How Cities and Startups Partner to Pilot New Technology
2020 Circular City Studio pilots launch with civic partners across New York City.
Newlab’s Circular City Studio—with support from the New York City Economic Development Corporation—aims to make cities more equitable, livable, and resilient. To advance the application of transformative technology in support of New York City’s vision for a sustainable future, the Studio fosters relationships with local organizations that serve as pilot partners, enabling startups to deploy technology across the city.
For established companies and startups alike, piloting technology in real-world, urban settings creates opportunities to gain valuable feedback, iterate, and refine products. New York City’s dense, complex environment is the ideal proving ground. A crucial element of working within the city’s diverse communities is the support of and partnership with city and neighborhood stakeholders.
The unique feedback loop developed by these partnerships benefits pilot sites and startups. For example, in the 2018 Circular City Studio, CARMERA, Numina, and Citiesense worked in concert with pilot site partner, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, to collect street-level data to inform Downtown Brooklyn’s mobility strategy and economic development efforts.
2020 Circular City Studio Pilots
For the 2020 Circular City Studio, Newlab has cultivated partnerships with four pilot sites across the city—The Trust for Governors Island, the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Flatbush Junction BID, and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. These integral pilot partners offer each of the companies critical feedback that will guide their product development and ultimately benefit residents, policymakers, and the city as a whole.
Sapient Industries has installed a plug load management system to improve energy efficiency inside Newlab’s HQ at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Algramo will pilot a zero-waste cleaning product dispensing system at Building 77 inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Aclima will provide visibility into air quality, pollution, and emissions in Downtown Brooklyn and Red Hook. And RanMarine USA plans to capture water quality data and reduce marine waste through its autonomous WasteShark aqua-drone technology in the harbor around Governors Island.
The city’s role in the Innovation Studio
Pilots that yield successful outcomes are only part of the bigger picture for the Circular City Studio. Testing technology in a “living lab” is critical for startups, but applying it with intention—to make the city more livable for its residents, attracting and sustaining tech innovation, and supporting small businesses—are all part of Studio’s mission.
Speaking about the deployment of RanMarine USA’s WasteShark in the New York Harbor, director of operations planning at The Trust for Governors Island, Mollie McGinnis, says, “While the pilot project is expected to run over a period of six weeks, we are hopeful that the data gathered during the pilot and the feedback stemming from the operation of the technology in New York City will continue to inspire curiosity and further exploration of the New York Harbor.”
“Governors Island is committed to a more sustainable future and is an ideal testbed for piloting and showcasing solutions in response to our changing climate,” says McGinnis. “[Governors Island] will continue to develop in a way that promotes a diversity of uses that complement and enhance the Island’s unique character and waterfront location as a public living laboratory.”
For Santiago, Chile-based Algramo, its pilot in bustling Building 77 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard marks its entry into the U.S. market. This is a prime example of how the campus provides an opportunity for startups to “establish themselves in a competitive global marketplace and grow their businesses,” says Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation Chief Development Officer, Johanna Greenbaum.
For business improvement districts looking to engage with the broader innovation ecosystem, introducing technology through pilot projects “gets the businesses comfortable with new technology experimentation procedures,” says Kenneth Mbonu, Executive Director, Flatbush Junction BID, who has connected Algramo with local businesses interested in trialing the new system.
Aclima, which established its New York outpost at Newlab, will measure hyperlocal air quality in the area stretching from Downtown Brooklyn to Red Hook, which includes neighborhoods focused on environmental justice. Aclima is hopeful that block-by-block air quality measurement will lead to the identification of pollution patterns that impact public health and behavioral change.
Pilot sites on supporting innovation
For all of the pilot site partners, working with Newlab and the Circular City Studio allows them to attract talent and demonstrate how technology can help solve challenges unique to each location, making Brooklyn and New York City a proving ground before concepts scale to other cities.
“Home to many of the city’s most exciting tech startups, as well as leading academic and cultural institutions, Downtown Brooklyn is uniquely positioned to harness its talent to drive forward innovation across a range of industries and sectors to improve the quality of life here and in the city,” says Regina Myer, President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
Of the 300-acre Brooklyn Navy Yard industrial campus that operates like a mini-city, Greennabum says, “by being flexible and open to innovation, we are able to enable growth and help companies to flourish, acting as a laboratory for them to try out their ideas at a neighborhood scale.”
Ensuring tech benefits the city
Pilot projects will run throughout the summer and fall, collecting critical data, offering new services to locations across New York City, and bringing innovation to the neighborhood level.
Alongside the pilot deployments, the Circular City Studio will host ongoing virtual workshops that bring together the startups, pilot site partners, and additional city stakeholders. The workshops will ensure that the Studio benefits the city and its residents and highlights how cities and startups partner to pilot new technology. Establishing these critical feedback loops is fundamental to the vision for a “Circular City,” where data and technology are put to use by residents, businesses, and policymakers.