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What is a “smart city” and why now?

By Posted on May 12, 2016

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

While there isn’t a dictionary definition of a “smart city”, any description of one has a similar theme: connected, interactive and data driven solutions that improve how a city works, and ultimately improve its citizen’s quality of life. Why is the “smart city” trend gaining such traction? From congestion on the roadway to smog in the air to quickly growing urban populations, it’s already easy to see that environments within our urban areas are under pressure. With reports about the hottest months on record and expected population increases in our urban centers, even more stress will be placed on the infrastructure, natural resources, and the people that live, work and play in our cities. Proactively approaching the current challenges and projected stressors is key, and integrating innovation with services is viewed as the tool to optimize efficiencies in everything from energy use to transportation.

In this spirit, Wells Fargo is teaming up with NextEnergy, DENSO and DTE Energy to launch NextChallenge: Smart Cities, an effort to accelerate development of the solutions that will address the unmet present and future needs facing urban areas. Through this effort, we are seeking technology innovators from around the world to solve real world challenges in urban areas. Technology solution providers are encouraged to submit their ideas for solving one or more of the following technology needs: smart parking, smart transportation, smart infrastructure, and smart buildings. The winner will be offered the funding and support to demonstrate the chosen solution that aims to create safer, healthier, more efficient places to live and work – with less impact on the environment. Monetary awards and programmatic support are funded by a $650,000, three-year grant from Wells Fargo to support NextEnergy’s efforts.

Why Wells Fargo?

As a banking institution, Wells Fargo has a strong commitment to addressing social, economic, and environmental challenges occurring around the world. Last month, Wells Fargo released its five-year corporate social responsibility strategy, which outlines the 2020 goals that will guide our mission to address three core areas: diversity and social inclusion, economic empowerment, and environmental sustainability. Just a sample of those commitments include:

  • Plans to power 100% of our operations with renewables by 2017
  • Investment of $65 million in philanthropic support for initiatives that support clean technology growth and environmental education.
  • Increasing energy efficiency by 40%

And, we’ve already made significant achievements. In 2015, Wells Fargo supported $15 billion in environmental loans and investments for “greener” buildings, clean technology and other environmentally sustainable businesses; $12.3 million in grants to more than 472 environmental nonprofits. Specifically, we recognized a need to provide clean building technology startups with technical and financial assistance to advance commercialization. Working with the National Renewable Energy Lab, we launched the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), a five-year, $10 million philanthropic program that accelerates solutions for optimizing energy use in buildings with early stage energy efficient building technologies. Selected start-ups can have their technologies vetted in a lab and may even have the opportunity to launch a pilot in a Wells Fargo location.

NextChallenge builds the capacity and resources for technology innovators to move forward in their commercialization pathway. Winners of NextChallenge: Smart Cities will have the opportunity to build valuable relationships with new partners and will gain access to the support needed to integrate, test and vet their technologies into smart city demonstrations.

Ultimately, NextChallenge: Smart Cities will help to:

  • Increase investment in energy and mobility technologies
  • Impact urban communities by providing efficient, safer and more secure environments with improved access and experience for all community members
  • Reduce the environmental footprint of the services and infrastructure in our cities

Join us in identifying innovation that will be most impactful at solving the real-world challenges facing our urban areas. To see a full list of our technology needs, click here.

Hear from sponsors and get tips for applying at our informational webinar on June 9!

Be sure to apply by the July 28th deadline. Visit to learn more and apply!

Questions regarding NextChallenge: Smart Cities? Please contact Gina Schrader at (313) 833-0100 x 170 or [email protected].

Ashley Grosh is the Vice President and Environmental Affairs Business Initiatives Manager for Wells Fargo, where she also leads the company’s sustainable finance strategy and manages the environmental philanthropy program that support the company’s sustainability initiatives and goals.


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