Impact, Investment And Demand: Three Pillars For Civic Tech Success


Image Credits: nixki (opens in a new window) / Shutterstock (opens in a new window)

Stacy Donohue


Stacy Donohue is an investment partner at Omidyar Network focused on innovations in civic tech.

More posts from Stacy Donohue

Last year was one of great momentum for civic tech. We saw more people and resources than ever enter the space, garnering interest from startups, corporations, government agencies and investment firms. Kicking off 2016, civic tech is a fast-growing field with tangible potential to improve the relationship between citizens and government.

As the field works to become a sustainable, scalable ecosystem, there are three key trends to keep an eye on — areas where civic tech can start to cement its impact and provide critical proof points.

The 2016 election effect — proving the power of civic tech

This year’s presidential election will usher in a new wave of citizen engagement tools and platforms aimed at educating voters and boosting voter turnout. These tools and platforms deployed on a national scale in 2016 will provide valuable lessons in what works and what doesn’t work when trying to increase citizen participation.

With the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, is hoping to get more than political pundits engaged this election season. The petition website recently launched Change Politics, a new website and mobile platform aimed at empowering voters with more valuable, curated information — beyond what we typically learn through campaign ads and party affiliation.

Change Politics will allow voters to pose questions directly to candidates, will show candidates’ endorsements and will help users create a personalized ballot guide they can use on election day with their smartphones.

While new tools such as Change Politics will help reshape what it means to be an engaged citizen, what will be truly game-changing is if entrepreneurs can take the lessons learned from civic tech’s application during the presidential election and apply them at the local level, both in the United States and abroad. For cities and states, these lessons can help build tools and platforms that engage citizens on issues they care about — and can help foster these interactions on a regular basis, rather than just every four years.

Increased funding and exits — accelerating growth and scale

From early stage funding to completed exit strategies, today’s civic tech companies have more funding opportunities than ever. A growing number of acquisitions are proving that civic tech is a viable field, attracting real interest from investors and entrenched companies.

A prime example of this kind of investment in civic tech comes from GovDelivery, the 15-year-old digital communication platform for government. Recognizing over the last several years the need for more cloud-based, user-centered tools, the company acquired NuCivic and Textizen in an effort to create more points of access between citizens and government.

These types of acquisitions will enable GovDelivery to deploy civic tech that better fits government and citizen needs. And combining forces with civic tech startups is part of a strategy that propelled the company to its strongest year ever in 2015, with 100 million subscribers and an estimated record revenue of $35 million.

In forecasting for the year ahead, 2016 will likely see this virtuous cycle of investment continue to grow — an estimated $285 million was raised in capital for U.S. civic tech companies in 2015 (according to Omidyar Network’s internal analysis using database PitchBook. Omidyar Network researchers identified 23 companies as related to civic tech and totaled investment capital raised in 2015). For the greater civic tech movement, this influx of funding enables civic tech companies to scale more quickly and reach more people, which, in turn, will grow acquisition opportunities and strengthen investor confidence in the field overall.

Greater government adoption rates — breaking down barriers and driving demand

In many communities around the country, a wall exists between government agencies and civic tech startups. Procurement policies and a general lack of awareness between the two groups often mean that the best solution to a city’s problem may never get discovered and implemented. This divide is potentially the biggest obstacle still facing civic tech in 2016.

We’re starting to see the wall being chipped away in cities like New York, San Francisco, London and Barcelona, thanks to local government agencies’ growing willingness to rethink procurement. Working with online platform Citymart, governments are implementing problem-based procurement, where instead of issuing a list of specifications for a pre-determined — and often quite limited — solution, agencies make an open call for new ideas around a challenge facing their communities, such as excessive noise in residential areas, bicycle theft and food waste.

By the end of 2015, Citymart had completed more than 100 challenges with more than 50 cities around the globe, resulting in 10 times more solutions for cities’ problems and 98 percent of contracts going to SMEs, startups and social entrepreneurs.

As more cities start to bear the fruits of a problem-based procurement, other government agencies will gain the confidence they need to work with civic entrepreneurs. And as cloud, open data and IoT technologies become an increasing need for local government, civic tech companies will find more inroads for successful relationships with local government. For civic tech to truly reach its tipping point, this symbiotic relationship between government, entrepreneurs and innovators is mission critical.

In the year ahead, civic tech entrepreneurs and investors undoubtedly have their work cut out for them. In addition to procurement, strict regulations and varying success metrics leave many at risk of falling into a pilot-stage purgatory, never able to fully scale their innovations. However, if stakeholders can hold tight to the opportunities ahead of us with the presidential election, continue attracting capital and forge new relationships with government, 2016 can be a watershed year for the sector.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo