Industry-Sponsored Research Week

Smart city initiatives offer new avenue for industry collaboration


By David Schwartz
Published: August 6th, 2019

The need for urban areas to efficiently manage Internet of Things (IoT) assets, to become “smart cities,” is a space that has become increasingly attractive to political leaders. Recognizing that they do not have the necessary expertise in-house to take such challenges on themselves, they are frequently turning to universities (for knowledge and research) and industry (for research and bandwidth) as partners in these initiatives.

This trend admittedly came as a bit of a surprise to Tom Snyder, executive director of NC RIoT, a non-profit that supports Internet of Things and disruptive technology industry growth. He is also co-instructor with Product Innovation Lab, a multidisciplinary course in innovation and entrepreneurship at NC State.

As head of an organization that has between 80 and 85 sponsor organizations (corporate, municipal and university partners), Snyder holds various forms of workshops, seminars, lunch & learns, and educational activities, while also running an early-stage start-up accelerator, thus receiving plenty of feedback on trends in the IoT area. This particular area of growth, he admits, was unplanned.

“We bring people together in various types of events and forums, usually doing work around a particular tech like blockchain, AI, transportation, or smart cities,” he explains. “The smart cities space was already a very big sector, but what we found was municipal governments all over the country were looking fairly siloed. They had similar challenges (traffic, crime, storm water runoffs, parking) but not necessarily a voice to help them coordinate and share best practices and lessons learned. They started to come to us.”

Other municipalities and/or universities are initiating collaborations on their own. The city of Houston is partnering with Rice University and other local institutions, Microsoft, and Intel on an accelerator program for smart cities technology. And Stanford’s Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities Program includes industry partners such as commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, Booz Allen Hamilton, Amazon Web Services, Deloitte, Hitachi, Microsoft and Prologis.

Houston’s Chief Development Officer Andy Icken is very clear on the need to involve academia and industry in these efforts. “We know when you get right down to it an effective workforce is the key to maintaining competitiveness,” he says. “Academia is really in that business; they’re charged with that. It’s one thing to bring technology from industry, but you also need to bring a community with workforce skills.”

Snyder agrees. “To move things forward you really need university involvement, government, established corporate entities, entrepreneurs, and the investment community,” he says. “Municipalities can present the problems, universities can do the research and provide talent pipelines, businesses provide solutions, and you also need some moderator or coordinator to pull some of these together.”

A detailed article on smart city initiatives involving academia, government agencies and industry appears in the July issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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