Program Pairing Governments and Startups Launches Latest Round

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Participants in the Startup in Residence program are seeking solutions for about 80 “civic challenges.”

Nearly 30 state and local governments that have problems they’re eager to solve will get a chance to partner with startup companies offering possible solutions as part of a program that kicked off its latest round this week.

The Startup In Residence, or STIR program is run by a nonprofit organization called City Innovate. It began about four years ago in San Francisco and has expanded to cover 28 local and state governments across the U.S. and Canada.

Public sector participants are now accepting applications from startup companies who have proposals to address roughly 80 “civic challenges” that the governments have identified.

The challenges cover a wide range of areas, such as records management, transportation, housing and emergency preparedness.

Norfolk, Virginia is seeking to improve pre-registration and processing for people seeking space in shelters during emergency events like storms. A Nevada transportation agency wants to upgrade its system for working with traffic data. And Syracuse, New York is looking to connect low-income renters with people willing to offer zero-interest loans to cover security deposits.

“Startup In Residence is really based on a very simple idea: that the challenges that we face in our cities and our regions are too complex for any one organization to solve,” said Jay Nath, a co-executive director of City Innovate.

“We need to work collaboratively, across sectors, with startups, with entrepreneurs, with government officials to really produce the best outcomes, and the best solutions,” added Nath, a former San Francisco chief innovation officer.

That approach differs from the traditional relationship vendors have with governments, according to Nath. Under that usual framework, he said, companies develop products and services based on problems that they think exist and then try to sell them to governments.

STIR features a streamlined procurement process that Nath says can take less than an hour for a company to complete, as opposed the normal weeks- or months-long timeframe. For governments and startups that opt to work together, the program runs 16 weeks.

Governments need to undergo a vetting process by City Innovate to get involved. They need to show that they have funding available to address the challenge that they’ve identified, that they have a project manager, and that an executive official, like a mayor, is on board.

“We don't actually work with any city or government partner, they have to demonstrate to us that they're in a ready position,” Nath said.

Participating governments pay City Innovate a sliding fee between $5,000 and $25,000.

After the 16-week program, there’s a possibility companies and governments can enter into a contract. Nath said this has happened so far with about 40 percent of projects. Recruitment for startups for this round of STIR is now underway and will continue through Nov. 7.

In STIR’s last round, ZenCity, an Israeli startup, worked with San Francisco on a project to better route 311 service requests from residents, according to the company’s founder and CEO, Eyal Feder.

The city’s problem was that people submitting 311 requests through a mobile app or website often selected the wrong department for the request. This caused delays in the time it took the city to deal with the requests, and extra work for agencies that received them in error.

ZenCity “trained” an artificial intelligence model to recognize what department to send the requests to. It's accurate in over 90 percent of cases, according to Feder.

“We all know that there are huge opportunities in gov-tech,” he said. “But one of the biggest challenges for entrepreneurs with ideas or young companies is to get the access.”