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Philly's "Super-Group" Startup Accelerator Targets Urban Problems

Jan 5 2014, 11:01am CST | by , in News

Philly's "Super-Group" Startup Accelerator Targets Urban Problems
Photo Credit: Forbes
 
 

title="English: Seal of the city of ,">Attention social entrepreneurs focused on public safety: You can apply to a new Philadelphia-based accelerator that recently won a $1 million grant.

Called FastFWD, the “super-group” accelerator was formed by the City of Philadelphia, along with  GoodCompany Group, a nonprofit, social enterprise accelerator in the city, and the Social Impact Initiative at the  Wharton School, after winning Bloomberg Philanthropies 2012-2013 Mayors Challenge, along with four other cities. (They included Providence, Chicago, Houston and Santa Monica).

The Mayors Challenge awards grants to cities that come up with innovative, entrepreneurial ideas for addressing urban problems.  Some 335 cities submitted proposals.

Why public safety? Basically, over a period of six months, researchers at Wharton surveyed a handful of potential challenging areas to focus on. After interviews with more than 75 experts, they concluded that public safety  was “fundamental to other problem areas,” says Garrett Melby, co-founder and managing director of GoodCompany.  Accounting for more than one-third of Philadelphia’s budget, according to Melby, it also involves a larger portion of local discretionary spending than, say, education. They also broke the problem into four categories–”built environment”, “recidivism”, “community violence” and “enabling technology”–and nine sub-categories, including neighborhood surveillance, vacant lots, re-entry employment for ex-inmates, and effective technology, among others. (Here’s more about the areas).

With $100,000 from Bloomberg specifically earmarked for funding a pilot, GoodCompany now is looking for 10 startups for a 12-week program based on the group’s five-year-old GoodCompany Ventures accelerator.  The objective is to find ideas that fall into those nine buckets, and others, and also have the potential to grow into larger enterprises. That’s the regular accelerator’s model, as well.  (GoodCompany Ventures has graduated 44 startups which have raised over $40 million).

Applicants don’t need to be based in Philadelphia, but they should have been working on their idea for 6 to 18 months, with a viable concept “on the threshold of going to market,” says Melby. “So much of the benefit from our experience is in the peer dynamic. It’s important to have peers who are more or less in the same stage of development.”  The program will run starting in mid-February.

At the same time, the program’s core curriculum will be tweaked to help startups tackle problems specifically faced by cities, featuring partners lined up by Philadelphia’s new Mayors Office of New Urban Mechanics, a sort of skunkworks for innovation that has more flexibility than the usual big-city department.  Startups will work out of Impact Hub Philly, a co-working space in the city; FastFWD, together with Impact Hub Philly, is looking for shared living spaces in the neighborhood for out of towners.

The funding from Bloomberg actually covers two cycles. The next, which will take place in fall 2014, will focus on a different problem; the partnership hasn’t decided what that will be.

Interested startups can apply here. The deadline is Jan. 22.

Source: Forbes

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