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Innovative city

On Monday, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren joined with Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy and other officials to announce that High Tech Rochester Inc.’s Business Cooperative Accelerator would move into the Sibley Building, creating a hub for entrepreneurship in the city’s new Downtown Innovation Zone.

On the same day, the mayor also delivered the news that the city itself would embark on an innovation push. Rochester is one of a dozen U.S. cities selected to take part in the $45 million second round of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Innovation Teams program.

Though somewhat overshadowed by the HTR announcement Monday, the three-year, $1.95 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant could prove to be instrumental in bringing fresh approaches to a place not typically viewed as a hotbed of creative thinking—the halls of government.

The Bloomberg Philanthropies program draws on the experience of innovation units created in former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration. The aim of these “i-teams” is to use data analysis, open innovation and robust performance management to tackle urban challenges.

The program initially gave $24 million to five cities. Among them, Atlanta used i-teams to reduce homelessness, Chicago boosted its small-business sector and New Orleans lowered its murder rate.

In Rochester, the grant will be used to establish an i-team within the new Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives. The startup goal is to cut the poverty rate in a single census tract by 1 percent within one year.

Harvard professor Stephen Goldsmith, deputy mayor for operations under Mr. Bloomberg and also former mayor of Indianapolis, has written how digital innovations can “create local governments that are more transparent, responsive, accountable and cost-effective.” But he also observes that data and technology alone cannot drive change—it also requires tapping the knowledge of experienced city workers and removing long-standing barriers to collaboration.

These are big challenges, and success is not guaranteed. But for Rochester, selection by Bloomberg Philanthropies for this program is a clear vote of confidence.

12/19/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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