Station Houston Aims to Boost Startups, City’s Tech Ecosystem

Houston — This week marks the launch of Station Houston, a new hybrid accelerator and co-working space aimed at boosting the city’s young technology companies.

Station—so named as a homage the railroad companies that helped build a booming 19th-century Houston—is founded by Emily Keeton, a Houstonian who returned to the city after she sold her food app, Flavour, to New York-based Tasting Table last year.

“Software is eating the world, and Houston should be part of that trend, producing software-enabled companies that solve issues in the cleantech, healthcare and even the consumer space,” Keeton says. “We’re the fourth-largest city; I think it’s a great place to launch a consumer product. But when you look a the statistics, we’re just not there.”

With that in mind, Keeton enlisted the help of other members of Houston’s innovation scene—including John Reale, a longtime Houston investor and startup mentor who becomes Station’s managing director; and Blair Garrou, founder and managing director of venture capital firm Mercury Fund.

Station Houston will operate out of the first floor of cleantech-focused Surge Ventures’ headquarters near downtown, where it hosted an open house Monday. The 36 member companies at Station Houston range from those just starting to startups that have raised a few million dollars in funding. Industries include analytics, media and advertising, cleantech, and consumer products.

Here is an edited version of my conversation with Keeton and Reale:

Xconomy: What is Station Houston’s mission? How does it complement or enhance existing efforts to boost startups in the city?

Emily Keeton: We share the vision that Houston can be a leading tech hub. The question is, how do you do that? You need to build density around startups. The reason that’s important is that knowledge transfer: introductions, access to capital. All of those kinds of things happen when you have startup density and Houston doesn’t have startup density right now.

There are lots of great efforts with healthcare, TMCx [the accelerator run by the Texas Medical Center that was founded last year], and there are pure co-working spaces. But there is no intersection point where co-working meets mentorship meets programming on an ongoing basis. Not for just a two- or three-month period, like traditional accelerators. This is an ongoing exercise.

Our mission is to basically surround entrepreneurs with all the resources and infrastructure they need to succeed.

JR Reale: If we’re not driving the next new innovative companies, what does that mean for a city like Houston that has this global footprint? We have to cast a much bigger vision for Houston to be a driver of innovation.

If we’re not creating a richer feeding ground, for what those companies will be, what happens when next year we’re sitting at $30 [for a barrel of] oil and we’ve already laid off 60,000 people? Do they leave the city? Or is there something we can provide, infrastructure and support, and … Next Page »

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