San Francisco may not have intended to be become the startup mecca that it is today, but now the city government is working hard to make itself as friendly as possible to tech entrepreneurs. Makes sense, considering that there are 1,539 tech companies and 30,000 tech jobs in the city now — a number that’s been growing fast as older industries like high finance continue to suffer through the recession.
What that means is this. Mayor Ed Lee, who came to power last year with heavy support from the local tech scene, is announcing a new initiative today at the TechFellow awards ceremony, that has some intriguing ideas for making the city itself more relevant to the booming industry within it.
Broadly, the so-called 2012 Innovation Portfolio is trying to do everything from helping founders by making it easier to complete the paperwork for creating a company, to giving developers new access to city data, to introducing new ways for citizens to share their opinions with the city, to actually testing out tech products at City Hall itself. A number of other cities in the U.S. and around the world have been working on similar initiatives, so as a resident I can personally say that I’m happy to see this happening.
Especially because the city’s awful taxi system is getting opened up to innovation.
Here’s a closer look at key pieces of the portfolio, based on documents provided to me from the city — plus my own editorializing.
Business One-Stop: Having been through the awful state and federal paperwork for founding a company myself, this one sounds very helpful. The city will launch an online service that allows businesses to “answer simple step-by-step questions and be presented with a clear roadmap of the required steps and forms to complete” founding paperwork online. It’s not clear if this is only for companies that make California their federal home — that might be an issue for tech companies, which normally federally incorporate in Delaware due to its business-friendly bureaucracy. The city is aiming for at least one section of the new site to be online by the end of this year.
ImproveSF: Slated for this spring, the site will let any citizen provide answers to major civic problems — budget savings (which the city has struggled to make happen), and revitalization plans for the middle part of Market Street are two examples.
Open Taxi Access: “In our City, 50 percent of taxis sit empty, many concentrate downtown and at SFO, and central dispatch doesn’t work, so we want to work with you in solving this problem,” the city states frankly in its presentation on the initiative. Exactly. In fact, this type of problem has helped Uber’s town car service become a hit with residents. To kick this effort off, the city is planning an event for February 24 and 25 “to help the City redefine taxi access and help us define next steps.” Look for TechCrunch to be all over this project.
Hackathons 2.0: Similar to the taxi initiative, the idea here is to bring “hackathon” developer events put on by tech organizations to specific city issues. It promises “user-centered” hackathons for civic topics like veterans services, payments, and transportation. Events are already planned with the California College of Art, Black Founders, Mozilla and GAFFTA.
Open Data: In addition to taxis and the hackathons, the city is more generally trying to make all sorts of other data available to developers — it says it already has 60 apps built on its data, according to its presentation. The broader data plan includes working for legislation that will make information more easily available to the public, and providing more than 200 of its own data sets online. “As part of this effort, the City is moving to a cloud-based data sharing service for launch in March” — I’m not sure what that means, but I guess a central online repository for the data sets? I’ll update if I find out more.
SmartPDFs: Parallel with the open data efforts listed above, the city also wants to make paperwork easier for all of its citizens. This means moving paper-based processes online so you don’t need to print and fax and mail everything. The pilot launch has started, look for deployment across city agencies over the year.
Separately, the city says it’s beginning to test out new technology at City Hall — including Yammer, and Cozybit and 802.11s mesh networking.
You can find more details on the city’s “Innovation” site, here. Partners include sf.citi (which we covered more here), along with Code For America, CCOL, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and SPUR.
[San Francisco cityscape photo via Mr. Thorngren's social studies blog.]