Become an Idea Leader

The Challenge seeks entrepreneurs that incorporate smart city and/or edge tech into an approach to build and scale their operations - given the proper resources. These businesses must be tech-driven in order to be competitive in these "forgotten" areas.  Although we’re a kinda over the barber shop, currency exchange and chicken shacks as “new business”, we’re totally behind your ideas that add an unfair competitive advantages to those and other traditional business models. So that means YES, you’re in the ballpark if you plan to use AI for scheduling, delivery the chicken with a drone, or digitize the payment stream.


We would like to see who has the best, most technologically sound concepts to compete in our Civic Tech Challenge. This year, we’re looking for passionate Idea Leaders that could.

  • Create a solid Design
  • Build an aggressive team
  • Build a Competitive Company

Oh, and the other thing….

Colony 5 + The Chicago Catalyst

You're competing in an 18-month long process.  The first 3, Sept. thru Dec. will determine whether you move on.  The Civic Tech Challenge is designed to nurture ideas in a constantly compettive environment and provide a platform for the very best to continue to grow to market.  Our Challenge is meant put a spotlight on these shining examples.

Colony 5 is a venture partner and parent company for innovative newcos focused on residing in our target areas. Your business doesn't have to reside there, but your chances of succes are much better in our Vision Clusters.

Our first example, 63rd street from Halsted to Ashland is our pilot target area.  We intend to demonstrate the impact of human centered design, development, and funding of tech-enabled for areas in the class - Opportunty Zones.  The pilot area is a mile-long stretch along mass transit and near a major airport and metropolitan areas of interest.   The Catalyst site at one end is an anchor for deploying slates of companies will natively consume embedded intelligence into back office systems to run global business from these corridors.  Your company could be in the next Vision Cluster.

The result delivers innovative entrepreneurial intent to the fingertips of communities, attracts a pipeline of startups to the corridors while offering a hyperlocal view of leveled-up economic development via the application of edge tech i.e. the Array of Things, Internet of Things, AI, wearables, autonomous transportation, etc.

Our 63rd street pilot will build use cases for capture and presentment of AoT, market, and sentiment data to correlate:

  1. Economic Development - Relationship between consumer movement from a point/points in a sector related to anchor store, neighbor store, and relative corridor activity
  2. Mobility - dynamic location of pedestrians and vehicles as it relates to impediments to:
    1. autonomous 1st responder,
    2. last mile delivery, and
    3. recreational activity
  3. Built Environment – Compare physical locations with instances of significant physical change, i.e. flooding

Our process nurtures entrepreneurs’ concepts and enables the development of tech-enabled businesses along retail corridors in distressed communities.  We connect entrepreneurs to an opportunity to unify reinvestment efforts and create valuable developmental feedbacks loop between community and newcos.  To be economically effective, our approach bridges smart community tech with our slate of tech-enabled businesses. 

We look for Idea Leaders from community entrepreneurship and training programs who are confident in their ideas and have the skills and passion to become deployable businesses, together on Chicago's South & West sides.


The Civic Tech Challenge activates the burgeoning pipeline of entrepreneurs from and for communities to be included in the conversations regarding funding innovation. The Civic Tech Challenge is a modular approach to accelerate social impact investment in distressed communities.  Our approach enables ideas for innovative businesses to be born, nourished, and thrive as startups in these communities. Now in its third year, the Challenge will feature enhanced online versions of our strategies for community engagement, instruction, and cohort development.

The Civic Tech Challenge CHALLENGES entrepreneurs submit tech-driven business concepts they're willing to transform into sustainable, scalable businesses. The best submissions will be invited to participate in the Colony 5 weekend hackathon for a chance to receive an 18-month membership in the Colony 5 accelerator.  

The Hackathon

The Civic Tech Challenge prepares you for our 18-month hackathon. Our goal is to find and develop six new businesses in distressed retail corridors each year.  If you're an entrepreneur driven by an idea for a business, this is for you. During the Hackathon you'll receive support, instruction, and mentorship from our partners to help you create a Minimally Viable Prototype of the underlying tech enabled business, pitch deck, and tech topology with an ultimate path to become economically sustainable businesses scalable to other markets.  You'll continually build and pitch your business platform to our Working Groups, panels of subject matter experts, and ultimately the public and CTC judges who will vote on the top selections.

Are you just working on an idea?  Not a Techie?

Colony 5 online courses, webinars, and community partner meetups will help you evolve your initial business concept while and understand the availability of smart city and edge tech and the process of communicating with a tech team to develop a competitive product.  You DO NOT have to be a techie.  We seek strong, passionate business managers of all aspects of their proposed businesses; Marketing, Finance, Operation, and Technology.  Ultimately, you'll need to rely on your ability to maximize your team's expertise.

