While many technologists start by wanting to stretch limits or develop a new cool widget, Think Big Partners in Kansas City, Missouri reverses the innovation process with PRISM: Proof of concept Reverse Innovation Sequence Method, which backs ideas into a given set of problems.
“When you look at emerging technology, you don’t know if it will work as you think,” said Herb Sih, managing partner for Think Big Partners. “Prisms take visible light, slow it down, and bend it. We use this same methodology to commercialize a technology against a known problem.”
Sih spent 14 years in the investment industry, became an entrepreneurial advisor, and was even a military pilot. His experiences all came together in 2009 when he and a partner started the for-profit business incubator, Think Big Partners. Today, he and the team at Think Big Partners work to solve problems by building companies and creating solutions.
The team recently gained some acclaim for their Golden Edison Award for a smart city project in Kansas City, Missouri. According to Cisco, it is one of the largest smart and connected city projects in the world.
“I’m proud of it because we took a city that wasn’t prime time – with really important but common problems, applicable to hundreds of other cities across the planet – and developed thousands of learnings,” Sih said. “People said it was impossible, and we made up a lot along the way. We learned what was working, and we developed expertise. It was really good active problem solving. It was really hard, and we got it done.”
In addition, Kansas City is home to the KC Living Lab, a partnership with Think Big Partners that explores innovation through testing. Think Big Partners work with cities to find locations where they are willing to waive access rights in exchange for being able to test technologies that could solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. If the technology works, they get a solution at a small fraction of the cost. If it doesn’t, it’s still an advancement in R&D innovation.
Kansas City isn’t the only municipality benefiting from Think Big Partners’ talents and determination. The incubator has at least six other city clients – a growing list. In one city, the team worked with the FBI to ameliorate an out-of-control crime problem. Not only did they provide data, but the Think Big Partners team also worked on analytics to predict crime and other actionable insights. In another city, they looked at water management and reduction of waste. In a third city, they have a level five autonomous vehicle solution in the works, which means there is no one in the cockpit driving the car. It’s been done elsewhere but only in a sterile environment. For the Think Big Partners’ project, the pilot takes place at an airport in a major European city. In the end, this level five corridor will have a tremendous impact on workforce development.
With their results and resolve, the incubator can be choosy about its clients and partners. “An ideal client is one we feel we can really help,” Sih said. “There are a lot of folks out there kicking tires. You have to get to implementation. We want to find real companies and real cities. Our ideal client understands they need help and is willing to take action if they can get enough validation and insight. If it’s just research, we’re not really interested in that.”
Looking forward, Think Big Partners hopes to explore more in the areas of public safety, transportation, and mobility – areas of high waste, risk, cost and opportunity. You can meet them and learn more about their work at Smart City Tech Summit on October 18 and 19. Register here using code “SmartCitiesConnectVIP” to receive a discount: https://smartcitytechsummitkc.eventbrite.com?discount=SmartCitiesConnectVIP.
“Our holistic approach isn’t fluffy. It is the understanding that things connect and work together. Having a generalist can save time, money, and help avoid diversions that cause problems,” Sih said. In the increasingly crowded and confusing smart cities space, Think Big Partners provides insights, guidance, and solutions for municipalities and innovators looking to see a bigger picture and change our world.