U.S. Conference of Mayors selected The Atlas as a Top 5 Finalist in its Civic Tech Competition!
As a top 5 finalist, Atlas CEO Elle Hempen pitched a panel of mayors and answered Q&A this past weekend at U.S. Conference of Mayors conference in Boston.
While we didn’t win the overall prize, The Atlas Team is thrilled to be a top 5 finalist and to have had the opportunity to share our work with the more than 250 mayors in attendance this past weekend.
From U.S. Conference of Mayors…
As part of its 86th Annual Meeting, the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) will host a Civic Tech Pitch Competition to spur the development of new technologies to enhance citizen safety, security and community services. Five startups…will compete for a total of $18,000 in prize monies as they present and defend their apps and solutions before a panel of judges and those in the audience, who can use the USCM mobile app to cast their votes. The entrepreneurs who will be competing are:
-Nathan Armentrout, Founder & CEO, Casper Security – Casper Security improves neighborhood safety by monitoring abandoned properties and alerting neighbors and cities when danger is imminent at a fraction of the cost of demolition.
-Elle Hempen, CEO, The Atlas – The Atlas is the online community of public officials and innovators replicating what is working in other communities.
-Paul Salama, Chief Evangelist, ClearRoad – ClearRoad is a system that allows for digital per-mile fee collection, a more efficient, fair way to charge for roads.
-Noelle Marcus, Co-Founder, Nesterly – Nesterly connects households with spare space to younger people seeking a place to stay. In a twist that’s unique to Nesterly, young people can also exchange help around the house for lower rent.
-Joel Mahoney, Co-Founder & CEO, OpenCounter – OpenCounter builds tools for local governments to help streamline service delivery to residents. The portals guide applicants through complex permitting workflows so applicants can understand the full scope of projects before they get started.
It was an honor to share the stage with the other 4 finalists – all of the companies have incredible missions and teams – and we’re inspired by their visions for a better world.
Perhaps most importantly, though, we’re stoked to take everything we learned this weekend and apply it to helping our 80 partner cities more efficiently R&D (rip-off & duplicate!) what’s working in other cities!
We’re thrilled to announce that Hon. RJ Berry (Former Mayor, Albuquerque NM) has joined The Atlas Marketplace as Senior Advisor. Mayor Berry, a former two-term Mayor of Albuquerque, is known for his innovative approach to government. His passion for bringing diverse groups together to solve persistent and complex urban challenges resulted in efficiency measures that produced $34 million in taxpayer savings, expanded use of public-private partnerships, streamlined infrastructure planning and financing, and improvements in educational attainment and workforce development. You can read Mayor Berry’s full biography here.
Said Mayor Berry:
“As Mayor of Albuquerque, I was proud of our efforts to bolster the entrepreneurial ecosystem for startups and other creative small companies to drive economic development, create jobs, and improve city services. Now I am proud to continue that mission, but in a different role – as Senior Advisor to The Atlas Marketplace. The Atlas is an online community that facilitates learning between cities to accelerate the uptake of innovative infrastructure and technology solutions by highlighting what’s working in communities around the world. I enthusiastically support The Atlas mission and I am excited to continue working with civic-minded individuals who are dedicated to making our communities smarter, safer and more prosperous. As a public servant and an entrepreneur myself, I look forward to providing insight around key business decisions, as The Atlas seeks to expand beyond its initial 50 partner cities.”
Said Elle Hempen, CEO of The Atlas Marketplace:
“We are excited to have Mayor Berry join The Atlas Marketplace. Not only does he have a deep understanding of how and why cities make important decisions, he also has deep expertise and experience in the infrastructure industry. We will rely on his strategic guidance – alongside Mayor Nutter’s – to inform how we effectively match cities to solutions.”
Mayor Berry will join The Atlas team for this week’s U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.
It’s Infrastructure Week, and everyone is saying that it’s #timetobuild. We agree! The next 5-10 years offer a once-in-a-generation opportunity for hundreds of US cities to upgrade to the smarter, cleaner and greener systems their citizens want and expect. To buy these different things, cities need to be able to buy things differently. So, let’s talk about procurement! Below are some of the creative ways cities can improve procurement processes to achieve better outcomes for their communities.
Working with cities can be hard. In part, it’s because cities are, rightly, risk averse, and have no opportunity to swing and miss. This is compounded by the fact that many of the most innovative urban solutions come from engineering, infrastructure, and social technology startups that don’t have the capacity or resources to identify and connect with the cities that need their solutions the most. Even when a city knows what they want and how to ask for it, public procurement processes are often biased against new, cross-cutting solutions.
