What's New in Civic Tech: New York City Announces Crowdfunding Program for Women Entrepreneurs

Plus, Illinois announces move to new data management platform, civic tech group creates new source for California elections data and the USDA invests $16 million in South Dakota's rural broadband infrastructure.

by / November 9, 2017
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the winners of the NYC BigApps competition, a challenge to foster tech innovation for the city. Flickr/Kevin Case

New York City is partnering with the nonprofit crowdfunding platform Kiva.org on a city-led program to help women entrepreneurs start businesses.

The program, dubbed WE Fund: Crowd, lets women apply for crowdfunded loans of up to $10,000, to which the city will contribute the first 10 percent of the request. In a press release announcing the program, city officials said the initiative is designed to reach a minimum of 500 businesses over three years. The release also detailed a gender entrepreneurship gap that currently exists in the city, citing that as many as 70 percent of women entrepreneurs in New York City say access to capital is a major challenge, and half of women entrepreneurs there seek less than $10,000 when starting their business plans.

“Leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs will help grow and diversify our economy, and strengthen our families and neighborhoods,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio in the release. “With Kiva, we will help launch small businesses that might otherwise never get off the ground.” 

Loans from the city in support of this program will be confirmed once a project reaches all of its funding goal. The contribution from the municipal government will be capped at $1,000 per campaign, and the terms of these loans include no-interest repayments for up to 42 months. This marks the first time that Kiva, which was founded in 2005, has partnered with a government-supported initiative of this nature, aimed at getting seed money to women entrepreneurs.  

Illinois announces move to new data management platform

Illinois announced it will move to a new open data management platform that officials hope will be more functional and straightforward for users, while also saving the state government $1.2 million over five years.

This new open data portal will be built with Comprehensive Knowledge Archive Network (CKAN), an open source system used by more than 140 organizations, including the U.S. federal government, which has deployed it for data.gov. In a press release announcing this transition, state officials also said that there are plans to deliver other enhancements, such as a tool to track how often various types of data are being requested. Officials at the state level also plan to coordinate demonstrations for interested local governments.

The press release announcing this move also emphasized that open data supports Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “commitment to require transparency within state and local government,” noting that Rauner issued a related executive order essentially requiring that information about state hires be put online. Rauner, who is currently running for re-election in 2018, is yet to sign a pledge committing his office to a comprehensive statewide open data policy that adheres to updated governmental best practices, despite being challenged to do so by the state’s largest and most prominent civic tech group, Chi Hack Night. The Illinois Legislature passed a bill related to data access in 2014, but Chi Hack Night’s leadership has described this existing legislation as lacking and easily ignored.

Civic tech group creates new source for California elections data

The California Civic Data Coalition, a group aimed at developing open sourced software to make its namesake state’s public data easier to access and analyze, revamped its campaign finance data download page to include daily publication of info that was previously unavailable to the public in an easy-to-use format.

The new data, the group says, makes it easier for reporters, researchers and other interested parties to follow the money in California politics. Newly available files catalog every candidate for office and ballot, which members of the coalition described in a launch announcement as previously “found in the jumbled, dirty and difficult government database tracking money in state politics.”

The original source for this info is Cal-Access, the state government’s system for tracking the money that political campaigns raise and spend on elections. Coalition members say they found all the new info online and simply streamlined it and made it coherent. A student developer with the coalition, Sahil Chinoy, expanded on earlier work done in 2015 by another group and trained a computer script to navigate Cal-Access and parse out the essential data.  

The coalition notes that state officials have publicly described Cal-Access as a mess, and a quick look at both sites — Cal-Access and the coalition’s California campaign finance data download page — it is right away evident that the coalition’s design is more direct and easier to use. More details about how this was done and how it can possibly be replicated elsewhere are available via the coalition.

USDA invests $16 million in South Dakota’s rural broadband infrastructure

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development Office in South Dakota announced that the federal agency will invest $16 million in an infrastructure project aimed at bringing broadband to rural corners of the state, something that has long been a challenge for state governments to do by themselves.

The money was awarded to James Valley Cooperative Telephone Company, a private company based in Groton, S.D. With this funding, the company will install more than 200 miles of fiber-optic cable in the state, powering a network that will bring faster Internet speeds to more than 2,600 establishments. The announcement is part of a larger allocation that will see $207 million in grants and loans from the USDA distributed nationwide to projects aimed at bringing broadband to other rural communities.

Other grant monies will be awarded in West Virginia, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, the hope being that broadband becomes available to 71,000 new residents and businesses in 74 counties throughout those states, as well as in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Utah. The awards are all being financed through the USDA’s Telecommunications Program.

Zack Quaintance Staff Writer

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.