San Francisco's Plan to Get Entrepreneurs Working With Government

San Francisco, California

San Francisco, California Rudy Balasko /


Connecting state and local government leaders

The city aims to solve its biggest problems with some of the world's smallest startups.

San Francisco City Hall issued a call to startups worldwide Thursday, inviting them to tackle municipal challenges as part of the city’s first Startup in Residence (STIR) cohort.

The 16-week workshop builds off the success of the City by the Bay’s 2014 Entrepreneurship in Residence pilot program, which saw six tech innovations—from among about 200 startups in 25 cities—implemented locally.

This time around, San Francisco secured a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to scale the program nationally starting with the California cities of Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento.

“They recognize government, broadly, is a huge commercial opportunity,” said Jeremy Goldberg, Startup in Residence director, on a conference call. “Yet the ecosystem is mostly large players.”

“How do we bring in entrepreneurs into that ecosystem?” he added.

In 2014, Austria-based navigation tech company entered a commercial arrangement with San Francisco after the pilot and installed nearly 500 location beacons in Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport. Coupled with an app built in consultation with nonprofit Lighthouse for the Blind, the visually impaired can now be guided to their gate and other services digitally.

The app has since been scaled across more terminals and multiple languages. Other solutions included creating a post-disaster assessment mobile app and putting sensors in garbage dumpsters to streamline collection.

For STIR, 30 unaddressed municipal pain points have been listed with the hope startups will respond to the request for proposals—San Francisco having streamlined its procurement process. Many of the challenges were identified by Mayor Ed Lee’s administration in the areas of transportation, public health and the environment.

Hundreds of startups are expected to respond to the listed requests or pitch their own solutions, and this will be a first for many.

“They’ve never worked collaboratively with government before, so that’s one of the big barriers for startups we see,” said Jay Nath, the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation’s chief innovation officer.

City and startup staff will be mentored over the course of the workshop, share data and and provide feedback. Startups will learn about processes like RFPs and ultimately be reviewed by a selection committee, during several local and regional demos.

Meanwhile, city staff will undergo entrepreneurship training and be schooled in lean startup methodology, Nath said, being given the “same staff toolkit that Silicon Valley is using.”

The goal is to make government more agile alongside its partner startups, of which there should be three to six for each participating city by STIR's end. Quality, not quantity, is what’s important though, Nath added.

A live stream of workshop events will be available for cities looking to use San Francisco’s technical assistance as a guide for replicating STIR in their own backyards.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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