Mumbai, Maharashtra, India | 12th February 2021: Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai announces the launch of the Urban Works Innovation Challenge 2020-2021, inviting passionate innovators and startups with tech-enabled solutions to participate in transforming our cities into sustainable, safe and resilient workplaces, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenge, which is part of a three-year program inaugurated in 2018 and supported by the RMZ Foundation, gives young innovators a globally competitive opportunity to refine their solutions for some of India’s most pressing social challenges and gain from tools, learning sessions and peer networks. Selected startups receive mentorship from faculty and alumni of Columbia University’s prestigious Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, as well as from distinguished entrepreneurs and academics in India. They can also avail of unrestricted capital from a total annual fund of Rs. 1 crore, and teams with successful design prototypes will have the opportunity to pitch to leading corporations and investors.

Urban Works Innovation Challenge 2020-2021

Speaking about the inspiration behind this initiative, Urban Works mentor Michael Massimino, Former NASA Astronaut and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Columbia University, noted, “Our planet is beautiful and fragile; it is the only place we have. We need to protect our cities and make them more sustainable and safer to live – this has been the focus at Urban Works.”

Designing Solutions for Cities in Crisis


Urban India is plagued by issues including degrading air quality, rising plastic waste, hindered mobility, mental health problems, and reduced safety for women. The COVID-19 pandemic has further disrupted urban life dramatically, exposing vulnerabilities and risks in the functioning of our cities. In this evolving landscape, we need to ask ourselves which technological innovations can help cities adapt to the new normal, and how can we make our cities resilient? According to Dr. Ravina Aggarwal, Director Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai, “The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the impetus to really rethink the digital and virtual space, and how we can use this as an opportunity to be of essential service to the country.” 

The 2020-2021 challenge focuses on designing app-based, IT-enabled, online solutions that span diverse industries and socio-economic geographies for cities in crisis. Broad areas for solution development include green technologies, decentralized energy-efficient solutions, sustainable resource use, waste management, accessibility, health and wellbeing, and gender security. Interested startups, professionals, entrepreneurs and researchers are invited to submit their applications by March 21, 2021.

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