The City of Guelph’s Civic Accelerator pilot program is among the bright new developments in Guelph’s vibrant innovation ecosystem, the result of collaboration between the City and a host of community partners, including Innovation Guelph, Canada’s Open Data Exchange, the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, the Guelph Lab and the University of Guelph’s Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBaSE).
It is also a prime example of why Guelph now ranks among Canada’s most entrepreneurial cities, according to the ninth annual Entrepreneurial Communities report released by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) Oct. 17. Guelph was named the fourth best city in Canada to start and grow a business, third for entrepreneurial perspective and tenth for entrepreneurial presence.
The Civic Accelerator aims to help make Guelph a player in the burgeoning civic tech sector. It launched earlier this year to enable the City to engage in “open innovation” with entrepreneurs, startups, students and companies to create solutions for complex municipal challenges.
“It has turned the City of Guelph into a research and development lab for civic tech companies seeking to develop and commercialize new products,” says Andy Best, the City of Guelph’s Open Government Manager. Best explained that the program is a new way of tackling old problems, and has a number of goals:
- To provide City staff with access to cutting-edge solutions that can improve both internal operations and services to the public;
- To bring experimentation and prototyping into normally rigid purchasing processes to help City staff make the best decisions to address complex issues;
- To provide a mutually beneficial development experience for City departments and the private sector;
- To encourage the development of a civic tech hub in Guelph.
In July, the winning bids were announced for the Civic Accelerator’s first two “challenges.”
Alert Labs won the water challenge with a proposal for real-time customer alerts for emergencies like floods or leaks, using data from sensors that require zero technical skill to install. “We want to make it as easy as possible to give our water customers real time water usage data for their homes, which can be crucial to flood detection and prevention, as well as to enable the behavioural change that can support Guelph’s significant water conservation goals,” Best says.
Milieu won the planning notifications challenge with a proposal for a web and mobile application that connects citizens, urban developers and City officials in order to collectively work toward creative and evidence-based planning decisions.
In September, Alert Labs and Milieu began working with City employees and Accelerator partners to build, refine and test their solutions, honing their products in the hopes of selling them to Guelph as well as to the broader civic tech market.
“We are midway through the embed period and the two projects are proceeding very well, with lots of excitement and energy on both sides,” Best says.
The work will culminate in a demo day in December after which the City will decide if it is making a formal purchase of these potential solutions.
Innovation Guelph has been involved from the onset and remains a key contributor through the embed period, providing mentorship and coordinating the various external services and supports that contribute to the success of the individual companies. The companies benefit from working directly with an experienced mentor who can help them with the many choices and problems they are faced with as well as from access to the various programs, events and supports that are available through the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs (ONE).
“Innovation Guelph is very proud to work with the City of Guelph and all our partners to make the Civic Accelerator a success,” said Jeff Campbell, an Innovation Guelph mentor who has been closely involved with the pilot since its inception. “The recognition from the CFIB validates that Guelph is on the right track in creating a supportive ecosystem that helps entrepreneurs start businesses and accelerate the development of those businesses so they thrive and contribute to our local prosperity.”
“This independent ranking confirms what those of us in Guelph have known for a long time – this city is a great place to start and grow a business,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie in a news release. “We have it all – location, skilled talent, affordability, and excellent business support networks. I often hear from local entrepreneurs that there truly is something special about Guelph.
“One of Guelph’s unique strengths is our local network of supports, with organizations like the Guelph Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Guelph, the Guelph Wellington Small Business Centre, and the Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBaSE) all working together to help businesses thrive.”
The CFIB report measured all Canadian cities with populations over 20,000 based on three categories: presence (business ownership growth), perspective (level of business optimism and growth plans) and policy (the actions of local government to support business development). The index uses 14 indicators tabulated from published and custom Statistics Canada sources.
For more information about the CFIB and to access full ranking details visit the CFIB website.