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.
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:
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.