$15K grant up for grabs to help Austin solve problems unique to the city

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This article was featured on KXAN. A link to the full article can be found here.




By: Yoojin Cho

Posted: May 14, 2019 / 02:38 PM CDT Updated: May 14, 2019 / 06:00 PM CDT

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is partnering with Impact Hub Austin to provide grants to companies, nonprofits or people who can help the city tackle some of its most difficult challenges.

Coworking space Impact Hub Austin has an accelerator, which is a program that “develops and brings to market a cohort of solutions focused primarily and purposefully on affordability and workforce development,” according to its website.

They’re currently looking for participants for the 2019 accelerator. They said Austin’s Office of Innovation will invest up to $15,000 in each participant.

“Innovation by definitely is kind of quick and nimble and learn kind of on the fly, on the go, which doesn’t work on the side of larger government institutions,” said Ashley Phillips, Managing Director of Impact Hub Austin. “They have checks and balances. They have lots of procure processes.”

Austin’s Chief Innovation Officer Kerry O’Connor added:

Because of the breadth and complexity of these challenges, the City organization cannot (and should not) try to address them alone. The community must be involved in addressing these critical challenges that affect them every day. Social entrepreneurs in Austin are developing innovative solutions to help address these challenges in ways that the City cannot — solutions that could work alongside the City’s efforts and initiatives, and make our collective impact even stronger.

Although this is the first year the city is offering grants, the accelerator has been around since 2017.

The most recent cohort included a group called Measure. Chief of Development Yasmine Smith told KXAN that Measure uses data to eliminate social disparities in education, policing and health.

“One would be the amount of assault rates in schools and the disparity between students of color and their similarly situated counterparts, or in the health realm, the black maternity rate is something we can discuss,” Smith said.

Affordable Central Texas participated in the coworking space’s first accelerator.

President and CEO David Steinwedell said: “In Austin, over the last seven years, wage growth has been about 15-17 percent while rental rate growth has been 69 percent.”

Affordable Central Texas purchases multifamily properties and rents them out at a rate affordable to people like teachers, first responders, bank tellers and other entry level employees. The goal, he said, is to help people not get priced out of their homes so often.

“If somebody doesn’t have to move every year, they can start building their own bank account, improve their credit score and then have a chance to move to a place by choice or even hopefully at some point go into homeownership,” he said.

Another past participant, PelotonU, helps people receive higher education.

“One in four Austinites actually has some credit but no degree, so what that’s showing us is that people are enrolling in college, but it’s still not working,” said Navid Ladha, Director of Community Partnerships.

PelotonU helps people find online programs and also provides advising and support. They hope people in Austin can get the education they need while not accruing any debt, so they can take advantage of the strong job market.

“We know that our economy is doing well,” Ladha explained. “There are a lot of jobs open, but what’s happening is, in order to fill those jobs, people are moving from elsewhere. There is a population of Austinites here that we can also develop.”

The issues these past participants tackled align with high priority areas the City of Austin hopes to address in the next three to five years.

Those who apply and win the grant from the city’s Office of Innovation will have to do similar work and provide services or products that lead to solutions to any one of these areas:

  • Employment
  • Income inequality
  • Cost of living compared to income
  • Housing
  • Homelessness
  • Skills and capability of our community workforce
  • Economic mobility
  • Transportation costs

“Public, private and non-profit sectors are working together more and more to address the biggest challenges of our growing communities,” said ​Phillips. “This is not just about creating more housing units or matching people to jobs. This is Impact Hub Austin catalyzing the community to respond to the fundamental shifts that are happening in these areas. We have the talent, we have the money, it’s time to align our efforts and motivations.”

Impact Hub Austin will pick 12 groups or startups for this year’s accelerator. Six of them can win the $15,000 grant from the city.

The deadline to apply is May 20.