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Ion District Announces Second Annual Activation Festival

Events designed to engage the community, showcase entrepreneurial talent, and celebrate the District’s expanding technology ecosystem

HOUSTON, MAY 8, 2023 – Ion District, Houston’s 16-acre innovation district, alongside its developer Rice Management Company, announced today its second annual Activation Festival is taking place May 17-19, 2023. Similar to last year’s inaugural event, which had more than 2,500 attendees, Houstonians and visitors of all backgrounds are invited to attend engaging and interactive programming, explore the Ion’s dynamic spaces and cutting-edge amenities, and learn about the myriad of available educational and upskilling opportunities. 

Admission is free but registration is required here

“Activation Festival continues to be a perfect showcase for the innovation, technology, entrepreneurial spirit, and collaboration that exists in Houston,” said Jan E. Odegard, Executive Director of the Ion. “We’re thrilled to be celebrating how Ion District sparks ideas and drives growth across Houston’s industry and communities. I hope to see both familiar and new faces throughout the three days.”

Activation Festival’s thoughtfully curated events drive the Ion and Ion District’s purpose for transforming and strengthening Houston’s economic resilience, and creating opportunities for  easy access to economic opportunities in the innovation and tech-enabled industries. The events will provide attendees the opportunity to experience businesses, networking, and programming that highlights and celebrates Houston’s vibrant entrepreneurial, academic, startup and corporate innovator communities. 

“Activation Festival gives an up close and personal look at how Ion District is harnessing Houston’s sprawling talent and innovation to endure as a tech hub, an industry thought leader, and a global economic force,” said Bryson Grover, Investment Manager, Direct Real Estate, Rice Management Company. “This flagship event will inspire people to experience Ion and Ion District, where we’re already working together to build solutions and solve real problems every single day.” 

Events are open to the public and will primarily take place at the Ion, located at 4201 Main St, with a few events occuring in the nearby surrounding District area, including Greentown Labs Houston, located at 4200 San Jacinto St. 

The line-up of key events can be found below. To register, please visit Ion’s event page here. We encourage you to register for all the programs but registering for one event will get you a pass for the full three days. Some venue space will be limited, and access will be first come first seated.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

  • Engage VC (9:00 am – 10:00 am CDT) – Led by HX Venture Fund, in partnership with Ion and Scale Ventures, this event focuses on how to utilize intelligent business software to move from founder-led growth to a repeatable go-to-market machine. 
  • Ion Prototyping Lab + Nexus: Robotics Day (9:00 am – 5:00 pm CDT) – Join the Ion Prototyping Lab and Rice’s Nexus Lab for a day of robotic displays, discussions, and lab tours.
  • Corporate-Startup Partnerships: How to Build Them, Sustain Them, and How They’re Key to Fast-Tracking Innovation and Growth (11:00 am – 12:00 pm CDT) – A panel discussion with Halliburton Labs, ExxonMobil and TMCx, moderated by law firm Baker Botts, on the importance of disruption to develop new technologies, and the role that corporate-startup collaborations play in innovation. 
  • ChatGPT Panel: Love It or Hate It: Exploring the Transformative Power of ChatGPT (2:00 pm – 3:00 pm CDT) This panel deep dives into ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot, including how it can be used and its pitfalls. 
  • Common Desk Happy Hour (3:00 pm – 5:00 pm CDT) – An event to connect with like-minded professionals, expand your network, and discover the many benefits of working at Common Desk – Ion.
  • What’s Next, Now: Ion District Showcase (5:00 pm – 7:00 pm CDT) – Featuring startups and corporations from Houston’s key industries, including healthcare, energy, finance and technology, that will showcase their innovative solutions and products that are transforming the way we live and work.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

  • Workforce Development with Per Scholas (9:00 am – 10:45 am CDT) – Led by Per Scholas, this panel and workshop brings together industry leaders, experts, and innovators to explore the critical role of workforce development and training in building a robust tech industry – from the latest trends in upskilling and reskilling to best practices for creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.  
  • Ion Prototyping Lab + Nexus: Open Innovation Day (9:00 am – 5:00 pm CDT) – Join the Ion Prototyping Lab and Rice’s Nexus Lab for a day of innovative displays, discussions, and lab tours.
  • Entrepreneurship as a Business Style by Hap Klopp, Founder of The North Face (11:00 am – 12:00 pm CDT) – This keynote speech features Founder and former CEO of The North Face, Hap Klopp. Klopp will speak to why he believes entrepreneurship is a mindset that must be employed by all businesses to ensure their vitality. 
  • Back to the Future of Innovation (2:00 pm – 3:00 pm CDT) – This discussion focuses on how the Office of Innovation at Rice University is creating game-changing tech startups at speed and scale through public-private partnerships between industry, government, and the broader academic community. 
  • Innovation on Tap: EntrepreNeuro (5:00 pm – 7:00 pm CDT) – In partnership with Ion, and part of the InterfaceRice 2023 conference, EntrepreNeuro features three presenters who will discuss their personal experiences particularly during periods of transition. 

