New SF effort will embed startup DNA into government

(Photo: San Francisco Office of the Mayor)
(Photo: San Francisco Office of the Mayor)

The trend towards injecting fresh perspectives into the business of government via innovation fellowships, civic startup incubators and accelerators continues to grow with San Francisco’s recent announcement of a city entrepreneurship-in-residence program.

Spearheaded by SF’s Office of Innovation and led by Mayor Ed Lee Senior Advisor Rahul Mewawalla, the program will embed “world-class entrepreneurial teams” into the inner workings of government to help inspire the next big civic thing and put a new spin on the term “initial public offering.”

Mewawalla shares more about the program, its objective and how you can get involved.

What’s the impetus for SF’s EIR program?

Rahul Mewawalla: San Francisco’s first ever entrepreneurship-in-residence program announced by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee in collaboration with the White House is inspired by President Obama’s call, “We’ve got to have the brightest minds to help solve our biggest challenges.”

The program is one of the first entrepreneurship-in-residence programs within government, who is by far, the largest customer of products and services in the nation, accounting for 40% of United States gross domestic product including state, local and federal spending.

Our goal has been to take the DNA of innovation – from startups to San Francisco’s government and from San Francisco’s government to across the United States. As we worked on several initiatives, our intent has been to build a sustainable model that would yield impactful and lasting results. We also wanted to have a program that could be replicated across the nation.

San Francisco is well placed to help lead this vision of innovative government – as the hub of advancement across Silicon Valley starting with semi-conductors in the 1960s, to software in the 1970s and 1980s, to internet services in the 1990s, to the most recent set of companies such as Twitter, Airbnb, Square and Yelp that are disrupting traditional industries. In many ways, San Francisco is the heartland of innovation. San Francisco also represents many elements characteristic of government – a large annual budget of over $8 billion, diverse workforce of about 28,000 employees and more than 50 different government agencies and departments.

How will the EIR program work?

RM: San Francisco’s entrepreneurship-in-residence program will select world-class entrepreneurial teams and help them develop technology-enabled products and services that can capitalize on the $142 billion public sector market.

The program plans to attract top entrepreneurs and technologists by providing them with direct access to government needs and opportunities, staff and their expertise, in addition to product development, ramp-up support, and insights into a gold mine of government problems and opportunities. San Francisco’s EIR program will offer selected teams mentorship from senior public leaders across the mayor’s office and San Francisco departments and from private sector leaders with experience at companies such as McKinsey & Company and Goldman Sachs.

Products and services that successfully solve issues faced by San Francisco can easily expand to addressing similar needs of other cities and states across the nation in addition to the private sector.

Can you paint a picture for entrepreneurs who don’t have a clue how they might best serve government or leverage opportunities?

RM: We are seeing a tremendous amount of interest from numerous innovative startups tackling key areas such as transportation, planning, data mining and analysis, tax collection, licenses, parking, energy, healthcare, environment, library, parks, airport, real estate and public safety.

Examples of opportunity areas that entrepreneurial teams and startups are seeking to work on include:

  • Utilize the growth in open data to enable better analyses and decision-making.
  • Improved utilization of public assets (e.g. parking) and enhance customer experience.
  • Make available easier healthcare choices and services for residents and businesses.
  • Enhanced recruiting and hiring applications for more efficient and productive talent management.
  • Improve transit times, transportation efficiencies and reduce costs.
  • Track and optimize energy purchases and usage.
  • Improve tracking and management systems across assets such as real estate, fleet and equipment.
  • Enable people with visual challenges to navigate areas such as the airport or better utilize the library.
  • Use tech-enabled products and services to improve public safety and reduce crime.
  • Use a digital public notification system to help local businesses and their growth.

World-class entrepreneurs focus on building superior product and market fit. This program is providing the unique opportunity for entrepreneurs to work together with government to accomplish that. In addition, the program provides a significant number of resources and assets. For example, entrepreneurs working with San Francisco’s airport (SFO) could potentially work with one terminal or boarding area to improve and enhance their product offering. Entrepreneurs can pursue economic value and help better the world at the same time.

What’s your success metric?

RM: The entrepreneurial products and services developed through San Francisco’s EIR program should drive significant impact such as increased revenue, or meaningful cost savings or help save lives. We expect to drive significant innovation and growth in areas of pressing importance such as data, mobile and cloud services, healthcare, education, transportation, energy and infrastructure.

In our discussions with other great cities such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Jose, Boston, Seattle and many others, it is remarkable to see the commonality of the challenges we face across cities and states. Products and services that successfully solve issues faced by San Francisco will easily expand to addressing similar needs of other cities and states. Our goal is to see these innovative programs expand and grow all across the nation.

President Obama famously said back in January of 2011, “The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation… What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.” I certainly hope that our collective efforts in San Francisco and across the nation mark the beginning of a future of innovation, prosperity and success for all.

How can those interested learn more?

RM: Visit entrepreneur.sfgov.org.

About Luke Fretwell

Luke Fretwell is the founder of GovFresh. He is also co-founder and CEO of ProudCity. Connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn or email at luke@govfresh.com.

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