THE BLOG

Disruption as a Public Service

02/06/2013 10:08 am ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

In 2011, Caitria O'Neill was a resident of Monson, Mass. when a tornado tore apart her town. She and her older sister, Morgan O'Neill, became the de facto organizers of the grassroots relief effort -- and found few tools available for them to coordinate the incoming donations, volunteers, and aid. They had neither the tools to organize aid, nor the ability to catalogue the many requests for help from residents whose homes had been destroyed.

When the relief effort finally wrapped up, one thing was clear -- the everyday citizens who step up and manage recovery in their neighborhoods and towns need to be armed with more than clipboards. So Caitria and Morgan decided to make disaster response smarter and simpler by providing a community-powered online toolkit for volunteer, donation, and information management. Their software, called Recovers, helps communities prepare together, mitigate risk, and match local resources with local needs when disaster happen.

After Recovers launched the toolkit in a handful of disaster zones (including Hurricane Sandy) to 'stress test' the software, local governments around the country began inquiring about how they could subscribe to the platform before disasters hit to prepare their communities. Caitria and her team saw incredible market potential in a neglected area, and now they have transformed toolkit they built into a rapidly growing business. They're using the internet to make our communities stronger. Caitria O'Neill and Recovers are coding to literally rebuild America.

At Code for America, we collaborate with governments seeking to reimagine the relationship between their residents and themselves -- creating a government for the 21st century. We help bring this vision to life by calling web developers and designers into public service, working with change-makers inside of government and out. Two years ago we launched our fellowship program pairing passionate technologists with city governments to build innovative new solutions to civic problems -- or as some have called it, "a peace corps for geeks."

Soon after we launched the CfA fellowship, we realized that to accomplish the kind of change we were seeking, not only will government have to change, but also the civic tech ecosystem. Innovative new companies can offer city governments less expensive, less time-intensive tech solutions that engage and serve citizens more effectively. These are start-ups like Recovers, that know how to use new technologies, modern tools, and approaches to create real value, and that employ business models that capture enough of that value to become sustainable, thriving enterprises.

So starting last year, we sought to complement our work inside government with energy from the outside, from companies looking to provide new services and experiences to citizens. We want to support civic startups -- companies who are not only making a profit, but are also making a better government. So in 2012 CfA designed and launched the first-of-its-kind Civic Startup Accelerator -- a business development program focused on tapping into the over $140 Billion market opportunity in the government technology space.

The first accelerator was a four-month program that fostered seven small companies that create technology which governments could benefit from. Recovers and the other companies in the cohort are just a sample of the many new businesses that are taking root in the fertile soil of civic technology supported by CfA's efforts -- more than 230 applied to be a part of our first Accelerator -- in just three weeks. The seven companies who participated had already created 42 jobs in the civic tech sector, and have added over 20 additional full-time employee positions since participating in the CfA program. They all plan to continue hiring as revenue grows over the next year, demonstrating the incredible potential for innovative entrepreneurs to meet the rising government demand for new tool and cloud tech -- and in doing so, create jobs.

In 2013, we'll continue this work, and we'll soon be selecting a second class of civic start-ups for another year of the Accelerator program. CfA's unique understanding and access to the civic market and our commitment to creating ways for government to work more efficiently and transparently inspired our interest in helping build the marketplace for new civic startups. We hope to inspire new entrepreneurs like Caitria to see the potential of the civic sector market, and to encourage our government partners to use the innovative tools these companies have to offer.

There is a new industry taking shape, with opportunities for technical talent in government, the private sector, and hybrid social enterprise entities. Code for America is helping to support the job market in this nascent civic technology sector by generating demand from government stakeholders, supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses, and cultivating a pool of technically-skilled individuals interested in working in the civic space.

Join this movement to reinvent the relationship between citizens and government today:

  • Please support our fellows and our civic startups by donating to CfA in the JobRaising challenge.
  • Help your city become more open to working with civic startups by asking them to Code for America. We are currently seeking municipal government partners for 2014, so contact your mayor, councilmember, or anyone inside City Hall and ask them to apply here.
  • Sign up for your local Code for America Brigade to roll up your sleeves and start coding for your city.