3 Tips for Civic Accelerator – Gov’t Software, Valuable Open Data, Now’s the Time

I’m super excited that Code for America launched their Civic Accelerator today. Public sector faces huge challenges and we need more entrepreneurs trying to solve civic problems and I applaud the Civic Accelerator for helping make this happen.

The focus of the accelerator is on three types of companies: 1) they provide services on top of open government data; 2) they bring modern web technologies directly to governments; 3) they change the way citizens ask, get, or need services from government.

As such, I’d love to give potential applicants some suggestions:

1) Learn from Government-focused software companies
There are two major types of software companies that are successful in providing web technologies to government

Large software companies where government is one of their major markets – lots of the successful software companies in government are simply successful software companies overall – they are good at what they are do generally so it just makes sense they provide that value to government – think companies like Google, Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, and ESRI and newer successful software companies like Acquia, Taleo, Workday, and more.

Government-only software companies – there are fewer of these but there are software companies that work only in the public sector sphere. My guess is this is what most folks in the civic accelerator want to build. Some examples are GovDelivery (parent company of GovLoop, focused on government communication only), Granicus (government-focused video streaming), NIC (government-focused state websites), Avue (government talent management) and newer companies like CitySourced, Socrata, and SeeClickFix. Additionally, there is a large market in the licensing and permitting local government world (companies such as Planetgov, Accella, Energov, Smartgov, Sungard Public Sector) as well as other markets like local government websites (CivicPlus, VisionInternet) and 311 and call center technologies (Lagan now Kana, Active Government, others) and ERP solutions (finance and specific BPM solutions – companies like Tyler Technologies). And we haven’t even started talking about law enforcement and public safety market – there are lots of unique police and fire needs that have their own ecosystem of products.

Learn from these companies as you build – they have unique market insights on product needs and the pros/cons of focusing on the government market.

Bonus tip – Service firms & Resellers – Government often uses system integrators and services firms to provide a lot of their web technologies. As a new product, I’d talk to service companies like Deloitte/IBM/others to see how they may possible use your technology. Additionally, lots of government software is bought through resellers like Carahsoft and CDW-G so start building those relationships and understand what the biggest needs they see.

2) All Data is Not Equal – It’s important to remember that all data is not equal and certain types of data have inherently more business value.

The good part is there’s lots of good examples of ecosystems around open data already. Some successful types of open data are:

Procurement data – There is already an ecosystem of vendors such as Onvia, Deltek (which acquired INPUT and Fedsources) that have built large businesses on top of open data by bringing together publicly available data on requests for proposals with expert analysts and great design

Legislative data – There is an already an ecosystem of vendors like Legistorm, CQ, Politico Pro, BGOV that are built on top of legislative data with additional design and great analysts

Housing data – There is already an ecosystem of companies that use housing data (property taxes, latest sales) – everyone from Zillow to Redfin to others.

Other great existing markets built on top of open data include SEC data, education data (reviews of schools like greatschools.org), non-profit data (guidestar built on top of filings from non-profits), HUD data (on foreclosures and houses for sale), crime data (crimereports), transit data, weather data, among others.

3) Now’s the Time – the beauty of it is this is the perfect time to create a public sector focused startup. New technology allows government to provide unique solutions to citizens. Open data allows companies to build unique offerings and tie in with other modern web APIs. And on top of this, government budgets are shrinking so government has to rethink how they do business and a new generation of public servant leaders are coming in as baby boomer retirements continue to rise

Just a few thoughts from my experiences at GovLoop. What am I missing? Companies / ideas / markets?

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