The Circular City: A New Model for Collaboration

By Shaina Horowitz / May 30, 2018

The Circular City is the signature program of New Lab City, the tech hub’s public-private partnership program

May 23, 2018 – In an intimate evening event at New Lab, the 84,000 sq ft former shipbuilding facility that today is a hub for entrepreneurs working in bleeding-edge technologies, local city leaders, urban tech entrepreneurs, university innovators, potential investors and corporate partners were treated to a first-hand look at The Circular City. This new program aims to reimagine the public-private partnership as an agile collaboration where entrepreneurs, scholars, city leaders, private companies and forward-looking investors prototype, iterate and deploy technology-based solutions to the most pressing challenges facing cities today.

The event marked the first time all collaborators convened to share the vision for The Circular City. The evening opened with remarks from David Belt, New Lab’s CEO & Co-Founder, followed by a lively call to action from Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams. Next, the founders of the three startups who are participating in this first-of-its-kind program took the stage: Ro Gupta of street-level intelligence platform Carmera, Tara Pham of Numina, which is building an API for Streets as they deliver on their mission to empower cities with data, and, finally, Starling Childs of Citiesense, a company focused on creating a centralized neighborhood knowledge platform that enables people to undertake planning, policy and economic development in a more real-time, data-informed way.

Rounding out the evening was a dynamic panel discussion moderated by New Lab’s Urban Tech Hub Director, Shaina Horowitz, with the formative partners who are helping to shape The Circular City: Regina Myer, President of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Francesca Birks, Associate Principal of Foresight & Design Strategy at Arup, André Corrêa d’Almeida, director of the MPA in Development Practice at Columbia University and founder of ARCx: Applied Research for Change, and Sander Dolder, Director and Assistant Vice President at the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams underscored the catalytic role New Lab is playing in Brooklyn’s future and the borough’s embrace of tech and innovation: “Every time I walk into this building I grow and learn,” adding, “What we do in Brooklyn will be the direction that New York City travels, and the direction that New York City travels is the way the world travels.”

For Regina Myer, who is at the helm in one of New York City’s fastest growing, most diverse neighborhoods, “the launch of Circular City is a clear signal that Brooklyn is leading the way for innovation and discovery in the tech industry. Home to some of the world’s smartest tech startups, it only makes sense that we harness that expertise and apply it to make our communities better places to live. We are excited to partner with industry leaders to further that growth, share ideas and build toward a smarter, stronger Brooklyn.”

Francesca Birks, an early advisor to New Lab, remarked “there is a tremendous opportunity to learn by giving entrepreneurs access to these global challenges.” This new mechanism of exchange is also central to the program’s ability to break down, in André Corrêa d’Almeida’s words, ‘this language barrier between investors focused solely on ROI and creators and entrepreneurs interested in solving the problem.” The urgency in addressing this breakdown and precipitating new, sustainable hybrid public-private business models hinge on “exploring how a City can better unlock the value of their data.” Sander Dolder of the NYCEDC echoed the sentiment: “in a world where government solutions are challenged by procurement, it’s important to find other models that enable real-time adaptation of solutions.”

The Circular City is the latest program under the New Lab City umbrella, which was first launched in partnership with the City of New York in Spring 2017. The program began with the Urban Tech Hub, a program supported by the New York City Economic Development Corporation, to foster growth-stage urban tech companies and to make New York City a global leader in smart cities. The program is thriving with a cohort of 17 startups based at New Lab who have cumulatively raised over $260 million to date. The Circular City was conceived as a complimentary offering to enable urban tech companies to bring their work beyond the walls of New Lab and out into the city. In early discussions with entrepreneurs and civic leaders, Shaina Horowitz, New Lab’s Urban Tech Hub Director, quickly realized what both parties wanted: permission to experiment, with a strong feedback loop between the city–its leadership and residents–and the startups building new products. That’s what inspired The Circular City, she said. “We want to create the conditions for safe, iterative experimentation and to build a consortium of supporters who can help scale promising concepts.”

Next up, Carmera, Numina and Citiesense will pilot their products in Downtown Brooklyn, transforming the district into a living lab this summer. Numina will debut their newest deploy-anywhere sensor solution that uses computer vision to measure street activity, all part of Pham’s mission to empower cities with data to make them more responsive and equitable. A commitment to making technology that works for all is also a driver for Carmera who will contribute data used to generate their navigation-critical data for autonomous vehicles to researchers developing local mobility strategies. Citiesense will create a new smart city interface for researchers and community leaders to access curated, actionable real-time data, including the data streams and insights generated by both Numina and Carmera.

A cohort of academic researchers, under the direction of Corrêa d’Almeida, will be in-residence at New Lab to work alongside the startups and a growing network of city leaders invested in applying the new data and technology to local challenges including mobility and congestion, diversified economic development and urban resilience and sustainability.

While New Lab is catalyzing this program, support from public and private partners will be essential to scaling it across New York and bringing it to other global cities. Belt closed the evening with a compelling case for getting involved: “we’re pioneering this program because we believe in it and because we believe we’re at a critical moment in time. We have unprecedented potential to develop products that will have a positive impact on people’s lives and it’s so important that we’re intentional in how we harness this potential to create the future we want to see for our city. To build for scale we’re seeking partners who can help take promising pilots and new products to market at a different level.”

To read the official press release click here.

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