CivStart is a new government-focused start-up accelerator that wants to ensure civic technology products “don’t get made in a vacuum — that they serve the needs of our most vulnerable and underserved communities.”
Co-founders Nick Lyell, Anthony Jamison and Sarah Kerner share their mission, and why they started CivStart.
What problem does CivStart want to solve?
In short, local and state governments are responsible for serving their communities in ways that have significant impacts on people’s lives, but have not always tapped into the best resources to do so. CivStart wants to help governments innovate their processes and tools by connecting them to effective new solutions.
We look at what we are solving from two different viewpoints, based on our audience; state and local government leaders and startups.
There are a couple issues we are addressing here at CivStart:
- Identifying startup technologies that are providing solutions which address the challenges and issues state and local governments face on a day to day basis as they plan for the future. Whether that is understanding where your vulnerable populations are during a disaster so that you can deploy assets strategically or providing affordable transportation options to your communities so that they don’t have to take multiple bus lines. Our goal is to find these technologies and offer them to government leaders so that they can ensure that their communities are healthy, secure and vibrant.
- Helping startups scale and enter the market the right way. We understand that startups have a mandate to grow and to grow fast (as we are startup ourselves). However, the state and local market is incredibly unique and complex to navigate for many large companies, let alone startups. A lot of business in this sector is won through relationship. Government decision-makers want to know that they can trust you, so selling to state and local requires a different approach than what a lot of these companies are used to when cornering the market. Startups need to know what the pressing issues are, and position their solutions in a way to address those challenges.
What was the inspiration for starting CivStart?
In our experience we’ve noticed:
- Governments are often unaware of new technologies available to help them better serve their communities.
- Many new companies don’t know how to navigate the public sector market and build relationships with the governments they want to help.
This inspired us to create a nonprofit that works with multiple stakeholders to bring these groups together and solve both issues.
What is CivStart looking for in its participating startups?
Of course, we want the biggest and brightest startups to be apart of our portfolio. However, working in the space that we work in, we can’t just be focused on the next best idea, solution, or service; instead, we seek startups who are solving real state and local problems and that we believe can have a real impact on improving people’s lives.
We try to prioritize our focus on access and opportunity for underserved and unconnected communities through health, public safety & emergency services, transportation & infrastructure workforce development, economic and community development, gender equity, civic tech, digital and financial inclusion ventures. One of our main organizational goals is to have our cohort members promoting gender and racial/ethnic diversity within the tech community.
How is CivStart supporting your portfolio companies?
CivStart helps startups forge meaningful connections with leaders in the public and private sectors to turn compelling technology into viable, scalable, solutions for the state and local space.
Each startup is in our program for 24 months, during which we’ll offer educational programming, facilitated mentorships and advisory relationships, and help cohort members build their networks in strategic ways.
We empower technology entrepreneurs to work with governments towards positive localized social and environmental change.
What does success look like for CivStart?
Success for us in many forms.
The obvious measure of success is the growth rate of our startups. We fail if our startups do not win market share; however, being an honest broker of solutions for state and local governments is also a key indicator of success.
We want governments, and the people that work with them and for them, to know that we are thinking of how we can strategically serve their needs and challenges when we engage with selecting startups technologies. They can come to us knowing that we put these startups through a program that emphasizes treating governments as partners and not just customers.
Learn more: civstart.org