Accela, Esri, Google, Microsoft and five others will be giving marketing advice, business development resources and mentorship to the 22 startups currently involved with STiR’s 16-week cohort, which concludes in May.
The Startup in Residence (STiR) program, which matches tech startups with local governments who could use their solutions, has enlisted the help of nine major tech companies to coach projects to the finish line.
Last week, those companies — Accela, Cubic, Esri, Google, Mexichem, Microsoft, Oracle, Panasonic and Visa — started deciding which startups to partner with for the remainder of this year’s 16-week program, according to Kamran Saddique, co-executive director of City Innovate, STiR’s parent organization. He said STiR recruited those major companies to form a technology advisory board in September 2018, and over months of planning and interviewing, they’ve chosen who among STiR’s 2019 cohort would most benefit from their respective expertise, marketing experience and other resources, starting now through the end of May.
Originally launched as a San Francisco-based regional endeavor in 2014, STiR grew to include nine cities in 2018 and now involves 22 cities or government agencies, with 39 startups working on 43 challenges, according to Saddique. He said those numbers have been in flux, because some cities dropped out when their challenges didn’t match with available startups, and a handful of startups are tackling more than one challenge. Challenges run the gamut from mobility issues to civic engagement, the Internet of Things, resiliency and process improvement, among other things.
Saddique said the impetus for the advisory board was realizing how many startups wanted access to technology they couldn’t afford, and that industry partners were willing to offer.
“Over the last six months, we have been bringing in key partners that will help our young innovators get access to tools and technology that they require to solve some of the challenges our cities face,” he said. “Our young innovators have been asking us for this access for years.”
Speaking for Accela, which has opted to mentor Neighborly Software and Qwally, Vice President of Marketing Heidi Lorenzen said the benefit for already-successful private partners in working with STiR is twofold.
“One is, it helps us keep our finger on the pulse of government needs, because obviously we’re seeing the challenges that the governments submitted to STiR and then working with the startups who are close to that,” she said. “On the other hand, it helps us keep our finger on the pulse of tech innovation, so being aligned with the startups that we’re aligning with, as well as seeing the other startups and the other areas in which they’re innovating, it helps us see where those areas are, and that in turn could influence how we want to evolve as a company, where we see partnership potentials, product innovation, etc.”
Lorenzen also stressed that companies like hers increasingly view private-public partnerships as the best model for bringing gov tech solutions to market. She pointed to recent research Accela commissioned about what governments are doing to create next-generation economic development. To a question about what helps them do so, the top answer was private-public partnerships.
“That reinforces how critical it is to create those partnerships, because what we’re seeing is, nobody can go it alone right now,” she said. “The pace of change is accelerating exponentially, so working together is what’s going to evolve the transformation of government.”
Saddique made a similar point. He said one of the biggest lessons STiR learned from its 2018 cohort was how young startups could work with the private sector; the other was the importance of communication and sharing challenges between cities.
“What we’ve been doing is creating peer-to-peer learning networks between them, so they’re now convening on a regular basis, including the cities. They’re talking to each other, which we’ve never had before when you have only four cities,” he said. “As we grow these numbers, we will see this being part of the core program, which is: How can they talk to each other and see, do our challenges match or not? How do we look at deploying similar solutions so we’re not out there looking for them?”