Sector News
Entrepreneurship in Residence – a Procurement of Innovation Case Study

On day three of Wales Procurement Week, we were given the opportunity to listen to three case studies from cities around the world on purchasing innovation. Each gave examples of how innovation had been used to bring more effective and efficient products or services to the citizen and public departments. They explained how public procurement practices had been used to procure innovation in Singapore, Amsterdam and San Francisco.

Mark Chandler, Director, San Francisco Mayor’s Office, talked about how San Francisco has grown into a centre for innovation in the US on the back of technology (not just in Silicon Valley as you might expect). It’s also where innovators from around the world go to research and innovate, exploiting the city’s right mix of new companies, ‘smart’ people and technical infrastructure to help them grow.

So what does the Government do to respond to the demand for innovation in the public sector? How do you get innovation via procurement?

The mayor of San Francisco is keen to promote innovation in Government and is fully supporting the growing wave of ‘chief innovation officer’ roles being created. The City also opened up government data to the public, by the way of apps that they can access and analyse. The CityApp Store is designed to improve transparency in government, increase access to City data, and engage a highly skilled workforce to create apps from that data. It developed a real-time parking app which got rid of the much-hated parking tickets (and the revenue they generate of course!). It merged private sector data with public sector data (YELP with health standards) for use by restaurants for example. The list goes on …

What we found most interesting was the launch of an Entrepreneurship in Residence programme, to help entrepreneurs, technologists and start-ups develop technology-enabled products and services for its $142 billion public sector market. The Mayor’s Office selects talented entrepreneurial teams from around the globe and in a 16-week programme provides them with direct and ongoing access to government opportunities, and real government needs. They don’t get paid; what they do get is to work side-by-side with senior government officials and have access to an open environment, the space to work in, and, of course, the technology infrastructure. The entrepreneurial products or services have to drive significant impact, like increased revenue, enhanced productivity or meaningful cost savings.

Nearly 200 startups from 25 cities around the world applied to the programme across a number of critical areas such as education, healthcare, transportation, public utilities, public safety, infrastructure and the environment. Only six are chosen – so competition in this initiative is high.

One of the products that came out of the programme came from a collaboration between tech startup MobilePD and the San Francisco Police Department. It was an app for officers called MobilePD FI (Field Interview). It allows officers to securely take field notes, photos and voice recordings during interviews and sync the information with police databases. The app is designed to eliminate data backlogs, hours of data entry and time wasted driving back to police departments for recording. The company hopes to sell the service nationally to the country’s 13,000 plus police departments.

Other apps include: an advanced smoke detector pilot that detects indoor air quality; a predictive analysis system to analyse urban planning projects with mapped 3-D renderings; a geolocating system to help the visually impaired navigate the San Francisco International Airport using voice-guidance and an app that chronicles permit and noticing information with a user-friendly mapping interface for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

And if the results work in San Francisco, they get to sell it elsewhere. “Getting the brightest minds to tackle the biggest challenges” seems a sensible notion. Products and services that solve real issues faced by San Francisco could easily be used in other cities around the world and could even spill over into the private sector.

Said Mark: “This has opened our eyes to a broader set of solutions. Let’s bring more innovation into the public sector – it should be an expectation that we do things better in Government.”