Infrastructure, Innovation & Diversity: A new way I’m helping.

I’m excited to share my newest role as Senior Advisor to The Atlas Marketplace, a company dedicated to helping cities and companies connect to solve our nation’s most urgent infrastructure problems.

Cities across the US are struggling to upgrade their infrastructure systems to be smarter, more sustainable and more resilient. At the same time, innovative urban water, energy, and transportation companies are struggling to enter municipal markets and reach scale.

In part, that is because standard government purchasing processes are often not well suited to procuring the innovative business solutions that are created by entrepreneurs every day. According to research from The Agile Cities Initiative, most cities hire expensive consultants or attend one conference after another to identify new private sector innovations. However, these efforts rarely yield on-the-ground results quickly or cost-efficiently. And while several networks have been developed to bring together public leaders to tackle challenges — many that I actively support or work with, including one of the best, What Works Cities/Bloomberg Philanthropies — often appropriately focus on policy and system changes rather than getting directly involved in the details of specific projects and solutions that solve real-time problems. Most often, those specific details and solutions must be developed within the government departments and agencies who procure goods and services. As a result, instead of leapfrogging to modern water, energy or other technologies, many cities end up spending years in planning processes or find themselves buying the same old infrastructure they know, designed and built by the same old firms they’ve always worked with.

Compounding the problem is that many of the most innovative city solutions come from growth stage engineering firms and technology startups that don’t have the capacity or resources to identify and connect with the cities that need them most. Working with cities requires commitment. Not only does identifying and connecting with the right city decision maker take time, framing solutions to match local needs and then navigating the procurement process — which is sometimes not geared toward new, cross-cutting solutions — is complicated. It’s not unheard of for entrepreneurs to spend years getting an initial pilot setup, only to repeat the same process again in the next city. This exercise can often result in a huge waste of time, energy, money and talent — for cities and companies.

It’s clear that the process for connecting cities to new infrastructure solutions can be improved. And, the good news is that it’s a problem that can actually be solved. That’s why I’m so excited to be working with a team doing just that.

The Atlas Marketplace leverages the power of social networks and data to make it easier for cities and companies to find and partner with each other to solve problems. It works by aggregating data on installed and completed projects — from information about project benefits to critical information about how projects were implemented and paid for — so cities can more easily replicate innovative solutions, saving time, energy, money and best utilizing their talented staff.

Practically, the marketplace structure enables The Atlas team to work with resource-constrained cities (time, staff, and money) to understand and translate their priorities into business opportunities while at the same time, engaging growth-stage engineering, infrastructure, and social technology firms that provide procurable solutions for any of the systems a city government needs. The Atlas’s backend algorithm matches innovative firms with the cities who need them the most.

As a longtime public servant, I appreciate that The Atlas team comes from the public sector and is dedicated to supporting public interest. They have gone to great lengths to ensure that The Atlas Marketplace remains a safe, hassle free space where local government staff can learn from each other about what’s working and what’s not working when it comes to infrastructure.

Co-founder Ellory Monks talking about procurement and The Atlas Marketplace with city officials at WaterNow.

Beyond the impacts that I believe The Atlas Marketplace will have on how cities procure smarter solutions, I am also thrilled to be supporting a company that is fostering a diversity of ideas and creating more inclusivity in the traditionally staid field of infrastructure. The team, founded by three public-sector minded women, is dedicated to leveling the playing field by focusing on innovative, tangible solutions, regardless of who designed them.

As Mayor of Philadelphia, and a Councilperson, my record in public service demonstrates the three things I’m passionate about: cities, innovation and diversity. The Atlas Marketplace sits at the intersection of all these three things. It’s that intersection that makes me excited to share that I have recently joined The Atlas Marketplace as Senior Advisor.