As we all know, technology has led to ongoing disruptions in industries ranging from music to publishing, but our government, the institution designed to serve us all, has been left behind, saddled with outdated and inefficient software, not to mention the substantial pricetag the comes with them.
But now that's hopefully about to start to change, right here in San Francisco.
On January 6, Mayor Ed Lee announced a partnership with Code for America to create the world's first Civic Startup Accelerator, connecting tech startups with City Hall: "San Francisco is home to some of the world's greatest entrepreneurs, the ones who have 'disrupted' numerous industries and made our City a hub for innovation." He added, "The challenge now is to bring those same disruptive technologies to make government more accountable and engaged, and make San Francisco, the world's first City 2.0."
You're likely wondering, "So, what's a civic startup?" Take an older example for context, TurboTax. It's not created by anyone within city hall, but millions of Americans use it each April, and it sure is convenient way to pay your state or federal taxes. Here's another: SeeClickFix, which allows citizens to report neighborhood issues -- illegal dumping in Bernal Heights or sidewalk defect in Bayview -- to local government through their mobile device or computer, saving the city time and money. Since launching in 2008, it has raised more than $1.5 million and contracted with more than 80 cities internationally. Then there's Brightscope that will let you compare your 401K options using federal data they literally petitioned Congress to open up.
Those examples should hopefully be just the beginning. Thanks to the partnership with the city of San Francisco, entreprenuers in the accelerator will have unparalleled access to opporunitities within City Hall. The city has agreed to inventory challenges in various departments which could benefit disruptive technology, and throughout the year, there will be public "hackathons" to prototype solutions, where the winners will be placed into the accelerator, getting seed funding, office space, and mentorship -- everything they could need to build scalable, sustainable companies. Already, Google and the Kauffman Foundation provided support for the accelerator, and famed angel investor, Ron Conway -- early investor in Facebook, Twitter, and Google -- has agreed to advise the program and mentor the startup companies.
It's amazing to see a city open its doors like this to entrepreneurs, and hopefully other cities will follow suit, joining into the accelerator as well. Given the challenges cities across the country are facing -- financial, operational, and technical -- it's time they recognized that some healthy disruption can be a public service.