Border Innovation Challenge

What is the Border Innovation Challenge?

Border Innovation Challenge

The Border Innovation Challenge, now in its second year, is a business plan competition focused on the challenges presented by the international border. This competition focuses on bringing to the spotlight promising solutions and technologies to meet the efficiency and security challenges of the regions ports of entry among others. Supported by the Smart Border Coalition, the program is presented through a partnership of the Rady School of Management and the Jacobs School of Engineering, and is open to students, faculty, staff, and recent alumni (no more than 5 years post-graduation) from universities along the US/Mexico border region.

The competition awards cash prizes totaling $12,500 to support new innovative ideas that meet challenges related to wait times, cargo operations, port management,use of current infrastructure, financial impact, water pollution, and COVID-19 public health related issues that impact border operations. Social innovation ideas and those with or without prototypes are encouraged to apply!

What challenges are you looking to solve?

The international border has been in the spotlight for several years and the challenges on both sides are numerous. This competition is looking for technology and solutions focused on, but not limited to, the following areas (see expansion on some areas at the bottom of the page):

  • Accurate wait time measurement and predictive analytics
  • Best use of access roads based on current Tijuana infrastructure
  • Better Northbound and Southbound queue and lane management
  • Process improvements at US border agent booths
  • Eliminating driver error regarding getting into SENTRI lanes in Tijuana
  • Guiding travelers to appropriate port(s) and providing easy directions to get back to U.S.
  • Using new and current technologies to move cargo through the border efficiently
  • Crowdsourcing to pay for basic border infrastructure needs
  • Border crosser online surveying to understand the real-time crossing experience, northbound and southbound
  • Measurement of commercial impact in Tijuana due to long lines near the ports
  • Aggregation engine for border related essential information, e.g. wait times, pollution levels.
  • 5G network and its application at border crossings
  • Wait time impact on San Diego County sales tax
  • Gauging border news stories’ impact on cross border commerce
  • Real time water pollution monitoring in Tijuana beaches
  • New lane types for border crossers

Who can participate?

Entrepreneurial students, faculty, staff and recent alumni (graduated within the past 5 years) who are affiliated with a college or university from across the US/Mexico border region may apply for the competition. Those with relevant ideas at all stages of development, including social innovation ideas, are welcome to submit an application.    

How do I apply?

Applications are now being accepted through October 10, 2020 (NO LATE APPLICATIONS WILL BE ACCEPTED). Apply online at  

What’s the timeline?

  • Application deadline: October 10, 2020
  • Semi-finalists selected/notified: October15, 2020 
  • Semi-finals presentations: November 18, 2020
  • Finalists notified: November 20, 2020
  • Competition event: December 1, 2020  

Need more information?

Join us for an information session to learn more about the goals of the Challenge, meet representatives of the Smart Border Coalition, and ask any questions you may have. More information coming soon!

Questions? Please contact Karen at 


Expansion on some focus areas:

  • Accurate north- and southbound wait-time measurement and predictive analytics

The only official source of northbound wait times for pedestrians, vehicles and cargo is U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which uses line-of-sight and traveler surveys at our ports of entry. For its part, Mexico does not monitor wait times. The use of existing online information, scanners, drones, or satellite systems to collect and process accurate wait-time information for north- and southbound travelers will reconcile CBP information and help establish mobility policies and strategies. Wait-time predictability through historical data and simulation will allow travelers and industry to plan crossings, reducing wait-time costs of at least 7.2 billion dollars each year in our region

  • Better north- and southbound queue and lane management

Line and lane management at the border is mostly a function of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) decisions on lane openings and staffing and to a lesser extent geographic and infrastructure constraints on the Mexican side of the border. We are looking for proposals and prototypes to better understand how lines and lanes change on a periodic basis; to introduce arrangements that will improve CBP staff management; and to argue for small infrastructure changes in Mexico to streamline queues heading to the border.

  • New lane types for border crossers

Customs agencies at our ports of entry have not had any new lane types since the 2011introduction of Ready Lanes.  SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) has been in service since 1995.  More recently, Tijuana has introduced a medical lane and has been working on an express lane.  However, long and unpredictable wait times persist. We are looking for proposals for new lane types that have a clear justification and that include the use of technology platforms to enhance the crossing experience. 

  • Process improvements at U.S. border booths and digital surveying to understand the real-time crossing experience, north- and southbound

There is a need for consistency in the way vehicles and pedestrians are processed at the booths. Recent protests in the United States regarding social justice and equality have sparked a heated conversation about the role of security forces such as police departments in keeping communities safe. 

Currently, there is no evaluation of the northbound crossing experience at the land ports of entry. There are no key performance indicators that travelers can use to evaluate Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a security driven organization that primarily protects the United States border and regulates movement into the U.S. Establishing indicators from the traveler’s perspective will enable a new and much needed evaluation tool.  

We are looking for technology-rich proposals that can help us measure these indicators. We are interested in entrepreneurs who can craft a platform to give U.S. citizens of the United States, legal residents, and foreigners, a way to rate their crossing experience and thus provide much-needed feedback to customs authorities. 

  • Using current technologies to move cargo through the border more efficiently and securely.

With the onset of COVID-19 and USMCA, we must facilitate fast and “touchless” trade across our ports. 

Long and unpredictable lines for standard, empty, and FAST trucks have been the norm. Though (CBP) and Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT) joint-inspection areas have made crossings more efficient, trucks can still wait for hours to cross the border. We are looking for a way to measure the commercial impact of long lines in real time.  

There is a high risk of cargo contamination with illegal materials and substances. We are requesting solutions for fast and secure processing that use facial recognition, X-Rays, Gamma Rays and surveillance technologies to quickly identify drivers and cargo, link them to a particular bill of lading, export and import documents.

In addition, we would like to see proposals that use pre-clearance/pre-arrival technology platforms using AI, sensors, GPS, Internet of Things, and blockchain technology to vet each cargo and ultimately avoid stopping at the port. 

  • Using current technologies to move pedestrians and vehicles through the border more efficiently.

Wait times for northbound pedestrians and passenger vehicles are unpredictable. There are hours-long waits for all-traffic lanes. Ready lanes are also time-consuming, and even SENTRI (Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection) lanes originally designed to take less than 15 minutes are well above that on many occasions. 

We are requesting proposals and prototypes that will allow travelers to self-report to customs authorities before arriving at the port. 

We are also requesting solutions that use facial recognition and surveillance technologies to quickly identify travelers before they reach the agent booths.

Obsolete or infrequent signage along highways and roads leading to the ports confuses drivers. For tourists, it becomes difficult to know where the back of the line is when coming back to the United States. Many drivers mistakenly use the SENTRI lane. We are looking for a digital solution that allows travelers to cross the border with as few inconveniences as possible. 

  • Using current technologies to monitor and report on traveler health in real time. 

The pandemic outbreak at the border has cast doubt on border controls to vet travelers. It is evident that infections have been transported back and forth across country lines. Soon, more stringent port health policies could mean that travelers will have to book their crossing time in advance and self-report health status to customs authorities. 

We are looking for proposals to implement streamlined and user-friendly health screenings at the ports to better detect symptomatic people and relay this information to local, state, and federal health authorities. 

  • Comprehensive information and communication strategies to improve the traveler experience.

Crossers have never been given the option to formally comment on their crossing experience, whether northbound or southbound. This is currently done through informal networks and social media, but customs authorities do not give any credence to these methods.  We are looking for proposals for a technology based formal system to capture experiences, needs and suggestions from port users that can be used as an evaluation tool to improve customs agencies’ performance.