How One City is Connecting Start-Ups and City Government

August 29, 2017 - (4 min read)

This is a guest post by Mayor Edwin Lee of San Francisco, California.

During my nearly 30 years in government, I have been fortunate to work alongside countless hard-working, brilliant colleagues. The City of San Francisco flourishes because of the dedication, commitment and resolve of its 30,000 employees.

While our talented workforce does great things every day, there is always room for improvement and innovation. We are constantly making internal evaluations on ways to make our performance more efficient, but sometimes it is necessary to look outside the government for insight into best practices.

That was the motivation behind our Startup in Residence (STIR) program, an innovative collaboration between the City and County of San Francisco and our startup companies. Through STIR, project teams from technology businesses engage in 16-week sessions designed to make local government more efficient, innovative and productive. These teams offer technical expertise, business acumen and new approaches to help us address the challenges and issues that city governments face.

We are already seeing great returns on this endeavor. As the result of STIR, we upgraded and digitized our foster care system, reducing the wait time for potential parents by up to 50 percent.  We also designed a smartphone app that makes it easier for visually-impaired passengers to navigate the San Francisco International Airport, and we developed a tool that will assist in assessing buildings damaged in the aftermath of an earthquake.

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While we are fortunate to live in the heart of Silicon Valley, with direct access to groundbreaking innovation companies, we know that STIR can be successful in areas throughout the country. Cities are the building blocks of democracy, and part of that creative spirit is forged through exploring new partnerships with the private sector.

We have already seen how successful this program can be in other Northern California cities. In San Leandro, STIR helped improve how the city can track what services their residents are using. The West Sacramento Police Department took advantage of STIR to gather more accurate information on local residents dealing with homelessness.

With access to better technology, these cities are improving their services to be more responsive to the needs of local residents and friendlier to use. We know how great STIR can be, and we believe the model has great potential beyond the Bay Area, which is why we are growing STIR throughout the country.

We’re inviting cities to join us as we look to transform government. Cities can learn more and apply here. We are hoping to expand this program to 100 cities, imparting STIR to a diverse set of communities. We want STIR to be used by cities both large and small, and in areas of the country that have differing political views. We are confident that this program can be successful no matter where it takes place.

By early next year, we will announce which cities will be participating in the program and what startups will be engaged. From creating affordable housing to maintaining parks to paving streets, city government can leave enduing positive impacts on the lives of its residents. With the help of STIR, we can make those impacts even more meaningful and long-lasting.

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The 43rd mayor of San Francisco, Edwin M. Lee assumed leadership of the City while it was experiencing the greatest economic recession since the 1930s. Under policies laid out by Mayor Lee, San Francisco has experienced its most successful economic expansion in City history, with more than 140,000 jobs added during his tenure. A native of Seattle, Washington, Mayor Lee graduated from Bowdoin College in 1974, and from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1978. Prior to becoming a civil servant, Mayor Lee worked as housing activist and civil right attorney. He is married to his wife Anita, and is the father of two daughters, Brianna and Tania.