Actuator

Why Engineers Love the Smart City Works Actuator

So now it’s real! A fantastic Ribbon-cutting and Meet the Cohort event last Friday the 14th for the new Smart City Works Actuator at CIT, next door to our enormo2017-04-14 - SCW - 39 - DSC_9505usly successful and now four-year old cybersecurity accelerator, MACH37 (who also graciously hosted the event). The Governor came to get the 100 or so guests pumped up and glad to be Virginians. Thomas Smith, the Executive Director of the American Society of Civil Engineers spoke about our failing infrastructure and how the Smart City Actuator could play a role 2017-04-14 - SCW - 37 - DSC_9387in helping renew it. There actually was a ribbon, and the Governor was decisive in cutting it (look at the lever arms on those scissors!). And, in addition to civil engineers, we had electrical, mechanical, 2017-04-14 - SCW - 03 - DSC_9517transportation, and an aerospace engineer, computer scientists and data scientists, a materials scientist or two (graphene of course), and probably more. So why do all sorts of engineers love the Smart City Works Actuator? We can turn to the Laws of Physics for answers. Two laws that every engineer learns apply here:

F=ma, where a of course is acceleration,

and the formula for Kinetic energy (energy in action)

Kε=½m(v)**2

Now for our purposes we will let m represent the size of the mentor network, and v represent the volume of innovative companies the accelerator capacity can handle. By starting the Smart City Works Actuator, a has now become 2a, m has become 2m, and v is of course 2v. Substituting in our equations, and letting F represent the amount of fun we are having, any engineer can tell you the results:

2a*2m = 4F …four times the fun!

and

½[2m](2v)**2= 4Kε …four times the energy!!

Yes, its true. Engineers love the Smart City Works Actuator because, together with our MACH37 Accelerator, they can come and have four times the fun and experience four times the energy, all while helping build a better world. Q.E.D.

Of course the way we help Actuate a better world is by helping accelerate our innovative entrepreneurs, and the Smart City Works Actuator has some great ones!

IHT.   You no longer need to be a scientist to know whether your water is 2017-04-14 - SCW - 20 - DSC_9590safe. Using a patented new technology, Integrated Health Technologies’ Sensor BottleTM detects and relays water quality information to your phone to provide you with real-time peace-of-mind that the water you consume is safe to drink.  For cities, these bottles provide a crowd-sourced platform for real-time water quality detection and monitoring of municipal water systems.

UNOMICEDGE.  UNOMICEDGE is a Software Defined Network solution for securely 2017-04-14 - SCW - 51 - DSC_9580connecting the Cloud to devices at Network Edge.  It includes a network Hypervisor that not only enforces network security policies, but develops critical business and operational insights from user and device interactions. Smart cities rely on smart IoT devices at the Network Edge.  UnomicEdge not only reduces the cyber risk of IoT, but can provide valuable intelligence to make businesses and cities run smarter.

InfraccessInfraccess is powering up infrastructure investment by pr2017-04-14 - SCW - 24 - DSC_9570oviding easier access to trusted data so you can more efficiently discover investment opportunities, make quicker, better informed investments, and reduce overall investment risk. The Infraccess web-based workflow platform sources and transforms unstructured information into smart data and proprietary performance indicators to help unlock billions in investment opportunities in infrastructure.

Capital Construction Solutions.  Capital Construction Solutions creates mobile-based 2017-04-14 - SCW - 30 - DSC_9533risk management platforms for improving enterprise-wide accountability and transparency.  With Capital Construction Solutions deployed in the field, companies can immediately turn day-to-day operations into opportunities to reduce corporate liability, mitigate risk, and significantly increase profits.

 

 

PLANITIMPACT.   Design decisions can have significant and long-lasting2017-04-14 - SCW - 27 - DSC_9545 impact on business and environmental costs.  PlanITimpact has created a smart modeling platform to help building professionals better understand and improve performance, including energy, water use, stormwater and transportation, so owners, investors, and communities can better visualize project impacts and returns on investment.

GREATER PLACES.  Cities worldwide are investing in the next generation of buildings, infrastructure, transportation, and technology. But where can you turn to for readily finding the b2017-04-14 - SCW - 28 - DSC_9542est leading-edge solutions in this space?   GreaterPlaces creates a single web-based and mobile platform for bringing together the best ideas, inspirations, and practices for designing and governing cities—a marketplace and tools to connect people seeking ideas, products and services to transform cities worldwide.

Come join them and see what you’re missing!

