Cityflag, of which Altamirano is founder and chief executive officer, created a mobile app that enables citizens to engage with local government and alert officials about municipal problems, such as road hazards or inefficient city services. The City of San Antonio awarded the tech startup a contract to develop a mobile app for its 311 system, aimed at increasing San Antonians’ engagement in city government.
Cityflag announced Wednesday that former Mayor Henry Cisneros has invested an undisclosed amount in the local tech company. Both Cisneros and his son, John Paul Cisneros, are joining Cityflag’s board of advisors, according to Altamirano.
Felix Ortiz III, founder of cloud-based technology platform Viridis Learning, nominated Altamirano to the Forbes list.
“Alberto is a thoughtful leader dedicated to building a more connected and civically minded community through the use of technology,” Ortiz stated in a press release.
Rafael Munguia, an angel investor based in McAllen, recognizes the impact the Cityflag app could have for many communities, not just San Antonio where the app will first be used.
“There’s a lot of good products to invest in out there, but what I also saw was the great product, Beto’s compelling vision, and his impressive team,” Munguia said. “We believe in investing in people, and this technology powered through people’s engagement is an innovative concept that can help improve communities.”
Winslow Swart, who co-founded the One Millions Dreams app with Altamirano, sees the Smart Cities approach to innovating local government as a powerful movement, one that aligns well with the civic engagement anchored in the Cityflag app.
“After Beto attended this summer’s Smart Cities conference in Paris and Amsterdam, he joined me and the rest of the City of San Antonio delegation that had traveled to Jerusalem,” Swart said. “We were able to meet with civic and thought leaders there to bring back lessons learned for San Antonio. What Beto is working on is relevant, not just for San Antonio. It has global appeal and is relevant everywhere.”
Altamirano spoke with the Rivard Report about the Forbes distinction, his father and how he spurred Altamirano’s interest in civic engagement, and about San Antonio’s emergence as a tech hub. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rivard Report: What was your reaction upon learning you were selected as one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 list?
Alberto Altamirano: I was surprised. I hope my place on the list will highlight what is going on in San Antonio. [People from] Austin [have] been on that list for the past several years. San Antonio’s time is coming now. A great change is going on in the city’s entrepreneurial innovation space.
City leaders and stakeholders are actively asking the question, “How do we create an innovation district?” We’re beginning to see that tech hub downtown take root. There is a support system in this ecosystem that is emerging. For example, we’re beginning to see how Geekdom is pushing to nurture this environment.
Innovation is a fragile concept. For us to be on that list represents the momentum and vision in San Antonio. San Antonio has a great potential to become a tech hub of innovation for our entrepreneurs.
RR: Your City Flag app will go live in San Antonio soon and you’re working to help other cities adopt it to enable more civic engagement at the local level. What was the inspiration for your app? Why focus on how technological entrepreneurship can enable more civic engagement in local government?
AA: My father’s deportation 10 years ago sparked my interest in policy and social justice. He was deported to Mexico when I was only 18 years old. I began to get involved in local politics. Organizing communities at 18 was an eye-opener. I will never forget the visits I paid to underserved villages in South Texas, where running water was scarce and hygiene a daily struggle. I discovered a calling to public service.
My father [told me] that I should still believe in the American dream, believe in myself. He told me the only way ahead was to embrace life, learn from its ups and downs, and move forward.
I understand that my being born in this country had given me an opportunity and that I had to take advantage of that.
During my college years and after graduating I had the opportunity to work at the Texas House of Representatives drafting legislation as a 21-year-old. I worked in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in the U.S. Senate under Sen. John Kerry’s leadership, and in the U.S. Department of State, working at the U.S. Consulate in Barcelona, Spain. While working in Barcelona I began to study the smart cities movement and the potential impact technology could have in solving urban challenges.
After returning to Texas, I co-founded … Cityflag. Our perseverance has led us to winning a MacArthur Foundation Voto Latino grant to implement our technology in cities with a population of over 1 million people.
RR: What do you hope your story does for other budding entrepreneurs?
AA: The No. 1 challenge for every entrepreneur just starting out is proving the concept and funding. Once you have a proven concept that shows promise, funding becomes the all-engrossing effort for startups. In order to gain traction with investors you need exposure. I hope this exposure will shine the light on San Antonio’s entrepreneurial community because it’s important to give voice to ideas in progress.
I also think it’s great news to have a Hispanic from San Antonio on the Forbes list. My hope is that it it inspires Latino youth because they are a big part of the future for the U.S. The median age for Latinos in the U.S. is 27. I’m excited that more young Latinos are stepping up from that young demographic to join the entrepreneurial space.
I share my story to motivate others, especially those kids who are facing challenges related to immigration or social justice. Ten years ago after my father was deported, I never would have imagined being named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. My advice to all those just starting out as entrepreneurs is to keep your head up, keep pushing, embrace challenges, and turn adversity into opportunity.