In 2018, San Francisco’s Startup in Residence (STiR) program, which embeds fledgling technology companies inside government to help solve public-sector problems, is looking to expand into other cites across North America as a non-profit civic tech organization transitions into leading the program.
"When we launched this program in 2014, we didn’t know where it was going to go," said San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath, who heads the SF Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation. "We applied for a federal grant in 2015. That gave us three years to really grow that program regionally and nationally, and we’ve been able to do that in 2016, grow that program regionally with Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento. And now we’re excited to invite mayors and governors across the U.S. to join the program."
NOW ACCEPTING APPLICATIONSTo be eligible for the STiR program's coming expansion, interested cities must RSVP by Aug. 4 by simply filling out a short form. Organizers from the program will then get in touch with further information about the application process, which is slated to run from Aug. 7 through Aug. 31.
To do so, STiR is coordinating with the City Innovate Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to guide local government in creating user-centered tech products. Nath said that group will take a leadership role as STiR expands to as many as 15 cities. While San Francisco will no longer be the sole driving force, Nath told Government Technology that he expects his team to remain heavily involved, as they still have federal funding, a partnership with the U.S. State Department and other resources to contribute.
Kamran Saddique, founder and executive director of City Innovate Foundation, said the future of STiR is one of "huge potential," and that disassociating STiR a bit from San Francisco will allow for an increase in the program's scalability.
"We’re just excited that we’re able to build this ecosystem out with such a great product and project and program that has been delivered by the mayor’s office," Saddique said. "We thank the mayor of [San Francisco] as well as Jay Nath, who’s been running this, in trusting us in taking this forward."
The idea behind STiR has been simple yet effective: Connect municipal governments with startups that want to create new technologies aimed at tackling housing, transportation, the environment, public safety and other community challenges. STiR has so far been the work of the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, which has partnered with governments in the other cities.
STiR’s track record to date is impressive, and past participants have created solutions to help streamline foster care, recover from earthquakes and give services to the homeless in real time. In addition to these tangible benefits, STiR also has more abstract benefits for San Francisco and the other participating cities, as it amplifies the Bay Area’s role as a pioneering region in civic technology and helps local governments improve upon technological challenges.
Nath said now that a non-geographically limited institution is taking a leading role, the STiR program's model will be able to spread faster, improving gov tech nationwide. If the program continues the success it had when it was regional, it could change how startups and government work together, leading to an increase in civic innovations.
City, state and county technologists across the country agree that there is a gap that separates startup talents and public-sector work. STiR has been the rare program that has made strides toward bridging this gap. Take for example the story of Binti, a San Francisco-based tech startup that was working to make the adoption process easier for would-be parents. The work Binti did as a 2016 participant in STiR has resulted in that company reshaping the way foster parent applications are handled, stored and referenced all across California, with plans to soon expand to other states. Binti's success, which was made possible by STiR, is evident in its ever-climbing list of government clients.
If City Innovate Foundation is able to successfully bring STiR to more cities in other regions, there could be Binti-esque success stories soon popping up across the country.
"We want people to think that, 'Hey, by working with startups we're going to really shine a spotlight on the innovation that's happening within our city,'" Nath said. "We really want to shift that conversation and build a culture of entrepreneurship in government, and we think that this is a great program to help do that."
Zack Quaintance is a staff writer for Government Technology. Prior to that, he spent five years working in daily newspapers, and another five years working in the tech sector. He lives in Northern California.
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.