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Innovation & Job News

With FastFWD, the City of Philadelphia enters the social entrepreneurship game


When the City of Philadelphia entered Michael Bloomberg's 2013 Mayors Challenge last year, winning one of the contest's four $1 million prizes probably seemed a little far-fetched. And yet when the 305 cities that initially applied to the competition -- intended "to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life" -- were whittled down to 20, and then just five, Philadelphia found itself among the victorious. (Chicago, Houston and Santa Monica were also awarded $1 million each; Providence, R.I., took home the $5 million grand prize.)

This all happened roughly 18 months ago. In the interim, the recently-formed Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) has been busy working with the Wharton School's Social Impact Initiative to pound out the kinks in the winning idea, which is being referred to as FastFWD

The program is a partnership between the city's public sector and 10 different social entrepreneurs from the private sector. The two spheres will work side-by-side in an effort to solve some of the city's public safety issues, including recidivism and violent crime. The Mayor's Office has agreed to share its city data with the chosen entrepreneurs, who in turn will spend 12 weeks in an accelerator program managed by Good Company Group.

The application period recently ended. Toward the end of May, the resulting business ideas will be primed and ready to hatch -- or at least, that's the idea.

According to MONUM Co-Director Story Bellows, easing up the procurement process and lessening the pain of dealing with the city's notorious red tape is one of the program's three main objectives.

"One of things we like about [the] public safety [initiative]," she says, "is that it's sort of exposing a market in which entrepreneurs have been underrepresented." 

The city is currently exploring revenue models that would allow FastFWD to continue after its initial $1 million is extinguished. According to Bellows, a second round is already in the works. Health-care, education and youth programs are some of the potential themes, and applications for that consortium will be available to social entrepreneurs sometime this summer. 

The initial accelerator program -- taking place at Impact Hub in Kensington -- will officially kick off with an open-to-the-public event sometime near end of February. Stay tuned.

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Story Bellows, Philadelphia Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) 

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