After a week of amazing events and panels, StartUp Week closed out with a serious yet exciting topic – Smart Policy for Smart Cities. Panelists Vijay George, Professor Sherri Greenberg and Mitch Jacobson provided expert insight led by moderator and Chelsea Collier, a member of the Texans for Economic Progress (TEP) advisory council.
There were three key themes that defined the conversation:
- Collaboration and alignment between the public and private sector are critical
- Smart Cities are enabled by tech but focused on citizens
- Investment in a city’s infrastructure defines long term success
Thanks to conferences like the Smart Cities Summit (which took place in June 2016 and will return to Austin in June 2017), cities are now able to exchange information and share approaches to urban challenges like transportation, affordability and the environment. The private sector – including corporates and startups – has countless innovative solutions but it requires a close partnership with the city’s leadership to bring those solutions to consumers. A community’s local leadership – mayor, council and staff – must clearly define a vision and articulate a process that allows each community to develop and deliver solutions for its citizens.
Those solutions are enabled by technology but like any market-facing offering, solutions must solve a problem. In the case of Smart Cities, those problems may include how to increase a city’s efficiency in providing services while decreasing costs; how to alleviate traffic; how to decrease urban blight; how to increase clean energy alternatives; how to create more connection and less disparity between a city’s residents. Technology can play a vital part in creating real change that not only saves a city money but can also contribute to its prosperity.
Finally, a large portion of today’s conversation focused on the need for city leaders and private sector companies to work together to strengthen the city’s infrastructure, which is categorized in three key areas (1) mobile and broadband Internet (2) utilities (3) roadways and transportation routes.
In the case of traffic, awareness of the need for this investment often comes too late. Roadways are clogged, citizens are frustrated and accessibility is limited. When it comes to high-speed Internet, the future is still being determined. The hope is that city leadership will be proactive in streamlining policies and regulations that incentivize investment in the fiber backbone that powers Smart City sensors, devices and connected technologies. It will take cooperation, collaboration and clarity.
The panelists brought an invaluable perspective to the dialogue. Professor Sherri Greenberg, in addition to lecturing at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas brings her experience as an elected official for the State of Texas. Likewise Vijay George, in addition to an impressive private sector career, served at the CTO and CIO for the Texas State Comptroller as well as executive positions at LCRA. Mitch Jacobson is one of the leading experts on Clean Tech and has led the creation and acceleration of the nation’s first clean tech incubators in addition to a successful career on the global team at Dell. Their ability to articulate the historical narrative of Smart Cities and outline the immense opportunities was inspiring. In fact the repeated question from the audience was “How can we get involved? How can we help? How can we make a difference?” Austinites are ready to create their future city.
The City of Austin and the State of Texas will undoubtedly be an important voice on how to navigate the path forward as tech and cities continue to intersect. Helping startups, corporates, universities, nonprofits and most importantly, citizens, work with public sector leadership is perhaps the most important issue of our time. The result – if we get this right – can be an entirely new wave of prosperity, connection and innovation.