 

All photos courtesy of Dan Woolley

 

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How Do We Know the Actuator is Working? Part 4 – Synthesis and Policy

Follow us @CITOrg or @dihrie or this blog for current information on the new Smart City Actuator.

Time to pull together the thoughts and data from the previous three posts. Three sections here: how do we know the Actuator is working; are there ways to improve the commercialization success of invention organizations such as Universities and National Labs; and, are there ways to improve the outcomes of the national R&D enterprise

The Actuator

OK, back to the original question..how do we know the Actuator is working? As a participant you will know fairly quickly how it is working for you, once you learn to smooth out the day-to-day highs and lows of being an entrepreneur. However overall at a portfolio level we also carefully track performance metrics against industry norms, and our performance here is very strong. We use these metrics to fine-tune the program content and focus and inform specific mentoring actions; this continued engagement over the longer term is a strong signal that the Actuator continues to work for you. In addition to investment metricReference model fulls, we will also track performance in terms of various paths to market that may or may not involve direct financial investment, such as revenue growth and job creation of the companies we mentor.

But those metrics for a portfolio can take 5-7 years to fully mature. In the intermediate term we track leading indicators of later success. Some of these include pilot opportunities, early customer adoption and similar measures of market traction, even things like press coverage. Where needed, we also use these metrics to indicate additional areas where the Actuator can provide ongoing support to our graduates as they mature their businesses.

For the short term the primary assurances are the combined experience of our CIT and Smart City Works staff in the specific market verticals we are addressing, our extensive direct experience in early stage investing, a deep understanding of accelerators and best practices about what it takes to help early stage companies, and the strength of our community of mentors and experts. As an Actuator entrepreneur you should experience all of these, and they are your clue that the Actuator is indeed working.

Inventor Organizations

In this category I would include organizations like Universities, National Laboratories, Government development organizations or programs and the like. Obviously not all of these organizations, and obviously not every one to the same degree, but the generalization here is that these researchers look first to develop the best technology, then only later think about possibilities for commercialization. In some ways this, along with our strong national basic research capacity, has been the jewel in the crown of American global competitiveness for decades. But as budgets have consistently tightened and questions about Return on our research Investment have grown, this open-loop system that grew up in the aftermath of World War II may need some tweaking.

I would proffer three possible fallacies in this development approach in today’s environment. First is the belief that the quality of the technology is what drives the success of commercialization efforts. We evaluate a lot of companies for potential investment, and a common rule of thumb is that about 50% of an investment decision is made on the basis of the entrepreneurial team, perhaps 30% on the market dynamics (size, competition, path to market opportunities) and only the remaining 20% or so on the technology itself.

A second fallacy is that the researchers or developers know what the market wants; they are as a group incredibly smart and talented people who have relied on their judgement for success throughout their career. Like our entrepreneurs, they are almost always wrong with their first guess on what the market wants. This is why most companies in the early stages of development “pivot”, meaning substantially change something in their original product concept. One of the reasons that commercial markets are so successful is their relentless, continuous pressure to deliver, deliver ever better products, and deliver only what the market will pay for. Responding to this pressure is what makes companies continuously improve, and developing technologies in isolation from this pressure only delays the inevitable reckoning.

The third fallacy, somewhat related to the first two, is that what researchers and developers do is “innovation”, and innovation is what the market wanInnovationts. Jon Gertner in his great book The Idea Factory, about the operation of Bell Laboratories during the development of our national telecommunications network indicates the Bell Labs working definition, shown in the Figure.

What researchers and developers do is often Invention by this definition, but Innovation is really the end result of what we now call commercialization activities. Perhaps markets do want innovation, but it is important to be clear about what that means.

Is there a way to address these issues and improve the innovation outcomes for these Inventor Organizations? I believe the answer is “yes”. We are now exploring ways to connect our commercialization expertise directly to the research, inventions and entrepreneurs within these Innovation organizations. Demonstrating success in valuing IP, in business models that appropriately share the positive outcomes of commercialization, and in partnerships that overcome the biases that each side brings may well help improve the ROI for our Invention community.

Federal Government

The Federal government and its interactions with the R&D community may be in need of the biggest update. Many people point to the very cumbersome Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) as a road block to innovation. In fact, our experience is that the government probably has most of the legal authorities and mechanisms it needs to be much more effective as an R&D enterprise, but long-standing practices and cultural norms are really a much larger impediment.RandD spend corp gov

One issue is that the Government in many ways still acts as though it is 1950 when Government R&D spending was the dominant source of funding and the Government was large enough to constitute the primary market for innovative companies. This is no longer true, and in fact the relative market positions of the Government and commercial worlds have essentially reversed. The commercial world now spends twice as much on R&D as the Government, and represents a much larger market for innovative companies with more rapid paths to success.

