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Wanted! 10 Entreprenuerial Teams with Bold Ideas to Address the Most Complex Urban Challenges

Cities are where we live. They are home to our innovation. Our growth. And testament to our creativity. But they’re also home to some of our deepest challenges.  –The Future Cities Accelerator

From the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan to Chang’an in ancient China, from the great city-states of Renaissance Italy to London, New York and Tel Aviv, our cities have long served as hotbeds for innovation and economic growth. And the phenomenon is no less evident today.

But buried deep behind the storylines of the resurgence of cities is another stark reality: urban areas continue to be plagued by many of the social and economic ills that once caused people to flee them not so long ago. High crime, poor educational outcomes, traffic congestion, aging infrastructure, environmental pollution, economic inequality, lack of affordable housing, expensive health care – these are all challenges that continue to be pronounced in urban areas and have a disproportionate impact on inner city residents.

Stalling the growth of cities certainly isn’t the solution. Instead, what if we could harness the innovation and creativity that cities are breeding and use it to address some of these complex problems?

Last month, the Rockefeller Foundation announced a $1 million competition aimed at doing just that. Through a partnership with the Unreasonable Institute, a Boulder-based accelerator for social good, the Rockefeller Foundation is calling on America’s most creative thinkers to submit proposals that would address the greatest issues faced by poor and vulnerable urban populations.

The Rockefeller Foundation isn’t looking for one-off solutions that work for a specific community. Rather, it seeks to identify and support entrepreneurs, innovators, and social activists developing solutions that have the potential to impact at least one million people and provide lasting change.

The key here—scalability, which the Rockefeller Foundation notes can be accomplished in one of four ways: (1) grow a big organization, (2) create a model so profitable that other for-profits copy it, (3) teach or otherwise equip other non-profits to reproduce your model, or (4) get the government to reproduce your model. “Whichever route is right for you, we want to hear about how you’re making it viable,” they say.

Ultimately, 10 early-stage organizations (for-profit or non-profit) will be chosen for Rockefeller’s new Future Cities Accelerator. Selected teams will receive $100,000 in grant funding and nine months of intensive business training, mentoring and other support. That training includes 6-weeks of rapid prototyping training from Tom Chi, former UX Lead at Google X; a 5-day bootcamp led by the Unreasonable Institute to help companies prepare to scale; fundraising training and 9 months of support from For Impact (who has raised over $2 billion); and paid admission to SOCAP, the world’s largest gathering of impact investors and entrepreneurs. During their time in the Future Cities Accelerator, companies will be paired with 3-4 mentors (people like Mike Fienberg, co-founder of KIPP Schools, and Paul Polak, a serial entrepreneur), an executive coach, and pro bono financial modeling.

Just as the training provided during the Future Cities Accelerator will be rigorous, so too will be the selection process. Evaluators are going to spend three months reviewing proposals, interviewing teams and going on site visits to vet not only the proposed solution, but also a team’s expertise in the problem they’re trying to address, their dedication to delivering the needed solution, and whether teams have a logical path to reaching over 1 million poor and vulnerable residents living in U.S. cities.

Winners will be announced in early January 2017.

To learn more about the Future Cities Accelerator, visit


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