HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 85

Houston innovation leader assumes permanent role at the helm of The Ion ahead of opening

Jan E. Odegard joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest at The Ion. Photo courtesy of The Ion

For over a year now, Jan E. Odegard has been leading The Ion as interim executive director, but as of last month, he got to drop the "interim." But for Odegard, very little aside from an update to his LinkedIn profile has changed.

"To me, it wasn't about me or the position — it was about the team and the work we were doing," Odegard says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "I'm as passionate about it now as I was before."

The Ion, a 270,000-square-foot coworking and innovation hub owned and managed by Rice Management Co., is slated to open later this summer and be a convening building for startups, corporations, academic partners, investors, and more.

The project, which broke ground in July of 2019, took a bit of a winding path in one part because of COVID-19 but also because of the challenge of rehabilitating a former department store. The building originally premiered in 1939 as a Sears.

"The decision that we made to not tear it down — that to me speaks power," Odegard says. "It probably would have been cheaper and faster to tear it down and build new, but this actually meant something to Houstonians. I think that nod to history really does speak power."

Odegard says the building represented a feat when it opened — now Houstonians will experience something similar in The Ion as they walk through and witness the evolution of the building as well as the innovation activity the structure will be home to.

"We have been speaking for the last two years, 'let's build on Houston's DNA,'" he says, "well, we've built this building on the DNA. We are truly trying to amplify the connectivity to the history but serving it for the next 40 to 50 years."

Leasing is open for both the traditional office spaces and coworking space. Chevron and Microsoft have both announced their leased space last year. The Ion tapped Savills for leasing as well as Common Desk for coworking, and leasing information is available online.

As far as programing goes, in-person accelerators and events will start rolling out activity in a responsible way factoring in pandemic protocol. But for Odegard, who is already working out of the building with a small team, he says he can't wait for that activity and collisions to begin. It's really about the people for hi,.

"If you go back to our vision of accelerating innovation and connecting communities, that really speaks to me," Odegard says. "We are really about creating that next wave of tech and innovation in our backyard, and then connecting those communities — which I think is maybe the most overlooked DNA here in Houston. That's the people we have — an incredible diversity."

Odegard shares more about The Ion and his career focused on advancing technology on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

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Building Houston

 
 

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

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