BLOG: Investors need to look at Urban-Tech and Smart Cities

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March 15, 2019 - At the recent SXSW “The Future of Cities” panel discussion, the “urban tech” and “smart city” terms were bantered around throughout the discussion prompting yet another subset of the high-tech and investor universe. So, what is a “smart city”? Cities are such complex ever-changing organisms defining a smart city makes it even more complex. Jennifer Sanders from the Dallas Innovation Alliance states,

“A smart city is one that lives at the intersection of data, technology and community to improve quality of life for all residents and increase economic development, resource efficiency and access to opportunity. A holistic human-centric approach is critical, with tech and data as an enabler, as opposed to a 'silver bullet'.”

If planning a smart city intersects at data, technology and community then that opens a vast universe for entrepreneurs and their sponsoring investors to take full advantage. Whether it is blockchain technology for the energy grid, real estate development or the advent of Uber and Lyft, they all have a direct or indirect tie to city planning.

If you think about it, Uber and Lyft are products of the bad, unforeseen or incomplete urban planning. We residents would rather spend our time and money in a car texting friends and co-workers rather than cussing out log-jammed traffic trying to find steroid-priced parking lots. So Uber and Lyft fill that lack of urban planning creating the most profitable companies in the world.

Yes, urban planning means the potential of dealing with government bureaucracy. But the savvy investor will quickly understand that if you find the right person in the right department, you will find a receptacle of information, trends and innovators filling the space that planners so desperately need to be the “smart city”.

The exponentially pace of our changing cities also foster city-sponsored or non-profit groups to fill that niche that investors need. These groups can be much more nimble and responsive than EDDs, city departments and chambers. Groups such as Austin’s Capital City Innovation, the Dallas’ Tech Titans, Dallas Innovation Alliance or (insert shameless plug) Invest in Texas Initiative.

These groups are hubs to information, leads and connections investors need to short-cut their way to projects needing money and projects that will make you money. Just ask Dr. Laing at Capital City Innovation. He can offer you hundreds of cutting-edge med-tech companies just sitting there poised to be the next company to change the world. But, what does this have to do with a smart city? Those med tech companies are being strategically and geographically placed in the planned medical triangle in the center of Austin combining the resources of U.T., Dell Medical Complex and Seton hospital.

Then there are venture firms such as Urban Us sprouting up to fill the smart city/urban tech space knowing that chasm grows every day. Nature abhors a vacuum and so do entrepreneurs thus a prime opportunity for investors to profit. While many investors scratch their head at terms like urban tech or smart city, they should take an acute notice to that space. Because it is really a door to many spaces where profits can be made while also serving a valuable need for us residents to experience a better life in the smart city.