New Accelerator, CivStart, to Focus on Gov Tech Partnerships

A new startup accelerator has chosen 10 companies for a two-year mentorship program to bring civic technology solutions to market, with a specific focus on enduring problems that face state and local government.

by , / July 18, 2019

A new startup accelerator called CivStart aims to help civic tech startup companies succeed with prospective customers in state and local government.

CivStart officially launched Monday with 10 early to late-stage startups, according to the program’s news release, working on technology to address issues such as digital services, debt, procurement and geospatial information-gathering. Each of the startups will go through a 24-month product development program guided by mentors from both the public and private sectors.

Co-founder Anthony Jamison, formerly the director of business development for the National Association of Counties, said the program entails virtual and in-person lessons with mentors and advisers who will discuss how to work with government at different levels, the procurement and RFP process, and how to price and market solutions with a focus on issues.

Jamison said the idea behind CivStart was connecting innovation with actual, real-world need, overcoming the obstacles between startups with helpful ideas and local governments that could use them.

“Government is dealing with hundreds of problems at once, and a lot of them, they lack the technological expertise. There are a lot of young entrepreneurs out there who are intimidated by the hurdles with the government procurement process,” he said. “We made sure we identified startups that meet the needs and address those challenges that governments are facing on a day-to-day basis … We were surprised to find there wasn’t anyone solely focused on bringing technology to the state and local government market.”

Prior to launch, Jamison said CivStart had received 75 applications from 11 states and four countries. His team interviewed them all, looking for ones that already had some traction in a government market, whether state, local or even federal. He said he was looking for companies that had a scalable solution to major issues without an expiration date, such as disasters, climate change or infrastructure. Public- and private-sector advisers were involved in the selection process too, and Jamison said diversity was a factor.

“We want to make sure, not only are we helping bring technologies to communities that are underserved or unconnected … but we wanted to focus on our program being a diverse one,” he said. “We want to try to bring startups across the entire country into the fold, and make sure the CEOs and founding teams are also diverse. While it’s not a main factor in our selection process, we do look for women and minority-owned startups.”

The 10 startups in CivStart’s first cohort are:

  • Civis Analytics: Uses person-level data and analysis to guide more scientifically grounded, result-oriented decisions.
  • CityGrows: Workflow automation software as a service (SaaS) to help governments bring permitting, licensing and other digital services online.
  • GovInvest: Uses software and actuarial reports to help governments address unfunded pension, other post-employment benefits and debt problems.
  • Kwema: Makes bracelets with a hidden panic button for women in immediate physical danger.
  • Orbital Insight: Applies geospatial analytics and machine learning to satellite, UAV and other geospatial data sources to drive policy decisions.
  • Circuit: Uses fleets of all-electric vehicles to offer free rides on demand through busy downtown areas.
  • Whyline: Discerns wait times and traffic congestion levels by applying an algorithm to historical congestion data and real-time, crowdsourced information.
  • ProcureNow: A platform to improve, simplify and expedite the procurement process.
  • Citibot: A text-messaging tool for citizen engagement with local government. 
  • Gruntify: Uses mobile, mapping and cloud technologies to collect and manage data.

With this cohort scheduled to finish the CivStart program in 2021, Jamison said a new cohort will launch in summer 2020 and each year after that.

Given the existing landscape of accelerators that embrace gov tech, such as URBAN-X, 500 Startups, Y Combinator and DreamIt Ventures, CivStart isn’t a new concept. But Jamison said he doesn’t regard the others as competitors, mostly because of CivStart’s exclusive focus on, and partners in, state and local government.

“That’s where we have our expertise … and all of our relationships as well. State and local is a little bit different than all these other markets. It is a lot of relationship-building to get your solution into a government. They need to know they can trust you. They need to know who you are before they will even want to do business with you,” he said. “With each startup coming through our cohort, we have identified governments that we think are in a good space for their solution, and we’ve been working on how we’re going to get them in the right place for their solutions to be adopted by those governments. But we’re approaching the entire state and local market.”

More information about CivStart and its cohort is available at www.civstart.org.

Andrew Westrope Staff Writer

Andrew Westrope is a staff writer for Government Technology. Before that, he was a reporter and editor at community newspapers for seven years. He has a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.

Zack Quaintance Assistant News Editor

Zack Quaintance is the assistant news editor for Government Technology. His background includes writing for daily newspapers across the country and developing content for a software company in Austin, Texas. He is now based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached via email.


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