How Startups Are Helping Build a 21st Century Government

Last week, we announced the launch of the second Startup in Residence (STIR) program for entrepreneurs to work with San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro and West Sacramento to develop technology-based solutions that address challenges facing local government. We need entrepreneurs and technologists to help build a 21st century government -- one that's efficient, effective and responsive.


Because when you look at the transformation happening in nearly every industry and sector, startups are leading the way. Yet the public sector is one of the few remaining areas that have yet to be transformed by startups. There are a number of reasons for this but we believe one of the most critical barriers is not understanding the needs of government organizations. So what are we doing to invite more startups to consider government?

In 2014 we were the first city to embed startups in government to build new products. In our first cohort we had nearly 200 startups from 25 cities and countries apply to the program and we selected the 6 most promising startups to collaborate with government agencies across 16 weeks to build new products and services. All 6 of these collaborations resulted in innovative products for government.

Can you imagine having a new and working solution in place in just 16 weeks?

We think that speaks to the transformative power of startups collaborating with government. One of the most exciting outcomes from these collaborations was a solution to guide blind and visually impaired airport customers to their gate and other services. The application was built by a company from Vienna called in collaboration with our airport SFO and in consultation with Lighthouse for the Blind, a SF-based non-profit that advocates for the blind and visually-impaired.

SFO installed nearly 500 ibeacons in Terminal 2 and shared detailed maps and resources down to the location of power outlets. SFO is planning to scale the technology and adapt the software into multiple languages.

We took our learnings from 2014 and with a three year grant from the US Commerce Department and we are building on our success to expand the program regionally. This multi-city collaborative has shared nearly 27 challenges for entrepreneurs to tackle.

Here are a few examples:

● We're asking startups to help us engage and recruit potential foster parents by creating an intuitive and streamlined experience.

● We're asking startups to help us post-disaster assess the safety of buildings by creating a mobile app for government inspectors

● We're asking startups to help us achieve Zero waste by placing sensors in garbage bins to track utilization and engage residents.

But we also want to hear from startups outside of these challenge areas that have great ideas or innovative products that can help government. Startups can apply now to work and the winning team for each challenge will be selected to participate in a 16-week "residence period" from April to August 2016.

After the 16-week program, the government agencies and startups have the potential to enter into a commercial arrangement through the usual competitive process which means an RFP. However for SF, we've streamlined the procurement process from months or years to weeks. We were able to do this by having our call for startups be an RFP.

While the 16-week program is a voluntary and a pro-bono collaboration, if the government agency and startup want to enter into a commercial arrangement they can do this seamlessly. We think this is addresses another key barrier for startups: complex and lengthy procurements

At the end of the 16-week program each city will host a demo day showcasing the outcomes of these collaborations. We invite the community and technologists to join us when we celebrate the outcomes of these collaborations.