NEW YORK—Months of anticipation from techies and financial experts came to a close on Sunday as the results of the fourth annual Bloomberg Urban Innovation Challenge were announced. Despite the largest pool of contestants in the history of the competition, the panel of judges, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, voted unanimously for the winner: Manhattan resident Michael Bloomberg.
The mission of the Innovation Challenge is to incubate cutting-edge solutions to urban problems and promote a culture of entrepreneurship in the city.
“If New York is going to grow in the style of Silicon Valley, we need to be inviting rather than shutting down innovation,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “The first step is to show entrepreneurs that we are willing to provide a platform for competition and reward the best ideas.”
The winning project, Kreative Kids, leverages New York’s mass of low-achieving students to fulfill the city’s core values of productivity and sustainability. Under KK, students at failing schools are let off the hook from federal schooling requirements and placed on urban farms deemed sustainable by the city’s Department of Health. The project hopes to slash obesity rates by putting idle students to work while expanding the availability of healthy, locally grown food.
“Our philosophy is that a productive economy requires healthy minds, healthy bodies, and the full participation of city residents,” KK CEO Michael Bloomberg said. “New York’s youngest generation is unparalleled in its promise and capacity to build a future that serves them.”
The business journal Fast Company, while noting regulatory obstacles that could delay implementation of the project, spoke optimistically about its fiscal impact. “Given its size, New York is a cesspit of bureaucratic fiefdoms and entrenched interests,” read an editorial published this week. “Visionaries like Michael Bloomberg, spurred to innovate by Mayor Bloomberg’s challenge, will connect capacity with opportunity.”
Other contestants, who had spent months, and in some cases years, developing their projects, were predictably less sanguine about the results. “I thought we had done the right amount of consulting and number-crunching to beat Bloomberg, but we’re apparently just not there yet,” said Pamela Suarez, whose plan to open libraries in Upper Harlem and the Bronx failed to crack honorable mention status.
Some have already begun scheming for next year’s competition. Singaporean start-up FreeServ, for one, earned third place for a mobile app that alerts entrepreneurs when they’re within 50 feet of a potential seed-funder. In 2013, the second year that the competition will be open to international contestants, the company will unveil a plan to source start-ups with Singaporean nationals who will walk the streets of lower Manhattan on daily 24-hour shifts to find venture capitalists.
The mayor was sympathetic to the efforts of the field. “Anything is possible in this city,” he said. “Not winning this year should be encouragement to out-innovate yourself next year.”
For its victory in this year’s competition, Michael Bloomberg’s company will receive $50 million in local discretionary funds, as well as $50 million from Mayor Bloomberg’s personal assets.