Lisa Abeyta spotted a problem in June, when she saw a video of a woman calling the police on an 8-year-old girl selling water bottles in San Francisco. The girl’s crime? She didn’t have a permit.
No one was fined in that instance, but small-time food vendors around the country can attest that that’s not always the case. Last summer, Country Time Lemonade even started a program to pay legal fees for kids who get fined for running a lemonade stand. Citing examples like these, Abeyta — CEO and founder of the government-serving tech startup CityLife — is looking to raise $20,000 on Chuffed.org to launch PermitMe, an app that would streamline the application process for consumer permits. Aside from operations like food stands, it could also be handy for garage sales and event planning.
“If [the girl in San Francisco] had an app, her mom could have paid for a permit right then and there … and it would have stopped it,” Abeyta said. “One of the goals is, when those permits can be issued without further inspection, they should be accessible when you need to get one.”
Abeyta expects PermitMe will be easy enough to build on her own platform as a service, formerly called APPCityLife, given the company’s knowledge of permitting processes in hundreds of cities from its work alongside companies such as Oracle and Accela. She also pointed to a few similar projects as precedent, such as CityLife’s recent participation in a STiR (Startup in Residence) program in West Sacramento where the partners worked on an app to streamline another kind of permitting process — that is, helping real estate developers to estimate permitting costs in minutes instead of days. Launch of this program is still forthcoming, pending an upgrade to the city’s Accela system. But where PermitMe stands apart, and why it needs crowdfunding instead of a city contract, is in its focus on consumer permits instead of trades.
“This is something that cities shouldn’t really be funding, and to get this many cities to fund it would take years,” Abeyta said. “We wanted to make this one citizen-friendly, focused on needs of citizens rather than driven by constraints of a budget of what a city has authorization to build … With this app, we wanted it to be inclusive and national, and that’s why we’re raising money that way.”
John Keisler, economic development director for the city of Long Beach, Calif., concurred about the financial and logistical hurdles of a city building a complete app that would then have to interface with so many proprietary systems. In 2016, Long Beach took a different approach with an online portal for people to apply for trade business licenses, instead creating an open source website on GitHub that could be borrowed and modified by other cities. It handles different kinds of permits and licenses than PermitMe — for trades, not consumers — but the goal was similar, and Keisler considers it a success. He said the website has saved Long Beach staff time and money, reducing the median days to approval from 24 to 18 by helping applicants understand and prepare for the process.
“It maps out the checklist that an entrepreneur would need to complete their own process. It also helps regulatory agencies to understand how they might interact with other entities that they previously weren’t aware of,” Keisler said. “The tool itself led to other insights, which then led to other technological improvements.”
Abeyta said fundraising is supposed to pay for the hours needed to work with cities on integrating the app with their existing digital portals. PermitMe would test first in two or three cities that generate the most financial support, adding more locations over time, along with a website and voice support for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa.
“The other piece of that is adding blockchain, so the permits that are issued are accessible on a blockchain ledger, so anybody can actually see those,” Abeyta said. “What’s good about that is, if someone is coming to your door selling tamales, you can look them up and see if they have a permit. That’s the second stage.”