Bridge between Startups and Local Government [Interview with San Francisco’s Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath]

In 2014, under the leadership of former Mayor Ed Lee, the San Francisco’s Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation created Startup in Residence, a program connecting startups and local government to make government more effective and responsive to residents. Startup in Residence (STIR) brings startups and local government together to develop targeted solutions to civic challenges through a novel approach to shortening the typically protracted and arduous government procurement cycles. This collaborative effort provides local government agencies access to more efficient and responsive technologies and participating startups the benefit of sharing their solutions in the govtech market.

In 2016, the STIR program expanded to four Bay Area cities: Oakland, San Francisco, San Leandro, and West Sacramento. And in only two years, STIR has worked with nearly 30 startups and recently announced their expansion to 12 local governments nationwide providing a larger platform for startups and continued impact on local government.

Recently, we had a chance to interview Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer of San Francisco, to talk about STIR and entrepreneurship in the U.S.  Jay described how STIR is mutually beneficial for startups and local government by providing startups with a low risk foray into the world of government technology and allowing government agencies to take advantage of new technologies quickly to accelerate better outcomes for residents.

STIR is helping government agencies catch up to the private sector’s customer-driven market focus. Startups are invited to apply to work with participating cities on specific technology needs. For the upcoming 2018 cohort, challenges include improving 311 request routing in San Francisco, an interactive park finder in Santa Monica, and a resident service and engagement tool in Washington, D.C.

During the 16-week program, government departments work with the startup to co-create, working through four phases: discovery, design, build and user testing. At the end of the 16-week residency, startups deliver a prototype. The goal is for cities to access new technologies that help them to improve quality of life for residents. From the startup’s perspective, working with these cities allows them to apply their innovative solutions to public sector challenges, setting them on a pathway to contract with cities nationwide.

Bringing startups into Govtech

Given San Francisco’s notoriety for entrepreneurship and all things innovation, there are countless startups and entrepreneurs from all over the world hoping to find the perfect platform to showcase their visions. It is this environment, Nath said, that allows STIR to attract early stage companies with big ideas to join the program, providing startups a unique opportunity to explore the govtech market, a market that currently, presents many barriers to entry.

STIR is an opportunity for startups to engage civically and set them on a path of steady and long-term business opportunities in the public sector. One such startup is Binti. Binti participated in STIR’s 2016 cohort partnering with San Francisco’s Human Services Agency (HSA).   During the residency they developed a mobile-friendly app for prospective foster parents, making it easier and more straightforward for them to complete HSA’s foster parent application process. The impact was significant; Binti’s tool reduces the time for social workers to process foster parent applications by 50%, ultimately helping them do more social work and less paperwork.

“Through our participation in the Startup in Residence program, we co-developed an impactful product, and the partnership with Binti really helped us advance our efforts to nurture a more modern, tech-friendly organizational culture,” said Barrett Johnson, a Program Director at the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

According to Felicia Curcuru, founder of Binti, after the collaboration with HSA, the company has expanded their business to other cities in California. LotaData is another success story.  The startup worked with the City of San Leandro to create the “People Intelligence” platform, an easy-to-use geo-dashboard that consolidates data from across the city into a single place. Startups like Binti and LotaData are helping to modernize government while exploring new markets for their services and products.

Calling all startups to board the government train!

The application for 2018 the Startup in Residence program is open through midnight on January 1st at midnight PST.  Jay said STIR welcomes applications from startups, tech firms, and individuals that are willing to share their ideas, make efforts to improve civic challenges and serve the public using technology. The 2018 STIR program has extended to 12 local governments in California, Texas, Florida, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington, DC. As for startups, this is a perfect chance for them to showcase their capabilities.

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