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Sprout Fund's big ideas turn into big proposals

The Fund received 16 submissions for the five refined ideas in which the nonprofit is committed to investing a total of $100,000.

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GumBand is a mobile-phone-based event-notification system proposed by Nathan Martin, and one project hoping for part of the $100,000 provided by the Sprout Fund.
  • GumBand is a mobile-phone-based event-notification system proposed by Nathan Martin, and one project hoping for part of the $100,000 provided by the Sprout Fund.

After more than a hundred ideas blossomed at the civic brainstorming event hosted by The Sprout Fund last fall, a handful of them may be inching closer to fruition this fall.

As of last Thursday's deadline for its request for proposals, The Sprout Fund received 16 submissions for the five refined ideas in which the nonprofit is committed to investing a total of $100,000.

The five ideas range from a citywide festival to physical infrastructure, such as signposts and information kiosks.

"This is the opportunity for us to ask people to think about specific things," says Sprout programs manager Matt Hannigan. It's also a departure from the group's free-for-all model. "Our goal is not to try to create the most competitive process ever, but to encourage people to come together to develop strong applications around these [ideas], create strong collaboration among groups, and develop an idea into a full-fledged proposal -- which is the whole point of the endeavor," he says.

One proposal that best exemplifies the spirit of collaboration is for a citywide alternative-transportation festival. Led by Nathaniel Doyno of Steel City Biofuels, the team that submitted the proposal also includes Bike Pittsburgh, Flexcar, the Port Authority of Allegheny County and others.

"We're trying to make alternative transportation fun, acceptable and informative through a citywide festival at multiple locations," says Doyno.

In some cases, a proposal takes a drastically different shape than the original idea -- literally.

For example, when Sprout officials sought proposals on a prototype touch-screen device delivering directions, event information and news feeds to the public, they had in mind a physical kiosk. But Nathan Martin, head of a technology startup spun off from Carnegie Mellon University, challenged his Sprout funders to think differently by adapting the concept to a device that is already widely available: the cell phone.

"I have some experience working on kiosks previously," says Martin. "They are very expensive to maintain and questionably useful."

His proposal, codenamed GumBand -- one that ties things together -- will utilize the SMS text-message-based system to enable cell-phone users to find nearby events, friends, restaurants or directions wherever they are in the city.

"This is much more accessible to people more quickly," says Martin. "The cost is lower, and the reach is so much grander."

Hannigan says funding decisions will be announced in late June and he expects to see some of the proposals implemented as early as the fall.

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