A second recurring issue is Intellectual Property. Government encumbrance of small company IP in exchange for $50K or $100K development contracts makes those companies essentially uninvestable. Yet there are mechanisms in the Government contracting arsenal that do not require this encumbrance, and the value to the Government of locking up IP at such an early stage is minimal at best. So why does this practice persist?

Finally there is the structural problem. In the commercial world a path to market is critical. In the Government market, development support dries up around the SBIR Phase III point (working prototypes at some degree of maturity), followed by limited transition support to the uncertain market of large procurement programs. Why an uncertain market? Government program managers are incentivized to be risk averse, and new technology is almost never operationally robust when it is first introduced. The path to market for these large programs is most often through big systems integrators, and this is inherently risky for that precious IP. And, Government procurements are notorious for delays in awards, changes in scope and similar vagaries that can put a small company out of business long before a contract is ever awarded.

Here too there are ways to improve these outcomes. Certainly more support for transition programs that take interesting prototypes and help mature them would be a step in the right direction. The Governmenthas numerous test and evaluation capabilities that could be appropriately harnessed for this purpose, well within the limits of current contracting comfort zones. Adoption of more commercial-like practices such as those employed by some successful Government programs (In-Q-Tel, SBIR for example) can help get early market feedback and sufficient market competitive pressure to foster continuous evolution of interesting ideas. Increased use of staged awards such as SBIR, where only Phase I recipients are eligible for Phase II and so forth would help level the playing field for small companies, instead of so much of the innovation dollars going to incumbents working to develop ideas in-house with only limited external review and pressure.

There are others. NASA has placed much of its software in the open source domain, providing both valuable initial IP to innovators as well as fostering increased interaction between NASA and the innovation community. Our EMERGE program with DHS adopted a “commercial-first” approach, transitioning commercial technology into Government uses instead of trying to push Government-developed technology out.

Even the Chinese might provide an interesting model. Their “Made in China by 2025” initiative may sound like industrial policy, but seems to rely on commercial development of commercially viable products within broad sector definitions established by the Government. The implied quid pro quo is that the Chinese Government will then buy products from the best of those commercial companies.

 

So there it is, the 4 Part series on the Actuator, Innovation, and the various sectors of our economy that provide innovation. Improving success in this arena is indeed a wicked problem but there is room for substantial improvement simply by thinking about our collective goals and improving some of our innovation processes. Both our commercial and our national interests may be at stake.

Next Post: Smart City Actuator Focus Areas – Transportation

How Did the Smart City Actuator Originate?

Follow us @CITOrg or @dihrie or this blog for current information on the new Smart City Actuator.

With any activity of the magnitude of our Smart City Actuator there are numerous threads that lead to it’s creation. This post covers three threads among many, from the CIT perspective: the motivation, the mission, and the experience base that makes it possible.

The motivation is fairly simple. img_0982When I look out the window, the new Innovation Center Silver Line Metro station, two years in the making and now well along towards completion, connects via a new Innovation Avenue linking it to Rte 28 just north of Dulles Airport. It is not hard to imagine that buildings will soon replace the trees in the foreground as the property around the station is developed.

smart-city-pressThe full Silver Line extension reaches well past the airport into Loudoun County, and last summer it became public that 22 City Link, the developer of the Gramercy District station in Ashburn was intent on building a smart city. So the tactical motivation was obvious: what a great target of opportunity to build an innovation district along this Dulles corridor and perhaps beyond, connecting with similar-minded initiatives along the Silver Line and more broadly in Virginia and elsewhere.

The second thread is mission. As Virginia’s Accelerator, our CIT mission is to accelerate innovation commercialization and entrepreneurship across the Commonwealth. We do this through a number of programs, including grants (CRCF), direct investment (GAP), business accelerators (MACH37 and EMERGE), support to communities implementing new capabilities (Broadband) and others. Part of this effort involves looking forward to rapidly evolving technologies and how they will manifest in the market, and clearly the set of technologies around Internet of Things, autonomous everything, data analytics, and smart cities more broadly are an area of exceedingly rapid growth. Combined with the development happening literally on our doorstep, this was a no-brainer as a focus area that fits squarely in our mission sweet spot.

There is another aspect of our CIT mission that is also critical to this focus area: our Statewide charter. As we look more broadly across Virginia communities, many of them are interested in adopting some aspect of this technology set. Many businesses already support specific products or niches within the broader space. Virginia Universities have world-class research under way in many of these areas. And State Agencies, such as VDOT in the transportation space, are working to understand and provide leadership in this new set of technologies that will certainly change the face of many Government functions and services.

