Smart cities boost innovation and help startups thrive

Dr. Philippe Bouvier sheds light on how smart cities create an ideal environment for innovators and entrepreneurs to flourish and discusses how they can be sustainable in the long-run

A smart and sustainable city has become an environment that supports human-centered innovations. It is the perfect place for those who like associating ideas, questioning a situation, observing people, networking and experimenting. It is an environment for innovators and entrepreneurs.

In the UAE, there are a growing number of structures to support entrepreneurial ventures such as the educational environment. For example, universities such as INSEAD and HBMSU have MBAs and Masters degrees in entrepreneurship and innovation. Additionally, the growing number of incubators and accelerators such as HI2, In5, SeedStartup, i360,, Turn8, and Silicon Oasis Founders, help start-ups with the initial steps of setting-up, while other organisations including Dubai SME or Mubadala provide funding.

But how do we define a smart and sustainable city? According to International Telecommunication Union (ITU), it is “an innovative city that uses information and communication technologies (ICTs) and other means to improve quality of life, efficiency of urban operation and services, and competitiveness, while ensuring that it meets the needs of present and future generations with respect to economic, social and environmental aspects".

One unique aspect of a smart city is the use of sensors. Distributed across the city, sensors play a key role in providing information on a situation as it occurs in one part of the city. The hardware works by transforming a situation into a digital or analog format. It can be a camera, a speedometer, a thermostat, an Internet public kiosk, a payment card, a mobile phone, or other. All this data is then capture through a communication network and transfered to information systems, which analyse it using elaborated software algorithms.

smart cities sustainable technology innovation environment
Urban value innovations ought to promote sustainable development in cities, where society, economy and the environment are in sync Image: UVC Consulting Copyright

The only objective of analysing a city’s data is to create value in the urban environment and achieve the ultimate goal of developing a smart and sustainable city. However, the way we create value in one city is very specific to the ‘smart’ environment, meaning it depends on the sensors, the data, and the analysis. As a consequence, urban value creation is unique to each city and creates the perfect support system for innovation. It is, no doubt, at the heart of the smart and sustainable city of the future.

This is where innovation comes in. With the growing number of smart cities, there’s increasingly the need to use technology to create information (this is an open space for hardware innovation). This also requires new software and new algorithms, which begs for software innovation. Furthermore, a smart city uses analytics to create value in its environment, which supports business model innovation.

But all these innovations are meaningful only if they are human-centered. Ten thousand years ago, the first cities were created and people have been innovating since when it comes to their environment, seeking better quality of life. Innovation needs to stay focused on those to create a sustainable environment and to keep elevating the quality of life in urban environments. Otherwise, it risks developing gadget solutions and gadget cities where value will be destroyed in the short-term, and eventually in the long-term.

What we need is urban value innovations that generate value for people and support the sustainable development of the city. From a business perspective, value innovations need to align innovation with utility (improved quality of living in cities), price (competitive market price) and cost (to produce the product or service). They also ought to promote sustainable development in cities, where society, economy and the environment are in sync.

Dr. Philippe Bouvier is Associate Professor in entrepreneurship and innovation at Hamdan bin Mohammed Smart University and Managing Partner of Urban Value Creation Consulting in Dubai