January 31, 2018

The City of Dallas is well known for Cowboys and corporate headquarters and but historically it is not been known for tech innovation innovation.

If all goes according to plan, that last part will change.

Dallas is in the middle of a huge effort to become a smart and connected city. The project is currently in its second phase and when it is complete, it will include features such as free public Wi-Fi, a water conservation and leak detection project, and a smart parking pilot, which will let people use a mobile app to find optimal parking spots. One of the major reasons why Dallas’s smart city effort is notable is because the city has incorporated startups and entrepreneurs in its plans.

Dallas Innovation Alliance Executive Director Jennifer Sanders and Trey Bowles, co-founder of the Dallas Entrepreneurship Center (DEC), understand startup and built the smart city effort with the intention of engaging entrepreneurial companies in the coalition of more than 30 public and private sector partners.

Sanders says, “We are building something that didn’t exist before – a Living Lab – that is very much a startup in city government. It is essential to have entrepreneurs at the table. They think differently and react in real time. When you need to make quick decisions in an environment with compressed timelines, constricted resources with an uncertain future, it is critical to have small business owners on the team.”

Who’s on the team

Park Hub and EB Systems are two companies that are on the team and are integral to the success of Phase 2 of the project.

Park Hub is a parking technology company that has a niche expertise in moving vehicles in volume for large-scale events. They have serviced the past six Superbowls in addition to hundreds of concerts and sporting events. Their hardware solution, Prime, makes it easy for attendants to accept payments. Their backend system, Portal, provides data to the operator such as volume counts and payment flow.

EB Systems uses a three-part app, beacon and cloud platform to collect, secure and parcel data collected by the Living Lab to serve local retailers and restaurants. For example, they are able to show that revenues from the District have increased 17 percent year over year, proving that the infusion of capital, talent and resources in the area creates positive returns.

It wasn’t a massive Request For Proposal (RFP) that gave the incentive for Park Hub or EB Systems to participate. The DIA is intentionally creating smaller, more nimble pilot projects. This allows them to test things ahead of time and get results, that then inform a larger RFP process.

How a smart city stays nimble

1. The Alliance Does the Leg Work 

Being able to plug into a city-approved technology platform is a big win. Smart city projects often require companies to work in the public domain (i.e. they need to access sidewalks, streets, lighting systems and/or pole attachments) in order to access connectivity. Which means they have to navigate a complex web of permits and policies that are different in every city.

When dealing with smart city technology projects, these bureaucratic processes often hamstring innovation. Dallas wisely circumvented this challenge by building a compressed corridor that gave startups a base foundation on which to build their technology. This ability to test within the Living Lab with full access to wifi and wireless networks promises supersonic progress that is very appealing to smaller companies.

2. Collaboration with Corporations

Sanders says big, global companies are key to the project. She notes, “Powerhouse corporations not only have vast resources, they also have experience deploying technology on a large scale all over the world.”

Learning from these experiences as well as learning how to work with multinational corporations can be of great value to smaller companies. In addition, they are able to showcase their technology to decision makers that could be a lead to future business.

3. Writing a Better RFP

Park Hub and EB Systems are each doing their part in helping to move the bigger pieces forward, avoiding costly delays from poorly written technical or project specs. By contributing their expertise to these smaller parts of the process, they help the city ask smarter questions. In the long run, this creates a better base of knowledge to build a larger public-works project.

Startups and smaller firms have a big role to play in not only the creation of smarter cities. This inspires a ripple effect throughout the community, proving that innovation is contagious. Sanders is hoping that this kind of activity will invite more companies to build solutions in and for the City of Dallas.

The Smarter the City, the Greater the Potential

Think about it, if you’re a startup with a new technology, you’ll probably choose to invest your time in a city where there is a clear path and open invitation as opposed to one that forces you to wade through a confusing morass of red tape. This is the brilliance of the DIA’s approach which other city leaders would be wise to heed.

Source – Inc. Magazine