SHIFT_DESIGN wants to turn Philadelphia’s 40,000 vacant lots into community spaces with pre-manufactured, reusable pop-up buildings. The Center City design firm is calling the project “Blank Box,” referring to the fact that it could be used as a classroom, a fresh produce shop or a temporary retail store.
SHIFT_DESIGN is one of ten companies that recently completed FastFWD, the social entrepreneurship accelerator backed by a $1 million Bloomberg Philanthropies grant. Each company demoed last Friday at First Round Capital.
The accelerator, focused on public safety, awarded $10,000 to each company, as well as mentorship, training and an opportunity to pilot their product in Philadelphia. That opportunity came in the form of an RFP that was due at 5 p.m. on demo day.
FastFWD is run by GoodCompany Ventures, the City of Philadelphia and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative.
In the weeks to come, we’ll highlight some of the FastFWD companies. See all our coverage here.
The business plan: SHIFT_DESIGN will work with customers (like schools, stores, community groups) to find a vacant lot, get the proper permits and install the customized box. The customers pay for the service and lease the box. It’ll run them $50,000 per box per year lease.
Staff: Three full-time, two part-time, led by founder Mario Gentile
Pedigree: SHIFT_DESIGN graduated from GoodCompany Ventures in 2010 and has since built green roofs and garden walls for Shake Shack, Urban Outfitters and 30th Street Station, as well as parklets, including the one outside First Round Capital’s University City office.
The (investor) ask: $750,00 to build the boxes
Applied to RFP to launch pilot in Philadelphia?: Yes
Customers?: None yet but they’re in talks with Center City District, Philadelphia Water Department and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. They aim to launch a pilot as soon as fall.
Selling point: SHIFT_DESIGN will have to sort through city bureaucracy to get the appropriate permits to launch Blank Box on city-owned vacant lots. Luckily, they have experience working with the city when they installed parklets around the city.
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