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How STIR changed the trajectory for a SF Bay Area startup
In Part One, we elaborated the thought process that led to our participation in the STIR 2016 program. Part Two details our phenomenal journey with STIR and highlights the many reasons why we strongly recommend STIR to every startup with a civic bent.
The majority of cities have very limited budgets. Cities with populations between 50000 and 200000 citizens cannot afford data scientists or Chief Data Officers. They desperately need data help. That’s where CITYDATA.ai comes in. We’ve created CityDash, a one-stop data analytics and AI platform for cities on a budget. We are the Chief Data Officer in the cloud, for 99% of cities.
As part of the STIR program, we were fortunate to be teamed up with the City of San Leandro across the bay from San Francisco. With a population of 90000 residents, San Leandro was the perfect fit for CityDash. City leaders had rightly identified the need for big data solutions and geo-analytics to make sense of all the data coming flowing their IT systems. They were looking to aggregate, analyze and visualize geospatial datasets from public and private sources.
When we showed up at San Leandro City Hall for our very first on-site meeting and ideation session, we were blown away by their genuine interest in data-driven decision making. Our executive sponsors at the city were Jeanette Dong: Recreation & Parks Department Director, and Tony Batalla: IT Department Director, with enthusiastic support from Mayor Pauline Cutter, Debbie Acosta: CIO, Chris Zapata: City Manager, Jay Nath: CIO San Francisco, and Lawrence Grodeska: CEO, CivicMakers.
We knew going in that STIR is a fast-paced 16-week program where startups and government work together to co-create solutions to solve pressing problems. What we did not know is how rapid the pace really can be. We stumbled, we drank through the firehose, and finally got up to speed. For the benefit of startups that might consider joining STIR in the future, we have put together a playbook to help you structure the engagement with your partner city.
Weeks 1 to 4
- Requirements gathering
- Scope definition
- Ideation and design
Weeks 5 to 8
- Development sprints
- UX refinements
- Internal alpha
Weeks 9 to 12
- Beta prototype PoC
- Issue triage
- Rinse and repeat
Weeks 13 to 16
- Field test & launch
- Finance & legal reviews
- Present to City Manager
- Present to City Council
- STIR Demo Day!
Weeks 17 & beyond
(specific to LotaData)
- Product refinements
- Extend to 3 departments
- Flexible pricing
- Commercial terms
- Contract negotiations
- Insurance coverage
- Fully executed contract
- Purchase order
- Invoice & payment :)
- Public launch
- Investor traction
- Funding round !
Startup founders with private sector experience will need to reorient their expectations as they start to engage with local government. Below are key learnings from our experience with STIR.
Expect the unexpected
- Requirements will evolve during the program
- Key personnel at the city could transfer out
- Your team dynamics might also change.
You might realize that not everyone on your team is cut out for civic tech, just like we did :)
Be extremely patient
- Information flow through government channels takes longer than you might imagine
- Decision making typically is committee-driven
- Incumbents might block you. You need to navigate around them
Politics does play a non-trivial role in GovTech, you are dealing with the government after all
Design for everyone
- Private sector companies design the MVP or minimum viable product to satisfy early adopters
- Civic tech solutions need to be designed for everyone
You will need to account all demographics, all ethnicities, all income levels, all genders, all age groups, and all household sizes
Be 100% inclusive with your solution
Since graduating from STIR, CITYDATA.ai has been to the White House to attend the Smart Cities Council. GovTech Magazine covered us twice. Inc. wrote about our AI platform. ReadWrite listed us as a top startup changing the urban experience. We are humbled with the recognition and accolades.
STIR was our launchpad to engage with the government and serve the community. For this, we are truly grateful.
"Serving our communities through civic duty is what makes America truly great." - Apu Kumar