NextChallenge Smart Cities

Thank you to all of our applicants, judges and sponsors — and congratulations to our three winning companies: SmartCone, Switched Source and Derq. Look for more info coming soon about future NextChallenges! 

Today’s cities are facing many common challenges in the areas of safety, mobility, emissions, accessibility, and congestion. With urban population estimates calculating growth to rise from 54% in 2014 to 66% by 2050, stresses on a city’s services and infrastructure are expected to grow as well.

NextEnergy launched NextChallenge: Smart Cities in 2016 because we think innovation is an important mechanism to proactively address these challenges and identify opportunities for new business models. In our first year we received applications from around the world proposing solutions to create safer, more efficient places for people to live and work with a lower impact on the environment. In 2017 we received over 100 applications, which was narrowed down to 10 finalists who pitched their solutions live at NextEnergy on December 13. We look forward to working with Demonstration Grant Award winner SmartCone to launch their pilot in 2018!

Interested in becoming a NextChallenge sponsor?

Contact Jim Saber, President and Chief Executive Officer: | 313.833.0100 ext. 240


View NextChallenge sponsorship information

Read the 2017 Winner Announcement press release.


Meet our 2017 Winners!

$60K Demonstration Grant Award Winner

Bike Lane Signal Safety System
Jason Lee |  Stittsville, Ontario, Canada

SmartCone’s Bicycle-Pedestrian Safety Solution makes intersections safer through an innovative platform that uses a combination of heat detection cameras and invisible trip wires to detect non-motorized transport. The software triggers flashing lights on eye-level bollards to notify drivers when it’s safe to proceed and is capable of recording video, capturing license plates of dangerous drivers, and providing pedestrian and cyclist counts.

$40K Grant Award Winner

The Tie Controller
Charles Murray | East Lansing, Michigan, USA 
Switched Source LLC is a next generation startup providing power flow control technology solutions for distribution companies. Their patented Distribution Tie Controller device helps increase the efficiency and reliability of the last mile of electricity delivery of the electric grid for urban and suburban users – giving electric distribution companies a new level of control for managing power flows.

$20K People's Choice Award Winner

Making Detroit’s Roads Safer using Artificial Intelligence and Connected Vehicles Technologies
Georges Aoude | Detroit, Michigan, USA/United Arab Emirates

Derq, an MIT spin-off with a mission to eliminate road accidents by using artificial intelligence, is showcasing the benefits of Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) connected technologies on road safety and mobility in Detroit and beyond. Artificial Intelligence algorithms within their patented system can detect and predict dangerous or congested traffic scenarios and alert connected vehicles nearby through short-range communication.

Challenge Focus Areas

SMART Parking

SMART Mobility

SMART Buildings

SMART Infrastructure


NextEnergy, one of the nation’s leading accelerators of advanced energy and transportation technologies, in partnership with Wells Fargo, DENSO and DTE Energy are seeking to accelerate the development of hardware and/or software solutions that will address real-world challenges facing urban areas.

Successful proposals will result in one or more of the following outcomes:

  • Improved access and user experience
  • Improved safety and security
  • Reduced impact on the environment and public health caused by emissions, land use, and/or congestion

The challenge will create a pipeline of smart city technological and entrepreneurial innovation concepts with the end goal of demonstrating these innovations at the NextEnergy Center in Detroit, or other applicable site. The demonstration will provide the solution provider the following:

  • Relationship-building opportunities with industry and urban leaders – increases visibility of innovation through the review process, mentoring opportunities and a chance to pitch your technology to a live audience and panel of industry experts
  • Demonstration deployment – technologies vetted by experts in real-world settings
  • Accelerated commercialization timeline – provides proof-of-concept metrics to share that can help to fast-track technology commercialization

Meet last year’s $80,000 Demonstration Grant Award Winner!

Raphael Carty | Callida Energy | Callida Occupant App

“The prize is allowing us to install our software in a commercial building site, do a baseline, make changes to how the building is operated, and develop a case study for how our solution delivered specific savings for the building. Before this challenge, we had a presence in New York and Houston. We saw opportunity in Detroit, but we weren’t known in the market. This competition put us on the map in the region.”

Meet last year’s $20,000 Grant Award Winner!

Travis Knepper | RideHop | OnDemand for Fixed Routes

“We used the award to develop a working prototype for the first phase of Smart Bus Stops, which we then demonstrated live at the Ford Go Detroit Challenge. We have now integrated the technology into our core platform, a factor that was crucial in helping us land a major contract in Las Vegas this year.”

