Municipal Innovation Exchange (MIX)

What is MIX?

Municpal Innovation Exchange LogoThe Municipal Innovation Exchange (MIX) is an emerging centre of excellence using procurement as a tool to build innovation capacity and explore complex municipal challenges. MIX is a joint effort led by the City of Guelph, in partnership with the City of London, City of Barrie, and the MaRS Discovery District.

As part of MIX, each city will each run an innovation procurement challenge and explore the potential for multi-city challenges. Throughout this project, MIX will share best practices and codify learning into a best practice for the benefit of the Municipal sector.

Our partners

Our partners: Guelph Lab, City of Barrie, Brookfield Institute, MaRS, City of London, Innovation Guelph and the City of Guelph

The City of Guelph, in partnership with the cities of London and Barrie, as well as MaRS Discovery District created the Municipal Innovation Exchange (MIX) project. Each City partner will enrich the project by building the framework to meet their needs as the project evolves.

Aside from our partners, the MIX is fortunate to have support from partners across the innovation pipeline that will contribute to the design, research and implementation of City Challenges.

What is next for us?

  • The City of Guelph has launched the first MIX Challenge process and will be ready to release their challenge in a Request for Proposal (RFP) to the market in March.
  • The City of Barrie and London will follow with the launch of their own challenges and release their challenges later this spring.

Our work

Governments around the world are facing pressure to do more, but with limited resources. Public procurement has always been the way that municipal governments provide essential services to citizens, and obtain the goods and services that allow government to function. The list of items governments procure ranges from computers and software to fire trucks and road salt. Our goal is not to change all procurement, rather, we are looking to rethink strategic purchases made by municipalities, what we estimate are 10% of all purchases made.

The MIX has developed a process for innovation procurement, informed by our research, which allows for collaboration between vendor and municipalities and will drive economic and social growth by:

  • Increasing capacity for cities to respond to pressing municipal challenges
  • Enabling cities to be early adopters of innovative technologies, products, and services
  • Creating opportunities for businesses to partner with cities in developing innovative solutions to municipal challenges

Where this work started: MaRS’ Procurement by Co-Design health innovation program

MaRS ran a unique program that offered healthcare-service providers something rare: the opportunity to participate in the development of innovative solutions before procuring them. In turn, technology and service innovators with scalable business models could gain unprecedented access to end users and validate use cases to remain competitive.

Through the formation of innovation partnerships and by using a collaborative design approach, the program targeted complex systemic problems while complying with the Broader Public Sector procurement guidelines. The program was executed through a competition that followed the new, streamlined procurement approach. It encouraged the procurement of validated solutions by offering up to $50,000 to the teams that developed them.

Where this work started: Civic Accelerator


The City of Guelph launched the Civic Accelerator in 2016 to re-configure the procurement process. Rather than departments identifying specific products or services they intended to purchase, the innovation team within the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) asked city departments to articulate challenges they were facing that they had not yet been able to solve, and then helped the departments to refine these challenge statements.

The Accelerator’s purpose is to create solutions for complex municipal problems by embedding private sector start-ups inside City departments to experiment and prototype potential solutions in a low-risk environment.

In essence, the Civic Accelerator turned the City into a research and development lab for civic tech companies. MIX will help evolve the Civic Accelerator model to run challenges in the future as part of MIX. For more information read the case study by the Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship.

What is special about the Civic Accelerator?

The City of Guelph worked closely with the Guelph Lab to develop this model and developed a partnership model that recognized and took advantage of the strengths of organizations including the University of Guelph, Canada’s Open Data Exchange, Innovation Guelph and the Guelph Chamber of Commerce.

What is the impact of the Civic Accelerator?

The Civic Accelerator introduces city staff to new approaches of work that generate tangible results and build a sense of accomplishment. The pilot allowed companies and startups with extraordinary access for customer discovery and product development.

AlertLabs expressed that the experience accelerated development of their company by 1-2 years, and the work done with the City opened up new revenue sources that shifted their business model.

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Our research

MIX has a strong policy research component, and this report is our first piece of thought leadership. The findings of this report have supported our evolving work on innovation procurement. Read the full report, and learn more about our collaboration with the Brookfield Institute for Entrepreneurship + Innovation and the MaRS Discovery District for this report.

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It is our commitment to share what insights surface in this work with the municipal sector. This report will help you:

  • Understand how governments and procurement experts are talking about innovation procurement across the globe; how it is being described in different sectors and how it is being applied in practice.
  • Glean insight into the opportunities and barriers faced by policymakers, academics, consultants, procurement experts, and companies that are working to make innovation procurement more effective.

Key insights

  • Emerging models for innovation procurement have been challenging ideas of which companies can do what kinds of work for government.
  • All levels of government are interested in engaging more small-and-medium-sized businesses as a potentially untapped set of problem-solvers.
  • There is more room for experimentation at the market research and assessment stages of the procurement process.
  • Any innovation procurement must take into account the unique contexts and rules of each city.
  • While not all efforts will lead to a purchase, both procurers and suppliers are well-positioned to benefit from burgeoning relationships.
  • Need to create some controlled space to experiment with procurement approaches and solutions, manage risk, and anticipate new challenges related to innovation.
  • The definition of innovation procurement is not always clear, nor is innovation procurement always desirable or applicable to procurement across all sectors and governments—or even across all departments.

Research partners

Brookfield Institute for innovation + entrepreneurship

Follow our work

Follow our work on Twitter and LinkedIn, and if you would like to learn more about MIX email [email protected].