The buildings of giant, multi-billion dollar tech companies stand tall in San Francisco, but the glistening windows only magnify the devastating problems that are challenging its streets. Startups have shown that they can raise hundreds of millions to help you rent a scooter, order a coffee, and build some furniture. But what is being done to solve real community issues?
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In 2014, the Startup in Residence (STIR) program was first launched by the late Mayor of San Francisco Ed Lee to provide an answer to that question. Startups around the world are eligible to apply for its 16-week program. The winning startups partner with city departments to apply their technology to specific civic challenges.
“[STIR] was based on this really simple idea that we have so many challenging problems in our city,” Jay Nath, the Co-Executive Director of San Francisco-based CityInnovate and former Chief Innovation Officer under Mayor Ed Lee, told Crunchbase News. “How do we tap into the amazing talent that we have in our community, [and] how do we work with them to solve these problems?”
By partnering with startups, departments receive assistance from expert tech teams in solving pressing problems. On the startup side, teams gain access to experienced mentors, department insights, and specific use cases, launch pilot products, and forge long-term contracts. No capital is exchanged during the program.
STIR’s 2018 San Francisco cohort, which presented at their own demo day today, includes startups working on problems ranging from improving the SF Planning Code to managing trash collection.
One startup, Austria-based ms.GIS, has been working with city governments around the world for years. With geospatial technology, ms.GIS addresses problems ranging from mobility to energy. With STIR, ms.GIS has applied that expertise to partner with the Department of Public Works on a street sweeping application, improving routes and helping drivers navigate more safely.
Another startup, Conversation.One, has been working with the San Francisco International Airport to improve accessibility with conversational technology like voice recognition and chatbots. Conversation.One had been helping other enterprise clients on goals very similar to SFO’s for a while, but STIR gave the company access to a partner the team would not have approached themselves.
“I think it’s amazing because I would never voluntarily go and try to work with the city,” Conversation.One co-founder Rachel Batish told Crunchbase News. “From a startup point of view, this is very unique and it really allowed us to do something that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do [until] one or two years down the road.”
Katherine Nammacher, co-founder of government tech company RideAlong shared that sentiment.
Nammacher and her co-founder Meredith had worked with the Seattle police department and participated in Y Combinator prior to joining the STIR program. Her startup focuses on helping responders navigate complex interactions with individuals suffering from distress related to mental illness and chemical dependency.
While with STIR, RideAlong developed a pilot application in partnership with the San Francisco Department of Public Health on an app that helps the street medicine team provide expert medical care to vulnerable clients living on San Francisco’s streets.
“Everyone is just enthusiastic to work together and it feels like a harmonious serendipitous partnership that has just worked very well and is really aligned around the right goals,” Nammacher said.
In 2018, STIR partnered with CityInnovate to expand to 11 other U.S. cities, including Vallejo, Boulder, Houston, Miami-Dade County, Santa Cruz, Washington D.C.. and others. Since STIR’s launch, 46 startups from the U.S. and abroad have participated in the program. With CityInnovate, STIR has expanded to 36 other areas for its 2019 cohort, including a partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. WeWork has also entered into a partnership with STIR and will provide teams from the 2019 cohort in select cities with fully sponspored office locations. The STIR program plans to move into 100 more areas in the next five years.
“Obviously, in San Francisco, we are sort-of ground zero for all of the changes that are happening in our streets,” Nath expressed. “It’s happening quickly in other cities as well, and it’s a challenge for cities to grapple with that.”
As the program facilitates more partnerships with governments across the states, here’s a look at the six startups making changes in our own neighborhood.
|Startup Name||Description (Provided By STIR)|
|Conversation.One||Conversation.one is helping San Francisco International Airport (SFO) create a natural language interface to help SFO customers get safe, consistent, and accessible information.|
|Nordsense||Nordsense is helping San Francisco Public Works improve the management of public trash cans by installing trash can sensors and an analytics system to manage the cans.|
|ms.GIS||ms.GIS is helping San Francisco Public Works Bureau of Streets and Environmental Services digitize the navigation of street sweeping routes to improve safety for street sweepers and streamline the route management and updating process.|
|RideAlong||RideAlong is helping the San Francisco Whole Person Care project develop a tool for City health workers and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing engagement teams to use when serving the homeless. The tool will provide information on the homeless individual’s status, histories, and alerts, and will enable the staff to track the encounter.|
|Symbium||Symbium is helping the San Francisco Planning Department create a user-friendly solution for the SF Planning Code so that planners and businesses can more easily identify where a specific business type could be located and can better understand how the code applies to properties.|
|ZenCity||ZenCity is using machine learning to help San Francisco’s 311 improve the routing process for 311 service requests to get the requests to the right departments more quickly and improve agency’s response time.|
Illustration Credit: Li Anne Dias