CURA:Tech is launching a ‘civic tech’ incubator in Minnesota

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Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 1.04.06 PMThe Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota (CURA) has teamed up with Open Twin Cities and human centered design firm Azul7 to support the creation of new tech tools which “build community and capacity” in Minnesota.

CURA was established over 40 years ago inside the Humphrey Institute to essentially match resources at the U of M and the needs of individuals within urban communities as well as the broader statewide region.

“We support connections between communities and what the University has to offer, around the issues that communities identify as important to making our neighborhoods, cities and region vital places to live and work,” program manager Kristen Murray explains. “This can take the form of research assistance, small grants (~$10k) and collaborations between faculty, local and state governments, neighborhoods and community-based organizations,” she continues.

The introduction of CURA:Tech represents an evolution of the same mission but with a tech twist. In terms of specifics, the plan is for a series of public events, workshops and two rounds of financial awards to “support teams as they develop civic technology ideas from issue/need, to proposal, to working prototype.”

With funding from the McKnight Foundation’s ‘Regions & Communities’ program, CURA:Tech will offer up to $135k in award grants spanning two phases. Phase one, which is already underway, consists of six $10k awards in March; the second, near the end of the summer involves three additional follow-on grants ($40k, $20k and $10k).

Murray says the awards are based on the degree to which a problem/solution is localized, is addressable by technology, collaborative in nature, and designed to positively impact low income and communities of color.

“For us, civic technologies are tools that help people connect, have a voice in public processes, access and deliver resources and information, visualize the present and imagine the future,” she notes. “We’re especially interested in how civic technology can increase access to jobs, transportation, housing, education, health resources and engagement with government and other decision makers.”

“For example, these tools can be apps, websites, data visualizations, animations, text messages or other phone-based systems. These digital technologies can also dovetail with “low-tech” tools, such as printed material, posters, physical games, and other objects.”

The timeline calls for open applications accepted between now and March, when first phase of project proposals and awards will be chosen. In terms of who “owns” the outcomes, Murray says that’s to be determined on a case by case basis or “Up to each team to decide, with CURA leaning towards the side of being open & flexible.”

She advises those interested to stay tuned for specific event announcements; in the mean time, to get connected with CURA:Tech, find them on Twitter, join the forum and/or email list. Inquiries can be directed to kmurray [at] umn.edu.

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