There are times to wait and times to run. In Philadelphia it’s all about running as the city charges along with its new civic tech accelerator FastFWD and the program’s first 10 startups.
The FastFWD program’s first class of startups (see the full list below) will be geared toward public safety solutions and supplied with access to city data, officials and $10,000 to support Philadelphia-based projects. The initiative is backed by $1 million and organized by a gathering of urban organizations that include Philly’s Office of New Urban Mechanics; GoodCompany Ventures, an urban incubator; and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Social Impact Initiative, a hub for social impact efforts and resources.
“We were particularly interested to see if there was a way we could potentially collaborate, to get all of that momentum and energy in the social enterprise and startup work, and direct that to civic problems,” said Story Bellows, an organizer and co-director of the Office of New Urban Mechanics.
Bellows said public safety was selected as the topic for the first class because it was always a mentioned need. Interviews with Mayor Michael Nutter, deputy mayors and other government officials, Bellows said, all listed the topics of public safety, education and public health as top challenges.
“Municipal governments across the country spend more than $150 billion a year in this market, and so we wanted to see what would happen if we tried to direct a little bit more energy into that space.”
The 12-week program will take a fair share of its curriculum from GoodCompany Ventures, a company led by Garrett Melby, its co-founder and managing director. However, Bellows said it will have the added benefit of city officials who will offer advice, and later, may turn out to be the startups’ first clients.
“You can’t overstate how critical that is,” she said of city partnership. “It provides a lot of learning for the entrepreneurs that would take years out in the market to develop.”
Specifically, Bellows underscored advice on city procurement pricing, integration, processes, culture and time schedules as fundamental offerings from Philadelphia officials. Representatives from the 10 startups and city officials will collaborate on some of these issues during the 12 weeks through two four-hour meetings each week and with a different lesson module for every week.
The sought fruits of the labor will be a new way to procure services, one that may have higher risk, but open the doors to a wealth of creativity and a more agile form of ingenuity.
“The way we typically define problems and seek solutions is through a typical RFP process, and we will assume that we have complete understanding of a problem and prescribe a solution,” Bellows said. “That doesn’t invite innovation when governments are telling people exactly what they’re supposed to provide.”
According to the FastFWD website, the collaboration will walk down a step-by-step process, first identifying and defining Philadelphia's safety challenges, calling up a series of solutions, before using the funding to jumpstart projects, pilot them and finally replicate and share them with other cities. The startups were selected to complement this process and city demands.
“They’re all at a stage that we have the opportunity to really help them shape a business that is responsive to the public safety needs of our cities,” Bellows said.
As presented by the city, the following is a description of each of the 10 startups selected for the inaugural cohort of FastFWD and its urban acceleration projects. Bellows said the city intends to launch another program next fall with a new class and sponsorship talks are under way for yearly iterations.
Safecity is an online crowd-mapping tool that collates personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse. We launched in a December 2012 post about the brutal rape of a girl in Delhi, India. Since then we have received over 1,600 personal stories from over 50 cities in India and formed partnerships with various organizations like Whypoll, AIESEC, GotStared.at, DNA newspaper and the BBC to create awareness of sexual harassment, encourage people to share stories, educate them on their legal rights and empower them to take action.
Village Defense provides a real-time Amber Alert-style system for neighborhoods. Suspicious activity is reported to our 24/7 hot line after calling 911. Our operators take the description and within seconds, the entire community will be notified simultaneously through text message, voice call and email. Village Defense has been serving neighborhoods in Atlanta and Detroit, reducing home burglaries by up to 80 percent. In addition, Village Defense has been used to increase community engagement leading to increased participation at meetings and events. In October 2013, Village Defense officially launched its first international initiative, called Neighbourhood Watch 2.0, in Bermuda to help reduce gang presence in the community.
Textizen uses a powerful mix of offline outreach and digital engagement to allow anyone with a minute and an opinion to participate by text. Our platform brings new participants into civic dialog and turns their input into structured, real-time analysis.
Media In Neighborhoods Group provides media solutions for social problems such as violence, incarceration, re-entry and recidivism. We create content that translates environments and subcultures to create a better platform for understanding and informed decision-making for both service providers and their constituents. We train and hire at-risk youth and ex-offenders on our projects to provide them with the skills for a career in media and related arts. Through this model we tackle these issues not only through the media we create, but through our inclusive creative process.
Legal Science Partners (LSP) is a woman-owned small business born out of a 2013 technology-transfer spin-off from the Temple University, Beasley School of Law’s Public Health Law Research National Program Office, which aims to improve availability of data about public health laws. LSP is pursuing new business opportunities across several sectors in which there is value to understanding, analyzing, visualizing and monitoring policy differences across geographies and time.
Algorhythm leverages data to find the right insights and put them in the right hands at the right time. Our “impact analytics” begins in service to the hands-on change agent, using algorithmic predictive analytics to build models that determine the likelihood of an outcome, followed by prescriptive analytics to build models that identify all of the solution options to maximize success. The descriptive analytics work is in service to leaders and managers, creating a bird's-eye view of what happened, what results were achieved, for whom, and how well the whole group of change agents did to help people find their pathways to success.
D8A's products help cities, government agencies and civic organizations mitigate human risk by surfacing patterns in online and offline activity. This saves users time, resources and money by proactively pointing out problems and suggesting solutions before events unfold, in real time.
InLiquid is committed to creating opportunities and exposure for visual artists while serving as a free, online public hub for arts information in the Philadelphia area. By providing the public with immediate access to view the portfolios and credentials of over 280 artists and designers via the Internet; through meaningful partnerships with other cultural organizations; through community-based activities and exhibitions; and through an extensive online body of timely art information, InLiquid brings to light the richness of our region’s art activity, broadens audiences and heightens appreciation for all forms of visual culture.
SHIFT_DESIGN is a Philadelphia-based company that designs and manufactures sustainable outdoor products. The studio’s environmental design strategy is focused on local manufacturing, mass customization and reducing waste. Through a blend of precision technologies and traditional fabrication, our products facilitate a way of living that brings sustainable practices into daily life. SHIFT_DESIGN has placed a significant emphasis upon its companies' environmental strategy through the power of design, thus reinforcing local manufacturing and waste-reduction methods by choosing product components that are made from recycled content and are 100 percent recyclable after a long life cycle. We will further partner with manufacturers across the country to fabricate our products within our node city locations.
Jail Education Solutions aims to reduce recidivism and increase employment opportunities for inmates through tablet technology that enables self-driven education.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.