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Fairfax County Invites Innovators to First Annual Smart City Challenge

Fairfax County will host Virginia’s first-ever Smart City Challenge next month.

Scheduled to kick off on Jan. 23, the challenge is a month-long virtual competition where teams of participants will develop and pitch potential solutions to challenges in health, transportation, housing, education, energy, infrastructure, public safety, and other facets of society.

Fairfax County has partnered with several public, private, and nonprofit groups to organize the contest, including Smart City Works, the McLean-based nonprofit Refraction, Virginia Tech, Girls in Tech DC, and the Universities at Shady Grove.

“The goal of the Challenge is to advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the greater Washington, D.C., region,” Smart City Works said in a Dec. 21 press release announcing the challenge.

While the challenge was designed with the D.C. area in mind, anyone, from college students to startups, can participate regardless of where they live. Organizers say they will put a particular focus on encouraging women and people of color to get involved.

Registration is currently open. There is an admission fee of $15 for students and $30 for everyone else “to help defray hosting and other expenses,” Smart City Works says on its website.

Conducted entirely online through Zoom, the challenge will give participants a month to form teams and use data, resources, and mentors made available by organizers to develop ideas for how technology or other forms of innovation can be used to make communities more equitable, livable, resilient, and sustainable.

Teams will present their projects to a panel of judges, who will evaluate the pitches based on innovation, regional impact, practicality, and equity and inclusivity. Winners will be awarded more than $350,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, along with an opportunity to implement pilot projects with Fairfax County, the City of Fairfax, and other partner organizations.

Alongside the actual competition, the challenge will feature streamed and recorded discussions with government, nonprofit, and business leaders throughout the month. Anticipated speakers include Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, Dominion Energy CEO Bob Blue, and Fairfax County Deputy County Executive Rachel Flynn.

“The Smart City Challenge is the perfect opportunity to tap bright minds to improve the lives of everyone in the Washington, D.C., area through technology, innovation, and problem-solving,” Refraction CEO Esther Lee said. “We are excited to bring together forward-thinking businesses, entrepreneurs, universities, government, and nonprofits to showcase collaboration and thought leadership.”

Fairfax County previously partnered with Smart City Works and Refraction to start the Northern Virginia Smart Region Initiative, which aims to foster innovation and economic growth in the area.

The county contributed $50,000 when the two nonprofits successfully applied for a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration to fund the initiative in 2019.

Photo by Michelle Goldchain

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