Startups

Well City Challenge is back, with a call for community-driven health projects

The 18-month challenge, which includes an incubator, accelerator and pitch day, is looking to attack the root causes of cardiovascular and mental health inequities in Philadelphia.

Healthcare's digital future is here. (Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash)
The Well City Challenge is back.

Two years ago, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Independence Blue Cross launched the innovation contest by asking for ideas to boost millennial health across three categories: community and social connection, food and nutrition, and mind/body health. Hey, Auntie!, an online platform that connects intergenerational Black women in Philadelphia around mentorship and personal development, took home the first-place spot, plus $50,000 toward building up the platform.

Now, the Economy League, IBX and new partner Accelerate Health Equity (AHE) are revamping the program for its second go. The organizations launched the 2023 Well City Challenge this past weekend with the theme “Community Solutions for Mind and Heart Health.”

The challenge will take place over 18 months, and focuses on equitable care for Black and brown communities in Philadelphia. Participants will have a chance at $100,000 in seed investments, up to $50,000 in prize money, and will gain connections to mentors and other funders, organizers said.

“The Well City Challenge is intentionally designed to center the community voice — not only in asking the communities directly about their personal experiences in health care, but also in seeking their ideas in addressing and reversing health disparities,” Program Director Maritza Pedlar said in a statement. “Too often, well-meaning efforts don’t go deep enough into the reasons behind barriers to access and, as a result, offer surface-level solutions that fail. We believe that the best solutions come from within the communities affected.”

This year’s challenge will accept proposals that address three focus issues:

  • Supporting community re: mental and heart health — Projects that support stronger social connections between neighbors, grassroots leadership and more health resources
  • Equitable access to nutrition and care — Projects that address the barriers to preventative healthcare and “healthy, culturally appropriate” foods in Black and brown neighborhoods
  • Safety in our streets, homes and communities — Projects that make neighborhoods safer from violence, which drastically impacts mental health

These categories were chosen through a community engagement process in different neighborhoods, including Southwest Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and Kensington, throughout fall 2022. AHE also relied on research about barriers like inadequate health insurance, lack of a primary care physician and lack of behavioral health professionals to inform this year’s challenge.

“A major issue in health disparities research is in who designs and implements interventions — without input and co-creation from community members, many interventions fall flat,” said Erica Dixon, director of AHE, in a statement. “The heart of the Well City Challenge is that an understanding of problems and barriers as well as ideas and solutions both come directly from community voices, and the challenge fosters and supports the ability to create real opportunities for change.”

To be considered for the challenge, submissions must provide a health solution in one of the three focus areas. Applicants can be an individual adult or a team of no more than four people, and they must live or work in Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware or Montgomery counties.

Apps for the 2023 Well City Challenge will stay open through March 3. A social venture incubator for selected teams will take place this spring. The challenge will then host a pitch competition in May, where selected teams will receive $10,000 and move on to an accelerator this summer. Grand prize winners from the program will participate in a pilot from July 2023 through March 2024.

Learn more and apply here
Companies: Economy League of Greater Philadelphia / Independence Blue Cross
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