By 2030, the world is projected to have 41 mega-cities with more than 10 million inhabitants.
It’s one of the “mega-trends” identified by HP and the Millennial entrepreneurs, futurists and technologists that came together this week in Boston at the Forbes Under 30 Summit’s “Hackathon for Good.”
They combined forces to tackle some of the biggest issues facing rapidly expanding cities—such as healthcare, education, infrastructure and business development—that are sure to challenge policy-makers, companies and residents well into the future.
“Rapid population growth is putting a tremendous strain on our urban centers,” said Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer at HP. “But challenges create opportunities, and I’m confident the innovative creativity of our young leaders will help unlock solutions to improve lives and strengthen our cities and communities.”
Hurst, experts from the city of Boston and HP’s own under-30s mentored some 70 Hack-a-Thon participants for the event. All were tasked with using their technical backgrounds, creativity and breadth of experience to “reinvent the city” by pitching technology-based solutions to the following topics and questions:
- Education: How can a city overcome the inequities students face when it comes to technology in urban schools? How might schools and communities ensure that girls get more involved in STEM subjects?
- Infrastructure: How can cities be more bike-friendly? How can technology ensure that water is a clean, safe and abundant resource?
- Business: How might cities ensure affordability and access for small businesses? How can cities support the development of decent jobs and support entrepreneurship?
- Healthcare: How can cities ensure that residents have access to affordable health services, especially mental health services? How can technology improve the patient experience?
Although these topics are broad, participants’ efforts were focused.
They are all about “identifying and solving pain points” and applying creative problem-solving skills, said Alexander Clark, an Innovation and Experiences Engineer at HP.
“We are very careful not to put initial boundaries on the creativity or the scope, because we don’t want to squash a good idea,” he said. “As the idea develops, then you look for the business cases.”
Some innovative ideas were being considered.
Jimena Arnal, founder of UnMundo, a Boston and Venezuela-based social good startup, explored a pitch to encourage companies to commit to offering employees paid hours to foster their own entrepreneurialism.
The perk—dubbed “intrapraneurship” —would not only attract new talent and help companies recruit, it would also offer a bit of a safety net and mentorship to young entrepreneurs looking to get their own businesses off the ground.
“So many new grads want to pursue starting their own companies, but they still need to pay their bills in the meanwhile,” she said. “This is a way for cities to cultivate fast-growth startup communities.”
Developing custom software applications were also a pretty popular solution.
One team tackled the problem of the unequal access to technology in poorer schools. They pitched an application called “HP Access,” which aims to bring together students and companies in their community to help them get funding for classes, workshops and courses in their area.
“A lot of students already have smartphones,” said Vinny Green, VP of operations at Proper Media LLC, who spoke for the team. “There are a lot of resources available in ed tech, but they are hard to find all in one place.”
Another team sought to use inspiring video content to evangelize technology careers for girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields by tapping female role models. Backed by corporate sponsors, the series would integrate VR and leverage existing platforms (such as Amazon and YouTube) for distribution.
Other ideas: Making biking cool in Boston (disposable helmets, anyone?), enabling small businesses establish themselves in the city with a software-as-a-service platform, and a “mobile doctor” that applies the food truck concept to bring affordable, accessible heathcare to people in cities.
“Cities are the engine of our civilization,” said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, chief information officer for the city of Boston, who kicked off the Hack-a-thon. “Cities are the places people come seeking economic mobility. We’re tasked with helping cities grow and thrive so these great engines can continue to progress.”
Follow the Summit activities on Twitter at @ForbesUnder30 and @HP_Newsroom, and use the hashtags #HPReinvent and #under30summit.