Even before Harvey, John Reale felt the imperative of supporting entrepreneurship in Houston. Reale is the co-founder and CEO of Station Houston, a co-working space that helps tech startups scale. Now, as the reality of the post-hurricane challenge facing his city settles in, Reale believes entrepreneurs and innovators will be essential to the recovery of Houston, as well as its future.
“The fourth largest city in America is in pain,” he says. “As we look to help the victims, we’re going to need the best and brightest, the most creative people to get involved.”
After Harvey hit the Texas coast on Friday, August 23 and stalled over the area for days, causing catastrophic flooding, Station Houston opened its doors on the following Wednesday, both as a command center and as a landing place for displaced entrepreneurs. They hosted Sketch City, a non-profit group of technologists and civic hackers, as they brought the community together to brainstorm solutions to address the myriad needs.
Given the call to action, the tech community responded with a number of projects, including the Texas Rescue map and subsequently, the Texas Muck Map that linked volunteers to victims first needing rescue, then needing help cleaning up. Nile Dixon, a student home from college, created a text bot that when prompted with a ZIP code, would respond with shelter availability in the area. Entrepreneurs were also actively involved in raising money for the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund by putting out a call to the entrepreneurship and VC community.
Now that the community has addressed the immediate life-threatening needs of storm victims, Reale — who was a participant in this summer's ESHIP Summit — is looking forward to the recovery and rebuilding of his city, of which he says entrepreneurs will play a crucial role. With businesses closing and jobs lost, he anticipates the emergence of "necessity entrepreneurs," who will need support to get new businesses going. With large swaths of the city needing reimagining, "We need our entrepreneurs to help solve these problems at scale."
An acceleration of entrepreneurship in Houston would also address another issue Reale sees: the need for companies of all sizes in diverse industries. Despite an enviable number of corporate headquarters, many are based in the petroleum industry, which may be threatened by changes in technology in the next few decades.
As he participates on the Technology & Innovation Taskforce for the city of Houston, as well as the Greater Houston Partnership, Reale emphasizes that any economic development plan for Houston must include support for entrepreneurs.
“Our vision remains — to transform Houston into a world-leading hub for tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Over the next decade, I believe the need is even greater, so we’ll realize this vision. We see our Mayor championing this vision; our entrepreneurs pushing the agenda; and the reason why I believe this can scale [is because] our massive corporations are welcoming innovation from outside, changing the way they view and engage with the startup community. In ten years, the narrative changes to the global hub for industrial software and digital health technologies. And that happens because of what we're doing today."