City Departments Take Their Tech Challenges to Startups

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Geekdom startup Centrair Electric have a meeting in the Weinkrantz conference room (left to right) Ashell Adin, Anthony Barrientes, Shyhem Rhodes, and Christopher Gomez.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Geekdom members hold a meeting in the Weinkrantz conference room at Geekdom.

The City of San Antonio has identified seven challenges that residents, businesses, visitors, and City departments encounter every day. Now it wants the local, regional, and national tech community to help come up with solutions.

CivTechSA, a residency program developed by the City’s Office of Innovation and Geekdom, released its list of “civic challenges” earlier this month and will select three startups in March to work on one of the seven challenges during the program’s inaugural residency. Click here to view the request for qualifications. Proposals are due Feb. 12.

From increasing the number of animal adoptions from shelters, to creating a one-stop-shop for downtown transportation passes, to more efficient emergency utility assistance, to better navigation of visitor hotspots, the challenges touch on various City services. The three startups will embed within City departments; they have 16 weeks to come up with solutions for their challenges.

A Q&A session about the program will be held Wednesday, Jan. 24, at 6 p.m. in the 8th floor Geekdom office located inside the Rand Building.

“We’ve invited seven [executive level] representatives from the departments … to really sell their problem to the startups and let them know why it’s an exciting [business] opportunity,” said Kate Mason, innovation manager at the Office of Innovation.

The civic challenges, as stated in the RFQ, are:

  1. Notification system for individuals who are looking to adopt a pet from a shelter or rescue group (Animal Care Services)
  2. Easy tool for users of the airport to access information (Aviation)
  3. One pass transportation program for downtown (Center City Development and Operations)
  4. Mobile application tool allowing patrons to navigate the Alamodome and access amenities (Convention and Sports Facilities)
  5. Centralized online navigator that helps entrepreneurs and existing businesses identify/access resources in the San Antonio area to start or grow their business (Economic Development)
  6. Utility assistance application digitization and status tracking (Department of Human Services)
  7. Automated cart tracking and resident notification system (Solid Waste Management)

“[The challenges] had to be complex enough for it to be really valuable for the companies to spend that much time working with those departments and finding those specific solutions,” said Joyce Deuley, program manager of CivTechSA.

The startups must be within their first five years of incorporation or legal establishment, according to the RFQ, working to innovate through new technological products or processes, have less than $2 million in revenue run rate, and have fewer than 10 employees. The startup does not need to be based in San Antonio to apply.

“We have one of the fastest-growing ecosystems” for tech startups, Mason said. “We wanted to develop a program that added more fuel to that fire and helped our startups grow even quicker.”

Startups will not be paid during their 16-week residency, but each department identified funding sources to possibly purchase the solution product at the end of the program. City departments can spend up to $50,000 on a contract before it is required to to follow the traditional, competitive solicitation process.

Mason said unmet challenges could be addressed by future cohorts if the pilot program continues.

Duely said the ideal situation for the City is to find real solutions for these challenges that can be customized for San Antonio and its residents.

“This is a really great first step, I think,” Dueley said.

Magaly Chocano, chief executive officer at Sweb Development, said she wonders whether this residency program will develop lasting solutions to the City’s challenges.

A shorter residency program could allow startups to analyze the problem and carefully explore currently available solutions, she said, because it’s possible the problem can be solved with some other technology or existing platform.

“Ultimately it’s a great idea that they’re thinking of this,” Chocano said. “I don’t think that the City is clear on what it would truly take” to develop a product that people use every day.

Startups that have previous experience with similar challenges are interested in the program, Dueley said, so it’s “incredibly possible” they could develop an everyday use app.

Alberto Pina, co-founder of Braustin Mobile Homes, said his team is interested in working on the challenge presented by the Department of Human Services. His virtual mobile home dealership is based out of Geekdom and looks to address affordable housing issues across South Texas, he said.

They created a software solution that helped the startup apply for reduced utility bills in new mobile homes.

“We’re really hoping we can carry that over,” Pina said.

 

One thought on “City Departments Take Their Tech Challenges to Startups

  1. There should be one more category. This city has never had one good calendar of events for determining the possibilities of what is happening in the city. Too often, I read after-the-fact of an event I would have enjoyed attending!! To try to figure it out what is happening, I go to the calendars operated by The Current, getcreativesan antonio.com (formerly SAhearts), visitsanantonio.com/events, events.mysanantonio.com, and then double-check by looking at calendars for specific venues–the Alamodome, the ATT Center/Freeman Coliseum, the Majestic/Empire, the Tobin Center, the Lila Cockrell Theatre, the Aztec, Musical Bridges around the World, the Carver Center, the Playhouse, the Woodlawn, the Classic, etc. It takes forever to do this. As a volunteer, I suggest to visitors that they check the calendar at The Current and the online calendars for the Majestic/Empire and the Tobin Center even though I know they probably won’t go to so much effort. ONE GOOD CENTRAL CALENDAR is needed–for instance, one calendar that anything listed on any of the others automatically gets re-posted to the good central calendar.

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