San Francisco Readies a Civic Startup Accelerator

S.F. mayor also appoints a chief innovation officer for the city-county.

by / January 9, 2012
San Francisco City Hall. Kwong Yee Cheng / Flickr CC

San Francisco is hoping to attract startup companies working in the government space with the formation of a new business accelerator that will reach into City Hall.

The consolidated city-county government is partnering with Code for America for the accelerator, slated to begin in fall 2012. Initial funding is coming from Google, the Kauffman Foundation and angel investor Ron Conway.

The city will help the startups test and refine their products, according to an announcement, Friday, Jan. 6, from San Francisco Mayor Edwin M. Lee. Code for America, the nonprofit that pairs volunteering Web developers with municipal governments in a yearlong fellowship program, will also lend assistance by helping to identify opportunities within San Francisco City Hall. Code for America also said it will host a citywide app competition in which teams will compete to develop prototype solutions.

“As we’ve seen from disruptive companies like TurboTax, SeeClickFix, and Socrata, there’s a real opening for new businesses in the civic space; we want to turn those examples from the exception into the norm. We want entrepreneurs everywhere asking, ‘How can I disrupt government?’” Code for America Founder Jennifer Pahlka said in a statement.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Google is chipping in a $1.5 million grant for the accelerator, and each participating startup will receive $20,000 to $30,000. The incubator will be housed at Code for America’s headquarters in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s newly appointed chief innovation officer, Jay Nath, will also be involved. The new position was announced by Lee late last week. Nath previously was the innovation director of San Francisco’s Department of Technology.

According to Code for America’s website, the so-called “civic space” is worth more than $140 billion.

Startups for the accelerator will be picked through a call for applications this spring. For more information about the accelerator, go to Code for America said it will approach other cities about joining the accelerator, too.

The idea of tech-focused business incubator isn’t a new one, but in the context of government the notion seems to be gaining steam in municipalities large and small. In Chattanooga, Tenn., city officials and business leaders are hoping that $300,000 in cash prizes will tempt entrepreneurs to participate this summer in the city’s Gig City initiative that will attempt to create viable businesses that utilize the city’s one gigabit network.

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