Kansas City, Missouri is exploring how new technology can improve city operations through a 12-week in-house partnership with local businesses. The scheme allows the city to experiment with new products and services designed for the public sector without any contractual obligation. About 30% of participants have been awarded city contracts.
Results & Impact
About 30% of participants have gone on to be hired by Kansas government agencies. Success stories include a new procurement management system, an iPad app that reduces human error from first responders when treating cardiac arrests and a software program that helps city officials manage strategic planning.
City of Kansas Mayor's Office, Kansas City Agencies, entrepreneurs
Applicants to the program are assessed on how useful the project could be to the city, and whether the business is ready to start quickly. Applications are not required to fill government's current procurement needs, as the program primarily aims to help businesses develop products of value to the public sector at large. Entrepreneurs are assigned a contact point from the department their service is intended to be used by, along with an office inside City Hall. Additional support is provided by the Innovation Partnership Program team. The product is tested and adjusted over the 12 weeks, culminating in a demo day where participants discuss the impact of their services. City agencies then decide if they want to hire the company on a long-term basis.
Kansas City, Missouri
City of Kansas, entrepreneurs
Cost & Value
There is no cost associated with the program.
Running since 2014
The Innovation Partnership Program is one of three government-business in-house collaboration programs, along with San Francisco’s Start Up in Residence program and Pittsburgh’s PGH lab. Other cities are also looking to develop similar schemes.
Kansas City, Missouri is working with entrepreneurs to improve public services by trialling new technologies outside the traditional procurement process.
The Innovation Partnership Program is a 12-week initiative that allows the city to experiment with new products designed for the public sector. Businesses get access to city data and support from government staff, allowing them to tailor their offerings to public sector clients.
In its first three years, about 30% of participants received contracts from Kansas government agencies. Success stories include a new procurement management system designed by RF365, an iPad app that reduces first responders’ human error when treating cardiac arrests from Redivus, and a software program that helps city officials manage strategic planning from Stratus Solutions.
“It came as a way to work with startups inside City Hall and to bring technology in the building without having the cumbersome procurement process,” said Katie Garman, an Innovation Analyst at Kansas City who oversees the program. “In that 12 weeks we really want to either test out what they are doing and highlight areas of failure – or areas of opportunity for improvement – and then figure out a way for them to implement it in a city long-term.”
The 12-week format was first introduced in 2016, and sees businesses work closely with City Hall staff to identify whether their project is something the city could benefit from. Businesses receive a designated contact from the department their project is designed to benefit. Meetings between businesses and their contact point take place on a weekly basis, to ensure entrepreneurs get full access to the types of departmental resources they need and to be certain that the project is properly implemented and tested.
Businesses benefit from two types of resources beyond government staff. Working inside City Hall allows them to test and develop their services using city data and operating systems. While this is primarily open data, the advantage for businesses is that by operating inside City Hall they receive access to it through a centralised system. Were they to access it outside government, it would be much more difficult and time consuming to use because of the diffuse way in which it is published. Businesses also benefit from the types of software systems the city uses, which are typically not publicly available.
Entrepreneurs get detailed insight into the procurement process. “We have our procurement group come in and say, ‘Here is exactly how procurement would work for your company and here is how you navigate those processes’,” said Garman. “We know there’s a lot of private sector accelerators and incubators. We are not trying to compete with those – we are in fact trying to support those efforts and make it really specific to how you work with cities.”
In addition to their contact point, businesses also receive assistance from officials running the IPP program to ensure their ideas are properly tested and to sort out any problems they might be having. “If city staff are claiming that they’re busy or they don’t want to work with them, I come in and I crack the whip. I say we need to work with them and disrupt some processes for the sake of technology and innovation,” said Garman.
Nevertheless, how the 12 weeks are used is largely up to the businesses themselves. “I don’t try to meddle with them. I don’t set metrics,” said Garman. “There’s zero dollars exchanged, so there’s no financial loss to anyone. We really try to keep it fluid.”
The program culminates in a demo day where participants showcase their products to city officials, journalists, investors and other members of the business community.
The city aims to attract between five and seven applicants per cycle, and acceptance rates have varied between 40% and 60%. When deciding which projects to take on, the main considerations are how useful the project could be to the city, and whether the business is ready to start quickly. Additionally, the product’s ability to create jobs and attract talent to the area are also taken into consideration. The applicants do not need to propose products and services that the city is actively looking to procure.
So far the program has largely attracted startups looking for their first major client. Although around 30% of businesses do receive offers from the state, Garman emphasises that there is no guarantee of a long-term deal.
The notion of government working with businesses to develop products is gaining ground across the United States. IPP is one of three such initiatives, along with San Francisco’s Start Up in Residence program and Pittsburgh’s PGH lab. Other cities are also looking to develop similar schemes.
(Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons)