San Francisco’s tech-in-government startup program almost ready to announce finalists

Like any city, San Francisco has flaws. But unlike most other cities, it is bursting with technology startups looking to build something that could change the world.

The mayor’s office launched an entrepreneurship in residence program in September that will pair three to five startups with public sector issues ripe for improvement. It has since received nearly 200 applications, which its staff was surprised to find came from across the U.S. and around the world. The office expects to announce the selected startups within a few weeks, program lead Rahul Mewawalla said in an interview Monday.

Rahul Mewawalla

Rahul Mewawalla

San Francisco received clusters of applications around topics like transportation, emergency management, big data, crowdsourcing data and using sensors to monitor resources like parking, Mewawalla said.

“San Francisco is emblematic of a large city. It has all the issues you’d imagine you’d have in a large city. But you also have all of those imaginative people,” he said.¬†“The intent is for these (startups) to drive tangible benefits. We want these folks to drive an impact that can be measured by folks in San Francisco and they can feel their lives are better as a result.”

The selected startups will spend 16 weeks beginning in February working with city officials to learn “government pain points” and develop and test their project. During the selection process, preference was given to projects that include products that already exist or are in an advanced stage of development. It’s expected that each project would have a market worth at least $100 million.

Mewawalla said startups reported they applied because of the sheer size of that market, plus the mayor’s office’s plan to help selected projects scale across the U.S. after they complete their time in San Francisco.

“The opportunity there is if you want to impact millions of people, there’s no better place doing that than government, because government touches millions of people in their daily lives,” Mewawalla said.

The entrepreneurship in residence program is supported by the White House, and Mewawalla said San Francisco has already been approached by other cities interested in creating similar programs.

“It really is folks saying, ‘historically, we’ve done all of this for the private sector. Let’s think about how we can deploy it to the public sector,'” Mewawalla said.