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5 Things We Learned at Challenge Festival’s Cities & Transportation Day

Challenge Festival’s final daytime conference, “Civic Tech on the Rise,” took the Lansburgh Theatre by storm today, offering perhaps the greatest number of tactical ideas and insights of any conference this week.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Government and technology companies often have the same goals—to serve underserved populations—but they’re not always working together…and they should be.

 The first panel, “What do smart cities look like for the have-nots?” was worth the effort for audience members who got up early to attend. Right off the bat, panelists raised the hard-hitting points about what it means to offer tech solutions for low-income communities.

And if tech is a basic need right now, that means startups need to square with the fact that they can’t just work around local government agencies that also are trying to engage the same populations, said Washington Post reporter and panelist Emily Badger.

But the key takeaway was an insight from Local Roots Farm’s Dan Kuenzi:

2. Smart cities start with offering stable housing to residents—and local government is key.

Next, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro joined us for a fireside chat about how to transform America’s communities into smart cities. 

Sharing a laugh with @SecretaryCastro this AM at #1776Challenge… #HUD #ChallengeFestival @1776dc A photo posted by Daniel Swartz (@dswartz) on

Once the issue of housing is cared for, greater stability and innovation emerges. From there, innovators in each city can take advantage of the local community’s strengths and leverage local government to their collective advantage.

3. For entrepreneurs who want to work with cities: sell solutions, not just products.

Over the last several years, we’ve noticed a new role emerging in city governments: “chief innovation officers.” What exactly does a CIO do? According to panelist Dan Hoffman, he does a bit of everything—including functioning as a ‘front door’ into the government for innovators. When entrepreneurs are looking to enter through that door, though, they should keep several things in mind:

Understand the timing—a recommendation from both Hoffman and Philips’ Suzanne Seitinger. Hoffman advocated timing from a budget perspective, while Seitinger highlighted the need for startups to identify a real problem before attempting to sell a product.

4. Questions about autonomous vehicles—in skies and on our roads—go way beyond policy specifics.


This panel—”Will Our Robot Masters Be Kind to Us?”—addressed many of our still-looming questions about autonomous vehicles and drones.

5. Change is the new status quo.

The changes we’re used to in tech industry are now hitting other industries as well. Moreover, the pace of change is accelerating—to an exponential rate. Cisco’s Maciej Kranz explained that the ‘Internet of Everything’ will have five to 10 times the impact of the entire Internet to date. In 2010, we had 12 billion PCs, tablets, and phones connected to networks. By 2020, that number will reach 50 billion devices, he said.


Thanks to actionable, smart data, Kranz further envisioned the future to be one in which everything—every car, home, city and human—has a digital overlay. In order to reach that future, several things will need to happen.

Following this full day of insightful panels, we heard pitches from 20 international entrepreneurs who are bringing many of these predictions about the future to bear. We closed the day with our final gala at 101 Constitution—a beautiful view of the Capitol to wrap up the week.

Melissa Steffan Headshot

Melissa Steffan

Melissa is the former assistant editor for 1776, where she worked on the media team to create compelling, idea-driven content and reporting. A Seattle native, she graduated from Seattle Pacific…