Smart City Challenge
Jan. 23 - Feb. 18, 2021

A Hackathon-Style Innovation Competition

Regional Challenges, Smart Solutions!

Join us from January 23- February 18, 2021 for a month of hacking where we create and celebrate innovative solutions that make our region smarter, livable, resilient, and sustainable for everyone. We invite people from all walks of life to join and highly encourage women and people of color to register and share their solutions for the future!

About the Challenge

What solution do you see to help cities grow, operate, and meet population demands over the coming decades?

The Smart City Challenge will convene diverse, wide-ranging teams virtually via Zoom to innovate in the following sectors: housing, transportation, health, water, broadband, education, infrastructure, public safety, and more to address this question.

To participate, you can register as an individual or a team. Over a month, you will have the opportunity to hear from sector experts while creating your own innovative, high-impact solutions that will advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the greater Washington region. More than $350,000 in cash and in-kind prizes will be awarded, including pilot projects with Fairfax and Arlington Counties, participation in the Smart City Works accelerator, membership in Refraction, and Amazon Web Services credits. Prizes will be awarded based on innovation, equity and inclusivity, practicality of application and regional impact, as outlined in the judging criteria below.


The Challenge will begin on January 23 at 10am, with virtual keynotes and speed networking sessions (for those looking to join or field a team). Throughout the month, we will host optional panels and thought leadership events. Participants are encouraged to meet with their team regularly and will be able to meet one on one with mentors to consult about their solutions.

Final judging and closing ceremonies will take place on February 18 at 6pm. Each team will have 7 minutes to present a pitch deck and any additional material to a panel of judges. Please keep an eye on our events section for updated scheduling!

For any questions, please get in touch with us at:

Smart City Challenge Virtual Events

Judging Criteria

Teams will submit a pitch video (no more than 4 minutes) to by June 3 at 5pm ET. Each solution will be judged using the following criteria.


How innovative is the solution? How differentiated or unique is the solution?

Regional Impact

What is the impact (e.g., number of people helped, overall reduction in costs, improved quality of life) of the solution for the Washington, DC region? Does it have the potential to be implemented across the region?

Practicality and Scalability

Can the solution be implemented in the near- to medium-term (within 1-2 years) in a cost-efficient manner? How easily can it be replicated or scaled to a larger market?

Social Responsibility and Equity

What impact does this solution have on addressing racial, accessibility, age, gender, or other inequities? How does your solution or company address important social issues like climate change? Demonstrate your neutral or positive impact.


The Smart City Challenge is grateful for the generosity and partnership of all our partners.

Get to Know Our Mentors!


During the entire month of the Smart City Challenge you have access to mentors that can offer their expertise and guide your project.

Problem and Challenge

We are in a period of unprecedented regional urbanization and change. More than half of the world’s population now lives in or near a major urban area. Global population continues to grow unabated and over the next two decades the world will have to accommodate about 70 percent more residents within existing physical footprints. Yet there is a considerable lack of meaningful thought or planning at the regional level, lack of change in the built environment, and the pandemic has starkly revealed the strains and gaps and inequities in systems across densely populated regions.

Given the challenges of limited investment and resources, diminishing space, energy use, and the need for more resilient, equitable and sustainable solutions, adding more physical infrastructure alone won’t work. Decision making at regional levels is complexly difficult, and bureaucratic public procurement policies and a dearth of private sector investment in R&D discourage innovation. As a result, the infrastructure to support healthy and vibrant communities—our buildings, roads, water, energy, communication, education and transportation systems—is deteriorating, costly, and inefficient.

The potential for innovation in the urban and built environment is before us, but largely untapped. Advances in materials science, sensors, and control systems, and the rise of connected devices and the internet- of-things, offer enormous opportunity to connect, improve and in some cases, reinvent urban systems. Communities need the capability to integrate technologies and new ideas. We need companies focused on new ways to build, maintain, and operate civil infrastructure. Rapid deployment of innovative solutions will make communities smarter, more livable, resilient, and sustainable for citizens and businesses in the years.

What solution do you see to help cities grow, operate, and meet population demands over the coming decades?

Topic Guide Videos

Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions and we have answers

What do you mean by "Smart City"?

