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:
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.
Jason Shueh is a former staff writer for Government Technology magazine.