Accenture Opens First of 10 Innovation Centers in Houston

Houston—The city of Houston boasts a healthy supply of young educated workers and an abundance of private wealth, but its corporate ecosystem and risk aversion toward tech startups prevents its innovation community from realizing its full potential.

That’s according to a new report by the consulting firm Accenture, which also announced on Wednesday the opening of a new innovation center in downtown Houston. The office is the first of 10 new hubs planned across the United States as part of a $1.4 billion investment by the firm.

“Houston has innovation and, yet, externally, when you talk to folks in other cities, they don’t always give us a lot of credit,” said Brian Richards, the firm’s innovation lead in Houston.

The idea behind the center, he added, is to connect the firm’s largely corporate and industrial clients—especially those in the oil and gas sector—to emerging technologies they need to spur innovation. “We’re talking about blockchain and A.I., but there’s some learning that needs to happen,” Richards said. “It’s not enough to talk about it; people need to experience it.”

To that end, Accenture’s new center will feature stations with software that displays real-time drilling data in a gamified way; virtual reality devices that can provide specialized employee training without leaving the office; and 3-D scanning and printing devices that can create replicas for spare parts faster and for lower costs than traditional methods.

Accenture’s effort seems similar to other corporate skunkworks projects that seek to bring emerging technologies to clients needing assistance in navigating the changing world of software, devices, artificial intelligence, and other innovations. Last year, AT&T opened one of its Foundry programs at the Texas Medical Center’s Innovation Institute to tailor communications technologies to the needs of the healthcare system, and support a growing health IT startup cohort in Houston.

Perhaps one of the most direct lines to innovation will be the fact that Accenture’s center is located five floors down from Station Houston, a year-old organization that provides office space and resources for young technology companies. Station Houston now has 200 members, said John Reale, Station’s co-founder and managing director.

“I keep talking about the need for collisions—serendipitous meetings that create collaboration,” Reale said.

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