Friday, May 19, 2023

  • Cup of Joey – Ion District (8:30 am – 10:30 am CDT) – This coffee shop networking event is taking place both at the Ion and Greentown Labs, serving up coffee from Common Bond; the event is an opportunity to meet new connections, expand current networks, talk tech, inspire innovation, and create community. All are welcome! 
  • Greentown Labs + Ion Activation Festival 2023 (8:30 am – 3:30 pm CDT) – Hop over to Greentown Labs for Cup of Joey from 8:30 am – 10:30 am, food trucks from 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm, as well as a panel of thought-provoking speakers and a showcase of GTL’s members at 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm. 
  • Ion Prototyping Lab + Nexus: Space Day (9:00 am – 5:00 pm CDT) – Join the Ion Prototyping Lab and Rice’s Nexus Lab for a day of innovative displays, discussions, and lab tours.
  • The Future of Space Tech by Douglas Terrier (11:30 am – 12:30 pm CDT) – Featuring Douglas Terrier, Associate Director for Vision and Strategy at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, this fireside chat, hosted by Alicia Llewellyn, Lead, Strategy and Formulation, Business Development & Technology Integration Office, NASA JSC, focuses on the future of space tech and what opportunities are ahead for startups and students.
  • SME Office Hours + Mingle Lounges (1:30 pm – 2:30 pm CDT) – This networking event is an opportunity to meet SCORE Houston representatives and SMEs in marketing, storytelling, and pitch deck preparation, and network with other entrepreneurs, SMEs, researchers, corporates, and investors.
  • Ion Block Party: Innovation on DisPLAY (5:00 pm – 8:00 pm CDT) – This community-wide party features a number of entrepreneurial local businesses showing off their dynamic technology on the Ion Plaza. Also includes food trucks and a special “battle of the bands” competition.

To learn more about Ion’s offerings and how it can benefit you by signing up for the newsletter here

About Ion District: Houston’s new innovation district takes our city’s talent and sprawl and connects it all, harnessing Houston’s potential to emerge and endure as a tech hub, a thought leader, a cultural core, and a global economic force. Twelve blocks built to encourage serendipitous collisions across all sectors and skill levels, and promote equitable businesses, products, and jobs in our image: ones that reflect our city’s diversity of ethnicities and enduring individualism, our big-hearted tenacity and wildcatting audacity, our gumption and resilience come hell or high water. An invitation to build the world we want to see.

About the Ion: Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward.

From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way. 

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The Ion, Houston’s Innovation Epicenter, Announces Opening Celebration Activation Festival

Rice Management Company (RMC), the developer of the Ion, a 266,000 square-foot innovation hub within the greater Ion District located in Midtown, today announced it will host Activation Festival the week of May 9 to commemorate the building’s opening and in-person programming. The public is invited to partake in programming, explore the Ion’s amenities and learn about the educational and upskilling opportunities it offers beginning May 9 at 1:00 p.m. The Ion’s purpose is to strengthen Houston’s economic resilience and build a community for those that have not had access to economic opportunities in innovation and tech-enabled industries.

About the Building

Linking educational institutions, incubators, accelerators, businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors together, the Ion is creating pathways for the future workforce. The building is centrally located less than a mile from Downtown Houston and 1.5 miles from the Texas Medical Center. It is also steps from the Wheeler MetroRail station and is oriented for easy pedestrian, bike, train, bus, and rideshare access.

The building accommodates multiple uses, including 50,000 square feet devoted to public and shared spaces for events and programming, event space, classrooms, and maker spaces, including the Ion Prototyping Lab and the Ion Investor Studio. Current Ion tenants include technology giants Microsoft, Chevron Technology Ventures, Schlumberger, and Dow Chemicals, as well as startups like Liongard, one of Houston’s fastest-growing startups, and early-stage companies like Koda Health and Clutch. The Ion will also be home to four chef-driven restaurants by Houston-based restaurateurs, including The Lymbar, Late August, Common Bond, and Second Draught, a concept by Baileson Brewing, which will open in summer 2022.

