Startup in Residence (STiR), a program created in San Francisco in 2014 to make it easier for tech entrepreneurs to work with government, is expanding to 12 jurisdictions across the country, the largest of which are Washington, D.C., and Houston.
This expansion will start with the program’s upcoming 2018 cohort, marking the first time STiR will take place in cities and counties beyond Northern California. The full list of participants includes Boulder, Colo.; Houston; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Richmond, Va.; and Washington, D.C. It also includes six jurisdictions in California — San Francisco, Santa Cruz County, Santa Monica, Vallejo, Walnut Creek and West Sacramento — and one public agency, the San Francisco region’s Municipal Transportation Commission.
The next step will be finding startup companies to collaborate with these new participants. To this end, a list of 37 governmental challenges is now up on STiR’s website. Applications will be open to startups for the next four weeks, with a two-week selection process to follow. Selected startups will then begin work with city governments in January.
In a call with reporters to announce the expansion, San Francisco CIO Jay Nath, who has helped guide STiR since it began, said the challenges will cover a wide range of public service concerns, including smart city tech, citizen engagement, and public safety. Examples include Houston looking for an SMS-based alert system for emergencies, and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department wanting a more discrete, wearable electronic monitoring device for individuals as an alternative to secure custody.
While the size and scope of this program are expanding, Nath said the focus remains the same: to make it easier for tech startups to break into government while at the same time helping to solve public problems with private-sector innovation. This type of mutually beneficial cooperation has long been a problem, one that STiR works to solve by pairing tech companies with public agencies and having them develop products together over the course of 16 weeks.
Archana Vemulapalli, CTO for Washington, D.C., joined Nath on the call and said she and her jurisdiction would take the lead on the east coast as STiR looks to continue expanding in that region. Vemulapalli praised the opportunity to join the seasoned tech program, saying it allowed for learning from the successes, as well as the growing pains, that San Francisco has experienced during the life of STiR. Cities share similar challenges, and so it makes sense that rather than starting from scratch, they would instead piggyback on each other’s work, Vemulapalli said, coming together to be “conscious and deliberate and leverage each other’s strengths.”
Public agencies are notorious for lagging beyond the private sector in their use of technology, which as tech has become more accessible and easier to scale, has created a massive opportunity for startups to sell to the $100 billion government buying market in the United States, simultaneously improving the quality and efficiency of public service. These notions are what inspired STiR’s creation.
“We understood that startups don’t understand government,” Nath said. “They don’t understand our needs, they don’t understand how to work with us, and they don’t understand who they should be working with.”
While few resources exist to answer such questions online, STiR gives its participants a relevant curriculum and it also guides them through the complex government Request for Proposal (RFP) process with an application that doubles as an RFP. Another goal, Nath said, is fostering sustainable impact, going beyond pilot programs to generate software and other tech that cities will actually buy. To this end, part of the criteria for participating is that jurisdictions have room in their budgets to make purchases should a project prove successful.
There is, perhaps, no better example of the benefits that STiR provides to both government and startups than Binti, which participated in the program in 2016. Binti, a company that works to pair children in need with loving families, worked with the San Francisco Human Services Agency to build software that makes it easier to apply to be a foster parent and also gives social workers more efficient digital tools to manage applicants and do other tasks.
San Francisco has seen a 300 percent increase in applicants wanting to foster children, while Binti’s software has been purchased by 31 public agencies across three states: California, Colorado and North Carolina. In fact, 25 of the 58 counties in California now work with Binti’s product.
“This would not have been possible without that first customer, which we got through STiR,” said Felicia Curcuru, Binti’s CEO, who was also on the call with Nath and Vemulapalli. “San Francisco served as a reference customer for all the other counties we expanded to.”
This marks the second major expansion for the program. In 2016, STiR went from being in San Francisco alone to three other cities in Northern California: Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento. Organizers’ hope is to continue expanding the program throughout the country in the years to come.