Editor’s note: Tom Snyder, executive director of rapidly growing Raleigh-based RIoT and a thought leader in the emerging Internet of Things, is the newest columnist to join WRAL TechWire’s list of top drawer contributors. “Datafication Nation” is part of WRAL TechWire’s Startup Monday package.

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RALEIGH – My day job is running RIoT, an organization that drives innovation and entrepreneurship in the tech sector. For years we have helped multinational companies to adopt emerging technologies and early stage startups to launch and scale. Our efforts focus on job creation and economic development, but without question our services were exclusively sought out by for-profit companies… until recently.

One of the most interesting developments in recent years is the rise of municipal government participation in entrepreneurial ecosystems. There is a shifting mindset within local government to “act like a startup.” To date, RIoT has helped three municipal government teams to navigate our startup accelerator, each working on initiatives to launch products, services and technologies to market – i.e. for their residents and internal government customers.

This is a major shift for a sector that must ensure services run flawlessly 24/7/365. Society values resilience and reliability of infrastructure, utilities and emergency services. Facebook’s “move fast and break things” motto is the opposite mindset. So how is the government innovating in new ways, while maintaining public confidence?

Working to become a “smart” city isn’t new. I wrote about NC regional progress in this recent piece. What is new is the creativity to do things like have government teams go through a startup accelerator. Local government recognizes that there are far more opportunities to capture than can be solved with internal resources alone. Collaborative partnerships with innovators in the private and nonprofit sectors has emerged as a potent solution.

A creative strategy deployed by Raleigh is crowdsourcing solutions through Reverse Pitch competitions. In 2021, Raleigh partnered with Cary to hold the Augmented Reality Challenge competition, attracting AR solutions from across the US and Canada. This year, Raleigh has asked RIoT to spearhead a reverse pitch at the upcoming Connected Triangle+ conference (register here for free).

Raleigh prioritized three areas of need and are inviting startups and entrepreneurs to propose solutions to the city. The highest-potential applications will be selected to pitch publicly at the fall conference. And one or more of those teams will then participate in the RIoT Accelerator Program with a goal to launch a new startup (or grow an existing one) and secure a government pilot as a first customer project.

While any smart city solution can be proposed, Raleigh has strongest interest in:

  • Transportation—solutions for advanced safety and future vehicles across the region
  • Sustainability—solutions for sharing real-time data to advise in sustainable public investments
  • Digital Equity—solutions that provide for improved access to technology for all citizens across the Triangle.

Not only is this a great opportunity to improve the communities we live in.  It is also big business. Precedence Research estimates the global smart city market was $1.27T in 2022 and is growing at >24% per year. The industry would exceed $7T by the end of this decade at that rate. Often the biggest challenge for startups in this space is to secure a first government client. While this contest cannot promise a contract, there is clear interest to establish partnerships and therefore this is a hugely attractive opportunity for smart city startups.

It is exciting to see Raleigh, and the broader Triangle+ leading the way in entrepreneurial efforts to make the place we live a smarter and better place. The ‘+’ symbolizing the region’s diverse towns, counties, and communities surrounding Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.   As we witness Raleigh’s endeavors to make our communities smarter and more livable, the future seems promising. If you would like to apply to the reverse pitch, you can do so here.