As one of 17,000 attendees at the 6th annual Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, it was easy to get lost in the crowd. And while large corporate companies certainly had formidable and impressive presence, it was the startups that left the biggest impression.
Here are my top picks for new companies that are making their mark on the global stage. They are solving real problems, applying technology and adding value in new and interesting ways:
MOVE Systems, New York City
Food trucks. Everyone loves them but it’s easy to see some of the limitations. For customers, there is inconsistency in understanding the offering, location and reliability. For operators, there is difficulty reaching and communicating with new audiences, the hassle of updating security around payment systems and the overall expense of startup costs. For city administrators, there is the complication of enforcing well-intentioned but arduous health code and other city regulations. For those of us who care about the planet, the idea that most food trucks run on a generator and propane fuel is concerning.
MOVE Systems obliterates this long list of multi-pronged pain points and replaces them with a turnkey solution. It’s a high-tech, eco-friendly mobile food cart with vertically integrated operations.
The compact and attractive mobile units have consistent image-based signage that is easy for all language speakers to understand. The payment system provides consistent and secure check out while collecting and responsibly sharing data on who, what and how much is ordered where and when. Vendors can rent the platform and then resell if their food concept goes bust. City operators (even those who are still investigating a potential food truck scene) receive reliable information on activity, making it easy to communicate on code enforcement. Finally, the units are solar powered and energy efficient. Noisy, dirty generators and propane tanks are a thing of the past.
This concept, currently operating in New York City, is a great example of solving very real and common challenges for multiple stakeholders through a win-win solution. They are anxious to expand to new cities and advocate for the mobile food industry nationwide.
Zen City, Tel Aviv
Technology moves fast and public opinion zips quickly along with it. City leaders who want to make data-informed decisions are challenged with accessing the right information while also keeping up with the rapid pace of change.
Tapping into the true voice of a community is really quite difficult. Traditional channels deliver silo’d viewpoints, even if unintended. Conducting surveys and ethnographic research is expensive and time consuming. It can also be challenging for contracted companies to deliver news that challenges long-held beliefs. It can be hard for senior officials to hear the truth.
ZenCity removes those barriers and lets Artificial Intelligence (AI) do the dirty work. By aggregating insights across multiple platforms – social media, city databases and open data depositories – the company is able to classify and communicate relevant tropics and trends through visual dashboards.
City leaders are able to source what is important to their communities and assess how specific projects are being received. Other platform bells and whistles include real-time analysis, alerts and notifications as well as integration to existing data sources. No need to scrap and replace existing systems.
Based out of Tel Aviv, they are currently operating in one US city, West Sacramento, with the hopes of expanded to more metros worldwide. A big part of smart city success is paying attention and reacting intelligently with speed. ZenCity promises to help you to “Listen to Your City” – let’s hope everyone is hearing the call.
The frustration of struggling with transit tickets – bus, rail or otherwise – can make public transportation seem like more trouble than it is worth. Jiffi eliminates this hassle and takes hands free to a whole other level.
With this technology, riders can hop on and off between multiple modes as their mobile phones keep track of when, where and how much, eliminating the need to track and count. The user experience is optimized with a download of the app and Bluetooth activation. Trip details are intuitively tracked and payments are automated through an interoperable system.
Transit Operators benefit as well and receive anonymized data about passenger trips allowing for more efficient route planning and demand-based pricing across routes and zones. The platform can be added as the Jiffi system or white labeled with an API to the city or transit authority. The end-to-end solution covers data management and reporting with flexible options for fares, stations or transport modes. Jiffi emerges from T grupp AS (TG), an Estonian company that brings 16 years of experience building and maintaining public transportation infrastructure.
These three companies are proving that smart city movement doesn’t have to be about winners and losers. By intelligently applying connected technology, entrepreneurs are creating companies that support all stakeholders in the system, most importantly the city’s residents and visitors. This can be a lesson to public and private sector organizations of all sizes and ages. Think carefully about the real and everyday challenges to be solved and then work until it works for everyone.
Also pay attention to the global diversity. These aren’t the darlings of Silicon Valley. The most exciting innovation is coming from all angles and perhaps from the places where you least expected. It is an exciting time where anything is possible. Let the best ideas win – and win for everyone.