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?