Designing Sustainable Workspaces for India

The Urban Works Innovation Challenge invites applications from passionate young professionals and entrepreneurs who can create viable and interdisciplinary design-concepts for transforming 21st-century workspaces into innovative and productive environments. In this 2018 challenge, winning individuals and teams will specifically work on environmentally friendly, ergonomic, and cost-efficient solutions for improving the sustainability of Indian workspaces. 

Participants will have the opportunity to work with faculty and alumni from The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University as well as benefit from hands-on mentorship from distinguished entrepreneurs and academics in India. They can also avail of a tech-first collaborative workspace alongside other creative entrepreneurs at The CoWrks Foundry, located at CoWrks in Mumbai and Bengaluru. Teams with successful prototypes will have the opportunity to pitch their design to leading corporations in the field. 

Applications are closed for 2018.

India has the largest youth demography in the world and its youth workforce is estimated to touch 700 million by 2030, with an average age of 35. Indian workspaces are undergoing massive transformation spurred by the digital revolution, global economic shifts and resource scarcity. The World Economic Forum finds that in many industries and countries, the occupations that are most in demand did not even exist 10 years ago. In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, there is a growing recognition that a maturing workforce needs workspaces that boost productivity, encourage innovation and increase engagement. The design and engineering aspects of workspaces can play a critical role in addressing these needs. Beyond work that happens at the scale of people and offices, knowledge economies will also depend on the surrounding infrastructure, the scale of buildings, cities and ultimately the globe. Given the diversity of India’s workforce and the complex socio-cultural ecosystem in which it operates, India needs design solutions that aren’t imported from other countries, but which are contextualized to our unique requirements.

The inaugural challenge of 2018 will support engineering and planning solutions to transform 21st-century workspaces into sustainable environments. The challenge will give young innovators a globally competitive opportunity to propose solutions for some of India’s most pressing social challenges and gain from tools, learning sessions, peer networks and unrestricted capital to transform their idea into action. Solutions may consider how to improve overall sustainability in Indian workspaces and explore ways to integrate ergonomic, cost-efficient solutions that span industry and socio-economic backgrounds. Examples of problems to which solutions could be developed include – By what means can we ensure workspaces not connected with centralized electric grids are adequately cooled, are able to efficiently utilize solar energy, and have access to viable water resources? How can the use of green technologies help workers in both manufacturing and service sectors? How can low-cost diagnostic tests improve workplace health? How can low-cost sensors be deployed to create safer and more productive working conditions for everyone?

Participants are encouraged to design innovative solutions for sustainable workspaces in the broad categories of:

  • Sustainable resource use and waste/pollution reduction
  • Green technologies and infrastructure
  • Decentralized energy-efficient solutions
  • Ergonomics

Applications are invited from young professionals from across disciplines, especially engineering, architecture, design, technology, environmental sciences, media, public health and public policy to co-design concepts for ‘sustainable workspaces.’  As participants themselves represent a future workforce, they are encouraged to use their own vision for what would make an ideal workspace to shape their ideas and designs and to focus on solutions that are feasible and implementable in scope.

Participants can apply as individuals or teams and will subsequently be organized into working groups based on their ideas. The innovation challenge is open to applications from professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers, academics and practitioners who are enthusiastic about working with inter-disciplinary teams on determining and designing the future of workspaces in India. Participants should be willing to commit a six-month period from October 2018, and be willing to relocate to Mumbai or Bengaluru during this time period.

  • Who can apply for this challenge?
    Young professionals and entrepreneurs from any discipline, especially engineering, architecture, design, technology, environmental sciences, media, public health and public policy, are encouraged to apply.
  • What is the time commitment required from participants?
    Participants will be required to commit a six-month period from October 2018. They will be expected to work out of CoWrks in Mumbai or Bengaluru. It is important for them to participate in all the training sessions, workshops, public programs and networking sessions.
  • Can I still apply if I am not from Mumbai or Bengaluru?
    Yes, you may apply as long as you are willing to relocate to either city for the given time period.
  • Can I apply as a team?
    Yes, you can apply as an individual or a team of up to three people. Individuals (and teams of two people) will subsequently be paired with others based on their ideas to form a team of three people.
  • What if my solution falls beyond the suggested categories?
    The list of broad areas mentioned in the guidelines is only an indicative list. We welcome out-of-the-box ideas and solutions that advance the mandate of sustainable workspaces.
  • Can I submit my application in a language other than English?
    No. All applications must be in English.
  • What is the deadline for submission of applications?
    Applications must be received no later than 11:59 p.m. (Indian Standard Time) on October 1, 2018 to be considered.
  • Who will the mentors be?
    Participants will benefit from hands-on guidance from academics, industry leaders, and experts from India as well as faculty and alumni from The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University.
  • Who owns the intellectual property rights of the solutions proposed after the challenge?
    Each three-member team will own all rights to its final solution.
  • What are the costs that will be covered?
    Financial assistance up to Rs 1.2 crores will be dispersed in a phased manner among all the teams that are selected in October 2018. The amount will cover all costs and no separate funds will be provided for relocation to Mumbai or Bengaluru, local commute or other expenses.
  • Who should I send further queries to?
    All queries should be emailed to


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Hands-on mentorship from distinguished entrepreneurs and academics 

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Access to investors, corporate networks and  Columbia University's prestigious engineering school

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A dynamic workspace and collaborative environment within The CoWrks Foundry at CoWrks, Mumbai and Bengaluru

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Rs. 1.2 crores dispersed among successful participants

Related News from the Center

September 25, 2018

Building a Sustainable India

India isn’t just the world’s fastest-growing major economy; it’s also one of the world’s largest construction sites, currently on its way to tripling its supply of commercial and institutional stock since 2010. What’s driving much of that development is the need for new office spaces, as the country strains to make room for a vast young workforce expected to hit 700 million by 2030.

September 06, 2018

Innovations for Sustainable Workplaces

As part of its ongoing initiative, the Urban Works Innovation Challenge, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai announce its inaugural 2018  challenge that focuses on designing product and service solutions to transform 21st-century workplaces in India into sustainable environments. The Center partnered with the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University and the CoWrks Foundry to design the process and reach out to students and young entrepreneurs.

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