Civic I/O wrapped up their 4th conference during SXSW where almost 30 mayors gathered in Austin, Texas to discuss new ideas in emerging technology policy, futurism, digital inclusion, and service design. The conference culminated with the announcement of Cloud9 as the winner of the 3rd annual Civic Tech Pitch Competition.
As Civic I/O 2019 draws to a close, we turn our attention to some of the 13 startups from 2017 and 2018 that are thriving and working in cities all over the United States. Over 150 applications from innovative startups have been submitted over the years, all for the opportunity to pitch their civic solution to a room full of mayors in hopes of gaining not only business, but validation of their solution and credibility as a needle-mover in cities.
Biobot Analytics, winner of the 2018 competition, is a wastewater data analytics company using cutting edge technology to address public health concerns like opioid abuse. President & Cofounder Newsha Ghaeli said, “Even having 30 mayors in a room together was unfathomable for us until SXSW, especially when you sell to government which is so geospecific you have to travel to reach them.”
Over the last 12 months, Biobot has harnessed the media coverage of their win to build credibility and a reputation, and to educate customers/government about their technology and the issues they are tackling. Since the competition, they graduated from Y Combinator, raised $2.5 Million, and are working to sign several contracts with cities this year.
“Civic I/O put us on the map. We are selling a technology that is totally new. It not only lent credibility to what we are doing, but helped socialize and educate our mission with folks. That has been invaluable to us.” Ghaeli said. Biobot plans to continue to scale and launch in more cities across the United States.
SeamlessDocs, another competitor from 2018, is a platform that turns PDFs into smart forms for government, a key to equally accessible government services. SeamlessDocs entered the competition at a later stage in development; they had over 40 employees with $20 million raised, working with hundreds of governments and pitching a new product rather than a company.
“While we work with hundreds of governments, getting mayors’ feedback is difficult, and so for that it was invaluable. Gaining the mayors’ stamp of approval gave us confidence to double down with accessibility as one of our core values,” CEO and cofounder Jonathon Ende said.
SeamlessDocs launched their accessible web forms pitch at Civic I/O, and digital accessibility remains a priority moving forward. They are expanding these services and providing tools that are accessible and compliant out of the box for governments that are not giving a fully accessible online experience.
In contrast CityGrows, a pitcher at the very first Civic Technology Competition in 2017, is a bootstrapped cloud platform that allows governments to digitize and automate their processes and workflows. Their self-service, low-cost tools help any government, big or small, to digitize building permits, business licenses, and pretty much any internal or external processes. They were a 2-person company and had been live in the market for one year prior to pitching, and since then have grown to serve more than 20 municipal and county governments in 5 states. Because they haven’t taken traditional venture capital investment, they are able to keep costs low and make sure their business model and values are aligned with their government clients’ interests.
Catherine Geanuracos, CEO said, “We have seen an increase in mayors across the country understanding the importance of digital services, and events like the Civic Tech Pitch competition help educate everyone in local government about new technology options. We think there is a big wave coming as mayors and administrators begin to understand the true cost of expensive and clunky legacy systems and transition to more nimble cloud-based services.”
Civic I/O has since seen an increase in applications for digital service providers for government.
Another of this kind, Citymart is a platform for city government employees to deliver better services, connecting them to innovative and diverse vendors as well as procurement tools. Citymart has experienced substantial growth and change since they pitched in March of 2018; a shift to a focus on transactions from the subscription model they utilized. In the last 6 months they have multiplied the number of procurements by 20, they lowered the cost per transaction from $45K to $1K, and as a result saw a huge uptick in women and minority owned (42% of bids) and smaller businesses (90% of bids), otherwise disadvantaged vendors doing business with city government.
Sascha Haselmayer, founder and CEO said, “It is the first time we have ever taken part in anything like this. It was the energy, it’s really tangible, it emboldened us to do many things. The energy it created around our company was really valuable.”
Boundless, another 2018 competitor has on the other hand grown as a result of a changing political climate around their civic challenge: immigration. In the last year, Boundless has grown dramatically to become the largest provider of marriage green card applications in the country, and after releasing the product they pitched at Civic I/O, clients have been able to complete their citizenship applications in under an hour on their phones. They have assisted over 30,000 people over the last year in their immigration process, and have a 100% approval rate.
Boundless is in a unique position as a civic tech company in a field that is severely lacking in data. Cofounder and CEO Xiao Wang said, “In over a year there have been dramatic and frequent changes to immigration from a policy perspective…What we are striving to do is shine a light on these things, and produce a perspective on these things because no one else has this data.” Boundless has submitted public comments using their own data and has gotten hundreds of other leaders and ceos to sign on to our research and reports to talk about how these policy changes are bad for business.
Wang said, “Civic I/O is a unique experience where you get the perspective of these civic leaders that can give you the insights and connections needed to grow your company in the right way. We don’t sell to the government, but this was a unique opportunity to understand the types of issues these leaders are concerned about for their constituents”.
As for what is next for Boundless, “We are just getting started, we are at the forefront of a whole new way of dealing with the immigration process, which is sadly something that has not changed fundamentally in generations.”
RideAlong, the winner of 2017’s pitch competition is getting acquired by a startup called OpenLattice. RideAlong is a pre-arrest diversion tool for law enforcement and for residents who frequently interact with 911 dispatch system. The tool provides an actionable way for police officers to determine what actual steps can be taken, and a clean way for field officers to collect data in the field. They are working hard at expanding the users and thinking where it fits in the larger platform.
After Civic I/O 2017, RideAlong harnessed their momentum to participate in Y-Combinator. That summer, they began working with Seattle Police Department and in 2018 they expanded to different types of organizations and agencies such as a pilot with San Francisco Department of Public Health through Startup In Residence.
CEO and Cofounder Katherine Namacher said, “Civic I/O is a really good convener for folks that are doing interesting things in the gov tech space, and things that are outside the traditional thought: thoughts around how government is running experiments in a positive way. The way in which Civic I/O happens at SXSW is great for finding some interesting and new companies at the cross section of gov and startups.”
RideAlong expects to continue expanding to other cities and states in the U.S. as they grow.