Is your company already up and running? 

Colony 5 can help you consider the creation of apps, partnerships, and processes to grow and scale your business.

How do I begin to think about stitching tech into my business?

You can do this in either order: A) On the sales side and then on the operations side, pick a few the things your business does.  B) research the USE (not the technical aspects) of innovations that would add a wow to your things C) Create a 1-page tech plan outlining the first ten steps of your intended offering/operation when tech enabled.  Then if it still makes sense, perform a cost-benefit analysis and see a Small Business Development Center or SCORE Business Advisor.

Not sure about joining, but want to stay in the know?

Please keep up with and attend Colony 5 meetups and special events.  Also, check out our online courses and sign up for our newsletter at

In partnership with community and private partners, Colony 5 offers a series of information sessions and online courses to inform individuals of the opportunities and methods for creating for tech-driven businesses; with the goal of funneling the most promising entrepreneurs to competitions, ultimately selecting the best to become newcos in the C5 business Accelerator.



About Colony 5 Chicago

Colony 5 newcos will be seated in distressed communities upon graduation from the accelerator.  Colony 5 is establishing a pilot testbed for the utilization and adoption of smart community tech alone a one-mile stretch on Chicago’s south side.

The Colony 5 Accelerator is an 18-month system conducting immersive training, development and mentorship programs in partnership with SCORE Chicago, City Tech Collaborative/UI Labs, UBS Innovations, Microsoft, Blackstone Inclusive Challenge and other partners to the advance the skills and product/service sets of our annual Colony 5 cohorts, i.e. C518. 

C518 member companies included:

  • PassGo – AI driven Gamified Economic Development Platform
  • Neighbors’ Scout – AI/Drone Assisted First Response Platform
  • Geek Empowered – AI Assisted Exchange of Skills, training and work between underrepresented businesses and techs
  • Civic Tech Collective – AI Syndicated Publishing of Civic Tech Driven Social Impact Ecosystem
  • Coupid – AI driven mobile dating platform
  • TULSA – AI Syndicated access to social and municipal services
  • The Gray Matter Experience -  Platform for African American teens to create their own businesses

This gauntlet and longer runway are designed to produce a slate of new companies – newcos utilizing a base digital framework to activate revenues from outside the geographical community and while experiencing tech-driven operational efficiencies.


Contestants must be 21 years of age or accompanied by an adult.



Participants should create a lean canvas version of their ideas on and submit a link to the presentation view. Submission context should align with one of the following catagories:

  • Community Utility
  • Retail Retrofit 
  • Edge Tech
  • Nusiance Management

Community Utility: Simplifies or enhances the quality of life in a community or affinity group. This app typically performs a routine "chore" or observation, connecting users to producers. MOST

Retail Retrofit: Improves service or operation of a traditional business model. This app connects a brick and mortar retailer to new and existing customers. MANY

Edge Tech: Activates an emerging technology to become a method for solving a specific set of problems. This app will likely connect machine to machine and perform a function. FEW

Nuisance Management: Seeks to augment life safety issue normally managed by municipal services. Often requires substantial behavioral and policy change. MANY. NOT USUALLY RECOMMENDED

Hackathon Sponsors


$500 in prizes

1st Choice

1st will go to the project that is most relevant according to CTC20 rules and judging.

Next Choice (3)

Next Choice will go to the project that are very relevant but not number one according to CTC20 rules and judging.

Devpost Achievements

Submitting to this hackathon could earn you:


Bo Rodda

Bo Rodda
Senior Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies - Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship

Carlton Nolan

Carlton Nolan
Commissioner Innovation and Tech City of Chicago

Brenna Berman

Brenna Berman
Executive Director, City Tech Collaborative

Betsy Ziegler

Betsy Ziegler
Executive Director, 1871

Steven c Philpott Sr

Steven c Philpott Sr
XtraMedium Communications Corp

Judging Criteria

  • Part 1: Summary of Concept
    *Overview of Prototype *Identified by a brand/name *A need or problem clearly identified *Key features of concept offer an appropriate solution to the need or problem *Concept aligns with App Categories
  • Part 2: Understanding of Prototype
    *Service/product description is clear and easy to see *App/tech is considerate of User experience *App/tech functions address an identified need or problem *Prototype is stable and "if funded" will work as described
  • Part 3: Business Sustainability
    *User Adoption is feasible *User Retention is Feasible *App can be a Viable Business *Evolution of App Business is feasible
  • BONUS: Edge Technologies
    *An emerging device is a key part of app design (drones, wearables, HUD, NFC, etc.) *Emerging device is currently receiving consumer adoption *Emerging device is accessible to market by 2025

Questions? Email the hackathon manager

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