SAN FRANCISCO — The red walls of the Strand Theater wrapped around a sold-out civic innovation showcase Friday, Sept. 16, as startups and Bay Area cities celebrated the successful end of this year's Startup in Residence (STiR) program.
The initiative, which unites startups with city departments to design gov tech solutions, was pioneered by San Francisco, and this year expanded to include the California cities of West Sacramento, San Leandro and Oakland. This municipal quartet collaborated with 14 startups for 16 weeks in an attempt to rethink a gamut of critical services.
They delved into police transparency issues, vehicle procurement, the complexities of city finance and even crafted an app to track the living areas of the homeless. More than stagecraft or simple Good Samaritanism, the startups see the opportunity as a chance to test their solutions and tools, and potentially scale them nationally — see below for a complete list of the startups and city departments.
If the event’s commentary is any indication, expectations run high about what the startups’ solutions will present, which at the very least will be competitive alternatives for the roughly 20,000 cities and metropolitan areas in the U.S.
San Francisco STiR Partners & Projects
Six of the 14 startups worked on specific challenges in San Francisco:
“I launched the Startup in Residence program in 2014 to promote the collaboration of startups and local governments, to create a better quality of life for our residents, and this year I’m proud to become a regional program,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in a video message from Washington, D.C., where he was working on civic policymaking.
“Today you will see a website that helps San Francisco’s foster-care children connect to parents, an app that simplifies enrollment into Oakland’s Head Start program, a tool that helps San Leandro analyze city budget and performance data, and an app that allows West Sacramento Fire Department first responders to report emergencies in the field. His message was accompanied by speeches from West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon and San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter, both of whom offered high praise for the startups’ ingenuity and expertise.
There are mayors that have not been re-elected and city governments that have fallen because of a failure to deliver essential services in ways that are efficient, effective and equitable for our citizens,” Cabaldon said. “That’s why the work that we’ve been engaged in with our startups in the city of West Sacramento over the last 16 weeks has been so powerful, and is so important.” He said the intent was to expose staff to a different way of problem solving, one that identified and assessed what citizens needed more accurately and had outcomes that were responsive and could scale with population growth.
The city of San Leandro has similar reasons for reaching out for entrepreneurial solutions, Cutter said: efficient services, culture change and learning to take measured risks for the sake of progress. The city, she added, is attracting different investors and startups connected with software, big data and the Internet of Things, and as such, is in a transitional phase to accommodate the new landscape.
STiR’s goal is building bridges between startups to bring innovation to the public sector, and this really fits well with what my city is after,” said Cutter. “We’re looking for ways to make sure our infrastructure is in place, but also that we’re serving our community.”
West Sacramento STiR Partners & Projects
Three of the 14 startups worked on specific challenges in West Sacramento:
What many of the entrepreneurs took away from their brief encounter with government might best be described as a new appetite for city government. Despite the bureaucratic wrestling matches and procurement tripwires that often get in the way, in near-unanimous fashion the tech companies expressed a happy surprise that assumptions about government opposing innovation wasn't always the case.
The entrepreneurs said they often encountered staff with ardent desires to improve services but lacked a path to overcome the technical hurdles. The common remedy for most IT issues was diving into a spreadsheet and performing the manual and time-consuming tasks of data entry.
Barrett Johnson, program director of San Francisco County's Health Services Agency (HSA), was among these overwhelmed but optimistic workers. "I was doing what we typically do in government," he said jokingly, "which was to try harder and complain to my friends and family about it."
Oakland STiR Partners & Projects
Two of the 14 startups worked on specific challenges in Oakland:
Johnson and a co-worker at the HSA are pained by a critical shortage of foster families in San Francisco. Currently, he said the county has to send more than 40 percent of its foster-care children out of the county, and 25 percent must be sent out of the Bay Area entirely, a daunting hardship for children already coping with a traumatic experience.
"Imagine what that is like for foster kids who lose their families, at least temporarily, and then have to lose their community as well," Johnson said.
Through STiR, the HSA was paired with the foster-care tech startup Binti. The team went to work to alleviate some of the burden by creating a public-facing website, SFcaresforkids.org, for potential foster care parents to find resources, developing a TurboTax-like system for foster care parent enrollment, and for staff, designing a case management system that's expected to reduce social worker time by 20 to 40 percent.
San Leandro STiR Partners & Projects
Three of the 14 startups will be working on specific challenges in San Leandro:
LOTADATA is providing an analytics app and user ID card that lets San Leandro’s Recreation and Human Services Department staff visualize and track usage patterns for recreational facilities. Leadership officials plan to use the analysis to optimize and improve services.
Binti Co-Founder and CEO Felicia Curcuru said the experience has opened her team up to future opportunities and developed a product that will be in two additional counties soon.
"This is our first time working with government," Curcuru said. "And to be honest, we were a little nervous making that transition. We thought procurement would be challenging and intimidating, and STiR was a great way for us to work with our first government partner."
While the STiR program makes no procurement commitments with the participating companies, the other 13 startups have contracted their services in varying degrees. Jeremy Goldberg, San Francisco's director of innovation partnerships and part of STiR’s leadership team, confirmed that the regional program will return for 2017 and is inviting both startups and counties to apply.
This article was originally published on Government Technology.