As morning dawned over South Florida on September 12, 2017 — the day after Hurricane Irma struck the state’s coast — Miami-Dade County residents woke up to serious damage to property, infrastructure, and city services.
Once the storm had passed, the county, home to nearly 3 million people, faced a new challenge: how to begin the long, arduous process of assessing the damage and moving forward beyond the storm.
This posed an extra challenge to the Miami-Dade Department of Public Works, which found itself relying on an outdated system as it attempted to catalogue and analyze buckets of data on infrastructure damages in the wake of the storm.
A startup aimed at streamlining damage assessment data, Gruntify joined into a partnership with the Miami-Dade County Department of Public Works through an innovative program called Startup in Residence (STIR) that matches startups with city governments in an effort to help cities solve some of their greatest challenges through technology.
Their goal? To prepare a smarter, more efficient damage response for the county of Miami-Dade.
“The public works division realized that after the hurricane that their process of cataloguing and reporting infrastructure that was damaged was slow and inefficient,” Katy Podbielski, Program Director of STIR, said. “They sought to improve the process through which their public works staff can report maintenance work.”
Working with city managers, crisis responders, and others, Gruntify helped the county to develop tools to speed up this process — meaning that in the case of another storm of Irma’s magnitude, Miami-Dade will be much more ready to assess the damages and tally the costs.
Last month, Gruntify was one of 14 startups — all of which participated in the 2018 STIR program — to present innovative solutions to city challenges at the Bridge Summit, hosted by City Innovate.
These 14 solutions were presented as part of Demo Day at the NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center in San Francisco on May 22. Demo Day was the culmination of the 16-week STIR program, and marked the end of the 2018 cohort.
Applications are now open until July 3 for the 2019 cohort, which, for the first time, will have a mobility and smart city track. Startups are invited to apply here.
At the event, startups had four minutes to present the work they developed over the 16-month course in collaboration with government partners and with the support of City Innovate. At the end of the session, the top five initiatives developed during the 2018 program were awarded $2,000 in seed money by US Ignite, a national nonprofit founded by the National Science Foundation to promote smart city infrastructure and technology.
These five winners were Gruntify, Nordsense, ZenCity, Conversation.one, and RideAlong.
Nordsense worked with the San Francisco Department of Public Works to develop sensors that attach to public trash cans, and provide real-time monitoring of trash levels. ZenCity also worked with the City of San Francisco, creating a platform that digitizes 3-1-1 requests. Conversation.one built a code-free voice and chat-bot building and management platform for the San Francisco International Airport. And RideAlong worked with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to create a “whole person care” mobile care encounter app for first responders.
Other startups that presented at Demo Day were DroneIQ, Help Emerge, Kamego, LocaleIQ, ms.GIS, Parknav AI, SeamlessGov, Spoke.co, Symbium, and Waycare.
“The purpose of Demo Day is for teams to share the stories of what they’ve done in STIR,” Podbielski said. “We think there is value in sharing and learning about how to solve problems. It can inspire culture change, which is something that can be hard to measure.”
While only five startups were awarded the $2,000 prize, Podbielski noted that the event showcased the collaborative potential between public and private sector partners.
“We don’t just want cities to acquire technology solutions because we believe in technology, but because we believe that technology can really help people,” she said. “Overall, I think Demo Day was in that spirit of wanting to share and learn.”
Startup in Residence
Building up to Demo Day, startups put in nearly four months of hard work developing solutions to the various problems cities presented them with.
“We’re not just about the technology, but we also really care about the process of getting there,” Podbielski said.
The 16-week STIR program is broken down into four segments, with each lasting four weeks. These segments — discover, design, build, and test — are all designed to ensure that the solutions that emerge out of the program are sustainable and scalable, and that they take into account the input of various users and stakeholders.
That’s why the first four weeks of the program — discover — are so critical to its success, according to Podbielski.
Through initial interviews with users and stakeholders, startups are able to “really make sure that they understand the pain points of the folks that are experiencing these challenges and ensure that whatever they build during the residency is really addressing that problem,” she said.
When, for example, residents of West Sacramento expressed an interest in volunteering, and in being on call during an emergency, startup Help Emerge worked with the city to develop a mass engagement system to mobilize people for emergency and non-emergency events.
In the City of Santa Monica, dialogue between officials and a startup called LocaleIQ led to an interactive, public-facing platform that allows residents to locate public parks.
Less sexy applications and platforms nonetheless solved critical problems for cities, such as in Houston where Kamego helped improve the ciy’s employee contact system or in the city of Walnut Creek, which worked with the startup SeamlessGov to create a platform to manage preferential residential permit parking (PRPP).
Welcoming Applications for the 2019 Cohort
Starting next year, the STIR program — formerly managed by the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation — will be run entirely by City Innovate. “We are really excited to be taking over management of the program and our goal is to be working with 100 government organizations in five years,” Podbielski said. “We are exploring what different models there are to best support the organizations that we work with.”
“We’ve seen a lot of interest in mobility specifically,” she added.
STIR will be accepting applications for its 2019 cohort until July 3. The program is slated to begin in January.
As it expands, the program will continue to seek to, as Podbielski put it, “help governments think a little bit more efficiently and effectively about their impact.”
“If STIR is a program that has the potential to help cities governments be innovative and solve problems then it makes sense for the program to shift outside of [the San Francisco Bay Area] and to an entity that would be able to scale it,” Podbielski said.