Infrastructure

Houston Welcomes Innovation District to Prompt Startups

The $100 million redevelopment, formally announced by university, city and business leaders Thursday morning, aims to cultivate and attract new technology companies and venture capital firms to the region.

by Paul Takahashi, Houston Chronicle / April 13, 2018
Houston, TX skyline. Shutterstock

(TNS) — Rice University will transform the iconic Sears property in Midtown into a new innovation district, part of an effort to spur on the local startup community in the wake of Houston’s failed bid for Amazon’s second headquarters.

The roughly 200,000-square-foot former Sears building at 4201 Main will be renovated into a startup incubator featuring co-working spaces, classrooms, meeting areas, offices for academic, medical and corporate partners, as well as as a cafe and other amenities.

The $100 million redevelopment, formally announced by university, city and business leaders Thursday morning, aims to cultivate and attract new technology companies and venture capital firms to a region known more for its established energy corporations and hospitals than disruptive startups and tech titans.

The goal for the innovation district is to create a vibrant place where startups can create, collaborate and access resources to innovate in Houston’s energy, industrial, health care and data and logistics industries.

“We are laying the groundwork to make Houston the next great center for startups and imaginative endeavors in the digital universe, and now we have a pivotal physical home for our work on the next frontier,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said.

Station Houston, a downtown incubator that has more than 260 member companies, will operate the innovation district and program workshops and events to create a community of entrepreneurs. Houston Exponential, a new nonprofit created by city and business leaders, will also have a presence in the innovation district to raise venture capital and coordinate efforts to build a stronger startup ecosystem in the city.

The yet-to-be-named innovation district will be designed and developed by Hines in partnership with architects Gensler and James Carpenter. The university plans to preserve the building’s art deco features. The first phase of construction is expected to be completed by early 2020.

City and business leaders have long envisioned an innovation district to foster tech startups in Houston. Two task forces, one put together by the city and the other by the business community, last year recommended the district’s creation as the first of several steps toward building a stronger startup ecosystem.

When Amazon eliminated Houston as a candidate for its HQ2 earlier this year — the largest U.S. city taken out of the running for online retailer’s coveted $5 billion campus and 50,000 jobs — it underscored the region’s need for an innovation district and accelerated plans for its development, said Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership.

“I think there is a growing realization that Houston needs to act and act quickly to build up the digital economy,” Harvey said. “The Amazon result served as a catalyst for much more immediate action than we had previously anticipated.”

Officials toured several innovation centers around the globe, including 1871 in Chicago, Tech Square in Atlanta and Tech City in London, to develop plans for Houston’s innovation district.

©2018 the Houston Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.