business of compiling data and making it easier to use — from facial analysis to location-based services, the company is taking data and organizing it to more easily use it for finding solutions or strategies.
"Imagine having all the big data served up anywhere at any time in a comprehensive, visual way," Galib says.
Based in New York, BlocPower is connecting the dots in the consumer energy world. The startup links up with government entities, utilities contractors and more to engage IoT, machine learning, and structured finance technology to better provide clean energy in American cities.
"This is pairing the different segments in the building and infrastructure world in a way that makes sense so that they can build in an integrated way," Galib says.
Another New York company, GoKid has a solution for carpooling. In a world so conveniently filled with ridesharing technology, busy parents still struggle to find safe rides home for their kids. The free app allows for parents to connect with one another in a way never before been optimized for school pick-up and drop-off.
"We see GoKid really working with our schools here to make ridesharing safer," Galib says. "We really like them because they were a solution for the ridesharing challenge — a lot of parents who might need carpooling services don't necessarily trust an Uber driving that they don't know."
Artificial intelligence company Kriterion is based in South Africa, but will soon call Houston home. The company takes AI a step further in its industry and infrastructure approach.
"We see their platform shaping three areas of Houston: waste management, power system management, and pothole detection and maintenance management," says Galib.
Sensytec comes out of the University of Houston and uses is technology to monitor, analyze, and quantify cement and concrete conditions.
"We thought this was pretty cool to have in our cohort because Houston is quite the concrete jungle," says Galib.
The company was also recently named a top startup in MassChallenge Texas' inaugural Houston cohort.
Houston-based SlideX has solutions for everyone's daily struggle: Parking. The company's technology has applications for finding parking in the city — including a 3D map to help direct you — and even for paying for parking.
"They call themselves 'the next generation of intelligent parking,'" Galib says.
San Francisco-based Umanity has created a philanthropic supply chain tool. The technology can match and map local nonprofit needs to volunteers and donations, plus provide real-time analytics.
"This is kind of the epitome of doing good and adds a very strong social enterprise and community base component to our startups," says Galib.
Kentucky startup Wyzerr specializes in easy-to-use surveys.
"We think Wyzerr can provide a good feedback platform where the city of Houston, businesses, and nonprofits can easily engage with people all over the city to find out how satisfied they are with the businesses and services the city provides," Galib says.
The company's technology can be crucial for tracking KPIs and progress.
"When you're creating a Smart City, there are obviously objectives you set for what you consider to be a Smart City, but also there are ways to measure how well you're meeting those objectives," she adds.
Houston-based Reality IMT is engaging the latest technology tools to digitize infrastructure.
"This really speaks to understanding our infrastructure and ways to make it safer and more efficient, and also understanding the data associated with that," says Galib.