PGH Lab panel at the Inclusive Innovation Summit, March 2019

PGH Lab Finishes Fourth Cohort

Part 1: Change Agency, Honeycomb Credit, and DECO Resources

Annia Aleman
Jun 4, 2019 · 6 min read

As May came to a close, we’ve spent some time looking at the accomplishments and setbacks from our most recent cohort of pilot projects. We’re excited about the lessons learned and the progress that has been made. Here’s an update of PGH Lab cohort four pilot project in a two part series. The first one will highlight the experiences of Change Agency, Honey Comb Credit, Deco Resources three of the companies in this cohort.

Change Agency

City Champion: Department of Public Works, Citiparks, and the Office of Community Affairs

Change Agency is a Pittsburgh-based social enterprise. The company aims to increase access, opportunity, and visibility of underrepresented communities by building strong partnerships. They aim to implement programs and elevate solutions that incorporate inclusive policies and practices into government, business, and our community.

Change Agency wanted to build a “Pop-up Impact PGH.” The pop-up would be a starting point for a larger initiative to bring an Impact Hub to Pittsburgh that would serve underrepresented minority businesses and artists in the city. The proposal included a two-fold idea:

  1. Convert an underutilized space into a pop-up Impact PGH for a limited amount of time
  2. Test professional development training regarding equity and cultural humility in organizations to improve the delivery of services to minorities, immigrants, and internationals
Impact PGH at the Warrington Recreational Center

For the three month pilot project, Impact PGH’s pop-up home became the second floor of the Warrington Recreational Center located in the neighborhood of Belltzhoover. During the process the Change Agency team sparked new activities and partnerships that weren’t previously established there. These activities were:

  • Financial Empowerment office hours in coordination with the City of Pittsburgh. These were held every Thursday for everyone in the community wanting to receive financial coaching.
  • Impact Markets in coordination with local immigrant vendors. The markets created visibility for immigrant owned businesses, connected vendors directly with community members and potential new customers.
  • Coworking space in coordination with local service providers. Impact PGH offered temporary desk spaces for different service providers that could work and connect with the community from the Warrington Recreational Center.
  • Equity and inclusion training curated by the Change Agency staff. These trainings were part of the educational programming focused on equity and inclusion best practices given to organizations in this case City employees. Over 25 city employees from multiple City departments participated in these trainings.

Through the different community engagement activities as part of the pilot project, Change Agency engaged over 200 people over a three month pilot project.

Community Engagement: community members engaging during public events and focused programming over the three month Impact PGH pilot
Equity and Inclusion training for City of Pittsburgh employees

Change Agency will be working towards bringing an Impact Hub to Pittsburgh at the end of 2019 with the goal of lowering barriers to access for minority/immigrant owned businesses and artists in the city.

Visit Change Agency’s website to learn more.

Honeycomb Credit

City Champion: Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA)

Honeycomb Credit is a crowd financing platform that connects small businesses seeking expansion loans with community members looking to invest locally. The company believes that everyday individuals can help their main street businesses by investing in them and helping them grow.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority’s street façade loan program helps commercial building owners and tenants improve or restore their store fronts. Honeycomb Credit proposed to increase the pipeline of businesses to enroll in the street facade program while simultaneously running a campaign for these businesses to fund 100% of their renovation projects via the Honeycomb platform. The proposed pilot project would convene businesses interested in renovating their storefront via information sessions. The main goal of the pilot project was to launch at least one campaign in three months.

LIFT program promotional flyer by Honeycomb Credit

The company launched the pilot project under the name of Local Investment for Tomorrow’s Streetscapes (LIFTS), which aimed to help small business and property owners to renovate their building’s street face by tapping into public and crowd financed funds. To get the word out, the company launched a social media campaign and held community events. Online, the company reached 644 unique site visits. In person, the company connected with 20 interested business owners and individuals wanting to learn about LIFTS at community events.

While the company did not end up launching any campaigns during the three month pilot, they walked away with a number of lessons. They learned that often small business owners are renting their spaces, which means they are not the main decision makers regarding building renovations. Moving forward, engaging with both building owners and the businesses as well as more Main Street managers to broaden the reach of businesses was their main lesson learned. During the process, Honeycomb was able to connect with one business recipient of another URA flagship program, Microloans for small businesses, that was in need for more funding which Honeycomb Credit was able to assist in obtaining funding, read more here. The collaboration between HoneyComb Credit and the URA has established a long lasting partnership where both organizations are committed to help each other refer small businesses that might benefit from the services they offer.

The company will continue working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority by exchanging any referrals and potential clients with each other. Honeycomb Credit has started to expand and fund campaigns in other cities.

Visit Honeycomb Credit’s website to learn more.

DECO Resources

City Champion: Department of City Planning, City of Pittsburgh

DECO Resources uses design, engineering, construction, and green technology to improve environmental health for urban communities. The company aims to reinvent empty lots throughout the city by turning them into Smart Lots. Smart lots use sustainable strategies to revamp neighborhood lots and turn them into green spaces that reduce pollution and improve the soil.

The City of Pittsburgh owns a number of empty lots throughout the city. In 2013, the city’s Open Space Plan recommended a streamlined process that would allow residents to access city-owned vacant land to beautify their communities through the Adopt-A-Lot program. DECO Resources proposed to collaborate with a few organizations participating in the Adopt-A- Lot program and test its Smart Lots strategies with the goal of turning city-owned lots into green, sustainable spaces.

DECO Resources connected with two partners in the Adopt-A-Lot program to work on four different lots. Here the company rolled out their Smart Lot monitoring strategies where they reported on the following:

  • Existing site conditions: site accessibility, existing site environmental characteristics, and type of existing ongoing activities or lack thereof
  • Environmental conditions: Soil quality, existing composting strategies or need, and existence of storm water capture on site
  • Economic conditions: tracking and monitoring of existing site budget to deliver outcomes; existing site staff’s time and capacity

Throughout the four month pilot the company provided monthly reports on their three different monitoring strategies and activities. The company along with its Adopt-a-lot partners were able to divert 12,225 lb. of food waste, reduce 78% of carbon dioxide, and engaged 11 organic refuse diversion partners. By applying these strategies DECO Resources aims to amend the soil quality that has been impacted by urban pollution.

Through a series of iterative pilots the company developed a set of strategies that yield to the improvement of soil. The company is currently engaging more community partners to adopt the Smart Lot initiative and hopes to scale citywide.

Visit DECO Resources’ website to learn more.

PGH Lab brings local entrepreneurs to beta test products and services in local government for 3–4 months. Get inspired to start working on your own innovative ideas. Make sure to stay connected and ask questions about PGH Lab through our twitter!

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

Annia Aleman

Written by

Nicaraguan-American. Innovation Director @Ascenderpgh , former Sr. Civic Innovation @CityPGH . @pittsburgh_cm enthusiast.

Department of Innovation & Performance

The Department of Innovation & Performance is building a 21st-century government for the City of Pittsburgh and its residents.

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