The outlook for the new decade – and even during this relentless pandemic — is decidedly bright for SlideRoom partner The Ion. The Ion is an innovation and technology hub located in Midtown Houston, which is accelerating innovation and connecting communities. “In the Houston-Galveston area, there aren’t any other organizations like this,” said Courtney Cogdill, The Ion’s vivacious Program Manager, who works with startups, city leaders and industry partners affiliated with The Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator (ISRCA).
Stewarded by Rice Management Company, The Ion has an impressive partner list, including Microsoft, Intel, Chevron Technology Ventures, DivInc and the City of Houston.
“We have a lot of really great people that are very invested in what we’re doing,” said Cogdill.
New Goals for Next Cohorts
The ISRCA has already built two successful cohorts – one executed in-person and one executed virtually. With Cohort 2 drawing in over 450 unique viewers in over 12 countries, Cogdill and her colleagues realized they needed to rethink their application processing system as they sought to scale and streamline applications for Cohort 3. While the team’s prior application process, Google Forms, served The ISRCA team’s needs, Cogdill quickly realized that it was not equipped to manage tracking desired metrics and to enable asynchronous collaboration on a larger scale, at a glance and with ease. “A big part of the application process is the user experience, and I began to wonder if we were truly offering a seamless and enjoyable experience for applicants, mentors and reviewers,” said Cogdill.
Prior to operating virtually, The ISRCA’s selection committee had met in-person to determine finalists. However, with COVID-19 challenges, meeting in-person would not be possible. Cogdill saw this as an opportunity to introduce a new tool. She was familiar with a tried-and-true application-processing tool from her experience working with a healthcare accelerator. “I had come to know SlideRoom a few years ago, working for a different accelerator that used the platform, and our mentors and everyone raved about it. It’s collaborative. Everyone can log in at their ease. They can rank applicants. It can be done so asynchronously, which is fantastic. And it’s so important for today when I think we’re all kind of ‘Zoomed out.’”
Cogdill and her colleagues wanted a cohort application platform that could track applicants geographically and to gain insights on when and why certain candidates weren’t completing their applications. They also needed their mentors to easily access the applications, as well as the ability to create an internal ranking system of candidates.
“SlideRoom took the three different programs and processes we were using and rolled them all into one, which was a time savings for me of at least six to eight hours per week during application season. I didn’t have to go from my Google Forms to my e-mail to do all this. I can get into SlideRoom and do it all. It solves more than just one problem for me,” Cogdill said.
Clients Continue to Inspire During COVID-19
The ISRCA has begun accepting SlideRoom applications for its third cohort, to be held in March 2021. Due to its decision to operate virtually, The ISRCA is seeing a lot of applications from outside of Houston, given that the three-month “residency” can now be done anywhere.
As for how The ISRCA’s startups have endured COVID-related challenges, Cogdill said it has been overwhelmingly positive. “I think entrepreneurs are some of the most versatile beings on the planet, and I applaud them for their ingenuity and their flexibility,” Cogdill said.
She gave an example of re:3D, one of The ISRCA’s Cohort 2’s startups that created an award-winning COVID program called “PPE for the People.” This effort seeks to provide 3D printed personal protective equipment (PPE) to essential workers from under-served populations in the Houston area as they continue to carry out food, transportation, social and municipal services for their community. Fiscally sponsored by Impact Hub Houston, the campaign will provide 3D printed face shields, ear savers and other PPE to help protect restaurant and fast-food workers, bus and delivery drivers as well as small businesses that seek to reopen safely.
Reskilling and Matchmaking Fuels the Mission
As part of its mission in serving startups and entrepreneurs, The Ion makes a point of working with all types of businesses. “One of the common phrases we use in our accelerator is that everyone’s running their own race,” Cogdill said. “Our process is very thorough in that we look to address each startup where they are.”
That means, among other things, that The Ion works to support companies in all stages. Some participants are already working with paying clients, and after successfully completing The ISRCA’s cohort, they may then begin to offer another service. This ability to “reskill” has come to the forefront for The Ion this year, driven by the global need to ensure that businesses survive. The partnerships that The Ion forges are actually enabling their stakeholders to thrive – even in a down economy.
An important part of what The Ion does is business matchmaking, according to Cogdill. “There are all these accelerators working on different things, but it’s a hub for the community and for those founders to come and say, ‘We need help.’ Then we say, ‘Great, we’re going to match you to the help you need, even if it’s not from our accelerator.’ We will know someone and help you with it, so it’s a service to the community.”
As part of The Ion’s commitment to serving its community, it has been awarded two grants to establish an Accelerator Hub and an Aerospace Innovation Hub. The Accelerator Hub will unite The ISRCA, The Rice Alliance CleanTech Accelerator and DivInc Accelerator, enabling the three accelerator programs to operate out of one hub. The Aerospace Innovation Hub will leverage NASA Johnson’s Space Center (NASA JSC) and DivInc to support and develop regional minority business enterprises (MBEs). The Aerospace Innovation Hub will offer networking and outreach events — such as Pivoting Your Business From Earth to Space, education and training and an accelerator program.
Tools That Make Goals and Growth Possible Anytime
“SlideRoom is the answer to achieving so many of the goals and the data points that we need. And the grants really require us to report needed data and metrics of success. With SlideRoom, I can just log into the dashboard, and there it is.”
Armed with these insights, Cogdill can now be proactive in driving application completion and applicant experience. She easily identifies incomplete applications and reaches out to those candidates to offer direct support, which is proving far more effective than the previous approach of sending an email into the ether. At a high level, SlideRoom helps The Ion achieve its organizational goals by providing the analytics that enable streamlined deliverables tracking. This makes it a powerful tool, which ultimately drives success for The Ion’s programs. Cogdill is excited about this success and what’s to come when the city reopens and The Ion opens its new doors.
“I feel like we’re ready for anything,” Cogdill said with a smile.