Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Two homegrown startups – one uses robots to create indoor maps, the other wants to automate utility bill assistance – will take up residency at the City of San Antonio for 16 weeks.
“These two startups really stood out from the pack, and City staff is eager to begin collaborating with them to create impactful, long-term solutions for civic challenges," City Manager Sheryl Sculley said in a news release. "This program will allow us to better serve our residents while supporting the local tech ecosystem.”
Reckon Point and Kinetech Cloud will embed with City of San Antonio departments to see the challenges first-hand and test prototypes of their products to determine whether they can solve them.
If successful, the startups will have a chance to bid on a competitive government contract after their 16-week residency ends, but they do not get paid as part of the residency program.
“What we find exciting is ... our ability to increase capacity for innovation,” Jose De La Cruz, the City’s chief innovation officer, told the Rivard Report. “We understand times and technology are changing and we need to keep up with our residents' expectations. By partnering with Geekdom and the entrepreneurial community we are able to come up with creative solutions that we can harness internally. We’ve got a world of problems and issues we want to solve.”
Reckon Point developed a robot that maps buildings through algorithms with the goal of providing indoor navigation.
De La Cruz said Reckon Point will map key areas of the San Antonio International Airport to make navigating the terminals easier for travelers.
Kinetech Cloud (pronounced "kinetic") will aim to create efficiencies within the City. The startup will be tasked with automating the utility assistance application process. The City has several programs that help low-income or other qualifying households pay water and electricity bills.
“The key point here is being able to keep them informed throughout the process. As you can imagine: Your applications sitting there, you’re wondering if your lights [are] going to be turned off — there’s a lot of sensitivity around that,” De La Cruz said.
The company said their work may also involve making it so that residents can apply for assistance using their mobile phones, as many households do not have a computer.
The City received 10 applications — some from outside of San Antonio — to address seven municipal challenges. De La Cruz said the request for proposals was left open-ended, as the City wanted to see creative solutions presented.
That is the key to how the residency program differs from a typical request for proposals, he said. Rather than prescribe the contract work needed, the City is allowing the tech entrepreneurs to arrive at the solution.
The residency program comes out of the City’s CivTechSA initiative, which connects local government with the tech and entrepreneur community.
De La Cruz said it will take time for the City to learn from the first cohort's experience, but it will likely bring on more resident startups during the next fiscal year.
For local co-working space Geekdom, which partnered with the City on the program, more frequent, collaborative initiatives will be beneficial for local government and the entire tech entrepreneur ecosystem, Geekdom CEO David Garcia said.
“We are really excited for [the companies] that they have that opportunity to work with the City to help them solve a challenge that they have brought forth,” Garcia said.
For more on the residency program, listen to the City's podcast The City Insider with Sheryl Sculley.