Theme: Robust External Partnerships
Innovate Durham is a partnership program between startups, entrepreneurs and local government. Through the program, startups can use the City and County of Durham as a lab to test out an idea, product or service.
For 12 weeks, participants are paired with a City or County department to work on a pilot project using an innovative idea or technology. The goals of the program are for the City and County to learn about new technology and trends; to create capacity for innovation in each organization; and, to support local businesses. This program started in 2017 after being approved as a pilot through an employee idea platform at the City; it is modeled off of similar programs in Pittsburgh, PA and Kansas City, MO.
The program lowers the barrier to entry to work with the City and County and creates space for staff to experiment and prototype new ideas. City and County departments work with small businesses and new technology that they normally wouldn't be exposed to or that wouldn’t apply through a regular RFP process. At the same time, it gives startups an opportunity to take the next step as a business, test assumptions or try out the local government market. This experience can be invaluable for a company that is just getting started.
Through the program, the City and County not only support innovation and risk-taking within local government, but also support local entrepreneurs and startups in the community. Examples of partnerships from the first year include: a virtual reality software company working on visualization of an affordable housing development, which City Council demoed before they voted to approve the project; and, a real time parking app, which used the City as the first customer testing out their hardware device and started as a graduate school project.