Sustainable Smart Cities and How Natalia Olson-Urtecho Leads with Passion

By Cynthia S. Artin February 23, 2018

Natalia Olson-­Urtecho is a city planner by education, a technologist by life­long learning, and a visionary strategist in the brave new world of connected, smart cities.

Like many extremely successful leaders in technology and business, she started young, working since she was 15, and driven to lead a full and fantastic life, with a loving family, the insights only world­traveling can provide, and opportunities to make a difference on a big scale.

This includes her contributions to US government programs. As an appointee of President Barack Obama, Olson-­Urtecho ran the Small Business Administration’s Mid­Atlantic region, responsible for small business programs, financial assistance, and business development initiatives, managing 34 billion dollars in government contracting.

She effortlessly spans public and private sector work, and as a “citizen of the world,” has held senior management positions in Central Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Olson­Urtecho has been honored with many prestigious awards, including “Latina Powerhouse” by the Maryland Hispanic Business Conference, Most Influential Latino in Delaware Valley, and Philadelphia Business Journal’s 2010 Minority Business Leader award. She is not only a powerful and successful woman in technology, but a minority leader and inspiration to women and girls around the world.

Most recently, she has joined the board of Smart City Works, a non­profit organization bringing together entrepreneurs innovating Smart City solutions, while also standing up her own new initiative, InfraTech21, designed to help inform the public what Smart Infrastructure means and how we can apply modern technologies to improve 21st century standards.

“With a background in infrastructure planning and design, bringing together everything from transportation and energy to resource conservation and public safety, I am passionate about the possibilities when we add sensors to infrastructure to help manage it more efficiently,” Olson-­Urtecho said.

A nature lover, Olson-­Urtecho has trekked Machu Picchu, Mount Everest and the Kilimanjaro in East Africa. She has crossed the Sahara Desert and went backpacking in the Amazon for ten days during the government shutdown.

But it is her extraordinary passion for the “built world” that has ignited her new initiative.

“In fact, technology can help us live more naturally healthy lives,” she said. “Smart City technology can help keep our green spaces greener, our water supplies cleaner, our food systems safer, and our cities and towns more efficiently run. By sensing the world around us, and gathering data embedded into the infrastructure, we know more about how much energy we are using, how much pollution we are creating, and we can then act on that data.”

Olson-­Urtecho also sees a tremendous economic upside in supporting the development of smart city infrastructure implementations. “We’re seeing the most exciting innovations coming out of start­ups, and through Smart City Works, we’ve been able to connect small and large companies to move ideas into reality. Often, large enterprises and governments are unable to innovate at the rate next­generation inventors work and are risk averse when it comes to disruptive solutions. Everybody wins when we support innovation early on, then scale that with larger distribution systems and growth capital.”

Born in Honduras and raised in Mexico and Venezuela, Olson-­Urtecho's father was a U.S. born architect who met her mother, an attorney, in Honduras. Her parents encouraged Olson-­Urtecho and her siblings to learn about other counties, cultures and languages.

She sees the Internet of Things as a perfect area in which women in technology can lead. “After all, women have an intuitive way of connecting with others, and we understand the power of a global village,” she said.

She finds balance through other interests, including cooking and hosting dinner parties, bringing her guests delicious meals using spices she has gathered while traveling the globe.

“As committed as I am to making a lasting contribution to urban and city planning, I am also committed to ensuring the experience of living in these highly populated areas is joyful and natural,” Olson-­Urtecho said. “There is nothing more refreshing than stepping out of my home office and going for a walk in the woods. My dream is that every child, every woman and man who live in cities and towns can live more peacefully and healthfully, whether they are protected from harm through smarter public safety solutions, have access to clean water, have green spaces to walk in, or simply are able to get to and from work faster, on smarter public transportation and less congested highways. Smart infrastructure makes this more possible than we could have imagined, even ten years ago.”

Olson-­Urtecho was the Regional Administrator for the U.S. Small Business Administration, served as a Presidential Appointee from 2012-­2017, she was responsible for delivery and management of small business programs, financial assistance, and business development initiatives throughout the mid-­Atlantic region. She served a population of nearly 30 million in 7 district offices though out Pennsylvania; Delaware; Maryland.; West Virginia; Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Olson-­Urtecho oversaw more than 180 SBA offices; SCORE chapters; Business Development Centers and other resources while managing a field staff of more than 100 loan, business, community outreach specialists and support personnel. She worked with local lenders and successful firms across the region, overseeing more than $34.2 billion in federal government contracts for goods and services purchased from local entrepreneurs.

She has more than 18 years of experience working with international, regional and local entities in Latin America, Central Europe and Asia. She has professional experience in finance, government contracting, international collaboration, commercialization of clean technologies, environmental planning, sustainable building, zoning, land use, transportation, public engagement and infrastructure policies and development.

She was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to the U.S. Innovation Advisory Board and by Philadelphia’s Mayor to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and Zoning Code Commission boards.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

Contributing Writer

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