Entrepreneurism is alive and well, particularly as it pertains to technology innovation. But the vast majority of entrepreneurial activity occurs in the private sector, not the public sector, where policies, regulations and more stringent requirements concerning reliability and security pose significant barriers to entry.

The city of Philadelphia is attempting to do something about this. It launched its FastFWD initiative in October, which is designed to recruit and support entrepreneurs in developing solutions to meet urban challenges. The initiative is being conducted in partnership with GoodCompany Group, a “social enterprise accelerator,” and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, which operates under the aegis of The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, one of the nation’s leading business schools.

The first effort focuses on public safety, which was one of three primary areas targeted by the initiative, with the other two being health and education.

“We thought it would be really interesting, if we could create a program that directed entrepreneurs’ attention to the issues that we’re dealing with every day in city government,” said Story Bellows, co-director of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications.

“We also wanted to focus on some elements in the procurement side of things internal to city government that would enable more entrepreneurs, innovators to engage with and move towards city government, as opposed to running away from city government, as entrepreneurs often are wont to do.”

Ten finalists will be selected this coming spring. Each will receive an initial stipend of $10,000, as well as $100,000 in pilot money. No taxpayer dollars are being used for the grants, as the funding was generated by prize money that the city won in the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge conducted in 2012.

The FastFWD website provides guidance about the types of solutions the initiative is seeking, and includes several communications-technology examples: data analytics and predictive policing, field-force management, behavior-recognition software that improves transportation security, and analytics that make video surveillance more effective. 

A key component of the program is a 12-week entrepreneur boot camp conducted by the GoodCompany Group with support from Wharton, through which these budding innovators will learn tactics for turning their ideas into actual solutions. Specifically, they will be given the opportunity to fine-tune their proposals under the guidance of legal counsel, finance experts, investors and other subject-matter experts.

“We’re not teaching a business-school course—our goal is to graduate entrepreneurs who can go out, get to market, and raise money,” said Garret Melby, the founder and managing director of GoodCompany Group.

According to Melby, the first 40 entrepreneurs who previously went through the program raised more than $40 million in private capital for their projects.

“We think this is a really powerful tool for change, and that’s what we hope to do with these public-safety entrepreneurs,” he said.