The City’s Office of Innovation and Geekdom on Tuesday announced the creation and launch of CivTechSA, a civic innovation program aimed at developing solutions to community tech challenges in San Antonio.

The program will connect local government agencies with tech and entrepreneurial communities to help resolve technology issues. Its goal is to increase the number of startups and help launch new ones, according to Jose De La Cruz, the City’s chief innovation officer for the Office of Innovation.

“This program will develop future tech leaders who are civically engaged and empowered to help their community, as well as to enhance an entrepreneurial tech mindset in City staff,” City Manager Sheryl Sculley stated in a press release.

Anticipated benefits include growing the local startup ecosystem, attracting and retaining technology workforce, cultivating local talent, and strengthening the ties between the City and the tech community.

The City will support the program with $150,000 in funding approved in the 2018 budget. After the first year, City staff will examine progress and determine future funding levels, De La Cruz said.

“Our vision for this program is not to make it dependent on City funding for its sustainability,” said Dax Moreno, Geekdom’s director of programs and ecosystem development. “We’re looking to get community partners with a similar mission engaged in participating in and supporting this program to lessen the burden on the City.”

The City will compile a list of challenges it faces across its departments. CivTechSA will then engage local students and the tech community in a variety of programs, events, and hands-on opportunities to address those issues and encourage those seeking careers in the civic and tech sectors.

The CivTechSA program will capitalize on tech talent in four developmental stages: junior high and high school students from the sixth to 12th grade; college and university students; entrepreneurs; and startups.

“The focus for this new program will be to further develop the tech entrepreneurial ecosystem, combat brain drain, and provide [local tech talent] with real-world challenges the City has,” De La Cruz said.

No schools have been selected yet as the process for establishing key partnerships is still in progress.

The Convention and Sports Facilities Department, which oversees events at the Alamodome, has identified a challenge CivTechSA could address, said Kate Mason, the City’s innovation manager.

“They are looking to make it easier for users to navigate their facility, find parking and food, and find out where are the long lines they should avoid,” Mason said. “We’re looking for those bright minds to help the City address challenges like these.”

In its inaugural year, Geekdom and the City will embed two to three startups within City departments for 16-week residencies to work on developing tech or software solutions to City problems. Details on how the residencies will operate are being developed, according to Mason.

“We’re in the process of getting partners on board first,” Mason said. “We’re flexible and will work with what’s best for the students and teachers.”

Examples of this approach include the VIA Code-a-Thon in May in which students worked on transit issues.

From left, Carlos Navarro, Wesley Supnet, Roberto Navarro, and Joel Gilbert from team "Webdevs" present their project at Codeathon awards.
(from left) Carlos Navarro, Wesley Supnet, Roberto Navarro, and Joel Gilbert of Team Webdevs present their project at the VIA Code-a-Thon. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“The City can’t lose with this program, because they are willing to engage in community action by encouraging entrepreneurs to work on local challenges,” Moreno said.

Collaboration between entrepreneurial populations and local governments has led to increased civic engagement in other U.S. cities, De La Cruz said.

“That started the conversation months ago and we fleshed out the details for this new program in time for the budget adoption, [because] we know we have that community in San Antonio,” De La Cruz explained.

More specifically, CivTechSA was inspired by efforts such as the Startup In Residence program that started in 2014 in San Francisco and the Bay Area, according to Moreno.

Startup In Residence connects cities to startups to transform local government through entrepreneurship. CivTechSA differentiates itself from the Bay Area program by including workforce development via partnerships with the cities’ schools.

“Startup In Residence provided the inspiration, but we decided to build a comprehensive program that includes workforce development,” De La Cruz said. “We have not seen this elsewhere in the country – We took it a step further to play to the strengths of our city’s ecosystem.”

Iris Gonzalez writes about technology, life science and veteran affairs.