Capital City Pilots to provide foot in the door, but no cash

· The Pulse

The new Capital City Pilots program will be a way for innovators to get "a foot in the door" to start working with the City of Edmonton, but it's not an opportunity to sell a solution.

In April, Edmonton Unlimited received $779,310 in funding from Prairies Economic Development Canada for Capital City Pilots, "a novel collaboration with the City of Edmonton to develop, promote and market a procurement model where small- and medium-sized businesses can test their innovative technologies using City of Edmonton owned assets." The program also got $1.8 million over three years from the Alberta government.

Notwithstanding the federal announcement, it's "not entirely accurate" to describe Capital City Pilots as a procurement experiment, project head Abbie Stein-MacLean said in a presentation delivered during Edmonton Startup Week. "Innovators answering the city's challenge calls will have the opportunity to test their innovations and collect supporting data, but a procurement contract with the city is not a guarantee of the program, and innovations will not be paid for by the city during the pilot phase of the program."

Instead, entrepreneurs will get an opportunity to validate their innovations in a municipal context and get direct data and feedback from city staff who have identified a challenge that needs solving.

"If you have a technology that is right for the municipal context, but you're just really having a hard time getting your foot in the door, this is a great opportunity for you to do that," Stein-MacLean said during the presentation.

Edmonton Unlimited is working with the city's Business Friendly Edmonton initiative to collect challenges from staff. The first wave is expected to be posted in January.

A slide showing the road map for Capital City Pilots, from project initiation to challenge discovery phase to challenges issued to innovation assessment to pilot phase to programs and services

Capital City Pilots is at the first stage of its road map, developing the platform on which challenges will be issued and answered, and engaging city staff on what challenges they face and how best to frame them. (Edmonton Unlimited/YouTube)

There is no guarantee of further business with the city once a company has gone through the Capital City Pilots process.

"The city maintains its right to follow its own procurement processes and selection for vendors in its operations, and there's no partiality or preference provided for previous Capital City Pilots alumni towards City of Edmonton procurement processes," Stein-MacLean said in the presentation. "However, the experience of working with the City during the pilot phase will be valuable for innovators who look to pursue a further contract."

The intention of the project, Stein-MacLean suggested, is to lessen the risk of experimenting.

"As an organization with a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers, it can be challenging to try things out," she said in reference to the City of Edmonton. "So by offering an avenue to quickly implement an innovation and collect data to support city goals, we hope to pave a way for a future paradigm that looks to the local innovation community first."

A vendor was expected to be chosen by the end of October to provide the "challenge platform" on which city staff will indicate problems that need solving and innovators can pitch their solutions. Funding will also go towards programming for participating innovators that maps to Edmonton Unlimited's existing programs for starting up, scaling up, and accelerating.