San Francisco announced on Sept. 6 a new program to bring fresh ideas to the city and give entrepreneurs a chance to enter the public-sector technology market. In a phone press conference led by Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath, Rahul Mewawalla, senior advisor in Mayor Ed Lee's Office of Innovation, and Deputy Innovation Officer Shannon Spanhake, officials answered questions and explained the city’s vision for solving what they called “pain points” through the new Entrepreneurship in Residence (EIR) program.

The city will select three to five teams of entrepreneurs who will spend 16 weeks between mid-October 2013 and mid-February 2014 working with San Francisco officials on their chosen projects.

“We heard from [entrepreneurs] that a number of them either had or wanted to bring products or services into the public-sector market, primarily given its large economic potential,” Mewawalla said. “However, as we spoke further with the entrepreneurs, we heard from a vast majority that their primary concern was that they heard working with government was cumbersome, painful and they frankly just didn’t know how to start. San Francisco’s EIR program was created to bridge this very gap.”

By aligning goals and physically working side-by-side, city officials and entrepreneurs will get a chance to work toward more efficiently leveraging open data, better utilizing public assets, improving health care, improving transportation and making an impact in other areas affecting the quality of life in San Francisco.

“San Francisco’s program is one of the first EIR programs within government, who is by far, the largest customer of products and services in the nation,” Nath told Government Technology, via email. “The entrepreneurial products and services developed through San Francisco’s EIR program should drive significant impact such as increased revenue, enhanced productivity or meaningful cost savings.”

Teams will be chosen based on their demonstrated capacity to address an issue of relevance to the public sector, pursue an opportunity with an economic potential greater than $100 million, choose a project that can be scaled to meet the needs of other cities or municipalities. The team must also demonstrate a high likelihood of success based on previous experience.

It makes sense to do this, Mewawalla said, because San Francisco is the innovation capital of the world and being surrounded by entrepreneurs means there’s no excuse for government to let its problems go unsolved. The city’s $8 billion annual budget, 28,000 employees and 50 departments provide entrepreneurs with significant economic potential, he added.

The “pain points” San Francisco experiences are common across many cities and states, Mewawalla said, so he hopes that this program won’t just benefit San Francisco, but also allow its entrepreneurs a springboard to help the nation.

Entrepreneurship in Residence programs are somewhat new to the public sector -- the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) department created what it believes is just the second public-sector program ever in February 2012. The department reported the program a great success, streamlining processes based on feedback from entrepreneurial communities in Silicon Valley, Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C.

San Francisco touts a partnership with the White House on this project, with mentor roles being filled by Nath; Mewawalla; Spanhake; Rebecca Foster, advisor for the Mayor’s Office of Innovation; Lenny Mendonca, co-founder of McKinsey’s Public Sector Practice and senior partner in the Washington, D.C., and San Francisco offices; John Farmer, senior advisor for Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Dave Viotti, founder and CEO of SMALLIFY, an innovation capacity-building firm based in Menlo Park, Calif.

The program is now open for applications at entrepreneur.sfgov.org.

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com