FastFWD: bringing innovation to government procurement

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Main actors

City Government, Private Sector, NGO / Philanthropy, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Inner City

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Ongoing since 2013/07

Philadelphia’s FastFWD program provides a path for creative entrepreneurs to partner with government in tackling urban issues affecting the city.

The FastFWD program accelerates urban innovation through entrepreneurship and collaboration. The city identifies a significant problem and entrepreneurs  put forward solutions.  The strongest teams and most scalable, impactful proposals are selected for participation in a social impact accelerator program based on the following schemas: innovation, implementation, impact, city and engagement and entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs refine their solutions with subject matter experts and end users from city government. At the end of the accelerator, each entrepreneur is invited to propose a pilot project and the best proposals are selected and tested.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge

This project was awarded the 'Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge' in 2013.

Philadelphia, United States

Size and population development
The 2014 United States Census estimates, there were 1,560,297 people residing in the City of Philadelphia, representing a 2.2% increase since 2010. The average population density was 11,457 people per square mile (4,405.4/km²). The Census reported that 1,468,623 people (96.2% of the population) lived in households, 38,007 (2.5%) lived in non-institutionalized group quarters, and 19,376 (1.3%) were institutionalized.

Population composition
The racial makeup of the city in 2014 was: 45.3% White (35.8% Non-Hispanic); 44.1% Black or African American; 13.6% were Hispanic or Latino; 7.2% Asian; 2.5% Two or More Races; 0.8% Native American and Alaska Native; 0.1% Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander

Main functions
Philadelphia is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the fifth-most populous city in the United States. The city encompasses 142.6 square miles (369.3 km2), of which 135.1 square miles (349.9 km2) is land and 7.6 square miles (19.7 km2), or 5.29%, is water. Bodies of water include the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers, and Cobbs, Wissahickon, and Pennypack creeks. In 2015, Philadelphia was announced as the first U.S. city to become a World Heritage City, recognized for its importance to American history and democracy. Independence Hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is where the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 and where the U.S. Constitution was debated and signed in 1787.

Main industries / business
Philadelphia is the center of economic activity in Pennsylvania with the headquarters of seven Fortune 1000 companies located within city limits. Philadelphia's economic sectors include information technology, manufacturing, oil refining, food processing, health care, biotechnology, tourism, and financial services. Financial activities account for the largest sector of the metropolitan area's economy, and it is one of the largest health education and research centers in the United States.

Sources for city budget
National, State and City governments taxation revenue.

Political structure
The city uses the strong-mayor version of the mayor-council form of government, which is headed by one mayor, in whom executive authority is vested. Elected at-large, the mayor is limited to two consecutive four-year terms under the city's home rule charter, but can run for the position again after an intervening term.

Administrative structure
The legislative branch, the Philadelphia City Council, consists of ten council members representing individual districts and seven members elected at large.

Government procurement has traditionally been prescriptive – a request for proposals (RFP) specifies in detail how a problem should be solved, limiting opportunities for novel solutions. Traditional RFPs can discourage applications from all but the stalwart few firms who consistently do business with government. How government buys services and solutions matters, as government awards billions of dollars in contracts every year.
The City of Philadelphia, through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM), teamed up with Wharton Business School’s Social Impact Initiative (WSII) to address these assumptions and identify what challenges facing the city were most ripe for innovation. The evaluation process was based on five criteria: internal spend, internal interest, internal willingness and execution, external regulatory environment and absence of external competition. Additionally, interviews with more than 75 civic and industry leaders were conducted and it became apparent that public safety presented the most significant opportunity to deploy new entrepreneurial solutions.

In 2013, the City of Philadelphia was awarded US$1million through the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge for the development of FastFwd. A project team was established to oversee the implantation plan that commenced shortly after.

