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San Francisco Recruits Three California Cities for Regional 'Startup in Residence' Program

A regional Startup in Residence program with West Sacramento, Oakland and San Leandro expands on San Francisco's 2014 effort and builds toward an international program.

Building on a program from 2014, the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Civic Innovation announced during a Jan. 28 press conference the 2016 Startup in Residence program that includes a regional partnership with the neighboring cities of Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento.

Selected startups will work with city departments to solve challenges around housing, transportation, the environment, public safety and public experience through the creation of new technologies developed during a 16-week residency. And this isn't a one-off, San Francisco officials said — they're building toward a national and global effort to encourage startup investment in the govtech market.

"When we look at the transformation happening in nearly every industry and sector, startups are leading the way," San Francisco Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath said during the event. "Yet the public sector is one of the few remaining areas that have yet to be transformed by startups. We believe one of the most critical barriers for entrepreneurs is not understanding the needs of government organizations."

In 2014, San Francisco experimented with a four-month Entrepreneurship in Residence program that paired six civic tech startups with city departments to craft new technologies aimed at improving government. Smartphone apps, predictive analytics platforms and notification systems were among the technologies developed, and two companies won contracts through a formal procurement with the city.

At the start of that program, the city was surprised and encouraged by the outpour of participation from around the world as San Francisco received applications from more than 200 startups from 25 cities and countries, Nath said — and the city is now building on this model.

A $474,453 allocation from a $10 million three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce is allowing San Francisco to scale its program regionally, said Jeremy Goldberg, Startup in Residence program director. Through this iteration of the program, startups will develop new technologies that improve cities, Goldberg said, but they're also compiling a repository of resources and methodology that for cities around the world to use.

"Following the program, all of the education and learning and experience we're developing now will become part of a blueprint and a guide for other cities that seek to participate and develop a version of the Startup in Residence to access that information," Goldberg said during the press conference.

The program website lists 27 challenges to which startups can apply before the deadline of Feb. 18. They include projects like helping cities improve the process of recruiting foster parents, creating mobile apps for government inspectors to ensure post-disaster assessments are safe, and installing sensors in garbage cans to help cities meet their goal of reduced waste and increased efficiency.

Organizers will select startups that best match the challenges presented, Nath said, and if no one applies to a given challenge, it may not be pursued. He guessed that when the program begins in March, each city would end up with between three and six startups under its tutelage. It's about quality, Nath said, not quantity.

Selected startups will get training on how government works, what its challenges are and which government workers to talk to get things done. When the program completes in July, startups will have a chance to sell their technology to government through a streamlined procurement process that Nath said the city hopes will encourage more startups to give the growing govtech sector a chance.

"This is another way to address a barrier that startups are facing, which is lengthy and complex procurement processes that often require a number of legal resources and know-how that many startups don't have," Nath said. "Government, broadly, is a huge commercial opportunity. There's tens of billions of dollars, and internationally hundreds of billions of dollars ... and yet the ecosystem is mostly large players, so how do we bring entrepreneurs into that ecosystem? And this is one program that's trying to tackle that challenge."

In September, each city will host a demo day to showcase the technologies developed by each startup, and a regional demo day will feature the best products from each city. Interested startups can apply by visiting the program website at

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.