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Rice University is turning an old Sears building into a $100M tech start-up hub


By Jesse Schwartz
Published: April 18th, 2018

Rice University plans to turn a retired Sears building into a bustling innovation center for tech start-ups in a bid to jump start the area’s innovation ecosystem.

The $100 million project would turn the four-story, 190,000-square-foot building into a start-up incubator with co-working spaces, offices, classrooms, cafes, restaurants and other features. The new site would revitalize a long-neglected area in Houston and help the city compete in attracting tech start-ups.

“We can no longer be in the shadow of Chicago or Silicon Valley,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. “We’ve got to tap into our collective resources, our collective talents and collective brainpower to compete globally.”

The effort was spurred partly when Amazon rejected Houston’s proposal to house the company’s second headquarters. To city officials, that rejection exposed Houston’s shortcomings in the realm of tech businesses and entrepreneurship.

“I think there is a growing realization that Houston needs to act and act quickly to build up the digital economy,” says Bob Harvey, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Partnership. “The Amazon result served as a catalyst for much more immediate action than we had previously anticipated.”

Even before the Amazon episode, Rice University had foreseen turning the Sears building into an innovation center. Located in the city’s midtown region, the site is close to light-rail lines, downtown companies, universities and the Texas Medical Center. It is also a younger part of town, with a good concentration of apartments, restaurants and nightlife.

“Start-ups want to be in a place that’s cool and welcome, and where they get all the resources they need to create,” says JR Reale, co-founder and CEO of local incubator Station Houston. “Those are the biggest drivers to activate a community.”

Though Rice will be credited for spearheading the development, university officials stress that the goal is to boost entrepreneurship not just on campus but across the entire city. “Our success as a university depends in large part on Houston’s success,” says Rice presdient David Leebron. “It’s important to Rice that Houston gain the recognition as a place of innovation and entrepreneurship that will advance the economy, create jobs and raise the city’s profile.”

Source: Chron

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