How Raleigh-based nonprofit RIoT is boosting entrepreneurship and job growth in the city
- RIoT is a nonprofit organization driving innovation and
entrepreneurshipin the Raleigharea.
- One program, RIoT Your Reality, is a competition where teams pitch
ARideas to improve the city.
- Other initiatives include an accelerator program and a data-centric stormwater management project.
In July, six teams will demonstrate their ideas for how augmented reality can help solve some of the challenges facing Raleigh,
Through the program RIoT Your Reality, the teams are examining ways to improve diversity, inclusion, and accessibility in city programs, promote workforce development, and reinvent the Raleigh Convention Center to drive economic development.
"It's the intersection with government," Tom Snyder, executive director at RIoT, a local nonprofit working to advance innovation, told Insider. "The city of Raleigh and town of Cary together posed a few problem statements that they're looking for help on. And we're running a challenge where people are developing new prototypes of augmented-reality applications to serve those challenges."
RIoT Your Reality is a partnership with RIoT, the city of Raleigh, the town of Cary, Google Fiber, US Ignite, and Facebook Reality Labs. It kicked off in April with several teams pitching their AR ideas. Six were selected to receive $1,000 to build a prototype, which they'll demo during an event on July 27. A final winner receives $40,000 and a spot in the RIoT Accelerator Program to launch a new
Snyder said the goal is to create a municipal pilot project and learn how to scale a startup to assist cities beyond North Carolina.
The AR competition is just one of the ways that RIoT works to drive innovation and entrepreneurship in the Raleigh area. Here's a look at some of the organization's other major programs.
Helping businesses create new tech jobs
RIoT was founded in 2014 as part of the larger nonprofit Wireless Research Center, located in Wake Forest, North Carolina, which works to advance wireless technology innovation.
Originally, the name was an acronym for Raleigh Internet of Things, then Regional Internet of Things. Now it just goes by RIoT.
"Our grounding thesis is that the best new jobs are created at the forefront of emerging technology," Snyder, who helped found the organization, said. RIoT's programs help entrepreneurs start companies and established businesses grow through new technology adoption, all of which creates new jobs.
Being headquartered in Raleigh offers advantages, Snyder said. The area is home to several top universities, including Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and North Carolina State University, which fosters a talent pipeline. Several major tech and data companies, including IBM and SAS, have a presence in the region, creating a "great diversity of industry" within the tech sector, he said.
"There are just massive industries and a really nice balance here that makes it a more attractive place for people to be," Snyder said. "You can't just job hop during your career, but you can industry hop successfully. And that brings fresh ideas and really makes us a strong place to live."
RIoT has another location in Wilson, North Carolina, though its presence extends beyond the state. The organization hosts events around the country and is planning to establish new offices in Colorado and Virginia.
Enabling startups to get off the ground
One of RIoT's programs to boost economic development, the RIoT Accelerator Program, connects entrepreneurs with partners in their industries and gives them access to prototyping tools and other resources.
The accelerator is currently on its eighth cohort. Snyder said RIoT is purposeful in supporting underrepresented groups when selecting startups to participate, and about 60% of the companies involved have been run by women, minorities, and veterans.
Since 2014, the companies participating in the accelerator have created more than 200 jobs, generated more than $100 million in revenue, and earned millions in grant and venture funding, he said.
Growing the accelerator to help more startups is one of its goals. By the end of 2021, Snyder said the accelerator will be offered in multiple cities.
To help startups prototype and experiment with ideas without having to spend money on equipment, RIoT Labs offers hardware, wireless, and software prototyping tools, including a 3D printer, electronic equipment, soldering irons, and more.
"We can provide that equipment for you to go create your new connected device, do the performance testing on the front end, do the regulatory certification testing on the back end, and get it to market," he said.
RIoT works with government and corporate partners, including Cisco and SAS. Snyder said the organization is always on the lookout for new ones willing to support the entrepreneurial community.
"We want Raleigh to be the place that anyone in the world who wants to participate knows if I come here, I can find the partners that I need to be successful," he said.
Making Raleigh the center of the 'data economy'
RIoT worked with Raleigh and the surrounding communities on a data-centric stormwater management project.
Partnering with local startup GreenStream Technologies, they used water-level monitoring sensors to better understand water movement and predict when to shut down a street before it floods or dispatch emergency responders before flooding reaches emergency levels.
Snyder said Raleigh has done a good job of thinking about how to make data collected at the city level accessible - and has the potential to be the "center of excellence of the data economy." Processing and measuring data depends on the advancement of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and automation technologies.
"We're moving from a world where the economy was driven by the internet to now one where it's being driven by real-time data," he said.
Through programs like RIoT Your Reality and the water management project, Raleigh serves as a testbed to experiment with new ideas and technologies.
"When we can do that successfully, not only are we solving the city's needs in a way that they can remain focused on their day-to-day operations, but if it's a local company that provides for those needs, we're creating jobs here in the community," Snyder said.
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