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Challenge Focus Areas

Hardware and/or software solutions to be demonstrated should address one or more of the following focus areas:

Smart Parking

Technologies will mitigate traffic congestion, increase convenience for users, and optimize efficiency by saving time, money and/or energy. Solutions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Systems that automatically park the vehicle after the passenger leaves the vehicle
  • Technologies that provide real-time data on metrics such as parking availability and reservations
  • Travel demand management strategies or automated services for traffic mitigation

Smart Mobility

Applications will improve how people, places and goods move. Solutions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Smart charging management systems that may manage one or more of the following variables: timing, reservation, billing, and cost-management of EV loads
  • Novel approaches to shared transportation
  • Wireless charging applications
  • First-mile and last-mile service for transit users
  • Technologies fostering multi-modal transit options
  • Fleet management

Smart Buildings

Applications will improve safety & security, reduce or optimize energy usage, connect to mobility systems, and support cost-effective decision-making processes. Solutions may include but are not limited to:

  • Ideas that allow home and/or building owners to quickly identify, compare and finance energy-related products such as EV chargers, provide return on investment analysis on new energy efficiency investments, or link to owner’s banking profile, loan options and/or current financing rates
  • Ideas integrating security, parking, external lighting, cameras, and communication and connectivity with the buildings’ tenants, employees, facility management staff and local authorities
  • Wearable technologies integrated with building systems, mobility systems, and broader urban systems
  • Concepts incorporating demand response with EVs to reduce or shift energy use in response to power grid reliability or needs
  • Integration of building energy management systems with electric vehicle (EV) charging

Smart Infrastructure

Solutions will foster real time info-sharing of city services for citizens (e.g., improving awareness of mobility options and best routing capabilities) and government (e.g., capacity to provide services including traffic management, emergency response and mobility options). Solutions may include, but are not limited to:

  • Sensors, vision system, and/or wireless and network controls integration to reduce electricity use, increase security, and share mass communication about traffic and weather conditions, and other factors of value to citizens
  • Communication systems integration that support public services, marketing/advertising, and provide interactive information with pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles or public transit
  • Street lighting systems that sense and respond to individuals and mobility systems in urban areas
  • Public signage that use interactive, real-time data analytics to engage and inform the public
  • Transit hubs connecting mobility options to personal and public physical infrastructure
  • Concepts that remotely detect potholes and automatically dispatch city repair crews
  • Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) concepts that support or enhance city services

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Winner(s) will be awarded up to $80,000 to demonstrate and validate their solution at NextEnergy Center in Detroit, or applicable site that meets the needs of the selected solution in 2018. Terms of the award will be executed via a Statement of Work between NextEnergy and Winner(s). Up to four additional grants with a combined total of $20,000 will be awarded to finalist(s). From this selected pool of winner and finalist(s), the challenge intends to award at least 1 small business, but may elect not to if responsive proposals are not received by any qualifying small businesses.

NEW this year! 10 finalists will receive two hours of pitch development support from Rosh Media and legal support from Bodman PLC.

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Supporting Partners

Eligible Solutions Will Meet the Following Criteria

  • Concept for a demonstration must be executed in 2018. Business plans or executive summaries are not of interest
  • The most compelling solutions will be supported by measurable metrics and address data analytics and plans for information sharing
  • Successful proposals may include software and/or hardware solutions resulting in one or more of the following outcomes:
    • Improved user access and experience
    • Improved safety and security
    • Reduced impact on the environment and public health caused by emissions, land use, and/or congestion
  • Preference will be given to entries that incorporate one or more of the following objectives.
    • Validity of Innovation: The Entry is technologically-sound, implementable, and meets one of the identified needs in a unique, innovative way.
    • Qualifications of Applicant(s): The level of related existing expertise and experience from applicant.
    • Competitive advantage: Technologies that add clear and quantifiable value to compete in their market.
    • Scalability: The innovation’s ease of manufacturing and opportunity for commercialization.

See Official Rules

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Jean Redfield
President & CEO

Ashley Grosh
Vice President and Environmental Affairs Business Initiatives Manager
Wells Fargo

Robert Wunsche
Director, Technical Planning
North American Research and Engineering Center
DENSO International America, Inc.

Richard Mueller
Manager of Engineering Technology
DTE Energy


NextEnergy, founded in 2002 as 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is one of the nation’s leading accelerators of advanced energy and transportation technologies, businesses and industries. Since its inception, NextEnergy has helped attract more than $1.5 billion of new investment. NextEnergy provides project management and oversight for Detroit Smart City, an industry-led consortium dedicated to the development and advancement of smart city technologies in Detroit.

Wells Fargo & Company is a nationwide, diversified, community-based financial services company with $1.7 trillion in assets. Wells Fargo provides banking, insurance, investments, mortgage, and consumer and commercial finance services through more than 8,700 locations, 12,500 ATMs, the internet, and mobile banking, and has offices in 36 countries to support customers who conduct business in the global economy.

DENSO is one of the largest global automotive suppliers of advanced technology, systems and components. As a mega supplier, DENSO has the technologies and global capabilities to address some of society’s greatest challenges. DENSO plans to take its core automotive technologies and apply them to different fields and industries to help create the future Smart City.

