UPPlift: Toronto is Canada’s First-Ever Urban Pilot Program

The face of Toronto is going to change in a big way over the coming years.

A new smart city challenge has been launched called UPPlift: Toronto. It is an urban pilot program (hence the UPP) that looks for technological innovations designed to resolve challenges in urban areas and their existing infrastructure. Applications to be a part of UPPlift: Toronto are open now and close in mid-February.

UPPlift: Toronto will serve as a virtual technology accelerator, partnering with Microsoft Canada and QuadReal Property Group to provide resources and expertise. The City of Toronto will also, of course, be involved in the project.

“The purpose of UPPlift is to bring together and create a platform that connects the supply of emergent smart city solutions to the demand,” explains Mikele Brack, founder of, the company behind UPPlift. “That demand comes from cities and businesses within those cities that are tech-forward and interested in piloting new innovations so they can be the first off the mark.”

QuadReal will be the exclusive real estate partner with UPPlift: Toronto. The property group owns multiple large buildings and complexes throughout Toronto, and provided a few examples as to what they might like to see innovators address:

  • Enhance the tenant or resident experience by harnessing digital technology to facilitate day-to-day interactions like riding the elevator or asking a security guard a question.
  • Enhance energy efficiency and visibility of energy efficiency programs for tenants and residents by using digital technology to automate sub-meter management and data analysis.

Other potential use-cases provided by Brack include test beds related to autonomous vehicles or projects related to city authorities such as energy, water and waste management.

“I think there’s a recognition that cities need to do more with less, and that will continue as urban migration continues,” she says. “Cities will have to provide more services and people will have to get more out of those services.”

For the most part, tech companies or innovators are likely to be shortlisted for the UPPlift: Toronto project, but Brack does not discourage others from applying. Companies not in the tech sector, but can be improved with new technology, can be prime contenders; for example, a solar cell provider that needs better data analysis and dissemination.

“It is all about people. It’s not about technology,” Back says. “We want to make sure people enjoy their experience of the city and tech can help us do that. Tech isn’t the reason to do it; it’s the citizen’s enjoyment and fulfillment that is important.”

In total, 25 to 30 projects may be shortlisted to get their solutions ready to pilot, but in the end, only five to 10 will actually make it to the pilot stage. If they are selected, they will be able to access a wealth of services from UPPlift’s partners like Microsoft and QuadReal, along with legal service and other benefits.

Infrastructure for smart cities has become a massive industry lately, with louder initiatives like Sidewalk Labs’ Quayside garnering a lot of attention. The federal government also launched a $50 million smart cities challenge and Toronto itself has piloted smart programs like the traffic signal pilot and a partnership with Waze.