Smart City Challenge 2021

A Hackathon-Style Innovation Competition
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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.

About the Challenge

The Smart City Challenge convenes diverse, wide-ranging teams to innovate in the following sectors: housing, transportation, health, water, broadband, education, infrastructure, public safety, and more. To compete, teams can propose a broad range of high-impact solutions that advance equitable and inclusive opportunities for all people to thrive in the greater Washington region. Collaborators will have a month to build on their talent and draw on Challenge resources including expert mentors. Winners will be selected based on innovation, equity and inclusivity,  practicality of application and regional impact.


Become a Sponsor!
Being a Smart City Challenge Sponsor is an awarding experience. Sponsors can provide judges that score each project submission and determine the winners. More info to come.   

Apply to be a Sponsor!

Judging Criteria


Teach team solution/proposal will be judged on advancing the overarching criteria of equitable solutions in the Greater Washington D.C. region. Does the solution help to close a gap in outcomes or opportunities? Is the solution sustainable with the potential for long term impact on equity? Teams will be required to identify the inequality or exclusion they are addressing and the ways in which their solution closes or narrows the gap in practical ways.

Regional impact

The Challenge aims to address equity challenges at a regional level. What is the potential regional impact of the solution?. 

Field Based Impact

The Challenge aims to address problems in specific areas, such as housing, transportation, education, economic development, emergency response, and more. What is the potential impact of the solution for the substantive area identified in the proposal?


The Challenge aims to address problems in specific areas, such as housing, transportation, education, economic development, emergency response, and more. What is the potential impact of the solution for the substantive area identified in the proposal?


Does the solution close a gap that is identified by the team? Is the solution a new idea? Or does it turn an old idea into a workable solution?


Is the solution practical? Can residents of the region see and experience the impact of the solution, directly?

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

Introduction to Smart City Works (Carola Mandelbaum, Equity (Karla Bruce), Housing (Mel Jones)


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

Apply to be a Mentor!

Schedule (Jan. 23, 2021 – Feb. 18, 2021)

Here are some virtual events during the month of the Challenge

More events to come…

Welcome & Kick-Off!

Saturday, January 23rd

Speed Networking

Saturday, January 23rd

More events to come


For any questions, contact us at


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, 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!

We are developing a video series by thought leaders that will help frame some of the
challenges that our region faces in each of our categories. Experts will discuss many urban challenges and developing solutions at our kick-off event and subsequent information sessions at the beginning of the Challenge.

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?

While we are still finalizing judging criteria and tracks, we have determined that solutions DO NOT need to offer a technical product or prototype.

To that end, the concept quality, creativity, applicability, execution readiness, and potential impact are key drivers in judging.

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, 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 we


We are finalizing our tracks and prizes and will be posting an update shortly. We do anticipate offering separate tracks for professionals and students.