Bellaire - Meyerland - West University Edition | March 2021


Accelerators are specialized programs that advance startups with a product or service to a point where they are stable and self-sucient. The Ion’s four accelerators focus on dierent areas.

The Ion’s inaugural accelerators








Focuses on startups working on smart city technologies; has focused on transportation and resiliency, air quality, water purication, clean-tech startups, and sustainability

Focuses on startups that are either looking to pivot into the aerospace eld or looking to leverage NASA’s technology for Earth-based applications

Austin-based rm that addresses diversity, equity and inclusion in the startup ecosystem by serving minority- and women-led startups

Supports early-stage energy startups from around the world using the Rice Alliance network of energy corporations, investors and advisers

revenue generated FY 2019-20


supporting corporate partners

participating cohorts of startups



grant funding for Aerospace Innovation Hub


13+ corporate sponsors

12 - WEEK program

female startup CEOs



data by the nancial tech company Self. In total, 5,600 startups in the Houston metro region areminority owned—or about 30% of all companies less than two years old—com- pared to 46% in the San Jose, California, area. The four accelerators at The Ion—structured programs designed to transform an idea into a tangible startup busi- ness—target areas such as smart cities, clean energy and aerospace, while another is focused entirely on minority founders. Selected accelera- tor participants get access to experts, mentors and exper- tise designed to get rms mar- ket and investment ready. “To a large degree, the focus areas are designed so that they have an impact on certain things,” Odegard said. Thomas, with his company Umanity, graduated inDecem- ber 2019 along with the rst cohort in the Ion’s Smart Cit- ies accelerator. The company now has contracts with orga- nizations throughout Texas,

“We see the history of ineq- uity that the city stewarded for many decades, and we want to make a commitment to our community that we will do our very best to come to a contractual agreement,” Ele- gon said. Sam Dike, manager of strategic initiatives for Rice Management Co., defended its community engagement approach and said the city can act as a good faith partner. “It has never been about whether Rice will make com- mitments or not; it’s been about who will be part of a contractual agreement,” Dike said. HCEDD is taking its case to the Midtown Redevelopment Authority, an entity that over- sees how property tax growth can be invested in the area. The authority will soon vote on $75 million in infrastruc- ture for the Innovation Dis- trict. HCEDD wants the funds to come with a provision that a community benets agree- ment is done with the group

“We’re largely going to let the market determine what kind of programming goes into those future buildings,” said Ryan LeVasseur, man- aging director of direct real estate for Rice Management Co. “For it to be a true Inno- vation District, we will look to include commercial oce buildings in the next phase of development, which we hope to kick o this year or next year.” As the sole landowner, Rice Management Co. can drive the district’s build out, but Third Ward residents have been raising concerns and seeking involvement since 2019. HCEDD wants Rice to sign on to a community benets agreement with provisions to protect the neighborhood from gentrication. In January 2020, Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city would lead negotiations on an arrangement between the broader community and Rice, however HCEDD prefers an exclusive, direct agreement.

Ohio, Maryland and Nashville with an expansion planned for the end of summer. Despitehis success, Thomas said more needs to be done. “I think this is a great rst step, addressing that there is this discrepancy,” said Thomas, who is Black. “I think the next step is not just having a woman- or Black-fo- cused founder accelerator, but addressing why the peo- ple that are handing out the money are more homogenous than others.” Equitablegrowth Rice Management Co., the overseers of the Rice Univer- sity endowment, envisions an Innovation District compris- ing 16 acres in Midtown, just north of I-69 at Main Street. The district’s master plan calls for 3 million to 5 million square feet of oce, retail and residential space. How- ever, the entire vision could also require about $1 billion in investment and take a decade to complete.

exclusively. “This is the one place where it is economically diverse,” said Third Ward resident Secunda Joseph. “Commu- nities have been longing for development. They just want it to actually benet the peo- ple that live there.” Elegon said The Ion’s prom- ises to invest in innovation, workforce development and equity would carry more weight if the community had a direct say over the agreement. “If I go to any bank to get a small-business loan, they ask questions about my ability to repay the loan, and I have the burden of proof,” Elegon said. “Rice Management Co. has had the burden of proof the entire time and has not had the ability to prove whether they can go through any sort of equitable process.” Emma Whalen contributed to this report.

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