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Harnessing startup ecosystems for smart cities

You may not be aware of this, but Philadelphia was America’s first, startup innovation hub. In 1776 the city’s intellectual ecosystem included the American Philosophical Society, the first (and second) bank of the United States and the largest library anywhere in the US colonies. These institutions provided the intellectual foundation for the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and eventually for the Constitution of the United States of America.

Fast forward 242 years and a new start up ecosystem is emerging in Philadelphia. Philly Tech Week is a city-wide event that seeks to attract and nurture ICT entrepreneurs who are committed to creating the city’s smart future.

Philadelphia is not unique in this endeavor. Cities like Austin with SXSW, and New York City’s Technology Forum, have similarly helped to supercharge their economies by attracting and retaining tech startups. In a research paper with the Imperial College of London, we found that, on average, a 10 percent increase of mobile broadband adoption causes a 0.6–2.8 percent increase in economic growth. In 2016 alone, this equated to anywhere between US$500 billion to $2 trillion worldwide.

Highlighting the key role of cities at Philly Tech Week

The weeklong series of seminars and workshops at Philly Tech Week zeroed in on some of the “technological megashifts” that are impacting the cities’ ICT sector and its economy. These include AI, augmented and virtual reality, blockchain and IoT.

Philly Tech Week

The manufacturing sector in Philadelphia has historically been an anchor of the city's economy and one major industries that could benefit from IoT innovations. In 2017, Drexel University – one of the event's sponsors – announced it will launch the state's first Fabric Discovery Center aimed at manufacturing and research on smart fabrics.

Blockchain, IoT and an innovation ecosystem

Cities are a key to both our technological and sustainable future.  As outlined during a breakout seminar on technology trends, the subject of blockchain technology created some of the most passionate discussion.

Douglas Park, a corporate securities attorney working with blockchain and cryptocurrencies said that one of the benefits of putting personal data on blockchain means giving control back to individuals and allowing them to monetize their own data. Park expects that soon we will see blockchain and IoT solutions merging to address some of the security issues inherent in massive IoT.

“The challenge of this technology is that it is still in its infancy”, says Ed Zaybar, CEO at Verif-y Inc. “70 percent of ICOs are already gone. The idea of creating nothing based on nothing is starting to mature and companies are starting to create solutions with real value.”

The panel also included legal and academic experts who talked about the importance of the ecosystem for the future of Philadelphia. Jichen Zhu, Associate Professor at Drexel University's PXL Lab, says that researchers should be looking at problems we don't even know we have yet. "It's about innovation of new knowledge – about things that we don't yet know will have an impact."

Academia collaborations

Other panelists discussed the challenge of getting technology out of the labs and into the public domain.

Joseph Reilly, CEO of a local startup using AR and VR to help people with disabilities says that cities with a combination of good research, venture capital, and a collaborative atmosphere between academia and the private sector, will attract and benefit from a strong start up community.

“Philly has a lot of these capabilities,” he says.

Making Dallas smarter with Connected Urban Transport

That ecosystem may have other benefits too. When city organizations have the technology to share data and system services with one another they can increase efficiency and reduce costs. Earlier this year, the City of Dallas selected us to install and host an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) based on our Connected Urban Transport solution.

In fast growing cities, this kind of innovation enables a city to manage growing traffic, increase driver safety, and at the same time lower cost.

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