To buy different things, cities need to be able to buy things differently.
Every day, cities fail to leapfrog to modern, smart, sustainable, and resilient infrastructure, while innovative urban solutions simultaneously struggle to scale. This is a problem we need to (and can) solve by prioritizing procurement innovation. To make procurement work well, we need three things:
Knowledgeable and demanding buyers (cities, counties, utilities),
Capable sellers (engineering and technology firms), and
An efficient system that connects the two.
City leaders can’t achieve all three on their own, but below are some examples of how cities can jumpstart procurement to achieve better results for their citizens:
Ask for Help: Challenges and Requests for Information (RFI) work best when cities define challenging, cross-sector problems to solve, without prescribing solutions. Challenges and RFIs signal that the city issuing them is an engaged and committed public partner, and this motivates innovative suppliers to deliver integrated solutions tailored to city needs. These types of open calls or contests can significantly expand the range of bids, and because they have lower barriers to entry are particularly attractive for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups. Cities should consider copying Boston’s wicked cool RFI asking citizens and startups to come up with solutions (ps. note the focus on shifting away from pilot projects and toward full-scale, deployable initiatives!), or Philadelphia’s FastFWD, a new kind of local business accelerator designed to create a pathway for new players to bid on city work.
Be Transparent: As the City of Austin’s Ted Lehr recently said, “pitches [to cities] for…emerging technologies are often lost in translation.” Solving that problem falls primarily on solution provider’s marketing and business development professionals, but there are some things cities can do to help. The most important thing cities can do to help is transparency. Open data, open planning sessions, open bidding conferences – all can help startups and other companies better understand how, when, and where cities can and want to connect with companies about solutions.
Make Things Simple: Public procurement rules were designed to protect taxpayer dollars from getting spent unwisely. But when rules and regulations are regularly causing delays and keeping cities from innovating, then they need to be revisited. One step is to ensure that pre-qualifying requirements are achievable by early stage or small businesses. For example, when bidding for public sector contracts companies in São Paulo only need to display their tax compliance at the time of bidding to pre-qualify for the contract. US cities, often constrained by state and federal rules, should look to São Paulo and other international peers for models they can use within their respective boxes while petitioning states for more flexibility.
Get the Word Out: There has been a positive trend in cities towards eProcurement, which ensures all procurement opportunities are visible online through a single portal. This has been great for buying regularly used products and services –like printers and plumbers– but existing eProcurement systems are not well designed for buying big infrastructure solutions. That is because procuring systems (not widgets) is extremely complicated, and building systems right requires the right partner(s). You wouldn’t shop for your house through Costco, right? To leverage the efficiency of eProcurement for infrastructure, city departments should engage their procurement officials – along with engineering and infrastructure technology companies – sooner rather than later. Whenever possible, cities should also advertise upcoming RFPs well in advance of when they are issued, which ensures the best bids. Taking both of these steps helped Australia realize 20% savings on individual project costs.
Level the Playing Field: Changing proposal or bid evaluation can help ensure that all firms start on equal footing, regardless of whether they are big, small, new, or old. For example, Total Cost of Ownership – a strategy employed by the private sector for years – enables cities to prioritize sustainable and long-term cost savings strategies over short-term benefits and the lowest price. Along the same lines, cities should consider following Kansas City’s lead and establish a Sustainable Procurement Ordinance that leverages the planning and design tool Envision, and applies equally to both products and services.
And of course, we think all cities should join the Atlas, because our goal is to inspire cities about how they can creatively solve their most pressing infrastructure challenges, and to provide the actionable information needed to pursue those solutions. For example, we’re working to capture the specific language a city used in its procurement documents to get an innovative project built (e.g. what does an RFP look like for a stormwater harvesting and direct use project? Or for an advanced energy storage microgrid?).
Working with cities is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. And to ensure that cities can upgrade to the systems communities want and demand, it can’t be any longer. That is why procurement matters.
THAT’S THE NUMBER OF HOURS SINCE THE ATLAS LAUNCHED!
We’ve learned a lot from our growing network of users in the past 6 months (welcomed Boulder & Burlington this week!). In honor of the occasion, here are 6 things we’re thinking about and using to inform future Atlas development:
Cities (and counties, and utilities) “don’t have the opportunity to swing and miss.” When making large, long-term infrastructure investments, cost efficiency, community health, and safety are top of mind — that’s why tried and tested solutions are often preferred. But we also know there are new, transformative infrastructure solutions being deployed here in the US and around the world every day. That is why we’re doubling down our efforts to unearth those installed solutions. Our goal is to help cities leapfrog to these new infrastructure solutions by making them easier to discover and easier to compare. In addition, we’re exploring new partnerships that will help to directly connect our city users with a network of urban innovators.
