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Guest post by Thea Walsh, MORPC Director of Transportation Systems & Funding

At the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), we love all things transportation. We know how powerful and effective a safe, reliable, efficient, and accessible transportation system can be in improving the quality of life of Central Ohio residents. And that’s why we are always working with local governments and regional organizations to embrace innovation in transportation. But we don’t interact nearly enough with the city’s entrepreneurs for ideas to make us think outside the planning bubble.

Startup Weekend Columbus: Smart City Edition was both MORPC’s and my first time spending a weekend with curious, passionate, and enthusiastic people who want to do amazing things to make our world better while also creating a successful business. This past weekend gave me a rare opportunity to put myself in the shoes of an entrepreneur, and what a frenetic, fun ride it was!

Smart City? Yes, we’ll help with that.

It’s not often the U.S. Department of Transportation announces a national competition worth $40 million to one winning city. Smart City is a chance for Columbus to become the country’s first fully deployed and integrated innovative city – with self-driving cars, connected vehicles and smart sensors in the transportation network. With Columbus chosen as one of just seven finalist cities, this is something to be proud of! The winner will be announced in June.

Winning the Smart City competition is the ultimate work of collaboration, and Startup Weekend embraced that attitude and even took it to the next level! More than 100 entrepreneurs started the competition by pitching ideas relating to a variety of Smart City verticals including transportation, infrastructure, internet accessibility, sustainability, internet accessibility, urban agriculture, energy, and more. From there, they formed teams around the top ideas as determined by a popular vote.

Startup Pitches to Results

We’ve worked in transportation for a long time, and all of our technological advances have started with taking a risk, research and data, collaboration, and conversation among those in the region.

The same is true of the Startup Weekend teams. Each team that I worked with was so eager to hear about MORPC and the information or data that would make their projects stronger. The enthusiasm for innovation was infectious. They were also passionate about finding the right end products for our Smart City, which was not always easy. On Sunday they shared their concept with the judges. This is not a “relaxing” weekend activity by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a very rewarding experience.

We’re All in This Together

I want to thank all of the Startup Weekend participants and volunteers for spending a weekend dreaming big, being bold, and sharing ideas. Congratulations to the winning team – Fender Defender – but the event did not end Sunday evening. In fact, on Monday morning at our weekly MORPC Leadership Team meeting, we recalled the many other innovative business concepts and started making plans to meet up with these entrepreneurs!

Finally, I leave this thought and impression of my weekend: Columbus has always been about cooperation and collaboration. We are the intersection where well-built relationships and technology come together. To us, it’s just… smart.

Jay Clouse