Smart Cities develop and use digital technology and innovative solutions to serve a city’s population, improving efficiency and quality of life for residents.

WHAT is a Smart City Challenge? And HOW is it like a Virtual Hackathon?

As hosts, partners/sponsors, judges, and mentors for this event, we want to find and develop innovative, entrepreneurial talent and solutions that positively impact the lives of citizens, while also delivering smarter infrastructure and processes to help our leaders manage resources effectively and efficiently.

The greater DC metro area is a particularly special ecosystem for championing and incubating Smart City solutions because we are really a confederation of “DMV” (District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia) leaders in government, business, associations, nonprofits, educational institutions, and start-ups.

Like a virtual hackathon format, we invite participants to create teams, select a problem, develop and present solutions. Finalists will present their solutions to panel judges in a virtual vote, as you might have seen on the TV show “Shark Tank.”

Unlike hackathons, however, our Challenge is seeking participants with a variety of skills –general business management, technical, and subject matter expertise! We believe that a diverse team yields powerful solutions and best represents our DMV region. Accordingly, solutions will be assessed based on potential impact and feasibility of implementation, rather than a focus on the quality of the coding or the performance success of a prototype.

What is a Typical Team Structure and Composition?

Depending on the problem you choose and your proposed solution, your team might be best as a small few or a mighty large group!

We offer no constraints on team size, although we encourage teams to reflect upon needed skills, timeframe, outside constraints/time management, and the virtual format as variables in assessing your team composition.

How do I Assemble or Join a Team?

Teams are welcome to join with known friends or colleagues, and/or join our “speed networking event” at the beginning of the Challenge to help identify a problem and form a team!

Do I Have to Live in the DC Area?

No! While we are approaching this (first) Smart City Challenge with a regional focus, we welcome national – and global – participation.

We think that’s a wonderful perk of our virtual format for participants! We find that Smart City challenges and solutions frequently have broad applicability around the world. Over time, we dream of scaling this event to reach many other cities.

How do I find a Mentor?

Each team will be assigned a mentor to support the process and to provide guidance and feedback. We will match mentors and teams using team areas of interest and later their problem statement and proposal.

What is the Problem I Will Help Solve?

You will have significant flexibility in framing a problem of your choosing – provided that you have like-minded teammates who have a similar passion in the problem and finding a solution!

Many Smart City issues were discussed at our opening event on January 23, which you can view here.

Teams will refine and define their problems, with guidance from their mentors, during the second week of the competition.

What Resources and Data are Available to Me?

We will also be providing a list of publicly available resources and data, where teams can learn more about topics and use data to inform their projects.

We also plan to offer perspectives from our partner thought leaders, subject matter experts, and mentors to offer context and insight into community challenges and high-impact opportunities that need creative sweat equity from our teams!

What are the Judging Criteria?

All proposals will be judged on how well they advance equity in the region, overall regional impact, the impact on the sector(s) highlighted in the proposal, how well they foster collaboration and innovation, and if the solution is practical, or likely to be implemented. Teams should submit a 4 minute pitch video that defines the problem and describes the solution which includes a business model and strategy of going to market.

Teams will be responsible for estimating the impact of their solution based on appropriate measures for their topic such as housing units created, commute times reduced, municipal return on investment, municipal savings, energy reductions, and service provision efficiencies.

Teams must also address how their solutions promote equity for all citizens (e.g., access, participation) or an underrepresented group.

What is the Cost of Participation?

We are asking for $30 for general “admission” ($15 for students) to help defray hosting and other expenses.

What is the Time Commitment?

The fully virtual Challenge will last 4 weeks, from January 23 to February 18, 2021.

We estimate that successful teams collectively will spend about 10-20 hours each during the four week Challenge period, with the majority of that time scheduled amongst team members in collaboration with mentors.

Teams will meet “live” at the opening and closing events and we are planning to stream (and record) optional (but AWESOME!) speakers and panels as well.


Win more than $350,000 in cash / in-kind prizes, including pilot projects with Fairfax and Arlington Counties, participation in the Smart City Works accelerator, membership in Refraction, and Amazon Web Services credits!