Next Challenge

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.

Interested in becoming a NextChallenge sponsor?

Contact Jim Saber, President and Chief Executive Officer:
[email protected]
313.833.0100 ext. 240


View NextChallenge sponsorship information

Meet our Winners!

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.

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.
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, 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

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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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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
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.

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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