I am proud to be a part of a civic startup. After working with big government contractors for over five years, I knew the business of government. Several months ago I began looking for new career opportunities. I wanted to continue working with government, but I wanted to actually make a difference. In my job hunt, I focused only companies that fit the civic startup bill.
The definition of a civic startup
Mark Headd, Philadelphia’s Chief Data Officer and civic innovation thought leader, provides great insight into what a civic startup looks like. He explains in his blog, Civic Innovations, that civic startups have particular qualities that make them attractive to both governments and citizens. Both parties have an interest in seeing these kinds of startups succeed because both will realize benefits when they do. Mark provides an excellent definition:
“Civic startups are those companies that, through the pursuit of their core missions, produce what economists call a positive externality. In other words, there are benefits inherent in the services these companies provide that are not reflected in the cost of that service.”
Those are the businesses that I targeted. Not only did I stumble across some amazing companies (Measured Voice, SmartProcure, and Appallicious, to name just a few), but my research led me to several startup founders who I now consider career mentors, and ultimately to ArchiveSocial.
Why I went with ArchiveSocial
After several months of reaching out to a multitude civic startups, (and basically doing a guerilla marketing campaign to promote myself), I was offered positions at 3 companies. And then came the tough part.* I had to choose.
After a one-month trial period to test my fit with the company (a fairly common practice in the startup world), I packed up my apartment,made the move to Durham, North Carolina, and started with ArchiveSocial full-time.
I chose ArchiveSocial because of the company’s mission in the public sector: increasing citizen engagement and government transparency. By archiving social media records, ArchiveSocial eliminates the compliance risk that is preventing government agencies -- especially at the municipal level -- from using social media as a two-way communications tool, or from having any social media presence whatsoever. Citizens benefit from increased engagement with their government, and the promise of government transparency (i.e. freedom of information) being fulfilled.
For more information on record keeping in the public sector, download ArchiveSocial’s guide here.
The future of civic startups
Like all civic startups, or any startup, for that matter, ArchiveSocial faces many challenges. We have limited resources and we’re competing against the government establishment (those big government contractors I mentioned at the beginning of this post).
Luckily, there are several well-established organizations that are committed to the success of civic startups. ArchiveSocial is part of the Code for America accelerator program, for example. Cities are also taking notice. Philadelphia is one of the cities nurturing startups and recently launched a program called FastFWD, a 12-week social enterprise accelerator focused on public safety.
Civic startups are still a relatively new concept. As more and more governments strive for innovation, I can envision a future where we are widely accepted. Only time will tell.
*During my exploration into the startup world, I was doing freelance work and living in costly Washington DC. Not just the suburbs that outsiders refer to as DC; actual, unbelievably expensive, DC. This meant reaching far into my savings account to pay my rent every month and crossing my fingers that it wouldn’t run out before I had found a position. So let me be clear: I realize that being faced with 3 good career opportunities is a great thing. But because I had spent months reaching out and offers came in all at once, the choice I had to make was a difficult one.