UC Berkeley launches ‘Smart City’ challenge to create startups in India

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The UC Berkeley Innovation Acceleration Group, in cooperation with the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum, will launch a “Smart City” program in January 2018 that seeks to assist young Indian citizens in creating startups that address local issues in Allahabad, India.

The program will teach people in India ages 18-29, both in and out of school, how to focus on their chosen business model and identify its key components, according to Andre Marquis, executive director of the Innovation Acceleration Group. The students’ companies, Marquis said, are focused on finding “good opportunities to impact people’s lives.”

The program, which aims to help grow new businesses in India, will focus on development of artificial intelligence, water, energy, transportation, waste management, health care, climate and agriculture.

About 30 teams, totaling about 100 students, will participate in the program over four months, according to Marquis. The campus, large corporations, nonprofit groups, the Indian government and the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum will provide the funding.

“We’re big believers that new jobs come from innovation,” Marquis said.

Manav Subodh, campus director for international development, will manage the innovation lab in India.

India identified Allahabad, a city in northern India of about 1,100,000 people, as part of its $1.2 billion “100 smart cities” mission, which aims to outfit cities with high-tech capabilities.

“Smart cities” are a concept that leverages new technology, such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence, to impact people living in cities, Marquis said. An example of the “smart city” concept, according to Marquis, would be a custom mobile app which helps city residents navigate public transportation.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, hoping to strengthen ties between the two countries. In the last year, India’s manufacturing growth rate decreased from 9.1 percent in 2016, and its GDP is currently at 5.7 percent.

The focus of the program, according to Marquis, is to “find good opportunities to impact people’s lives.”

Marquis predicts, based on previous similar programs, that only half the students will finish the program to completion with their original business idea.

“Our core notion on startups is that most ideas are not great ideas,” Marquis said.

The program is closely based on the campus LAUNCH competition, which aims to develop early-stage startups into full companies. The top two student teams will go to the Global Social Venture Competition in Milan, Italy, in April 2018.

Students will be encouraged to rethink their ideas if they are not successful. Most who do not complete the program, Marquis said, will have “found that out on their own.”

Contact Henry Tolchard at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @htolchard.