Smart City Challenge 2021

A Hackathon-Style Innovation Competition
Sign Up for Updates!Register Now!

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? 


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

Smart City Challenge Basics

What skills and experience are recommended for participants?

Unlike many challenges, we are seeking participants with a variety of skills – general business management, technical, subject matter expertise! We believe that a diverse team yields powerful solutions and best represents our region.

We invite anyone under the age of 18 to petition consideration in participating, pending mentor availability.

What structure will a team have?

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 will teams be formed?

Teams are welcome to join with known friends or colleagues, or may join our “speed networking event” at the beginning of the Challenge to help identify a problem and group of interest!
Each team will be assigned a mentor to help support the process and facilitate virtual
team meetings.

How do you determine a problem to solve for the challenge?

We are developing a video series in September that will frame D.C., Maryland, and Virginia area city challenges that our region faces in each of our categories. We will also be providing a list of publicly available resources, where teams can learn more about topics and use data to inform their projects.
We will also provide opportunities for teams to meet with mentors with a specific subject matter expertise after the challenge begins.

What is the criteria to win?

While we are still finalizing judging criteria and tracks, we have determined that solutions DO NOT need to offer a technical product.
While we realize that this is an unusual approach for a challenge, our primary interest is in attracting a diverse talent who are passionate in impacting our region, generating creative “smart” solutions that we locally (and potentially other cities) can readily adopt.
To that end, the concept quality, creativity, applicability, and execution readiness are key drivers. We are hopeful that one or more winning concepts will be adopted locally by Fairfax County and/or regional partners.

How much does it cost to enter the challenge?

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

How much time should a member or a team allot to be successful?

We estimate that successful teams will spend about 10 to 20 hours/week throughout the event. Aside from the opening and closing live events, the majority of team meetings have significant flexibility in scheduling, owing to the virtual format of the event.
We are planning to announce optional live events during the challenge as well.

What types of prizes will winners be awarded?
We are finalizing our tracks and prizes and will be posting an update shortly. We do anticipate offering a separate track, one for professionals and one for students.