A few weeks back, we talked with Norton Rose Fulbright’s Zack Barnes on how law firms can invest in their communities through local innovation hubs like Houston, Texas’ Ion District. We wanted to dive deeper into that law firm/local innovation idea, so Zack is back with us and introduced us to Joey Sanchez, Senior Director of Ecosystems at The Ion Houston. With his weekly “Cup of Joey” innovation gatherings, Sanchez says his responsibility is to “engineer serendipity” in the innovation community.
The Ion Houston is a lesson in “fail fast.” The original idea revolved around the bid to lure Amazon’s second headquarters. And despite being the fourth largest city in the United States, Houston didn’t even make the top 20 of Amazon’s list. What that told the innovators in Houston, along with the biggest backer of the project, Rice University, was that Houston needed to reevaluate itself and make a concerted effort to organize its innovative community.
The Ion is not just a beautiful reimagination of a 1930’s era Sears building. It is a 12 block district in the center of Houston that is looking to reimagine a city that has long been viewed as having a cowboy culture rooted in the fossil fuel industries. While the rest of the world may think of Austin as the hot area for innovation, Sanchez reminds us that Houston has the biggest potential for growth with its variety of industries like the Medical Center, NASA, the Port of Houston, the influx of alternative energy companies, and its large, diverse population.
The legal industry is also taking note of what is happening in the Ion District with firms like Baker Botts, Norton Rose, Hunton Andrews Kurth, and other law firms making a presence for themselves among the startups. Entrepreneurs are looking for protections for their intellectual property, reducing risks associated with being a new company, and for guidance through the legal and regulatory landscape. Having innovation districts in large cities like Houston are a prime spot for law firms to position themselves to help innovators within their local communities.