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San Francisco's CIO Gives Advice for New Startup in Residence Participants

Krista Canellakis has words of wisdom for the newest cohorts in a collaborative program that has proven novel, effective and extremely popular.

The 2018 Startup in Residence program features more than 30 government agencies, at least 50 RFPs and a set of new features, such as a specialized track for public organizations and startup companies that want to collaborate on mobility.

Without question, it is the most complex iteration of a program that started modestly back in 2014, exclusive to the city and county of San Francisco. Often abbreviated as STiR, Startup in Residence embeds young companies with government agencies for six weeks, with the goal of breaking down the walls that separate the public and private sectors, helping government solve community problems while providing the tech sector with a business foothold in a largely untapped market.

After the 2014 pilot, the program expanded to include regional partners throughout Northern California, and last year it grew further to encompass participants throughout the entire nation. This year, STiR has enlarged even more, and it now includes partners in Canada as well as its largest-ever class of public agencies and organizations, with a total of 31 participants. The rapid expansion means that several jurisdictions are participating in STiR for the first time, including Las Vegas, the Memphis Area Transit Authority and Pennsylvania. It stands to reason that these newcomers could use some advice from San Francisco, the program’s founding participant.

Government Technology recently spoke with San Francisco CIO Krista Canellakis, who offered some tips for newcomers as well as insights into the STiR projects her jurisdiction would be working on this year. Canellakis stressed that her biggest piece of advice was for the participating government agencies to be open-minded, to simply present problems that don’t already have ultra-specific solutions to potential tech partners and see what the entrepreneurs propose.

“The program really is a way of having a more open-ended challenge-based model,” Canellakis said, “so the technology companies can come in and say, ‘here’s how we can solve it.’”

In government, such ideation is not as common of an approach as it is in the tech sector, particularly among smaller startups with a greater degree of agility in their work. Canellakis also said that it has yielded good results for San Francisco, both in terms of helping them work with the local startup community and in fostering a culture of ongoing collaboration.

This is the fifth cohort for San Francisco and some of the work that started there has grown to help agencies elsewhere, too. One startup, Binti, worked with San Francisco via STiR to develop new software that speeds up the application process for would-be foster parents.

This year’s class features several new projects that could help the next Binti emerge from San Francisco, projects that Government Technology has already detailed.

Overall, Canellakis said that the program continues to yield great results for San Francisco, noting that another benefit of participating is that internal agencies gain a better understanding of how government can collaborate more effectively with startups.

“With each year there’s more and more visibility, and more understanding about the value of the program and the projects,” she said. “As we’re able to demonstrate success and show these projects come to fruition, it gets easier to point to precedent.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.