The Algiers Smart City project was launched in mid-2017 and has spearheaded a number of innovative projects, including a local start-up’s development of cloud and big data platform that secured global customers within its first year. Several other projects involving over 50 local engineers from are also in motion. Meanwhile, partnerships with four multinational firms were announced and executed in the project’s first eight to nine months, which is an indicator of the project’s fast pace.
In July 2017 the Algiers Smart City team issued a call for proposals to collaborate according to the project framework. By the end of February 2018 more than 150 proposals had been received from an array of global technology corporations, start-ups, research and development (R&D) labs, law firms, financial institutions and advisory groups based in 15 countries. The team said that it has been their highest priority to link leaders from the tech industry to the project, and even listed it as one of the goals of the call for proposals. Work with these actors is central to the development of the project’s technological aspects.
As of early June 2018 some of these partnerships had already materialised, while others were under way or under discussion. In the first nine months of the initiative over 20 start-ups and more than five multinationals confirmed their participation, with a target of increasing this number three-fold in the project’s second 12-month phase. April 2018 saw the launch of the Experimental Laboratory and the Technology Innovation Hub, which marked two important achievements in the project’s early stages.
The laboratory will act as a live environment where chosen proposals will be tested before being launched at scale. As a key venture enabled by the smart city project, the lab is open to innovations from a wide range of sectors, including telecommunications, health and financial technologies. Global technology firms will work with the local value chain amid relaxed regulations to test their solutions. This will in turn support the efforts of policymakers to craft an optimal regulatory framework on the basis of evidence from research findings.
The innovation centre will be a focused physical space where actors from global and local technology value chains can interact, create synergies and develop a culture of innovation. The hub offers other benefits, such as mentoring for new firms in their adaptation to the global market, business advice, funding and support for new companies seeking to establish themselves locally.
“Both the Experimental Laboratory and the Technology Innovation Hub represent unique tools to support the technology development roadmap that Algiers Smart City is implementing,” Riad Hartani, strategic advisor for the Algiers Smart City project, told OBG. “They will stimulate innovation by selecting the best technologies, leveraging talent and optimising R&D, as well as adapting global solutions to locally specific needs with a long-term perspective.”
The coming months will be crucial to the realisation of a comprehensive roadmap. Several decisions on key issues have been announced, including the realisation of new start-up models, the internationalisation of the programme and the integration of the diaspora. Governance will also be key, especially in establishing appropriate regulations, such as those that help start-ups to quickly become operational and investors to secure financing efficiently, and the innovation hub should help to cement best practices in this regard. By creating an enabling environment and taking the long view, the Algiers Smart City roadmap seeks to define a new way to conceive of and promote strategies for inclusive socio-economic development. Algiers faces constraints similar to those of many cities in emerging markets, including difficulty accessing capital for small and medium-sized enterprises, limited private funding and a lack of economic diversity. Thus, the smart city project represents a global and alternative approach to innovation, based on opportune timing, that its developers may export to Algiers’ peer cities going forward.
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