The years 2020-2021 taught us many things including the importance of physical space and its impact on our well-being. This is especially critical for innovators who thrive in environments that inspire and enhance opportunities for creativity as well as collaboration.
The Ion is a 266,000-square foot structure in Houston, Texas created with this concept in mind. Rice Management Company, the developer of The Ion, and The Ion Team are making the commitment to purposeful design combined with thoughtful programming to bring people together in new ways to do new things. This is particularly relevant to those seeking to create smarter cities, which requires people to collaborate across sectors and imagine more connected communities.
“This is an environment built to nudge you – to create serendipitous collisions. We consider this a very important part of the physical infrastructure to support smart cities,” states Dr. Christine Galib, The Ion’s Senior Director of Programs.
The objective to attract diverse talent is supported by features such as huddle rooms, academic flex space, large digital screen displays and an event area with stadium bench seating for up to 300 people. The Ion also anchors an entire innovation district, called The Ion District, that seeks to entice those across the city who want to collaborate, create and build new solutions.
“We welcome Houston’s entrepreneurial, corporate and academic communities to come here not just for one event, but to ideate and to activate innovation. Diversity drives new thinking, invites different perspectives, develops higher creative, entrepreneurial potential and maximizes productivity. You just can’t get that in the sameness of a traditional office setting. The cross-pollination of people and ideas amplifies innovation.”
Startups are a critical and natural part of The Ion ecosystem and two key in-house accelerators pull in a wide range of entrepreneurs. The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator develops scalable solutions that use technology to create civic impact. For example, SmartWatts helps consumers understand their power consumption, predictions of their future usage and how they can lower potential costs. The Ion Aerospace Innovation Accelerator for Minority Business Enterprises is supported by NASA and its technology to solve problems on Earth including flying cars to mitigate traffic challenges. Also included in The Ion’s Accelerator Hub are the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator and DivInc’s accelerator program, which bridges the gap between underrepresented entrepreneurs and the resources they need to build profitable, high-growth companies.
Corporate partners are an important part of the culture as well. Houston’s traditional industries of oil and gas, healthcare and aerospace are well represented by Chevron Technology Ventures, BakerBotts, Maersk Drilling and by technology partners Microsoft, BP and Intel. Ten academic institutions, including the University of Houston, Rice and Houston Community College, are also committed to the same ethos. Finally, the City of Houston’s leadership, including Director of Innovation Jesse Bounds, share their time and insight on how to navigate City Hall and the intricacies of collaborating with the government.
Houston citizens and residents are also invited to attend free events at The Ion. On August 24, The Ion will host Family Tech Night, an educational program designed for 7 to 70-year-olds who can come and learn about tech. The goal of the event is to reduce the barriers for anyone interested in learning more or even exploring a possible tech career.
Dr. Galib states, “There is a powerful signal for a real shift in thinking. More and more are coming together and we can’t dismiss it. There is tremendous value to partnering and this diversity shows how receptive everyone is.”
The energy of The Ion seeks to attract those who want to be in the space as well as those who simply need some positive news in this unprecedented challenging time. Dr. Galib states, “People are ready for the success stories. We will seed them.”