Two critical aspects for the success of a program like the Actuator are the depth of the mentoring community, and the opportunities to scale initial prototypes to a larger number of market opportunities. Our Statewide charter means that we are already aggressively pursuing partnerships with communities, businesses, State and local Government entities, and Universities to help harness this enormous set of resources. Through these collaborations we can help ensure the success of the Actuator and provide economic development opportunities throughout the region.

The third thread that led to the Smart City Works Actuator is the experience base we are fortunate to be working with to launch the Actuator. CIT of course brings ten years of direct investment and interaction with early stage companies through our various programs, along with direct accelerator experience via MACH37 and EMERGE; we know what it takes to build one, and how to make it succeed.

But the Actuator would not have been possible without the fantastic partnership we have formed with Smart City Works, and the leadership they provide. The Smart City Works team is in fact the lead operator for the Actuator with CIT support, and brings to the table the foundational knowledge in this vertical:

  • a large wealth of industry experience in construction and infrastructure that strongly complements the CIT technology base
  • large networks of contacts throughout the country that are again complementary and bring a large array of mentors, investors and other connections to the table
  • an experienced management team dedicated to the success of the Actuator and excited about the long term possibilities for smart cities

It was obvious from the very first meeting that a partnership between CIT and Smart City Works would lead to something special, and the preliminary activities to bring it to reality have only reinforced that initial impression. What you see is only the beginning!

Every now and again the stars seem to align in a way that dares you to ignore the possibilities. For the Smart City Works Actuator, the motivation, mission, experience base and timing have all aligned, and we are fortunate to be in a position to seize the opportunity.

Next (Monday 3/6): What Are the Economics of an Actuator?

CIT Launches Smart Cities Initiative

Follow us @CITOrg or @dihrie or this blog for current information on the new Smart City Actuator. Subsequent posts will provide our definition of a Smart City, and more details about an Actuator and how it will help enable the Smart City market.

In conjunction with our partner Smart City Works, CIT just launched a new Smart Cities Actuator, and APPLICATIONS ARE OPEN for the inaugural cohort beginning March 27 at the CIT facility in Herndon, VA. Here is the full Call for Innovation, seeking companies interested in participating in the cohort:

Smart City Works is Open for Applications for the Spring 2017 Cohort in the DC Metro Area to be held at the Center for Innovative Technology

SMART CITY WORKSTM is the world’s first business actuator and a premier business accelerator for improving livability and resilience in cities.  Our unique focus on the built environment aims to dramatically change the way we design, build, and operate civil infrastructure.  With unmatched capability and a world class network of technical resources and cities, we go beyond traditional accelerators to more rapidly move the best technology solutions cities need into the hands of city managers and solution-providing companies.  Our program, conducted in conjunction with the Center for Innovative Technology, is designed to equip companies with the skills, market awareness, and validated products to be highly competitive, growth oriented, and investment ready.

Call For Innovation (CFI): We are looking for entrepreneurs, startups, and companies with emerging products to apply for the Spring 2017 inaugural Washington DC metro cohort, to be held at the Center for Innovative Technology, Herndon, VA.  The program is open to startups globally whose visionary founders are willing to bring their ideas and passions to participate in person in a unique and impactful acceleration process.

In particular, we seek innovative commercial solutions that address significant social and civic challenges—safety, security, livability, and resilience—in urban environments across the United States and the world.

For the Spring 2017 cohort, your solution will focus on one of 3 key areas of the infrastructure challenge:

  • Transport – Solutions that reduce costs, extend serviceable life, reduce congestion, improve parking, improve inter-modalities (car, train, bus, bike, pedestrian), or leverage smart, autonomous, and intelligent transportation solutions to improve our transportation infrastructure network.
  • Resilience and Public Safety – Solutions and/or IoT technologies that address the safety and security of the urban public; that mitigate the impact of rising sea levels, extreme weather events, or other natural or man-made shocks; that protect critical infrastructure; or those solutions that allow cities to be more livable and sustainable.
  • Construction Techniques – Solutions that improve the design, construction, or maintenance of infrastructure; reduce lifecycle costs or improve safety, schedules, or margins.

Important Date: Smart City Works Application Deadline: Applications open now, March 1 we will begin selecting companies until the class is full. Final date for applications is March 10th, 2017

Where to Apply: [https://www.f6s.com/smartcityworks/apply        http://www.smartcityworks.ioFor more information: [innovate@smartcityworks.io ]