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Houston’s ‘Innovation Corridor’ Closer To Reality

Rice University announced start date for renovation of former Midtown Sears building.

  • Rendering of The Ion building in Midtown (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rice University)
    Rendering of The Ion building in Midtown (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rice University)
  • Rendering of The Ion building in Midtown (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rice University)
    Rendering of The Ion building in Midtown (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rice University)


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The iconic former Sears building in the south of Midtown will soon be known as The Ion.

Rice University on Wednesday announced the renovation of the 270,000 square-foot building will start in May.

It's meant to be the heart of Houston's new innovation district and bring together startups, investors and academia.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said this is just the start.

"We're trying to put together an ecosystem that is uniquely Houston," he said, "that will create and bring about innovation, hold on to our young talent, be able to service our major companies that are here."

Rice University will fund the renovation. Houston-based Hines is managing the development on behalf of Rice Management Company.

It is expected to be completed in late 2020.

Rice University President David Leebron said in a press release that they chose the name "Ion" because it's from the Greek "ienai," which means "go."

"We see it as embodying the ever-forward motion of discovery, the spark at the center of a truly original idea," he said. "It also represents the last three letters in many of the words that define the building's mission, like inspiration, creation, acceleration and innovation."

Tech incubator Station Houston will oversee the programming at The Ion. The plan is to have entrepreneurial workshops, thought-leadership conferences, industry lectures, job training, educational classes and networking opportunities.

Florian Martin/Houston Public Media
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner speaks at the announcement for the MassChallenge startup program at Greenstreet in downtown Houston.

Also Wednesday, Boston-based accelerator MassChallenge announced the launch of a startup program at Greenstreet in downtown Houston.

It will be part of the approximately four-mile "innovation corridor" that will run along Main Street from downtown to the Medical Center.

MassChallenge CEO John Harthorne said, starting in April, start-ups in all industries and from all over the world can apply.

"The criteria for judging is, we're looking for startups with the highest potential for significant impact on humanity," he said. "So it's not about investability or profitability. It's about, do you have the possibility to create a powerful impact on the world. Typically if that's the case, also it would be investable and profitable and all of the rest of it."

Generally, about 10 percent of start-ups that apply are accepted into the program, he said.

Those selected will then get free office space, training and mentorship for several months.

At the end, a panel will award some winners, which will receive grants.

Houston started focusing on its innovation and startup culture in 2016, when both the city of Houston and the Greater Houston Partnership created taskforces to look into how to become a major innovation hub.

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