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Camino Secures $5.9M to Bolster Permitting Platform

As the San Francisco-based company tries to simplify and democratize the process of obtaining permits, it plans to open its platform and make its data and APIs accessible to potential clients and innovators.

Following the close of a $2.4-million seed extension funding round in December, the San Francisco-based Camino is poised to further develop its software that guides citizens through the permitting process.

Chief Strategy Officer Nate Levine said the lead investor was 8VC, followed by Storm Ventures, GovTech Fund, iNovia, Fathom Capital and Sway Ventures. They brought Camino’s total fundraising in 2018 to about $5.9 million, counting the initial seed round that brought in $3.5 million from the same investors.

“We’re looking to expand the team pretty aggressively over this year, probably doubling in size from where we are currently, and that’s largely so we can take on the number of partnership opportunities we have to work on a fairly large permit system,” Levine said. 

Camino sells two products: the Permit Guide, which is an informational resource for anyone trying to get a government permit for business, construction or anything else; and a workflow system that connects the guide to a government’s actual permitting or licensing process. In Levine’s own words, it’s like TurboTax for permits.

Levine said Camino’s Permit Guide offers more sophisticated intelligence and thorough information than any analogs he’s seen, but if the company’s investors saw promise in permitting software, they weren’t the only ones. Civic-tech startup CityLife tried to develop an app to fast-track consumer permits last year. Gov tech regulars like Tyler Technologies, CentralSquare Technologies and Accela offer permitting solutions already, although Camino’s works alongside these instead of replacing them.

Around the same time Levine was launching Camino – although it was called Persista at the time – Cristian Robiou was working on a similar product in Miami, at a company called Clarity Value. In 2018 Camino hired Robiou, who brought his East Coast clients with him to Camino and is now the company’s business development lead.

Robiou said he started talking to Levine in earnest in August 2017 and saw their work's potential at the intersection of land-use regulations and economic development.

“The easiest way for a city to either encourage business growth or good practices is to be able to play around with (land rights and regulations). … The problem is, given the state of the industry, that conversation happens very rarely, and when it does happen, it happens very slowly. The side effect is, because the state and federal government don’t have a lot of power to intervene at a city level, there’s a blockade to who gets a say,” he said. “Second, it creates a shadow industry of people who are either permit runners or permit expediters or government-relations advisers, who tend to be lobbyists but are called different things because they don’t want to register as lobbyists. We want to address those problems.”

Camino’s products have been available for about 10 months now, and in an email, Levine offered two examples of use cases: In Santa Clarita, Calif., users have used the guide 1,186 times since August 2018, which suggests dozens of hours of staff time not spent addressing questions over the phone; and in San Rafael, Camino deployed a customized online cannabis-permitting system in less than three weeks. Levine said Santa Clarita reported a "significant reduction in the volume of calls" related to residential construction projects, and the average at-the-counter conversation decreased from 30 minutes to 10. He said San Rafael estimated Camino’s system saved at least 60 hours of staff time in the first month, and many citizens were able to complete the entire application process from home.

Besides improving the user experience, Levine said, Camino is working on a way to open its platform and offer developer APIs for users to pull data and build their own applications.

“Our model has been to partner with agencies to design and build the systems. Everything we’ve done up to this point has been in partnership with a group of innovative cities that we’ve worked with, and it’ll be the same idea going forward. We recently were selected as part of the [Startup in Residence] program,” he said. “Rather than being another silo in government, we actually become a system that enables innovation, growth, new ideas, and talks well to other systems. … We want to expose to agencies where the bottlenecks are in their process, where people are getting stuck, where things are slower, maybe even in comparison to other agencies.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Camino was the product of a merger between Persista and Clarity Value. Persista was rebranded as Camino, which then hired the creator of Clarity Value.

Andrew Westrope is managing editor of the Center for Digital Education. Before that, he was a staff writer for Government Technology, and previously was a reporter and editor at community newspapers. He has a bachelor’s degree in physiology from Michigan State University and lives in Northern California.