Houston, Microsoft Aim to Close the Digital Divide
The city’s initial alliance with Microsoft “created the foundation for Houston to grow as a smart city,” Jesse Bounds, innovation director for Houston, said in the Microsoft release. The collaboration “brought startup innovation to city challenges through The Ion Smart City Accelerator, proved out cases for the use of IoT and AI to make our city safer and more resilient, and provided equitable access to technology through digital literacy, upskilling programs and Wi-Fi on public transit,” Bounds added.
The accelerator, now known as the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator, launched its first cohort of startups in September 2019 and its second cohort in April 2020. The startups in the first cohort focus on transportation, mobility and resiliency solutions. Startups in the second cohort are focusing on air quality, water purification and clean tech solutions.
Microsoft said it will invest more than $1 million into programs that support social entrepreneurship and other initiatives in partnership with Houston’s Innovation District at The Ion.
“With this digital alliance, one of history’s most important and innovative technology companies becomes a key pillar of The Ion,” Rice University President David Leebron, said in the release. “Microsoft will help implement the vision to make Houston’s new innovation district a focal point for the future of energy, artificial intelligence, data science and smart cities.”
A core element of the new initiative is training. Microsoft will offer digital literacy workshops, empowerment programs and other development training with industry experts to residents and local veterans via LinkedIn Learning. The goal will be “to help prepare them for opportunities in new technologies and increase digital skills training,” Microsoft said.
To aid students, Microsoft will bring its Imagine Academy program to Houston schools, with content and industry certifications mapped to student skill development. The company will also support LinkedIn workshops, DigiCamps and DigiGirlz camps to help students plan their futures, identify skills they will need and connect with programs and technologies to help them.
Microsoft and its partners will also bring digital literacy training and modern workplace training focused on digital skills for educators.
“Houston is home to some of the world’s most important medical breakthroughs, and as the Energy Capital of the World, we’re leading the energy transition into a more sustainable future,” Turner said in the statement. “Microsoft shares my vision to make Houston the Smart City of the future and a leader among U.S. cities as we develop excellence in innovation, AI and digital equity.”