Sep 16 2020

Houston, Microsoft Team Up on Tech Reskilling Effort

The city is building on its smart city partnership with Microsoft to give residents and students access to digital literacy training.

The collaboration between Houston and Microsoft is deepening, with Space City and the software giant focusing on training residents on new digital skills amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In late August, Houston and Microsoft announced a new initiative called Accelerate, which focuses on Big Data, artificial intelligence and the digital economy. The program is “intended to create new economic opportunity, close equity and digital skills gaps, and prepare a workforce for the 21st century,” according to a Microsoft press release.

“More than two years ago, I announced our first transformative alliance with Microsoft — the first of its kind in the United States,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said in the statement. He added that the city and company are “taking another leap toward strengthening Houston’s global standing as a center for innovation and technology.”

The announcement builds on a partnership that Houston and Microsoft first unveiled in May 2018, when the city and the company forged a wide-ranging alliance that included plans for Microsoft to help Houston find “technological solutions to other challenges under the umbrella of the company’s Smart City initiatives,” per the original announcement.

Microsoft and the city also started working with nearby Rice University to develop research into civic applications of Internet of Things technologies. The goal then was to ensure Houston could keep pace with other cities around the globe as they adopt smart city programs. Building on that, Microsoft said it is now “developing a holistic plan for professional development/support and addressing the equity gap across the community” in Houston.

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.”

READ MORE: Find out how smart cities can use data effectively.

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