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.
Philadelphia’s FastFWD program provided a path for creative entrepreneurs to partner with city government to tackle tough problems. The City articulated a significant problem, public safety, and marketed the opportunity to as many entrepreneurs as possible, asking them to put forward solutions. The most promising ideas were selected to participate in a social impact accelerator, which improved each idea’s viability and potential for impact and scale. At the end of the accelerator, each entrepreneur was invited to propose a pilot project and the best proposals were selected and tested.
FastFWD conducted two rounds of the accelerator, engaging a total of 18 entrepreneurs on the challenge of public safety. At the end of the first accelerator, two companies, Jail Education Solutions and Textizen, received contracts with the City to pilot their ideas. Both pilots have shown positive outcomes –Jail Education Solutions improved educational opportunities for inmates and Textizen improved parolee meeting attendance by 40% –and have now received contracts to expand their work with the city. The second round of the accelerator generated pilots with four companies that will test their solutions in 2016. Through a new 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.