Smart Cities Council Accepting Applications for 2018 Challenge Grants

Five North American cities will be selected as Challenge Grant recipients by the Smart Cities Council, making them eligible for mentoring, products and services.

Cities with bold ideas around their technological futures should be sharpening their pencils. Applications for the 2018 Smart Cities Council Readiness Challenge Grants are due Dec. 15. The council will award grants to five North American cities hoping to grow their smart cities initiatives.
"Our Readiness Challenge program is about finding cities that are ready to take the next step — cities that are ready to move from talking about the future to actually building it," said Jesse Berst, chairman, Smart Cities Council, which runs the program. "Along those lines, we're looking for cities that already have some idea about what they want to accomplish, and have identified and are involving the stakeholders who will be necessary to turn that vision into reality.
"We also believe that smart cities are equitable cities, and we give priority to plans that benefit populations that have traditionally been under-served," he added.
The Challenge Grant program — heading into its second year — will offer expanded mentoring opportunities for the program's grant recipients. The Smart Cities Council is an international coalition of companies, smart city advocates, academics and experts, according to the organization's website. 
"Leading up to the workshop, the winners will receive months of coaching to identify the key issues and key stakeholders," Berst explained.
The Readiness Workshops are highly customized, interactive gatherings meant to attract stakeholders from across multiple segments of the community. They are largely intended to give direction to a "Readiness Roadmap," which "turns those discussions into clear next steps," said Berst. "Roadmaps are unique to each city and capture the findings raised during the workshop discussions. As a new feature in 2018, these roadmaps will now include clear next steps for cities to help them turn the vision they built during the workshop into an action plan."
In 2017 Miami, Austin, Indianapolis, Orlando and Philadelphia were the five winners of the Smart Cities Readiness Challenge Grant.
"As you may know, we're a city of neighborhoods, and each one has different needs," recalled Charles J. Brennan, chief innovation officer for Philadelphia, in a recent interview. The City of Brotherly Love was one of the 2017 Readiness Challenge Grant award winners, selected from a pool of more than 130 communities.
"We wanted to make sure that we brought as many different perspectives to the table, as much as possible," said Ellen Hwang, program manager for Philadelphia's Innovation Management office. The mid-October Readiness Workshop served as the kickoff to a months-long planning process to determine what smart city initiatives Philadelphia takes on.
The grant award is a combination of mentoring by the Smart Cities Council and products and services from the council's partners, officials explained. The products and services are worth several hundred thousand dollars, with the exact value based on the city's needs. There is no separate cash award.
The new round of cities selected in 2018 can expect more mentoring, said Berst.
"After we deliver the Readiness Workshop in the city, we will continue to work with the grant recipient, providing hands-on support as they begin putting their plans into action," he explained.
"We will host quarterly conference calls to assess progress, identify problems and brainstorm course corrections," Berst added. The council will also bring representatives from winning cities to its Smart Cities Council events here in the United States, where they can share insights and experiences with other winning cities.
The Smart Cities Readiness Challenge Grant program is available for all communities in the U.S., Canada and Mexico — including cities, counties, states, provinces and regional authorities.
The 2018 semi-finalists will be announced at an awards reception Jan. 23, 2018, during the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting in Washington, D.C. The five winners will be announced in February.


Smart Cities
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.