West Midlands seeks start-ups to solve four key public-service challenges

Authority launches competition offering small tech firms £10,000 cash and three-month pilot project with access to data and mayoral feedback

The West Midlands came into being last year following the election of Andy Street as the region’s metro mayor  Credit: WMCA

The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has launched a contest seeking start-ups to put forward technology solutions that will help solve public-service challenges in the areas of wellbeing, homelessness, youth unemployment, and digital citizenship.

WMCA – in conjunction with Public, which runs an incubator programme for government technology firms – has today launched the Urban Challenge initiative. The scheme offers £10,000 in cash and a three-month pilot scheme for young tech firms to undertake projects that could provide practical answers to four questions.

The first is: “What innovative ways are there improve to improve current public outcomes in and out of hospitals?”

WMCA explained that the region “faces a number of critical health challenges”.

“In Birmingham, a third of children are classified as living in poverty, whilst heart diseases and strokes are on the rise in Solihull,” it said.

The second challenge poses the question: “What new technology solutions could we adopt to identify and prevent households that that are at risk of becoming homeless?”

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The authority noted that, in 2016, “nearly 60,000 households were accepted as statutorily homeless” in the West Midlands, compared with only 40,000 in 2010. WMCA said that “addressing this is a major area of focus” for the authority, which was formed last year and is headed by directly elected metro mayor Andy Street.

The third challenge aims to tackle the issue of the 13,000 young people in the region who are currently claiming unemployment benefits.

“How can we use innovative technology to support young people and provide them with a route map back into employment?,” is the question posed to potential contest entrants in this area.

The final challenge is aimed at improving digital communications between local government bodies and the citizens they serve.

“How might new technologies help local governments become more responsive to and interactive with citizens?,” is the question being asked of start-ups.

In addition to the money and the chance to trial their technology across the West Midlands, winning contest entrants will receive support from Public, who will offer mentoring services, and also from WMCA, who will provide access to data, and desk space in the authority’s headquarters, as well as monthly meetings with mayor Street. The successful firms will also benefit from credits with Amazon Web Services, and “access to top-tier investors to raise further capital”.

Winners will be chosen by a panel including Street and Public co-founder Alexander De Carvalho, alongside two representatives of the venture-capital sector – Suzanne Ashman of LocalGlobe, and Christian Hernandez of White Star Capital – and Jeff Lynn, co-founder of crowdfunding company Seedrs. 


Sam Trendall

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