My name is George Chewning and I am a first year Global MBA candidate. I chose to attend George Washington because of the international opportunities the university offered to all of its students. After surviving my first semester, I was eager to take full advantage of the Global and Experiential Education (G&EE) department. As I checked my email during accounting class, I opened the G&EE newsletter and my eyes were instantly drawn to the Spanish flag.
I pictured spending spring break on a warm, sunny beach while DC was covered in gray slush. My mind was made up about Barcelona before I even looked at the course description. I immediately made an appointment with the professor, Dr. Mary Granger, to discuss the course and ensure my spot on the trip. She spoke to me about technological innovation, smart cities, incubators, and accelerators. As a former Army Infantry officer, all I took away from that meeting was soccer and wine.
Yet as I prepared for the first lecture and worked with my team on our presentation titled, “Smart Cities in the Age of the Internet of Things,” I was hooked. Smart cities, as I soon learned, are cities that make use of technological interconnectedness to enhance energy efficiency, improve resident satisfaction, and reduce municipal costs. Barcelona alone enjoys savings of $145M per year thanks to the over 500 km of fiber optic wire and 670 wifi hotspots that connect public irrigation systems, parking meters, trash bins, and lampposts. As a DC Metro rider, I could certainly appreciate the potential advantages of leveraging technology to improve everyday life.
Our next lecture was led by a representative of the World Bank who provided us with the missing link between smart cities and entrepreneurial innovation. The keys to creating innovation in today’s world are developing and nurturing ‘startup ecosystems.’ These ecosystems thrive at the intersection of people, infrastructure, economic assets, enabling policies, and networking assets. Networking assets, commonly referred to as incubators and accelerators, are the glue that holds the ecosystem together. Smart cities capitalize on their interconnectedness and give birth to networking assets and innovation hubs.
Barcelona’s municipal government has invested heavily in urban regeneration to convert aging neighborhoods and buildings, such as an old dog racing track, into innovation centers. Barcelona’s most well known networking asset, 22@ Districte de la Innovació, is one of the several locations we will be visiting during our week abroad. The district is home to countless technology startups much like the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley. In addition to witnessing 22@ in action, we will be meeting with many local innovators, the real movers and shakers of the smart city.
What started as an application to a sunny destination on a whim has become a minor nerd obsession. I am excited to not only enjoy tapas along the Mediterranean coast but also be immersed in the startup ecosystem and interact with the men and women entrepreneurs who will shape the way we interact with technology in the future.