Columbus, Ohio officially winner of DOT Smart City Challenge and $140 million in innovation grants

With the Columbus Dispatch (and many possible runner-up cities) reporting two days ago that Columbus was the winner of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, official word was silent until this afternoon.

Today in Columbus, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx officially recognized and announced — to a full house at the Douglas Community Center in the neighborhood of Linden — that the city is indeed the winner and will reap the benefits of victory; a $40 million grant from the DOT, $10 from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., plus $90 million in local matching contributions.

Of the 78 cities that applied for the challenge, the seven finalist cities that Columbus bested were Austin, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland and San Francisco.

Plans for the grants will include:

  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Battery research
  • Electric charging stations throughout the city
  • 13,000 busses and cars to be connected with vehicle-to-vehicle communications
  • Three electric self-driving shuttles to connect residents for jobs

…and more.

Foxx also shared feedback and details about how Columbus’s vision for transportation innovation stood out from the other cities that participated. He noted the creativity and comprehensiveness of the proposal, even describing how the city’s transportation solution could solve for infant mortality.

He went on to say:

“One of the issues that pre-existed this challenge and was concerning this community for quite some time is the fact that, in this area, the infant mortality rate is four times the national average. Rather than de-link this challenge from that challenge, what Columbus did was say ‘how can innovation help us solve that [infant mortality] challenge.’ And so one aspect of the proposal that you will now deploy in this community is linking the communities that are struggling most with infant mortality so that a mom who is trying to get to the doctor’s office has a transportation system that will connect to the doctor’s office, schedule the trip, and make sure she gets to the doctor. That’s pretty phenomenal thinking to solve a problem you have and that you want to see improve. Congratulations Columbus.”



I inquired with the City of Columbus for specifics on where startups factor in with this funding and innovation planning. I heard back from Alex Fischer, president and CEO, Columbus Partnership, with a statement:

“Current startup activity in Columbus is unprecedented. Last year, the Kauffman Foundation ranked Columbus the country’s fastest-growing city for startup activity and earlier this month, the Foundation found that Columbus is the number one city for startups to go to scale. We have a long history of great entrepreneurs who have built great companies in our community, and startups will certainly play a role in making Columbus into an even smarter Columbus.

Winning this grant will help us launch the next generation of entrepreneurs and accelerate the growth of startups. For instance, the City of Columbus is looking to partner with Mass Factory to deploy a customized application developed in Barcelona to assist persons with disabilities to utilize public transportation in Columbus.

We are very open to innovation and welcome opportunities to partner with cutting edge technology startups to achieve the goals of our Smart Columbus program from wherever they are in the world.”