The Startup in Residence Program (STiR) is now open for applications from private-sector entrepreneurs.
As such, STiR’s website has posted its annual list of civic challenges, which this year includes more than 80 potential use cases from 28 government partners, including cities, counties, states and even regional transit organizations.
In a phone call announcing the opening of the application process, organizers said that a major goal for this year’s class is to reach 100 percent for the rate of entrepreneurs that ultimately receive government contracts. Jay Nath, who is co-executive director of the organization that oversees STiR, said that historically that rate is 40 percent, noting that forthcoming information about the most recent STiR class will likely provide a boost.
All of this speaks directly to the core goals and ideas that give STiR shape: that government has a need for private-sector ideas to help it overcome complex and widespread problems. Alternatively, entrepreneurs see government as a vast and relatively untapped market. Essentially, STiR seeks to function as an introduction mechanism between the public and private sectors.
Its structure is built to facilitate this. This year, for example, the application phase for entrepreneurs will remain open until Nov. 7. After it closes, the 28 government partners will parse through the applications and select potential vendors with which to collaborate. Then, starting in January, the government entities will partner with the companies on a project to be built over the course of four months, or they will tweak an existing product to be more in line with the needs of government.
The best-case scenario for the private companies is that they will be able to build a product capable of addressing a common and widespread governmental need, enabling them to not only sell it to the agency they partnered with but also to thousands of other governments nation- or worldwide.
“You can put a challenge out there and rapidly create a solution in four months and go into contract,” Nath said. “Our cities are prepared in total to spend $5 million on these challenges and solutions. There’s a big readiness, a big commitment, and they’re ready to really roll up their sleeves and work with these startups to develop solutions.”
STiR first launched as a program limited to San Francisco back in 2014. It subsequently expanded to be a regional California program, before going nationwide last year. This year marks the broadest class of STiR government partners yet, with new members in Canada as well as in other levels of government, specifically at the state level thanks to the participation of Pennsylvania and Vermont.
For private-sector partners, STiR continues to be a viable way of breaking into the sometimes tricky arena of gov tech contracts. The most famous example is probably Binti, which developed a more efficient way for San Francisco residents to apply to be foster parents as well as for city employees to manage their applications. Binti has continued to expand the solution it developed for STiR into increasingly more governmental jurisdictions.
Binti, however, is far from the only success story. This past year saw the Danish company Nordsense work with San Francisco to build trash can sensors that can alert the city as soon as a public waste bin gets too full.
Nordsense CEO Anders Engdal and CTO Manuel Maestrini described their experience with STiR as a positive one. In addition to expanding its work with STiR from a pilot program to a large-scale deployment, Nordsense is now also exploring new installations with governments in Canada, Israel and Switzerland.
“This is so great because it’s so troublesome as a startup to do business with government,” Engdal said, “but in this case we have done it. I wish we had a program like this in Europe, or even in Denmark.”