CityXChange in Brief

A summary of barriers to partnership and ingredients for success

Barriers to Partnership

The barriers identified and recommendations made in this Roadmap are based on both the conversations that occurred during the CityXChange Summit and on the results of a survey completed by Summit participants.

Cities and startups still have negative stereotypes of each other. These stereotypes arise from very different perspectives, informed by their different social roles and constituencies.

Cities and startups speak different languages. Governments communicate complexity and detail, while startups try to bring simplicity to complex problems. These differences can lead to communications challenges.

Partnerships often take too long to develop. City stakeholder and contracting processes can take months or years to develop, which is often too long for cash-strapped startups.

City solutions don’t easily scale. Cities often implement wildly different solutions to the same problems. The diversity of city solutions can make it difficult for startups to scale.

Cities lack the know-how to understand what tech they need. Cities are tremendous repositories of subject matter expertise, but those same subject matter experts are rarely technical experts.

Tech lacks the expertise to understand how to engage with cities. Emerging tech companies do not have the public affairs expertise to navigate public contracting and RFP processes or political implications.

City procurement processes discourage innovation. City procurement policies are designed to prevent contracting scandals, not to encourage innovation.

Cities fear negative repercussions to partnerships with startups. Citizens have low risk-tolerance for public-sector projects, which advantages traditional solutions over startup partnerships.

Ingredients for Success

Summit participants outlined a series of recommendations for helping cities and tech partner more successfully, from understanding benefits and challenges, to building a solid foundation for collaboration to re-thinking existing processes and regulations.

Understand the benefits and challenges of city/tech partnerships

Startups should consider what city partners can offer. Beyond the direct benefits, startups should also keep in mind the tangential benefits a city partnership can provide in the form of positive market signals and new precedents.

Startups should be ready to help after a disaster. Resilience shocks can provide opportunities for startups to demonstrate their value.

Startups should consider the peculiarities of government. Like all organizations, cities have their own peculiarities and requirements that startups must address.

Startups should take city politics seriously. Startups must understand the political benefits they can offer city leaders, and respect the risks city leaders take to partner.

Startups should run a deliberate stakeholder process. Startups must navigate cities’ internal and external stakeholders, including attorneys, rank and file employees, and advocacy groups.

Cities should use the bully pulpit to advocate for innovation. Even where city leaders lack formal authority, they can use their public platform to influence action or opinion in support of tech solutions that strengthen cities.

Cities and startups should both prepare for leadership transitions. Cities and startups should ensure they build structures that can survive a change in administration.

Startups should understand critical urban stresses when innovating. Startups should examine the challenges cities face and ground their efforts in trying to address those problems.

Build a solid foundation for partnership

Startups should adapt solutions to partners with different needs and circumstances. Technology needs and implications may be radically different in the Global South vs. the Global North.

Cities should convene local tech communities to discuss resilience challenges. Cities must open up channels of communication with local tech communities to solicit help with resilience challenges.

Cities should form VC advisory committees. VCs can be a powerful bridge between small startups and risk-averse cities.

Cities and startups should both bring third-party stakeholders into the conversation early. Cities can serve as conveners funded and used by a broad range of stakeholders, including foundations and international development organizations.

Cities and startups should both create a “zone of trust”. Cities and startups need to create trusted and open communications channels with each other.

Cities and startups should both plan for scale. Cities and startups need to anticipate what mutual long-term success looks like at the beginning of a partnership and contemplate steps for achieving that success so projects don’t get stuck in the pilot phase.

Rethink processes and regulations to encourage innovation

Cities should consider how to create markets, not just procure to them. Cities can create regulatory environments or concession models to generate markets that serve the public good.

Cities should explore innovative procurement structures. Non-traditional procurement structures like Requests for Innovation can make it easier to find and implement new and better technologies.

Cities and startups should both partner to help local startups thrive. Many cities are investing in their local tech infrastructure, but they rarely seek to partner with the startups their local ecosystems produce.

Cities and startups should both enable phased projects to unleash innovation. City/tech partnerships can benefit from starting small and scaling up, but cities must plan for success and scale ahead of time.




The Roadmap is a summary of key learnings and approaches devised during the inaugural CityXChange Summit and is intended to encourage successful city and technology collaborations.

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