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Sacramento's Innovation Chief, Louis Stewart, Moving to Private Sector

Stewart brought his efforts to bear in various aspects of new and emerging technology — autonomous vehicle testing, expansion of 5G telecommunications technology in Sacramento, subscription-based ride hailing, cybersecurity, digital license plates, and bus-based Wi-Fi, among others. He also serves as a mentor to many and as an advocate for industry and academia.

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Sacramento Chief Innovation Officer Louis Stewart has announced that he’s leaving his role with the city, effective Sept. 7.

Stewart was appointed as chief innovation officer (CIO) in May 2017, shortly after Mayor Darrell Steinberg initiated a reorganization of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Let me start by saying this is both personal as well as professional,” Stewart told Techwire in an email interview Friday. “I am making the leap back into the private sector after 13 years of serving as a civil servant. Now I move into a company that works in AI and Deep Learning. I keep pushing for inclusion and diversification in tech and innovation. Last but not least, I keep championing Sacramento and its role in the digital future.”

As the city’s chief innovation executive, Stewart brought his efforts to bear in various aspects of new and emerging technology — autonomous vehicle testing, expansion of 5G telecommunications technology in Sacramento, subscription-based ride-hailing, cybersecurity, digital license plates, and bus-based Wi-Fi being made accessible for free public use, among others. He also served as a mentor to many and as an advocate for industry and academia.

In an interview with Techwire in August 2018, Stewart shared his view of government’s role in innovation: “The government a lot of time is a convener, because it’s not like we have resources galore to either man all this stuff and make all these projects happen or pay to have all this stuff happen,” he said. “We’re hoping that with minimal investment and with partners jumping in with us, we can minimize how much impact it is on Sacramento, but on the other side, maximize what we actually get.”

Stewart said he’s satisfied with his achievements, but he regrets leaving some work unfinished.

“I was able to help bring together a digital workforce coalition before leaving, but I would have liked to be able to truly connect them to the opportunities on the horizon in cybersecurity, in artificial intelligence, in the internet of things broadly.”

Stewart started his career in the private sector in 1996, then spent 2006-2007 working as the statewide IT and telecommunications director for Californians for Schwarzenegger, a role in which he oversaw the strategy, construction and implementation of technology used in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign.

After that, Stewart joined state government, serving from 2007 to 2009 in a variety of executive, advisory and governor-appointed roles in the Department of Motor Vehicles and then accepting appointment to a variety of roles within the Office of the Governor — first as deputy director for Census 2010 within the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, then as deputy director for innovation and entrepreneurship in the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz). In that role, Stewart secured hundreds of millions of dollars in grants from the federal government and the private sector to stimulate emerging industries and technologies and to champion workforce development in California.

After seven years in that role, Stewart joined Sacramento’s newly revamped Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in 2017.

Stewart has remained active in numerous community organizations involving education, digital access and equity, and he has built up a following for his personal blog, MeetMrStewart, where he writes — sometimes in a very personal way — about an eclectic array of topics including technology, current affairs, race and culture, and his personal life and perspectives. Techwire republished a commentary he wrote in April about the potential rewards of a career in cybersecurity. Stewart, whose background includes experience in public affairs, is also active on Twitter.  

Stewart said he’s working on transition plans for the projects and “programs that were in my portfolio, from Aggie Square to self-driving cars.”

Asked about his most gratifying accomplishments while working in the government of his hometown, Stewart said:

“The first thing is that I think through the work with the Sacramento Urban Technology Lab framework, we were able to truly build credibility that our city is a place for innovation. The second is that I am extremely proud of the work my team and I did to bring together the innovation ecosystem from the Mayor’s Tech Council to partnerships with the Kings and the Capitalize pitch program to our partnership with MicroMentor and Economic Gardening.”

Asked for any advice he might offer to his successor, Stewart replied: “My advice would be to listen, be patient, be public and be humble.”

Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.