When it comes to addressing social inequities, business entrepreneurs and data analytics can seem unlikely partners. But Alberta’s new Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator (CSW Accelerator) – a first-of-its-kind global accelerator – aims to prove those synergies by ethically applying data and Artificial Intelligence solutions to social challenges in our province and beyond.
As part of its Greater Good strategy, ATB Financial has been involved with the CSW Accelerator since its inception, and partnered with an Edmonton-based, public-private group – including the Edmonton Police Foundation, the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (Amii), the University of Alberta, Telus, and Motorola – to submit the proposal for the CSW Accelerator to Alberta Innovates.
The accelerator was officially chosen for funding in September 2021 and is now in the process of screening global candidates to be part of the program. It will support tech companies and social enterprises using artificial intelligence and machine learning to develop apps or digital platforms that provide social, community or wellness solutions to societal problems.
The CSW Accelerator will use data from the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) index of Alberta – commissioned by ATB – to help identify challenges. The accelerator is powered by Alchemist, a Silicon Valley firm that is ranked the #1 accelerator program in North America.
Scaling social solutions
“The concept behind the CSW Accelerator is to crowdsource and channel ideas and resources to solve community problems,” says Chett Matchett, managing director, People and Culture, Strategy, Operations at ATB. “The big question for us was how do we scale and systematize this process in a way that attracts the best social entrepreneurs around the world? That’s when we decided to create the Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator.”
The CSW Accelerator offers a bi-annual, 12-week program to help build participants’ business skills to gain traction in markets, scale their solutions and connect them with mentors. The social entrepreneurs will be able to tap into provincial data and use artificial intelligence and machine learning to support their venture.
At the end of the program, participants will present their solutions to a pool of investors and grow from there.
“To begin with, this is about uplifting the well-being of Albertans by solving societal problems,” says Matchett. “But the big vision would be to scale these companies out of Alberta, into other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world.”
Creative thinking for social change
Ashif Mawji, chair of the Edmonton Police Foundation, says accelerators have been empowering the tech industry for years, but now the proven methodology to help start-ups accelerate their business growth can be used for social impact.
“The intent behind this is to look at our most pressing social problems or challenges in the community, like homelessness, mental health challenges, domestic violence, and racism, and draw up solutions,” said Mawji, a serial social entrepreneur himself. “The accelerator brings entrepreneurs and creative thinking to the table for better outcomes.”
Mawji’s hope is the CSW Accelerator can help reshape how the province is viewed globally as a place of innovation and social change that will retain young entrepreneurs.
“This is a super important initiative for Alberta. Young grads don’t just want to make money and further their careers, they want to be involved with social good and make a difference,” he says.
So, what does that look like? Mawji says some possible outcomes that benefit society could include an increase in literacy levels leading to better employment opportunities or being able to intervene earlier in the cycle of domestic violence through education.
More information about the Community Safety and Wellness Accelerator, which will see its first round of cohorts accepted early this year, can be found at CSWAccelerator.com.
ATB’s Greater Good strategy seeks to move the province forward in the areas of Access to Education, Access to Mental Health Supports and Access to Information and Communication. You can learn more about ATB’s Greater Good strategy here.