Smart Cities
30 January 2015

Smart Cities: a Business Opportunity?

Make your city smarter with these business opportunities 

Don’t forget to join us at InnoApps Final on February 4th where we will see new smart cities apps and listen to a policy debate!

“But what is exactly a smart city?”, you may be wondering these days. The term has become “a buzzphrase” according to many urban thinkers and the increasing initiatives and information around it do not seem to stop. The EU has some 2020 goals and one is to make its cities smarter. Why? Because they face problems – and digital technologies can solve them. Or that’s the theory, at least.

The population is ageing. The emissions we produce hurt the environment. Our disposals too. And the administration should be more efficient and responsible. With all that in mind, and according to the EU, which is financing projects and research on it, “a smart city is a place where the traditional networks and services are made more efficient with the use of digital and telecommunication technologies, for the benefit of its inhabitants and businesses”.

The big business is already in hands of big telecom companies that will provide the wireless networks and technology ones that add the sensors and sell the appliances. As this article by The Guardian describes, “the movement is predicated on ubiquitous wireless broadband and the embedding of computerised sensors into the urban fabric, so that bike racks and lamp posts, CCTV and traffic lights, as well as geeky home appliances such as internet fridges and remote-controlled heating systems, become part of the so-called ‘internet of things’ (the global market for which is now estimated at $1.7tn)”. The European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities is just that: administration and big partners working together on the plan.

But while they create the ecosystem for the cities to be smarter, entrepreneurs have their opportunities too. How? Gigaom Research takes a look on the business models to adopt and defines four: sell directly to citizens, build on open city data sets, build on more standard city policies and sell to cities via open procurement, which means engaging public pilot programs to test products and services – and then look into sales opportunities. 

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We have identified some concrete problems and sectors that are working in different cities, so you can get ideas to start-up.

Reduce energy. Sensors and dashboards to manage waste collection, analytics to measure carbon footprint, charging for electric vehicles… Most of the solutions to reduce energy consumption come from data and software to analyze and manage it. Have a look here at 13 European startups that are looking to help consumers, business and governments on that duty with their technologies.

Mobility. What a smarter way to optimize a city that improving its mobility – and putting it in the pockets of its citizens? Some startups built products on top of available public transport datasets to change the way people use transport. Think of London, whose transport agency TFL released a long list of feeds and APIs resulting in more than 60 apps using it. This applies to other cities. And mobility, as a sector to make a city work better, applies to other transport modes. Companies like Bluemove introduce car-sharing in the city’s heart. 

Connected healthcare. The healthcare sector is big. Sooo big. The EU sees, in this report, opportunities in connecting the city with patients. “Telemedicine solutions, connected through broadband, wireless or satellite can prove vital situations where the infrastructure or specific contingencies do not allow for the physical presence of a specialist – such as natural disasters or remote geographical locations”. One of the challenges here is to test technology – some companies are already testing projects that connect ambulances, drones, glasses and smartphones – and see if the solutions are escalable.

“An ageing population needs traditional care, but also assisted living and health monitoring services to enable independence at home”, continues the document. “This can be achieved through the utilisation of sensors and devices connected to health operators through broadband, wireless and data analytics, and crucially, the deployment of privacy”. In the world of connected cities, privacy will be the biggest challenge. Here are some startups that are already working on this.

Environment. Well, that’s one of the issues that Europe is more worried about. During the last Smart City Expo World Congress in Barcelona, companies like Contenur presented solutions. Its idea? A system with “two side-loading containers, a Bindog and an underground container, together with the associated software and user access control systems”. Waste, water management, recycling…  The terms are broad, but the european roadmap to make the economy completely “sustainable” by 2050, clear.