The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
5 Ways Akron is Redefining Entrepreneurship
Akron, Ohio, like many legacy cities, experienced a rougher-than-average blow with the economic downturn. But with the help of a new generation of entrepreneurs, the city is also rebounding at a stronger rate than some of its neighbors. Here’s a look into what makes Akron’s entrepreneurship scene stand out and which local programs are supporting its growth.
1. You don’t have to carry a hockey stick.
For decades, the word “entrepreneur” has been associated with highly scalable startups; tech-oriented businesses that were deemed successful when their profit line mimicked the proverbial hockey stick. While Akron has plenty of exciting tech startups, we also celebrate the entrepreneurs whose financial projections have more in common with an escalator (that is, a slow, steady upward slope) than a piece of sporting equipment.
According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of an entrepreneur is “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” This means that the owners of the clothing boutiques, coffee shops, rock climbing gyms, salons, comic book shops, yoga studios and all of our neighborhood businesses that opened their doors in the last few years can wear the mantle of entrepreneurship just as proudly as their app-developing neighbors.
2. We’re not all white males.
In a 2013 working paper by Ross Levine and Yona Rubinstein, the authors noted that “entrepreneurs” are a type. They found that entrepreneurs are “disproportionately white, male, and highly educated.” And while we are extremely proud of our local entrepreneurs that fit that description, our spectrum is broad and welcoming. One of our most exciting tech startups, Komae, was founded by two women, and one of the hottest tables in town, Nepali Kitchen, is owned and operated by a Bhutanese immigrant. Local support organizations like the Women’s Network, the International Institute of Akron, and the Urban League celebrate entrepreneurs’ differences while providing assistance to many different types of businesses.
3. Artists are entrepreneurs too.
In many places, artists – musicians, thespians, and visual artists alike – are considered a different breed. But we recognize that whether they’re selling their paintings or filling tables at the local jazz club, artists are running a business. Organizations like Crafty Mart provide artists and artisans a venue for selling their goods to the public in multi-venue craft fairs that see more than $100,00 in sales for makers each year.
Nicole Mullet, executive director of ArtsNow, an advocacy and backbone organization for Summit County arts says, “Creative professionals are redefining what it means to be an artist. According to the Kauffman Foundation about 34% of US artists are self-employed and part of a burgeoning category of creative entrepreneurs who are generating economic activity, creating jobs, and emerging as a force in local and national economies.”
4. We believe in due diligence.
Steve Jobs’ philosophy, “customers don’t know what they want until we’ve shown them” may work for one in a million. But for the other 999,999 of us, homework is key and can put you ahead of the competition. Prior to opening Sweet Mary’s Bakery, Mary Hospodarsky interviewed dozens of workers in the blocks surrounding her downtown Akron location. She was surprised to learn that quiche was the most-desired menu item; she had not planned to include it on her menu. But she listened to her future customers’ demands and today it remains one of her best-sellers.
Financial projections, customer discovery, and business plans rarely make it into the blockbuster movie, but they’re a smart way to approach a new endeavor. Organizations like the Small Business Development Center, and the University of Akron’s ICorps program and Small Entrepreneur and Economic Development (SEED) Legal Clinic are here to help.
5. We get by with a little help from our friends.
While other cities conform to the popular “six degrees of separation” theory, the Akron network is more like two degrees – and we’re not afraid to use it. Rather than viewing one another as competition, small business owners espouse the “rising tides lift all boats” idiom and are eager to give the next entrepreneur a hand up. So while Cristina and Richelle of Not Yo’ Daddy’s would never share their secret hot sauce recipe, they’re more than willing to divulge how they found the kitchen space they rent and which pop-up markets have given them the most bang for their buck. It’s the same attitude that shaped Launch League’s microcommunities for tech startups. Whether you’re into front end dev or design, you can meet up with like-minded folks to talk shop and swap tips.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.