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Technology & Entrepreneurship

CivTechSA: San Antonio Seeking Entrepreneurs To Tackle City Challenges

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Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
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Seven city departments are vying for a chance to collaborate with outside startups to deliver services better.

The hope is that entrepreneurs will apply for the CivTechSA program to work with city departments.

More than 40 people gathered Wednesday night at Geekdom to hear how the CivTechSA process would work and ask department heads specific questions about gaining an edge in a future proposal.

Because there are seven departments with challenges and only three slots, city leaders had an incentive to sell themselves.

“I was told when I entered in that this was a competition,” said SyedMehdi, chief of strategy and development for the airport. “So I wanted to make our proposal one of the best ones, so that it becomes an attractive proposition.”

Mehdi, whose presentation style was enthusiastic, energetic, and sported an ear to ear smile, said he airport wants all of its websites, and apps about concessions, flights and more aggregated into one user-friendly platform.

Mehdi’s strategy doesn’t land a lot of interaction though, as the more than a dozen questions go to waste management, human services and others.

“Did I not really pitch properly,” he said. “Or was it that, our challenge isn’t really a challenge.”

Joyce Deuly, who works on CivTechSA for Geekdom, said the challenges were rigorously screened but might not all inspire local startups.

“I think that this is a really great litmus test for the kind of startups that are here in San Antonio,” Duely said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we will have a community that can best meet those needs at this time.”

Questions from startups ranged from whether or not a company should simulate network logins, to whether or not a 16-week residency should be paid.

The city provides space at the department for startups, but companies would be required to be insured, cover the costs of their proposal, and have no guarantee the solution they build will be purchased.

“That’s a big cost for a startup,” Amanda Miller said. Her company Purotours is a startup and taking 16 weeks to build something else that might not payout is a risk. The payoff for them would be the experience and accessing the city’s data.

“Access to data is huge. That’s a huge opportunity,” she said, but it was unclear to her if she could take that data when the residency was over and apply it to other opportunities.

At the end of the evening, Miller was unsure whether or not they would apply, but she still sees the value of the program even if it isn’t the right fit for them.

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Credit Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio

Alberto Pina, co-founder of Braustin Mobile Homes, his team is definitely applying.

“We’re gonna kill this thing,” he said

Pina and his team will apply to solve the challenge for the human services department, improving the process for residents to get emergency water and electricity assistance. They target a similar demographic with their company that focuses on affordable housing. They feel like the problem is one that Braustin has already solved for themselves.

“Paperwork and workflow. It’s not something that’s sexy,” he said. “but you can save people tremendous amounts of time and companies a tremendous of money if you streamline that.”

Feb. 12 is the deadline to submit proposals to the city.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive