Businesses to Bring New Ideas into Durham City and County Governments
Five companies and nonprofits will soon bring their new ideas to the City of Durham and Durham County governments by spending the next 16 weeks testing out innovative solutions to local challenges.
Innovate Durham has selected ZROverse, Inc., Lavni Inc., Resolved Analytics, SmartBridge Inc., and Durham Success Summit to participate in their 2022 Innovate Durham Program. Now in its fifth year, this program allows entrepreneurs to use local government as a lab to test out an idea, product, or service while having access to local government staff, data, and facilities.
The 2022 cohort is the most diverse Innovate Durham cohort to date, with 60% Black-owned and 50% Women-owned companies and nonprofits participating in the program. A review committee made up of City and County employees and community stakeholders narrowed the field to a list of finalists, and the Innovate Durham team then worked to connect the finalists to relevant departments.
“We want to recognize and build upon the long history of innovation and entrepreneurship that has existed in Durham well before our program, such as Black Wall Street,” said Assistant Director of Strategy and Innovation Andrew Holland with the City’s Budget and Management Services Department. “The Innovate Durham team was intentional about building on this rich history by emphasizing equity in this year’s outreach, application process, and program. Additionally, we have more companies this year who are committed and focused on serving the historically underserved communities of Durham.”
The 2022 Innovate Durham cohort and their assigned test-case departments are as follows:
Working with City of Durham Participatory Budgeting, City of Durham Office of Performance & Innovation, City of Durham Office of Economic & Workforce Development
ZROverse is a Metaverse service infrastructure startup. ZROverse provides a gaming, ecommerce intersection that both enables businesses to create virtual brick and mortar stores, and creates opportunities for hard-to-hire populations to develop design skills needed for “new collar jobs.” ZROverse will partner with the City to pilot a Pathway Program that takes up to eight hard-to-hire participants and provides them with entry-level training for new collar jobs and work on piloting a visual component for Participatory Budgeting projects.
Working with Durham County General Services Department
Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs), also known as geothermal systems, are the most energy-efficient technology in the context of space heating and cooling applications. Conventional ground-loop heat exchangers are currently a barrier to wider market adoption of GSHPs due to their high installation costs, long lead times, and landscape disruption upon installation. Resolved Analytics plans to test their ground-loop heat exchanger that overcomes these commercial and technical limitations in collaboration with Durham County. According to Assistant Director of Durham County General Services Shawn Swiatocha, the partnership with his department will be an exciting sustainability project. “I’m looking forward to Innovate Durham 2022 and working with Resolved Analytics. Trying to determine if there could be a market for retrograding geothermal heating/cooling systems into commercial facilities will be beneficial to both parties. For this startup, it’s a stepping stone to possibly breaking into a new market. For Durham County, it’s a possible source to assist in achieving our renewable energy and smaller carbon footprint goals.”
Working with City of Durham Office of Performance & Innovation
SmartBridge will provide three different workshops for Innovate Durham Cohort members and City employees to help government employees acknowledge that failures are already occurring in the status quo and to view failures as a necessary step toward positive change.
Durham County Emergency Management Services
Lavni provides online mental health services for underserved communities. Clients choose a mental health professional that aligns best with their needs and receive therapy via text, voice, and video call. Lavni will work with Durham County Emergency Management Services to test their app with frontline employees.
Working with City of Durham Office of Performance & Innovation, City of Durham Office of Economic & Workforce Development, Durham County Office of Economic Development
Durham Success Summit provides programs and tools to increase access to business education, mentorship, and professional networking opportunities for young Black men between 16 and 24 years old in Durham. The City, County, and DSS team will work to determine and identify the most impactful content for job-seeking Black male youth 16-24 in order to increase their skills and employability.
The cohort recently participated in a kick-off event at American Underground. The event involved strategic, design-based thinking to develop pilot charters. American Underground also announced that they would be giving free memberships to cohort companies, allowing them access to American Underground campuses and events. "As a hub for startups in downtown Durham, we're thrilled to collaborate with Innovate Durham to support this cohort of founders," said Executive Director Tim Scales of American Underground. "The AU's community and programming will complement the expertise and guidance from the City and County, and provide these entrepreneurs with additional opportunities for growth and connection."
The 16-week pilot period for each startup began in mid-July and will end in mid-November. Each partner will meet regularly with Innovate Durham staff as well as with selected City and County departments to help test their products. For more information, visit the Innovate Durham webpage or contact Design and Performance Strategist Mary Grace Stoneking with the City’s Budget and Management Services Department by email.