And on that point…We’ve been really excited to learn about The Ray and other infrastructure demonstration sites like the Hempstead Energy Innovation Park or the new Claiborne Corridor Innovation District developing in New Orleans (an Atlas city user!). If the Atlas is like an Ikea catalogue, these demonstration sites are like an Ikea showroom. Not only can the city, and its citizens, interact with and understand innovative technologies, the demonstration sites also helps real solutions prove their worth. Before leaving public service, The Atlas Marketplace CEO Elle Hempen worked with Israel’s Ministry of Environment to understand how they supported water technology demonstration in public systems. Elle learned that some of Israel’s success in supporting innovative technologies was due to a willingness in local governments to create safe spaces for testing (and sometimes failure). Bravo to those doing the hard work of innovation here in the US, we’re excited to work with you!
In December of 2016, the City of Boston (also an Atlas city user!) released a request for information that asked for new ideas to improve its streets. Why is that so exciting? First, the RFI was purposely written in plain language, void of overly technical jargon, to maximize the number of respondents. Second, they asked that respondents ditch the pitch: instead of flashy PowerPoint presentations, the City asked respondents to demonstrate community engagement and to focus on tangible value for residents. This RFI, combined with Boston’s Smart City Playbook, aim to help ensure pilot projects are successful and leading-edge solutions can scale. Cool, right? Check out the ideas they received.
We know cities learn best from other cities. But when peers aren’t available, city employees revert to familiar resources – using, for example, Google and Pinterest to brainstorm solutions for their top infrastructure challenges. That’s why we’re leveraging the power of social networks in the Atlas. The Atlas works more like Match.com than Facebook or Twitter. An integrated matching algorithm identifies cities around the world facing similar challenges, and uses that information to find solutions that are most relevant to the local needs of an Atlas user. Want to act on the information? Users can message other city and company representatives to understand how projects are working and replicate them more easily.
Many of our city users are upgrading their aging water and wastewater infrastructure. This trend matches data from across the country: Onvia has reported a 21% increase in water and sewer maintenance contracts, 55% of which were issued by cities. What are some of the most interesting solutions to managing leaky pipes? One solution piloted in Australia caught our eye. TaKaDu is a cloud based big data system that uses raw data from multiple sources – meaning it often doesn’t require additional equipment be installed. In addition, the data platform can learn normal system behavior so not only does it detect problems quickly, but it can also predict problem spots. Talk about smart water!
Everyday technologies like Uber and Amazon have increased citizen expectations for on-demand delivery of goods and services. Those expectations now also extend to their local government. In addition, there is a new generation of government professionals who already accept technology as solutions to inefficiencies. Both reasons explain why technology solutions for government is a rapidly growing market. But even with a boost in visibility, many small and mid-size companies with technology based solutions for public agencies struggle to “get the word out.” (We’ve heard those exact words from countless companies at this point!) That is why to achieve our mission of helping cities leapfrog to modern infrastructure, we are helping raise the awareness of the companies who are building inventive solutions. Through the Atlas, we want to open the door and give city decision makers the information they need – from how the project is working, to how it was financed and contracted – to close the deal.
Have other ideas about how the Atlas can improve how infrastructure is found, compared, and procured? Leave a comment here or let us know @_The_Atlas!
We are now living in the era of big data. But big data alone is not a solution. Buyers of infrastructure – municipalities, federal and state government agencies, utilities, universities, and global manufacturers – can access endless information about future precipitation, increasing temperatures, and rising sea levels. But knowing that the world is changing is not enough to help a community make investments in resilient infrastructure. Cities need an efficient way to find, compare, and procure solutions.Meanwhile, Companies around the world – environmental technology, engineering and construction firms – are developing new solutions to help address these challenges, but are struggling to connect with the Cities who need them most. This is because the market for infrastructure remains stuck in traditional procurement processes that are biased toward familiar technologies and solutions. Companies need an efficient way to leverage pilot projects and achieve economic scale by reaching Cities who are empowered to make long-term procurement decisions.The Atlas turns data into solutions by enabling Cities and Companies to work together to solve current infrastructure challenges and head-off future problems. By curating relationships through its user-friendly platform, the Atlas streamlines and modernizes infrastructure sourcing and procurement, while generating economic savings for users and increasing investment in community-level resilience around the world.Follow us on Twitter @_The_Atlas!