Chevron – 2021 could be the year it all comes together for Houston tech
Photo: Jon Shapley, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
As 2021 dawns for Houston’s nascent technology community, the grandest physical manifestation of its goals is expected to become reality this spring. That’s when the transformation of the old Midtown Sears building into the Ion will be complete.
Add to that the fact that one of the country’s biggest business-tech companies, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, will be in the process of relocating its headquarters here, and tech in Houston holds plenty of promise for the coming year.
Designed to be the hub of a 16-acre “innovation district” in Midtown, the Ion will be home to four startup accelerators, offices for tech companies and coworking and numerous spaces designed for networking and collaboration.
Jan Odegard, the Ion’s interim executive director, said the building should get its temporary occupancy permit in mid-February, allowing the growing list of tenants to build out their own spaces. By April, enough will be complete to consider “some kind of marquee event” to mark the opening, depending on the status of the pandemic and the prevalence of a vaccine for COVID-19, he said.
The two highest-profile tenants so far are Chevron and Microsoft. Common Desk is designing coworking and office space on the building’s second floor.
The Ion isn’t the only significant institution coming to life in 2021. Its next-door neighbor, the former Midtown Fiesta grocery store, is being converted into a home for Greentown Labs, one of the nation’s premier clean-energy incubators. Also expected to open in the spring, it will host up to 50 green-energy startups.
The relocation of Hewlett Packard Enterprise in 2021, a move announced last month, is expected to add only marginally to the 2,600 HPE employees already working in the Houston area.
HPE is in the process of building a pair of five-story office buildings totaling 440,000 square feet in Springwoods Village, a complex south of The Woodlands in Spring. That’s also home to the Houston contingent of emoployees from sister company HP Inc., the result of the splitting of the original Hewlett Packard into a consumer PC/printing operation (HP) and a business-oriented company (HPE).
Although the HPE campus, which will be completed and opened in 2022, is far from the Midtown innovation district, Houston-area tech leaders believe it will provide a boost to ongoing efforts to grow the startup community. It draws more interest in Houston as a potential relocation destination for other out-of-state tech businesses, they say.
Those leaders also say that startups should continue to grow in 2021, with more of them approaching higher valuations as investment funding continues to loosen up.
“This city has built up a numb er of very strong, fast-growing companies that are entering the ‘soonicorn’ zone, where they are soon to be a unicorn,” said Harvin Moore, president of Houston Exponential, which helps coordinate Houston’s tech efforts. A unicorn is a startup that has a valuation of $1 billion or more.