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Smart North Florida seeks to establish technological inroads between communities and data (Courtesy of Inno Florida) — After becoming a nonprofit earlier this year, Smart North Florida is taking the next step in bringing together the First Coast’s tech innovators, investors and policy leaders.

Over the next six to 12 months, Smart North Florida will look to pair municipalities with startups, test innovative technologies and help government leaders use data to make better decisions.

Smart North Florida was launched with seed money from the North Florida TPO, which announced Monday it will be up to Executive Director Clayton Levins to grow the organization from there.

Levins takes over as the organization’s inaugural CEO after spending two years at Haskell, where he focused on innovation while working at the engineering and architectural company’s venture arm. Before that, he handled community and governmental relations at Jacksonville University and Jax CHamber.

Creating Smart North as a nonprofit separate from the North Florida TPO allows it to receive donations from private businesses and people as well as in-kind contributions and funding from local governments — all of which would have been more challenging had it remained part of a public entity.

Smart North Florida’s role as a conduit between local governments and start-ups has already begun paying dividends.

Information produced by RoadBotics, a Pittsburgh-based artificial intelligence start-up that examines road conditions, was used to help Nassau County establish a Pavement Management Plan.

RoadBotics began its work in the region studying roads in Clay County as part of a pilot program in 2020.

Later in the year, Nassau County selected the company, which was created in 2016 after being incubated inside the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute, to conduct a roadway survey for its 437 miles of roadways.

Nassau County will spend at least $3.9 million annually to improve its roads as part of the Pavement Management Plan. The RoadBotics work allowed the county to identify which roads have the most acute need.

“That’s a great example of why our system can be so effective,” Levins said. “That is the trickle-down. You have one solution that is piloted in this community that shows success that leads to innovation in another community that leads to other communities to adopt it. So many get to reap the benefit of that.”

RoadBotics may be one of the first. Levins is optimistic the region will see similar relationships in the months and years to come.

North Florida TPO Executive Director Jeff Sheffield will serve as the chairman of Smart North Florida’s five-person board of directors.

Joining him will be Steve Selders, director of information technology strategy and solution development at JEA; Karen Bowling, vice president of jobs at UNF; St. Augustine Public Works Director Reuben Franklin Jr.; and Kristopher Smith, the community development officer for LISC Jacksonville.

Image courtesy of Smart North Florida