Contest Calls on Tech Savvy Triad Residents to Create Smarter Cities

(Last Updated On: March 15, 2017)
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Image courtesy of Frances Logan Photography.

Are you a programmer, application designer, or entrepreneur? Do you want to help build North Carolina’s future while winning awesome prizes? Then the US Ignite Smart Gigabit Communities Reverse Pitch contest is for you.

The contest was inspired by national nonprofit organization US Ignite, which supports the development of next generation applications, services and technologies across the country to create interconnected smart gigabit communities that will use the latest technologies to solve problems of everyday life. Entrants will propose applications that use the high bandwidth and low latency of gigabit fiber infrastructure to solve one of these problems. Winners will earn a total of $38,000 worth of awards and access to professional development services to help bring their ideas to life.

“Broadband fiber optic internet is the price of entry that a city has to pay to move into the 21st century as a smart city. You’ve got to have this infrastructure,” said Joel Bennett, principal partner of business and community development team New City Ventures.

The Reverse Pitch contest is managed by New City Ventures and sponsored by information technology company North State, but it took the efforts of many groups and individuals at the national, state, city and private levels to bring the program together.

High speed web access has become an essential part of modern life. North Carolina is already pushing for gigabit speed internet through initiatives like Tri Gig — a collaboration of Greensboro, High Point, and Burlington — and the North Carolina Next Generation Network (NCNGN). So far, the efforts of these groups have been pretty far removed from ordinary conversations. Organizers of the Reverse Pitch Contest see it as a way to get the public actively involved in creating this future.

“These conversations really haven’t been taking place in our ordinary vernacular,” said Bennett. “That’s half the challenge: getting conversations started around these issues and throwing around words like gigabit.”

The contest was launched on Feb. 28. Organizers introduced their reverse pitches: problem statements that entrants will try to solve. The pitches are: Improved Video Streaming and Collaboration; Digital Infrastructure for the Home; Safer Road Intersections, and Regional Sharing.

Bennett expects there will be overlap between the answers to all four problems. For instance, technology that streamlines video recordings from multiple traffic cameras could also be used to improve real time streaming for everything from cross-country business meetings to concerts performed by musicians playing in different cities.

The contest is open for online entries until April 3. Entrants may be individuals or teams. Round One entry doesn’t require a complete product, just a strong idea and proof of concept. Finalists will be notified April 11, and will move on to Round Two, where they will grow their Round One concepts through weekend workshops on technical development, networking and pitch presentation.

On June 1, finalists will pitch their ideas to a live audience including industry leaders and investors. Awards will be given out on June 10, and the top finalists will spend the summer building their ideas into working applications with professional resources at their disposal.

The top two teams will be awarded $19,000 each, and all finalist teams will be given at least $1,000 of Bluemix Cloud Credits each month for a year. The credits, which were donated to the contest by IBM, were created for that company’s global network of entrepreneurs. Usually entrepreneurs are only given access to Cloud Credits after they have undergone a thorough screening process, but in this case, IBM made an exception.

“IBM recognized that the caliber of finalists that are going to come out of this were not going to have to go through that screening,” said Bennett.

Cloud credits can be redeemed in exchange for IBM resources, including access to huge amounts of data and analytics information.

“It gives you the opportunity to look at big data, and to analyze it over multiple platforms,” said Bennett. “For example, you could look at Twitter sentiment based on weather data. It could apply to things like shopping or politics, things that would not normally be noticed unless you’re combining big data and relevant geographic information.”

Granting Reverse Pitch winners access to this data can only speed up the Triad’s progress toward becoming a network of smart communities. Bennett wants to start a dialogue with the public about the benefits of gigabit speed internet in daily life. He hopes finalists’ work will encourage others to invest in the future of the Triad.

“This is a conversation that needs to take place across our state right now,” he said. “These are innovations that are going to transform our world.”

To enter the Reverse Pitch contest, visit:

Mia Osborn is a Greensboro-based freelance writer who hails from Birmingham, Alabama.