Open Up Shop: Anywhere, USA.

This morning in Boston, the Knight Foundation announced that OpenCounter was one of the eight winners of this year’s Knight News Challenge. Knight’s investment in our idea, to make business permitting easier and more intuitive for entrepreneurs, is not only humbling, but a validation of the approach that Code for America and the City of Santa Cruz, Calif. took to solving this problem.

Building out OpenCounter took an incredible amount of work and iteration, from the minimum viable product developed by Tamara Shopsin last summer to the beta launched in early January, to the almost entirely rebuilt version that went live in mid-May. Built out by Joel Mahoney, an inaugural 2011 CfA fellow and former CfA staffer, this latest version of OpenCounter has seen a huge uptick in adoption.

Since May 15, the City of Santa Cruz has seen more than 190 accounts created in OpenCounter and 25 new businesses formally apply to start up in Surf City. Staff has taken over responsibility for their own content, helping to develop a simple ticketing and tracking system and even adjusting OpenCounter fees and forms to react to recent City Council decisions. This is possible due to a non-technical backend that any city employee can use to configure fees, zoning districts, special requirements, and permits all with a few clicks.

Pages, forms, fees, and requirements can be displayed based on a number of different kinds of factors, including GIS data, the answer to a previous question, or a business type. Combined with OpenCounter’s data flexibility and API, we believe that OpenCounter is now scalable to other communities beyond Santa Cruz.

In order to achieve this goal, and fulfill the strategic objectives of both the Knight Foundation and Code for America, I’ll be leaving my position at the City of Santa Cruz this July to focus on bringing this software to other communities.

While I’ll be sad to leave a fantastic team at the City, the chance to work full time on this project with Joel is beyond exciting … and there’s definitely a user base for us to serve.

According to the Small Business Administration, 552,600 small business are created in the United States each year, accounting for 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms, 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs and 49.2 percent of private-sector employment. We hope our efforts with OpenCounter will help these entrepreneurs achieve their dreams of setting up shop.

Please follow us at @opencounter or visit to keep up with our progress or drop us a line anytime at hello [@]

We’re looking forward to the journey.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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