Can entrepreneurs improve public safety? Philly launches FastFWD to find out

Philadelphia has its problems. The city wants entrepreneurs to help fix them.

In a nutshell, that’s the idea behind FastFWD (formerly the Philadelphia Social Enterprise Partnership).

Earlier this year the initiative won a million-dollar stamp of approval from Michael Bloomberg. Now the city’s novel idea is becoming a reality. FastFWD officials announced Wednesday that the program will focus on public safety. The search for startups eager to work in that space starts today.

“They can supply the technology, the innovation and the imagination — and they could also develop their own markets,” said Lou Giorla, the city’s commissioner of prisons.

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Giorla — along with the city’s police chief, deputy fire chief and other public safety officials — voiced what they hope to see from the FastFWD initiative.

Giorla, for example, wants technological tools in the fight against recidivism. Think better monitoring devices or check-in kiosks instead of visits to the parole office.

“If we’re not as efficient as we can be, then no one’s going to want to live here,” Giorla said. “And that’s our primary goal: to make a city where people are proud to and enjoy living.”

How it works

Ten startups will be brought to Philadelphia in February for a 12-week accelerator program administered by GoodCompany Ventures. After that, the city of Philadelphia will put a handful of those solutions to the test via pilot programs.

“Recidivism and violent crime and vacant land,” said Story Bellows, co-director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, offering up a few areas FastFWD hopes to target.

“There’s a huge opportunity within the realm of public safety,” Bellows said. The city spends over $1 billion a year on public safety measures, representing roughly a third of the total budget. About $200 million of that is in contract spending, Bellows says.

FastFWD hopes to turn that pot of money into a giant carrot for innovations in public safety. As more than one speaker stressed Wednesday, it’s about re-framing urban problems as opportunities for entrepreneurs.

“It’s an area where entrepreneurs and innovators have not typically been engaged in the way they have in ed-tech or health care,” Bellows said.

Part of the challenge is working to open up the city’s procurement process to upstart social entrepreneurs.

Mayor Michael Nutter was there to express his support for the program. Time will tell what entrepreneurial solutions come forward, but, Nutter says, the focus on public safety is a good fit.

“[There’s] still too much violence and other crime here in the city of Philadelphia,” said Nutter. “I’m particularly excited about this because it is so different.”

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