A government initiative to harness technological developments for policy challenges has engaged an array of tech-startups with the public sector in cities across the US.
The Startup in Residence (STIR) program aims to do two things: to make it easier for tech startups to break into government, while at the same time helping to solve public problems with private sector innovation. The program started in California in 2014. Now it’s spread to over a dozen local governments across the US—and has inspired similar programs in Holland and Canada too.
The program itself runs for 16 weeks. Startups apply for it with a pitch to tackle one of the government’s designated problems. The chosen startups are brought in, trained and mentored, and then given access to the entire municipal network and its partners. It’s a rare opportunity to access government data and contacts, and there’s the chance to pitch for substantial city contracts—a process which has been greatly simplified to encourage startups to get involved.
STIR has already delivered for local government. In San Francisco, 75% of departments opted to continue working with their tech startups at the end of the program. Resident startups have come up with digital tools to, for example, help fire departments manage volunteers, assist prospective foster parents submit applications, and help vendors bundle their offers on government procurements. The work of one startup in particular, BINTI, has seen widespread uptake.
“BINTI partnered with San Francisco’s Human Services Agency to build a mobile-friendly tool to streamline the foster care process, reducing by 50% the amount of time it takes to approve foster parents in San Francisco, improving staff efficiency by 20-40% and connecting foster parents to children in need faster,” said Jay Nath, Chief Innovation Officer of San Francisco. “Their successful product has been purchased by 31 public agencies and is in use in 25 out 58 counties in California since BINTI’s participation in STIR.”
BINTI demonstrated what the STIR program can achieve. And as of November 2017, a new wave of local governments have signed up for their own programs. The coming year will see STIR programs in nine places in California, as well as in Colorado, Virginia, Texas and Washington, D.C.
These cities have put together a wish list of 37 civic challenges to be tackled. These include a wide range of public service concerns, from smart city tech to citizen engagement and public safety. Houston, for example, is looking for an SMS-based alert system for emergencies. San Francisco’s Sheriff’s Department has asked for a more discrete, wearable electronic monitoring device for individuals as an alternative to secure custody.
Ultimately, the people behind STIR envisage a network of cities, stretching across the world, that can easily adopt projects they’ve seen developed and working elsewhere. This clearly offers the potential for economies of scale, which opens up business models and opportunities for fledging startups.
STIR has, in fact, already made the jump abroad—to Holland and Canada.
“These governments have created programs inspired by STIR, but their programs are not managed by our STIR team,” said Nath. “We are continuing to engage with these cities – and many others inspired by STIR – as we expand STIR next year.”
“By sharing insights we have learned from our own STIR program, San Francisco can help other cities pioneer innovative strategies to civic challenges and can connect them with mentors and startups that will allow them to launch STIR in their city while benefitting from all the lessons learned from previous STIR cities,” added Nath. “Startups will also benefit from the growing network because the solutions they develop for one city can often be helpful for other cities. Having access to the STIR network will give startups the opportunity to scale successful products across cities facing similar challenges.”
STIR is an annual program, and the deadline for applications falls at midnight, Pacific Time, on January 1st. Governments anywhere in the world that may be interested in running their own STIR program should get in touch.
(Picture credit: Flickr/Brad Montgomery)