Within City Hall’s soaring and historic Conversation Hall, a cluster of entrepreneurs gathered on their second night of a twelve-week accelerator program here in Philadelphia. The conversation topic of the night: building business that will increase public safety in the City of Brotherly Love.
The entrepreneurs in attendance represent the 10 companies chosen to participate in the accelerator phase of the FastFWD program. FastFWD—a collaboration among the City of Philadelphia, GoodCompany Group and Wharton Social Impact Initiative—was created after winning a $1 million grant from the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge last spring. Its chief goal is to produce entrepreneurial innovation to today’s toughest urban challenges.
Participants gathered for an event to kick-off the accelerator phase on Thursday, Feb. 20, where the stakeholders in attendance included representatives from the Wharton Social Impact Initiative, GoodCompany Group, design students from the University of the Arts who will be supporting product evolution, and many city officials who were eager to learn about the solutions that were going to be shaped in their city over the next several months.
Mayor Michael Nutter provided a warm welcome for the entrepreneurs, commenting specifically on many of their concepts as he shared his eagerness for their role in improving Philadelphia’s public safety.
Among the enthusiastic attendees were Zachary King, a Fall 2013 Penn graduate, and current Wharton student Celia Lewis, two individuals who have been key players on the Wharton Social Impact Initiative’s FastFWD team since January 2013 when the application for FastFWD was crafted for Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“A year and a half ago I first joined a conversation around designing a program that would inspire entrepreneurs to solve challenging urban problems,” said Lewis. “Today, to see that vision become a concrete reality gives me great hope in the opportunity and ability for even more businesses and governments to work together to build better communities and better cities.”
Last year, WSII Fellows – students engaged on projects with the WSII team – conducted exploratory research and interviewed more than 75 subject matter experts, investigating the many areas of need in Philadelphia.
Following that initial research phase, public safety was selected as the first focus area for FastFWD’s efforts. An open call went out to entrepreneurs near and far in late 2013 and, from the applications received, ten were selected for this first class.
Now FastFWD will move to its next phase: the accelerator. Driven by the GoodCompany Ventures curriculum and peer model, this program maximizes social entrepreneurs’ potential for market penetration, social impact, and scale.
The program’s entrepreneurs have access to world-class mentorship and subject matter expertise, and receive $10,000 in non-equity stipends, selective introductions to an international network of private and venture based investors, and inclusion in highly synergistic innovation space. WSII will be lending expertise to the accelerator phase as well, with one of the WSII Fellows leading the finance curriculum for the entrepreneurs.
Stay tuned to www.fast-fwd.org to see the progress of these ten entrepreneurs as they take aim at solving some of Philadelphia’s biggest public safety issues.
About the Author: Sandra Maro Hunt is the Senior Manager of Social Impact at Wharton Social Impact Initiative.
More reading from the WSII blog: Celia Lewis describes her summer internship experience exploring how to accelerate innovative businesses.