NextChallenge aims to smarten up urban infrastructure tech

Technology upgrades are an everyday part of our lives. New phones, computers, and entertainment centers are practically a rite of passage in the 21st Century. Cutting edge technology in public infrastructure, not so much.

It's why NextEnergy is hosting NextChallenge: Smart Cities, a competition to find new hardware and software solutions that address unmet challenges facing urban areas. 

"These are 15 to 30 year assets," says Jean Redfield, president & CEO of NextEnergy. "People expect a return for their decisions. And it can be hard for tech companies to penetrate these environments."

NextEnergy is partnering with DENSO, DTE Energy, and Wells Fargo to launch the challenge. The winner will receive up to $80,000 in seed capital from the Wells Fargo Foundation to demonstrate and validate its solution. Potential winning ideas could range from developing smart parking technologies to smart building solutions.

Developing those technologies is one thing. Getting the market to adapt to them is another. Most of those technologies are big-ticket items with, at best, a limited track record. It's a bet most aren't willing to make on their largest purchases.

"People have to see that they work in the context of the existing system before they are willing to try it," Redfield says.

NextChallenge: Smart Cities wants to bridge that gap. It is accepting applications through July 28. An information webinar will take place on June 9 between 2 and 3 p.m. For information, click here.

Read more about Metro Detroit's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at
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Read more articles by Jon Zemke.

Jon Zemke is a news editor with Model D and its sister publications, Metromode and Concentrate. He's also a small-scale real-estate developer and landlord in the greater downtown Detroit area.