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Philadelphia Launches Pitch and Pilot Startup Collaboration

The city is the latest of a growing number of jurisdictions across the country that have created formalized programs aimed at tapping private-sector expertise in order to help solve municipal challenges.

Philadelphia Skyline
Fredy Martinez/Unsplash
Philadelphia is launching a new program called “Pitch & Pilot,” which aims to tap private-sector expertise to help the public sector overcome challenges by using or creating new technologies.

The new program, to be housed in the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology (OIT), will take aim at specific needs for the city. The first round of solicitations, for example, seeks tech-enabled ways to support and track reductions in the waste generated by the city and subsequently sent to landfills. To fund the work, OIT will award $34,000 to the vendor with the best idea to help reach this goal, the most concrete manifestation of which is a 2035 deadline for Philadelphia to have zero waste. 

The idea is for the money to fund a limited deployment of the tech solution, as well as to support community engagement and ultimate evaluation of its efficiency.

Interested parties can apply for the award now, with the first round of the application process set to close on Jan. 16, 2020. Program organizers said in a conference call with reporters Monday that they are currently accepting questions, too, and that they will post questions and answers on the Pitch & Pilot webpage throughout the application process. A winning applicant is slated to be accepted in February. In the meantime, community members are also invited to check out the webpage, where they can submit ideas for future areas of focus. 

Pitch & Pilot fits into larger ongoing efforts, both within Philadelphia as well as nationwide. In the city, officials say that the program was created as an extension of the SmartCityPHL Roadmap, which is a foundational document that gives shape to smart city efforts there. On the announcement call, Philadelphia Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Tipton described the initiative as an exciting way for startups and tech vendors to get involved with the SmartCityPHL Roadmap.

In a larger sense, Philadelphia’s new Pitch & Pilot program fits in with a growing movement within city halls across the country, wherein local governments are creating new bridges to connect the public and private sectors by essentially challenging startup founders and entrepreneurs to tackle shared community challenges.

Perhaps the longest-standing and widest-reaching example of this is Startup in Residence (STiR), which began life in 2014 as a program exclusively within San Francisco City Hall before expanding regionally and then internationally. The makeup of STiR is not identical to Pitch & Pilot, but the overarching goal is basically the same. Pitch & Pilot can be described as a variation of the STiR formula. 

And Philadelphia is not the first to tweak and localize the STiR formula either. Roughly two years ago, San Antonio launched CivTechSA, which officials in the Texas city billed as a version of STiR that they had altered to better suit the resources in and needs of their localized community.  

If STiR and CivTechSA are any indication, the future is bright for Philadelphia’s Pitch & Pilot. Both programs have been widely billed as successes, with demonstrable signs of both community improvements and program growth. 

In the Monday conference call, officials said that the program is open to companies located in Philadelphia and beyond, opening the local government to a wider pool of vendors.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.