San Francisco announced in September an Entrepreneurship in Residence (EIR) program that would harness the talent and can-do culture of startup companies, and apply them to common government “pain points.” But city officials may have underestimated the level of interest from the startup community in working directly with government.
By working with the city and county, program organizers promised that startups would have an opportunity to solve problems like “How can we better utilize our public assets to generate additional revenue?” and “How can we improve transportation efficiencies to improve transit times and reduce costs?”
The application period closed in early October, and program organizers report that they’ve received so much interest that it's going to take a little extra time to make their selections. Rahul Mewawalla, senior adviser in Mayor Ed Lee's Office of Innovation, reported being surprised and encouraged by the amount of interest. He told Government Technology that they may be a little slower than anticipated in announcing which startups will be chosen for the three to five available spots.
“We’ve received applications from close to 200 startups,” he said. “Not just San Francisco, but New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, L.A., Chicago, Seattle, Cleveland – you name it. But also, interestingly, from all across the world. We’ve got a number of startups from Europe, like London and Paris and Vienna, and from Asia – Beijing, Tokyo, Bangalore.”
It’s not just the quantity of applicants that was surprising, Mewawalla said, but the caliber of interested companies as well. An entrepreneur himself, he understands why the opportunity to work in the $142 billion public-sector market appeals to so many, also offering an opportunity to create change that affects citizens everywhere.
But because the response from applicants was greater than expected, Mewawalla said he began asking startups why specifically they were interested in the program. “If you’re an entrepreneur, and your choices were either to make a billion dollars or to serve the public good – they said there’s no reason why you couldn’t do both,” he said.
The program is a vehicle for goals both financial and philanthropic in nature, Mewawalla explained, adding that ideas developed for San Francisco can be scaled, since the city's problems are common to other large cities across the country. And there's evidence of a growing demand for
more startup involvement in government – many program applicants wrote their own mayors and governors, asking for a similar entrepreneur in residence program in their cities in states.
For now, Mewawalla is embracing this next challenge – selecting the applicants that will be invited to participate.
“The most difficult task ahead of us is to choose between what is an incredibly large and incredibly talented pool of startups, all of which are building incredible products around critical areas of transportation and health care and education and public safety,” he said.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.