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When you think of Miami, images of traffic jams likely cloud the otherwise sunny picture. And don’t get us started on how mobility issues can weigh on the environment, personal livelihoods and the economy as a whole.

What if entrepreneurs, engineers, corporations, legal minds and governments came together to build mobility solutions that could help Miami and be used by other cities?

It’s an experiment that is already being tested by a trio of South Florida’s most accomplished entrepreneurs: Rodrigo Arboleda, co-founder of the global nonprofit One Laptop Per Child, Dr. Maurice Ferré, co-founder of Mako Surgical who is now running the brain-health biotech firm Insightec, and Salim Ismail, founding executive director of Singularity University and a guru on the power of exponential technologies.

In about a year’s time, their young Miami-based nonprofit foundation, Fastrack Institute, has launched about eight startups in Medellin, Colombia, that are trying to solve big urban problems in fast, cost effective ways using technology. These include not only potential solutions for mobility but also widening citizens’ access to banking and finance, healthcare and early education.

Fastrack Institute is now turning to Miami, where it will seek ideas and “fastrack” some of them in the area of mobility. Fastrack announced Tuesday that it will launch a 16-week program to help address Miami-Dade’s transportation problems, with funding from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina.

The Fastrack framework is based on ideas spearheaded by Singularity University and Ismail’s ExO Works, organizations that focus on the impact of exponential technologies, which are technologies doubling in power or speed while their cost is dropping. The Institute runs 16-week programs, also called Fastracks, in which tech companies or nonprofits to address city problems are built in a collaborative way by bringing government regulators, attorneys, sociologists and other experts into the process. The idea is that legal, regulatory and societal hurdles can be addressed while the concepts are being built and the technology is being being tested. Once deployed, the technologies can be used by many other cities.

The three entrepreneurs came together serendipitously, each independently looking at ways to put technology to work finding solutions to urban issues. Arboleda was looking for ways to engage more young people in Latin America in technology and the sciences after finishing his work with One Laptop Per Child, which provided laptops to more than 3 million children in emerging markets. Ferré was exploring how to accelerate and support advanced healthcare innovation locally as well as globally. Ismail had recently moved to Miami from Silicon Valley, and was helping corporations learn how to develop an innovative mindset.

“In Fastrack, what we have uncovered is a mechanism so that as you are investigating these technologies like solar or autonomous cars, you can ramp up the regulatory, legal and safety changes that need to be made as you are looking at the technology,” said Ismail, in an interview last month.

“We found with Fastrack we can solve a problem facing a city at about one tenth the current cost, which makes it economically very compelling,” added Ismail. He said about 20 other global cities, about half in Latin America, have expressed interest in Fastrack programs.

Arboleda, CEO of the Institute, Ferré and Ismail launched the first Fastrack programs in Medellín about a year ago, and found the city to be an ideal partner for its pilot programs. The city has “earned its wings” because it has that has risen from the brink of economic collapse by smartly employing the power of innovation, for which it has won global awards, said Arboleda, a native of Colombia. Fastrack has partnered with the Colombian entrepreneurial organization Ruta N, which was founded by the city of Medellín and links academia and the private and public sectors, he said.

“Cities should embrace and accelerate the adoptions of these technologies but try to minimize the collateral damage to those portions of societies these types of exponential, viral and disruptive technologies will be affecting. We need to complete the circle. Technology alone cannot make it,” Arboleda said in an interview earlier this summer. “That is the genesis of Fastrack Institute.”

Fastrack’s first Fastrack, or 16-week sprint in which companies are built, was finished early this year and two startups were born to tackle the problem of financial inclusion, including one focused on building a peer-to-peer lending network using blockchain technologies for the unbanked population. Then a mobility sprint was launched, which finished this spring, yielding two more companies. A spinout came out of that one too, as now the nonprofit has launched a Fastrack program on air quality. Recently completed was a Fastrack on healthcare, including preventative care, and one is planned on education. Large corporations from a variety of industries are providing most of the funding to build and pilot the technologies in Colombia, Arboleda said.

Take healthcare, for example. A town two hours from Medellín has the highest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world; it was profiled on CBS’ 60 Minutes and has been drawing the interest of scientists and doctors globally, including Ferré.

“There is a tremendous opportunity [in Colombia] to set up a living laboratory with gigantic potential for mankind,” Arboleda said. “One of the most difficult health challenges will be the aging populations and in that age bracket Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s will become the most damaging elements we have ever seen in humanity for older people and the younger people taking care of them.”


Closer to home, Miami-Dade County is considering a significant expansion of its mass transit system, but what will mobility look like in the future? To this end, Miami-Dade County and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority have asked the Fastrack Institute to explore this.

“Traffic — think about it. If we can solve it in Miami, then that becomes an export industry that applies to every city in the world,” Ismail said.

To launch the Miami-Dade Fastrack, the institute received $500,000 from the Knight Foundation, Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and local real estate developer and investor Armando Codina, representing the Codina Family.

“I am looking forward to participating in the conversation led by Fastrack Institute and seeing how we can work together and implement real-world solutions that will be advantageous to Miami-Dade’s transportation issues,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez, in a statement. “This initiative is a prime example of how public/private partnerships are beneficial to the community.”

Gimenez will accompany a delegation from Miami attending a Singularity University program next week, Arboleda said. The University of Miami’s Center for Computational Sciences and Rokk3r Labs are among the organizations already involved in Fastrack programs in Latin America.

In Miami-Dade, the program will kick off Aug. 24 with a free daylong Awake workshop in the BCC Chambers of the Stephen P. Clark Government Center. Register here to attend. Awake will begin with a presentation to the public in which Miami-Dade’s transit issues will be discussed and community feedback will be collected. The institute will also launch an open call for ideas to address Miami-Dade’s mass transit issues. Two teams will be selected from the pool of applicants to participate in the 16-week Fastrack. The teams will include global experts working hand-in-hand with local participants, organizations, educational institutions and public offices. The Fastrack will be directed and supported by a full-time Miami-based team and a local advisory board.

This will be the first but likely not the only Fastrack, the institute’s founders say. Climate change, accessible healthcare and affordable housing all could be issues for future Fastracks, for instance.

“What we want to do is make Miami the capital for this kind of thinking,” said Ismail, adding that Miami’s diversity and Latin American gateway status make is a good candidate for a successful Fastrack process. “Absolutely the biggest success factor for any city is diversity, and the richness that comes from it. All great ideas come when you cross disparate domains together.”