Dramatically Redesigned for Today’s Workforce

Formerly an Art Deco, 1930s-era Sears, the Ion was collaboratively designed by SHoP Architects, James Carpenter Design Associates, and Gensler. Today, it is now a dramatically reimagined and purpose-built innovation hub that is also the anchor of Midtown’s upcoming transformational 16-acre Ion District. Gilbane and Walter P Moore played integral roles in the building’s construction and structural engineering. Hines served as the development manager. The building’s design team repurposed the existing structure to generate a smooth flow, connectivity, and transparency to innovation activities within the building and the half-acre outdoor plaza, designed by James Corner Field Operations.

The Ion’s structure includes the existing four-story concrete Sears building with an additional two floors of new class-A office atop. Preserved to revive the building’s architectural significance, the design and construction team meticulously preserved historical aspects of the original building, including the façade, historic concrete canopies, interior terrazzo flooring, mosaic surrounding the glass block windows, and the concrete structure.

Legacy and design elements of note:

● Display showcase windows (“vitrines”) on the façade, which were restored and are for small exhibitions. The first art exhibit titled “Eye On Art” is open for public enjoyment.

● An abundance of natural light, introduced through large window openings in the north, east, and west concrete exterior walls.

● A massive light well created through large openings in the center of each floor of the building with a 250-seat Forum Stair amphitheater at the ground level for public-facing events.

“To create a purposefully collaborative complex, RMC intentionally chose to bring in the world’s leading design and architecture teams to reimagine the Ion’s space to mirror its vision,” said Ryan LeVasseur, Managing Director, Direct Real Estate, RMC. “We are ecstatic that the public can celebrate SHoP, Gensler, James Carpenter, Field Operations, Gilbane, and Walter P Moore’s vision. Their ingenuity and collaboration created a dynamic hub and anchor to transform how Houstonians work, learn, and engage with its neighbors.”

Ion District Also Growing

The Ion anchors the forthcoming Ion District, an intentionally accessible, walkable, and integrated urban community. The growth of the Ion District continues to pick up momentum as the home to the second location of North America’s largest climate-tech incubator, Greentown Labs Houston, and the recently announced education facility for the nationally renowned Theatre Under The Stars. RMC is also continuing construction of the district’s third building, the 1,585 space District garage, and is in discussions for the development of three more buildings over the next three years.

About Activation Week

Activation Week begins May 9 with 2-3 programs daily through Friday, May 13. The event is a week-long, in-person showcase of the Ion and its innovation ecosystem partners. It includes an array of thought-provoking experiences, programs, and speakers, including a silent disco, demos with robotic dogs, keynotes and panels on the future of innovation, and a startup showcase, representative of the building’s diverse offerings and the breadth of audiences it serves. Activation Festival culminates in a community-wide block party to celebrate the heart of Houston’s new innovation district Friday evening. A complete list of public events can be found here, where you can also RSVP.

Opportunities to get Involved

Ongoing programming includes Cup of Joey, a weekly Friday networking event; Family Tech Day, an event for Houston’s youth and their families to learn more about how to build a big idea; How to Start a Startup, where attendees can learn how to identify problems, needs, and trends with their startup idea; and Houston Startup Showcase, a year-long series of monthly pitch competitions.

“The Ion offers a wide range of accessible programming,” said Jan E. Odegard, Executive Director of the Ion. “After more than a year adapting to the online and hybrid environment during 2020 and 2021, all of our events are now in-person, safety and health conditions permitting, and we’re thrilled to welcome the Houston community for this epic week.”

To follow the Ion’s journey and get involved, Houstonians and tech enthusiasts can sign-up for the newsletter here.

About the Ion

Ion: Where ideas go to grow. Located in Ion District, the namesake building is the transformative centerpiece of Houston’s innovation corridor. Designed to bring our city’s entrepreneurial, corporate, and academic communities into collaborative spaces and programs, the sunlit structure of steel and glass is a home for advancing diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that propel our world forward. From Fortune 500s seeking flexible office space to first-time startups looking for the funding to design a prototype, the Ion provides wide-reaching space and support to connect every What if with What now?—welcoming individuals and teams of all kinds to a place to build a better way.

About Rice Management Company Rice Management Company (RMC) is responsible for the stewardship of Rice University’s endowment. The endowment plays a vital role for Rice. The distributions generated provide approximately 40% of the University’s operating revenues, which makes it the single largest revenue source to the operating budget. The RMC team brings decades of investment management expertise across diversified industries and financial specialties. Through disciplined research and due diligence, we assess and pursue investment strategies that are aligned with the long-term risk/reward profile of the endowment. For more information, please visit investments.rice.edu