DTE Energy

DTE Energy is a Detroit-based diversified energy company involved in the development and management of energy-related businesses and services nationwide. DTE partners with technology companies to identify ways to manage resources most effectively and create smarter and more resilient cities of the future.

Partner with us and gain from our experience.

Challenges and competitions have become a key ingredient in the mix of advancing and commercializing new energy and mobility technologies. At NextEnergy, we have a proven track record of helping our clients by guiding them through the process from beginning to end, connecting them with the resources they need to accelerate their journey from start-up to success.

Our industry and philanthropic partners know they can rely on our expertise to help them identify emerging innovators and vet the groundbreaking technologies that will help them retain their competitive edge and achieve their mission.

Whether you are a seasoned competitor, a fledgling innovator, or an established organization looking for a dynamic industry partner, we can help.

Contact us to learn more about how we can work together to help advance your technology, business or sustainability goals.

NextChallenge-Smart Cities 2016

Launched in May of 2016, our first NextChallenge: Smart Cities received 220 inquiries, 57 concept papers and 23 full proposals submitted by innovators from around the world. Vetted by our expert reviewers to a group of 10 finalists from the United States who pitched their ideas live to a panel of judges – representatives from NextEnergy, DTE Energy, DENSO and Invest Detroit – who collaboratively determined the winners.

Meet our Mobility and Built Environment Finalists!

NextChallenge-Smart Cities 2016 Winners

Callida Energy Logo$80,000 Demonstration Grant Award Winner
Raphael Carty | Callida Energy | Callida Occupant App

Callida Energy’s Occupant App software uses real-time data collected from occupants via a comfort survey to empower building operators to more efficiently heat and cool buildings based on occupants’ presence and comfort.  Rather than running HVAC systems based on a pre-determined occupancy schedule, the software gathers data to learn zone occupancy patterns and recommend more efficient zone operating schedules that turn-down heating/cooling when offices are unoccupied or lightly occupied. It also visualizes occupant comfort problems to facility managers in real-time and leans what occupants perceive to be actual comfort to improve temperature settings. Based on prior results, Callida estimates the software will achieve 30+% HVAC energy savings annually – as well as costs and carbon emissions reductions — with no decrease in occupant comfort.

$20,000 Grant Award Winner
Travis Knepper | RideHop | OnDemand for fixed routes

RideHop On-Demand for Fixed Routes reduces the total number of buses or shuttles needed by adapting the transportation system to respond to ridership demand in real time opposed to standard circling for rider coverage. Urban campuses, such as hospitals, universities or large companies often provide buses or shuttles on a fixed route to transport employees, guests and patrons to and from buildings and parking lots. During decreased demand, circling mostly-empty buses results in unnecessary engine hours, greenhouse gases and operational overhead. As a solution, RideHop On-Demand allows riders to indicate when they are waiting at a stop, drivers are automatically dispatched, and riders receive an ETA for their ride. Early projections indicate the solution could reduce fleet coverage by 29 percent, while reducing wait time for passengers during off-peak times.


NextChallenge: Lighting focused on the development of advanced lighting technology ideas, concepts and intellectual properties for Ford Motor Company and RecoveryPark, a Detroit-based urban farming operation.

Launched in 2014, NextChallenge: Lighting aimed at inspiring the development of lighting innovation in the automotive and urban farming industries. In partnership with sponsors Ford Motor Company and RecoveryPark, this effort invited lighting innovators from around the world to address specific industry needs through their technology solutions, with the end goal of building relationships and business opportunities between industry leaders and technology providers.

In collaboration with Ford, NextEnergy crowd-sourced innovative interior and exterior automotive lighting concepts to add value and product differentiation in Ford’s vehicles. Entrepreneurs submitted their novel ideas for consideration, and selected innovators pitched their solutions to Ford’s lighting team. As a result, three companies moved forward in discussions with Ford including Arborlight, MagWerks LED, LLC and Van Straten Heated Tail Light.

In partnership with RecoveryPark, an urban farming operation located in Detroit, NextEnergy sought solutions to optimize horticultural lighting systems that produce year round yields for greenhouses and hydroponic operations. The winning team—led by Light-Speed USA—was awarded $80,000 in cash and in-kind services to support the development and demonstration of a next generation greenhouse lighting technology system for RecoveryPark. The solution combined specialties of three Michigan companies – LumenFlow’s advanced photonic LED and optical engineering technologies, AMF Nano’s specialty control sensor system, and Nextek Power Systems’ direct current (DC) distribution system. The team is working with Michigan State University to demonstrate a very energy efficient LED lighting system for greenhouse operations that is expected to take advantage of LED color tuning to improve produce growth, yield and cultivation cycles.

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