Rich Langdale, his partners and other investors pooled their resources to found NCT Ventures 20 years ago, naming the firm after their quest for the Next Cool Thing—the technology everyone would be talking about tomorrow.

The NCT Ventures team initially focused on software, advanced network, data storage and computer supplies in firms like Digital Storage Inc. and at least seven other startups. As a venture capital firm, NCT offered funding as well as hands-on advice on business strategy and technical problem solving.

NCT managers still maintain technical chops, but the firm excels in training, providing intensive coaching in entrepreneurial technology processes.

Langdale, managing partner at NCT, has become a key advocate for entrepreneurs and a driving benefactor for their training. In 2001, he provided advocacy, fund-raising and technical guidance to help found the OSU Fisher College's Center for Entrepreneurship, which in 2013 was renamed the Langdale Academy for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization.

NCT has become an enthusiastic backer of young technologists, sponsoring student organizations and hackathons in which dozens of contestants work to provide software solutions for interesting technical problems in a daylong competition.

Today, the Smart Columbus project seems central to Langdale's sense of excitement and optimism, and he is working to recruit and train entrepreneurs for the initiative. Smart Columbus technologies include everything from advanced mapping, traffic, logistics and autonomous vehicles to the need for training and transportation in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Langdale predicts Smart Columbus problem solving will push collaboration boundaries further. NCT hopes to draw in entrepreneurs with the skills and drive for that transformation.

“We partnered with Singularity University and American Electric Power to fund a Smart City Accelerator,” Langdale says, describing a 10-week boot-camp training program launched in September. About a dozen participants were chosen from some 360 applicants. They are getting to know the city and major Smart Columbus players while tackling technology issues.

One NCT Ventures investment, Agile Networks, wants to work on the “canopy” of Wi-Fi nodes and networks needed to handle Smart Columbus's massive internet of things: roads, autonomous vehicles, traffic patterns and bus routes. The canopy can also provide accessible networks for residents of urban communities like Linden and along Parsons Avenue, Langdale says. Agile already provides the secure network for the state's interconnected first response system.

NCT provides mentoring for another company that hopes to provide workforce development. “We're proposing a solution with the mayor's office and Smart City team to start building these canopies of networks around the city. We have wonderful training and community outreach centers in Linden and the Reeb Center near Parsons Avenue. But the problem is you go two blocks away and people don't know resources are there,” Langdale says.

“We're calling this solution the Superapp. The entry for the Wi-Fi network is an access page that gives people what's going on in their center, including workforce training, childcare, access to smart food, all the things the Smart City grant is seeking to create for these neighborhoods.”

Community and corporate participants can share the Wi-Fi canopy, Langdale adds. “It can be a beautiful circle of prosperity if we build it out.”