After leading Accela for more than 15 years, steering it into a position in which it was later acquired and then stepping down, Maury Blackman has made his next move: He’s getting into investing.
Blackman has signed on as a limited partner with the Urban Innovation Fund, a spinoff off the nonprofit investor Tumml, and is working as an investor on his own as well. In the past several months, Blackman has invested in the following companies:
GovList, which offers request for proposal and bid-writing software to help government agencies prune through procurement faster. Forensic Logic, which has built a searchable cross-agency network of police department information. DroneDeploy, which makes drone-mapping software. The company doesn’t necessarily target government, but its products could be used by government in the future. Blackman has also taken board positions at GovList and Forensic Logic, and is an advisor to the board of DroneDeploy.
He’s made a couple other investments in stealth-mode startups that he’s not willing to name yet. All told, he’s invested about $500,000.
Blackman isn’t limiting himself to gov tech investments, though most of the companies he’s evaluated have fallen into that category. After all, he thinks it’s a good time to be investing in gov tech. For one thing, it appears investors are increasingly willing to back businesses that sell to government, where in the past they’ve treated public customers as dangerously obstinate.
But there have been several lucrative deals made in the field recently — just look at the giant buyout Blackman’s former company Accela went through in 2017.
“I felt like from a gov tech standpoint, (that deal) really validated the space and I went from being just an entrepreneur in that space 10 years ago as CEO, really just trying to get people’s attention about — ‘Hey, there’s something happening here and its exciting,’ and nobody was really interested. And now … you can appreciate that the gov tech space is really taking off and people are excited about investing in it,” Blackman said. “I get two to three phone calls every week of people asking my advice about opportunities they’re working on to put money into government technology. And that is a tremendous change from where we were 10 years ago, even five years ago.”
Another factor in his decision to get into investing is social change. In his career, Blackman has seen plenty of how government works. He thinks it can work smarter.
And there are a lot of new tools to help public servants do that. The rise of cloud computing has made it easier for tech companies to build products that work for both small and large customers. Artificial intelligence is unlocking functionality that was much more difficult — or practically impossible — for common users to achieve five years ago.
Not all government is jumping onto emerging tech.
“You look at the drone space, you look at AI, all these emerging technologies, eventually they’re going to start to filter their way over to government agencies,” he said.
In so many words, that’s why Blackman sees gov tech as an opportunity.
“If you do a good job for government, they’re willing to pay for that value,” he said.