Key aspects of the implementation plan are:

Identify & Define:

The process begins in “Zero Stage,” where city, civic and industry partners identify the city’s most pressing challenges and then work together to generate transformative ideas, reframe challenges and develop shared goals in these issue areas. Based on the identified challenge sectors, FastFWD then researches market opportunities for innovation and scale. Once this initial investigation is complete, FastFWD hosts a convening of stakeholders and innovators to generate partnerships and alignment around the challenges before moving forward.

Open Call for Solutions:

Based on the challenges identified in stage one, FastFWD puts out an open call for solutions to innovators. Challenges are packaged as market-based opportunities that allow entrepreneurs to leverage their expertise, develop prototypes and iterate with the city as a ready and willing buyer of proposed solutions. Respondents can include for-profit startups or innovation teams from within more established companies. Proposals are evaluated based on the potential for impact, team leadership, level of innovation, scalability and relevance to the defined focus area.


Selected teams participate in a 12-week social impact accelerator program, managed by GoodCompany Ventures using its established curriculum and peer model. In addition to a $10,000 non-equity stipend, the program provides social entrepreneurs with physical space, business plan development, subject matter expertise, mentorship and access to the company’s international network of private and venture-based investors. A Wharton Social Impact Initiative student team from the University of Pennsylvania’s business school also acts as consultants to the entrepreneurs during the acceleration phase, offering financial modeling, storytelling, design and other support. The city provides valuable advice on its procurement policies, pricing, integration, processes, culture and time schedules.

Pilot and Fund:

At the culmination of the accelerator program, graduates participate in “FastPITCH Day,” where they have the opportunity to pitch their innovations directly to City of Philadelphia representatives, business leaders and investors. Many graduates are awarded pilot contracts from the city or early-stage funding.

The City of Philadelphia, through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, is the lead agency for the FastFWD project

Project partners include:

  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • GoodCompany Ventures
  • Wharton Business School Social Impact Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Halloran Philanthropies
  • Impact Hub network
  • Code for America
FastFWD received 137 applications from companies around the world; 10 startups were selected for the first cycle. The acceleration of these companies resulted in nine pilot projects and three contracts with the City of Philadelphia:
  • Textizen provides a combination of offline outreach and digital engagement, brings new participants into civic dialogue and turns feedback into real-time feedback. Textizen’s pilot with the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services has improved re-entry meeting attendance by 40%.
  • Edovo (formerly Jail Education Systems) provides a tablet technology to enable self-driven education among inmates with the goal of reducing recidivism and increasing re-entry employment opportunities. Already, Edovo has enabled more than 500 inmates to complete 2,100 online educational courses in the first year of its work with Philadelphia’s Department of Corrections.
  • Village Defense offers a real-time Amber Alert-style system for neighborhoods providing residents with information within seconds of the initial report. Village Defence is working with the Philadelphia police to provide a form of high-tech “town watch” where neighbors can use the service to send alerts to each other if they see something suspicious.
Nine startups were chosen for the second cycle with four companies selected for pilot projects that will test solutions in substance abuse, housing stability and youth/gang violence.
FastFWD also sparked procurement reform at city level. Procurement processes are now more streamlined and codified while paperwork has been significantly reduced
Through a new social enterprise partnership with CityMart, the city is institutionalizing the practice of engaging entrepreneurs to generate innovative solutions, and will expand this practice to address other urban challenges.
The FastFWD project team learned that intentionally connecting entrepreneurs and city government is challenging because the two parties don’t typically work together. Creative outreach is needed to attract entrepreneurs who are key to generating new ideas. The FastFWD team often moved out of their comfort zone to meet entrepreneurs in their environments rather than simply waiting for applicants to come to them.

FastFWD collects, evaluates and reports findings to relevant stakeholders. These findings are distributed to a broader audience to promote shared learning and the development of best practices. Successful solutions are pitched to cities worldwide via annual symposia and national demonstration events.

Bloomsberg Philanthropy, Mayors Challenge, Philadelphia 
Video: Philadelphia FastFWD Zero Stage Event
Video: Public Safety Accelerator

External links / documents

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Jakki Mann
Melbourne , Australia

Jakki Mann

Individual | Project Manager, Circles of Sustainability

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