Back in 2018 Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner took a major step forward toward a shared vision of transforming Houston into a world-leading tech innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem. That momentum was later fueled by synergies among Houston’s academic institutions, corporations, major institutions, investors, and entrepreneurs who indicated their desire to participate in the centrally located innovation district. Like most major cities they’ve had their hurdles. For decades, Houston has been the poster child of urban sprawl, growing to nearly 670 square miles. That story is changing. Years of work from the city and redevelopment authorities are finally paying off, as high-density, mixed-use projects break ground all across the Houston urban core.
Early leadership came from Rice University when it began renovating the historic Sears building in Midtown Houston as part of a project that aims to transform the property into the centerpiece of what leaders hope will become a thriving innovation district. Upon completion, the 270,000-square-foot building will be renamed The Ion, which will also serve as fertile ground where DivInc will call home and build on our award-winning programs to support people of color and women entrepreneurs in Houston access the resources they need to grow highly profitable companies.
“As The Ion looked for a partner to provide best practices and resources to our local business communities and leaders that have historically been overlooked, we knew our partner needed to be ambitious, thoughtful and encouraging, but also have a record of success and experience working shoulder-to-shoulder with entrepreneurs,” says Deanea LeFlore Senior Director, Corporate and Community Engagement of The Ion. She continues, “The collaboration [with DivInc] will be just one part of the Ion’s approach to making certain that the growth of Houston’s technology startup community serves traditionally underrepresented startup founders.”
Founded on the principle of inclusivity, the Ion is being carefully constructed to become a place where Houstonians come to accelerate their entrepreneurial journeys and career development paths. It is a positive pillar in the community that brings people together to advance their own – and Houston’s – aspirations in education, workforce development, culture, and economic opportunity. Together, DivInc and The Ion will unleash the untapped and hidden innovative talent within the Houston Community.
DivInc and The Ion are working to Increase the number of successful start-ups led by diverse founders; Generate cultures of inclusive innovation within the Houston start-up ecosystem; Provide mentorship and workshop training specifically targeting underrepresented founders; Grow the number of investors and mentors from underrepresented groups.
"Our experience equipping diverse entrepreneurs with strategies to create exceptional companies, coupled with the Ion’s enthusiasm and thoughtful approach to building an inclusive space where entrepreneurs from all walks of life can thrive is a winning combination. No matter where they are in their entrepreneur journey, we want all Houstonians to know DivInc is here to help you achieve your biggest dreams.”
~Preston James II, DivInc CEO and Co-Founder
The Ion will anchor the 16-acre South Main Innovation District and is destined to become the epicenter for Houston’s innovation ecosystem as an inclusive, dynamic, vibrant and dense hub focusing on quality collaborations between entrepreneurs, incubators, accelerators, corporations and the academic community with an early 2021 launch. The Ion will accommodate multiple uses, including shared workspace, prototyping and maker resources, event space, classrooms, food and beverage offerings as well as indoor/outdoor communal areas with shared amenities. DivInc’s Houston operations will start with a series of informational meetings, workshops and office hours to acquaint Houston’s tech community with DivInc’s offerings.
The Ion and DivInc’s joint programming signifies the organizations’ commitment to building an authentically inclusive innovation ecosystem for Houston. Just recently the Ion received a grant for $1.5 million from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) that will significantly expand its ability to support entrepreneurship and drive economic development and help fund the Accelerator Hub. Thus Hub will include the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, which supports startups developing technology and solutions to help communities bounce back faster from disasters; the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator, which supports early-stage energy startups building solutions for a cleaner, more efficient and sustainable future; and DivInc Accelerator to serve minority- and women-led startups.
“We are really excited about working together with DivInc and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship to realize the full potential of the opportunities that these funds will help unleash,”
~ Jan Odegard, interim executive director of the Ion.
“Receiving this grant is a big win for our city — furthering the Ion’s opportunity to bring together leading minds to solve some of our toughest challenges. We believe that it’s a fully collaborative approach that will lead to accelerating energy innovation and sustainable solutions.” ~ Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance
Being organized in the Accelerator Hub will enable the programs to coordinate and leverage each other, amplifying their strengths and helping them develop more effective and inclusive entrepreneurial talent, according to the Rice Management Co., which is developing the Ion.
“DivInc embodies the mindset that this generation and all the generations of innovators to follow must be inclusive of people of color and women entrepreneurs – who will build successful scalable growth companies to address tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities. By removing the barriers that currently exist, we unleash this untapped potential and lift Houston to new economic heights. To do this we must establish strong collaboration with partners like The Ion, Rice University, the EDA and many others.” ~Preston James II
Additionally, the Ion was awarded $1.4 million in federal funding for a partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) and DivInc to create its Aerospace Innovation Hub (ASCI-Hub) – which will support and develop regional minority business enterprises (MBEs) that address aerospace-related challenges. The Ion received the award as part of the Economic Development Administration's (EDA) Minority Business Enterprise Inner City Innovation Hubs program, designed to focus on research and technology transfer, digital innovation, artificial intelligence and entrepreneurship.
“This grant award reinforces the commitment to helping Houston build a top global innovation ecosystem by making it the most diverse, equitable,and inclusive startup community in the world. When we can tap into the broader pool of talent this city has to offer, we can drive unprecedented innovation and experience stronger economic growth across all demographics. This is the future that we want to create today.” ~Preston James II
The ASCI-Hub will provide events, workshops and programs designed to assist MBEs and provide a forum for them to present their solutions to a consortium of industry and academic partners as well as JSC experts. MBE’s will receive not only feedback, but also opportunities for collaboration. The hub will also offer an aerospace innovation-focused accelerator for startups whose technologies tackle the challenges experienced in industrial settings and on spaceflights.Housing the ASCI-Hub at the Ion will enable deeper synergies with other accelerators at the Accelerator Hub, as well as with surrounding regional partners such as suppliers, engineering and consulting firms, and universities. DivInc will apply its expertise to the ASCI-Hub by aiding in its launch; hosting lectures, webinars and panels; expanding the MBE pipeline and mentor network andl also help identify, recruit and select MBEs for participation in the accelerator.
As DivInc continues to drive its mission of bridging the gap between underrepresented entrepreneurs and the resources they need to build high-growth, profitable companies, we look to meet founders where they are and remove any barriers that might get in their way of taking off. Our communities and our nation depends on it.