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Now Recruiting: Civic Startups (codeforamerica.org)
41 points by zt on Apr 16, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments

A few months ago I had a converastion about some of my open data civic work with Brad Burnham. He challanged me to really think about how I could disrupt goverment to get them to release new data and to innovate. He noted that you never want to be in the business of asking permission of the slow-moving giant to make your business work--so I should figure out what I can do without the government's permission. It's great advice on the whole, but the reality is that the slow-moving giant might really be technology companies (that are often also consulting firms) that have no reason, and maybe no ability, to innovate with government.

There just aren't that many firms in the enterprise solutions space that work closely with government: Accenture, IBM, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte. What I love about this CfA accelerator is that it might get people to focus on a business sector that has huge upside if only you can break through. Technologists should get together and try to break up the slow-moving giant's dance with governments: it is the one of the ways we're going to get a government than might be both better and cheaper. This seems like a great first step.

Absolutely. I used to work for a government body and saw time and time again that we'd go with huge, inflexible solutions using technologies like SAP, because that's what the large consulting company insisted on.

But: the people making these choices aren't stupid. Government has very little appetite for the startup-style thinking of trying something, trashing it and iterating. Maybe it's because tax payer money is at stake, but any kind of risky venture is seen as a bad thing. We have to combat that, first.

I'd say that it's not that risk isn't appreciated. Rather, risk tends to be taken in a rather bi-polar way.

99% of the time, the government goes with the giant, ossified consulting firm. However, 1% of the time, they decide to take a risk. They don't just go with the local start-up, though. They hire Bob's nephew, who's "a real whiz with computers." Bob's nephew puts together a minimum viable product, then Bob's 12 year old nephew accidentally sends out a mass e-mail with everyone's medical records.

The agency then gets accused of not taking privacy seriously, so a whole new set of privacy rules are enacted. Only a industrial giants have the patience to wade through this paperwork, so they scoop up every job for a while.

Eventually, someone looks at the insane standards and points out that the government could save millions of dollars that they're paying to IBM by just hiring a startup. Bob then points out that they could save thousands of dollars on this bloated startup by just hiring his nephew.

And who insisted on those large consulting firms?

If you can get past pre-solicitation, solicitation, and procurement hurdles, then you are golden. However, until this highly opaque process is cracked and startups with no "accounts of past performance" are recognized by public institutions, lean innovators in civic tech face considerable challenges. That said, I think CfA's accelerator and the multitude of other incubators are a great place to take your civic focused product ideas. I look forward to seeing how this area of interest shapes up from an entrepreneurial perspective apart from its clearly needed public service role.

This is an interesting opportunity, but there's a lot of opportunities for competent people right now.

I wish this site would present a clear list of reasons to pick a civic startup over a social media or mobile startup.

Well they do show government spending on IT in the graphic on the page. Also, a lot of people start civic projects for the sake of the positive feelings they get for providing civic responsibility. Kind of like why a lot of people work for non-profits for less money than they could using their skills for more commercial endeavors.

Civic duty and/or bettering government/political systems would be most apparent reason. Code for America mirrors itself to the Peace Corps, but for geeks, if that gives you any indication.

I think it just needs the right kind of people. I, for one, am very motivated by the idea of working with civic causes to help people and government connect. Subject-specific accelerators like this aren't for everyone, when compared to something like YC.

Are the people mentioned on the team noteworthy? A cursory glance at the names doesn't ring any bells.

Peole I know what they do offhand: Carl Tashian was an engineer at Zipcar, co-founder of Our Goods, DJ Patil is a big data scientist and worked at linkedIN (now at Greylock I think), Danese Cooper is the open source diva and the CTO of wikimedia, Andrew Hoppin was the CIO of New York State Senate and is on the board of openplans, new organizing institute, etc, Bryce is the co-founder of OATV, Nigel Jacob works for Boston...it is actually a pretty impressive list, and that doesn't even include the fact that they got Ron Conway and Aneesh Chopra to headline it as leaders.

Neat! Thank you for the info. I wish they had included links to each person's internet presence on the main webpage.

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