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San Francisco Mayor's Office Unveils 11 Finalists For Entrepreneurship-in-Residence Program

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, November 20 2013

Earlier this year, the mayor's office of San Francisco decided, effectively, to offer the city up as a product development lab for startups with its new Entrepreneurship-in-Residence program. The city hired Rahul Mewawalla, an executive from the business community who most recently worked in the White House, to set it up. The idea is to attract fresh thinkers and doers from the entrepreneurial tech community to help solve many of the problems that commonly face cities, and to potentially enable them to make lots of money while doing it.

On Wednesday, Mewawalla unveiled a list of 11 finalists for the four-month unpaid stint in San Francisco's City Hall. The startups in question are developing products that use wireless networks, software and data to make many aspects of both city living and management more efficient. For example, BIRDI is a startup that has created a prototype smoke detector that can be managed from a smartphone; Compology is developing a "data-driven waste management" system that enables its users to employ wireless technology to monitor dumpsters; Beyond Lucid Technologies is an enterprise management software platform for first responders that helps them to improve logistics management. Transit Hero, meanwhile, is a piece of software made by Arrive Labs that sounds like a Waze for public transportation -- that is, it relies on crowdsourced reporting and predictive algorithms to forecast congestion, and to provide transit riders with alternative choices given that congestion.

Finalists for San Francisco's Entrepreneurship-in-Residence program

(descriptions provided by SF Mayor's Office.)

  • BIRDI
  • Birdi has created smart smoke and air quality detectors that connect you and your loved ones with timely information and alerts from indoor air quality to emergencies about a fire or exposure to carbon monoxide.

  • COMPOLOGY
  • Compology provides smart and data-driven waste management. They are developing a waste monitoring system which uses a wireless device to see how full and what’s inside a dumpster. The data can then be used to more efficiently manage waste hauling, recyclables and measure diversion goals.

  • TRANSIT HERO
  • Arrive Labs builds software solutions for urban transit and transportation challenges. Their community-driven transit services uses crowdsourced data, predictive algorithms and intelligence to forecast urban congestion and provides transit riders with alternatives and options to optimize their transportation.

  • BEYOND LUCID TECHNOLOGIES
  • Beyond Lucid Technologies is an enterprise management software platform for Fire and EMS agencies. Their products enable efficient collection of medical and logistical data in the field that saves precious time, optimizes healthcare and EMS resources and better connects patients and providers.

  • BUILDINGEYE
  • BuildingEye is building a digital platform to provide residents and businesses information about city changes such as streets repaved, sewers replaced, new buildings and all of these things that can impact the day to lives of residents and businesses and maps the city’s ongoing activities.

  • INDOO.RS
  • Indoo.rs provides a platform using mobile, localization, mapping, routing and geo-location services for indoor mapping and real-time navigation to help navigate complex environments that traditionally relies heavily on signage and static maps that are hard to interpret. Their products are built upon both the low energy Bluetooth standard and WiFi.

  • LEVENTIS LABS
  • Leventis Labs aims to provide real time and context aware information to people at high density and traffic places. Using emerging hardware standards and software, their services deliver the information a traveler needs in his or her language at the time they need it and on mobile devices.

  • MOBILEPD
  • MobilePD provides police, fire, and emergency management departments with products that enable better two-way communications and engagement with their citizens. MobilePD allows citizens to be more fully engaged in public safety and enables better information sharing resulting in increased prevention and prosecution of crimes and enhancement of public safety.

  • MOZIO
  • Mozio is a platform that offers transportation-related purchases and plans to improve public transit offerings and distribution channels to enable more options for passengers, riders and commuters.

  • REGROUP
  • Regroup provides integrated group/mass messaging that can go out, with a single click, via email, text message, voice message, social media like Facebook and Twitter, and more including digital signage, siren, etc. It can be used for both day-to-day and emergency communications.

  • SYTHICITY
  • Synthicity uses an intuitive 3D digital city as an interactive backdrop to explore, analyze, and communicate the future of the city. A "SimCity" for real-world urbanism, it is a platform for understanding complex urban phenomena and supporting plan development as well as tracking planning through implementation such as visualizing building permits through their lifecycle.

The Mayor's Office of Innovation, where Mewawalla works, is working with various city departments and agencies to place the companies. San Francisco's airport, for example, has agreed to allow one of the companies to operate within one of its terminals to pilot programs that would enable international passengers to more easily find their way around.

The thinking is that once the companies develop a prototype product or service that works, they'll be able to provide it to other cities and counties across the nation and perhaps the world. And they'll have mentors from the business, government, and management consulting worlds to provide them the advice and connections to scale their business up.

SV Angel investors Ron Conway and David Lee are mentors who are part of the program, as are Lenny Mendonca, co-founder of McKinsey’s public sector practice, and Ron Bouganim, a venture investor who's focused on funding government technology startups. Mewawalla himself, as well as several of his colleagues and fellows in the Mayor's innovation office, will also act as mentors. In his corporate life, Mewawalla has worked with Comcast, the Monitor Group, Nokia, NBC Universal/General Electric and Yahoo!

In an interview, Mewawalla said that these startups might otherwise have focused their energies on targeting Fortune 500 companies, the Fedexes of the world. But he and the other mentors in the program believe that the companies are ignoring a potentially lucrative $140 billion government market, and are also ignoring the call to do good by enabling the government operate more efficiently, i.e. like those Fortune 500 companies. San Francisco's new EIR program, in effect, is a road test of that hypothesis that government should operate more like corporations.

In some cases such as transportation management, that argument is compelling.

"How do we use things like data, and predictive intelligence, and algorithms, and crowdsourcing to predict urban congestion and traffic patterns, and then use that to optimize urban transportation networks?" asks Mewawalla. "Now that's an incredible opportunity because if you just think about demographics, about 50% of the global population is going to be living in a city by 2030, and that's going to put an enormous amount of pressure on transportation networks, so we have to think about it smarter, and more efficiently."

The innovation office's pitch seems to have resonated with the public. Mewawalla says his office received more than 200 applications for the program from all over the world. In the next few weeks, a panel of judges from the public and private sectors will winnow out a handful of the finalists to work with the city.

Historically, both federal and local governments have been hesitant to work with companies such as startups because of their aversion to risk. Procurement rules have favored larger, more established companies with track records.

But a movement is afoot with a generation of more civic-minded entrepreneurs and technologists who are interested in serving this market, and who as a result want to tweak those rules. With the healthcare.gov fiasco bringing the subject of procurement reform to the front burner, perhaps governments everywhere will be looking to adapt their policies to accommodate some of these new players into the mix.