Published: Nov 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Nov 10, 2012 04:40 PM
Put a couple of entrepreneurs together with a couple of sharp college kids and a couple of inner-city residents. Get them talking about what the neighborhood needs, and when they come up with ideas, try some of them out.
“Proof of Concept Center” is what such a thing is called. It seemed like a good idea to some city administrators, and it seemed like a good idea to Bloomberg Philanthropies. And so Durham has a team in New York City this week trying to win a $5 million prize for urban innovation.
Along with Durham are teams from 19 other finalists in the Mayor’s Challenge, a contest created by New York Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg to “find and spread innovative local solutions to national problems” ( bit.ly/SyMBKh
Winning $5 million, or one of the four $1 million runner-up prizes, “That’s one piece,” said Mayor Bill Bell.
What’s also important is “people getting to know we’re a city of creativity ... that could be recognized on a national level,” Bell said.
Neighborhood Improvement Services Director Constance Stancil and Wanona Satcher, a development specialist on the NIS staff, wrote Durham’s application.
There are several proof of concept centers, or labs, around the country already, Satcher said. They are typically associated with colleges, and Satcher said a center at MIT ( bit.ly/Su4V6q
) gave her the idea to try one in Durham.
“The idea will be to create three of these labs,” she said, using blighted properties in three depressed neighborhoods. Entrepreneurs, college students and neighbors would collaborate on “identifying the main challenges in the community and then, together, create an innovative approach to solving the problem.”
If the approach creates jobs, so much the better. Approaches deemed worthy get money for a real-world tryout.
“It’s more than just economic development,” Satcher said. “It’s looking at partnerships, it’s looking at positive social change, it’s looking at reuse of blighted properties. ... a whole ecosystem.”
There’s no budget or neighborhoods picked out yet, and no plan for how to recruit the entrepreneurs and residents. (“Finding our students is going to be fairly easy because we already have partnerships” with N.C. Central, Duke and UNC, Satcher said. “Even N.C. State students are interested in what we’re doing.”)
Such details are on the work list for this week’s “ideas camp” in New York, where Bloomberg staff provides technical advice and the finalist cities collaborate on refining their proposals. Contest rules require that projects can be applied in any city where they might help.
“I’m sure there are other inner-city neighborhoods like ours,” Satcher said.
Shona Brown, senior vice president of Google.org, and Ron Daniel of the Bloomberg Philanthropies board led the group selecting finalists from 305 entries.
Bloomberg executive James Anderson said, in an interview with Forbes.com ( onforb.es/U4ji0H
), that the level of interest demonstrates ”how bullish mayors remain about their ability to do big things.
“They put forward ideas that disrupt the status quo and achieve impact at scale, and they brought together interesting partnerships and cost-effective approaches to make it happen,” he said.
Bloomberg plans to announce winners next spring.