Business Groups Launch Innovation Strategy Office To Boost Houston Tech
Houston’s business leaders have nailed down their plan amp up the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, with the launch of a “strategy office” aimed at boosting venture capital investment and connecting young businesses with established industries that might need the technologies they develop.
The office will be led by John Nordby, vice president for innovation at the Greater Houston Partnership, and will be charged with executing a 41-page plan that includes changes to regulations, the establishment of a “tech district” in a yet-to-be-determined neighborhood, and the recruitment of an office of a large technology firm (such as Apple or Google).
The effort comes after a year or so of discussions around why Houston, a center of corporate research and development, has fallen short on measures of startup activity and “disruptive” innovation that can upend entire industries, as Uber has done with taxi cabs or Dropbox with web storage.
Houston’s challenge has been that those ingredients have been distributed across a vast landscape, often locked inside large companies. This new office’s mission will be to shake them loose.
That kind of business culture requires talent, money, customers, and a mechanism for bringing them together. Houston’s challenge has been that those ingredients have been distributed across a vast landscape, often locked inside large companies. This new office’s mission will be to shake them loose.
The plan was written on a pro-bono basis by the consulting firm Accenture, with participation from a city task force headed by City Council member Amanda Edwards, local universities, large energy companies the Houston Technology Center, the Texas Medical Center, and Station Houston, a one-year-old startup incubator.
On the agenda: A marketing campaign with conferences and advertising to highlight Houston’s innovative capacity, a “founder visa” program that will help foreign tech workers come and stay here, and city policies that pave the way for innovative businesses, such as regulations for autonomous cars.
The plan also includes granting tax abatements for businesses that locate in a certain neighborhood designated for tech startups, activating local rich people to invest in young firms, and raising a $100 million fund to be overseen by professional managers.
Some of those tasks, especially any regulatory changes and tax breaks, will require action by the city government. Although Mayor Sylvester Turner expressed support for the general ideas in his State of the City address a few weeks ago, they remain ideas.
“The mayor has not committed to anything specifically… There’s no timeline for any of this yet.”
“The mayor has not committed to anything specifically,” says Gina Luna, a former head of JPMorgan Chase’s Houston Office who led the Partnership’s task force. “There’s no timeline for any of this yet.”
Venture capitalist Blair Garrou, managing director of the Houston-based Mercury Fund, will chair the strategy office’s board of directors.
The Houston plan also focuses on a few key sectors: Cybersecurity, robotics, and the “industrial internet of things,” which refers to machines that can be connected wirelessly, such as a smartphone-controlled thermostat.
The Strategy Office is modeled on Chicago’s ChicagoNext, which delegates projects to major players like universities and big businesses and makes sure everything is coordinated and on schedule. Members of the city task force that helped draw up the plan visited Chicago, which over the past several years has created a hub for young tech businesses called 1871.
John Reale, co-founder of Station Houston, says those are the types of technologies that are most needed by Houston’s biggest industries: Health care, energy, aerospace, manufacturing, and logistics.
“All of them have this underpinning layer of data science,” Reale says. “That’s really the common core here.”
Source: Houston Chronicle