Top 6 Essentials of a Government Start-up Accelerator

Love the idea of the new government-focused startup accelerator created by Code for America.

We need more talented entrepreneurs working hard to solving government problems (instead of just creating iphone apps or another new games). Government is a huge market so it’s potentially lucrative for entrepreneurs and also really meaningful as there are deeply important and thorny problems that need solving (lower cost of healthcare, bring better services to returning veterans, more efficiently deliver benefits ).

However, I think are a few things unique to a government-focused start-up accelerator in the needs of both the entrepreneur and the end-user (government) that are different than normal incubators.

So here’s my top 6 things I’d want from a government start-up accelerator as an entrepreneur (I’ll write a follow-up post of what I’d want coming from the perspective of government):

As an entrepreneur, I’d want

1) Access to capital – Access to capital can be difficult for most government focused startups. Most venture capitalists have little knowledge of government and avoid it at all costs. Government is a different beast with different sales cycles, different issues plus a lot of VCs have a strong libertarian bent which makes them have a gut instinct to avoid government. In addition to VC money, government itself does have money set aside for new technology in places like DARPA, IARPA, In-Q-Tel, and SBIR grants – it can be confusing to understand all these places and rules and would be great to have an accelerator program help you navigate.

2) Access to beta customers – To succeed in government, you need some really good beta customers. In government, you are only as good as your past performance. Very few government agencies want to be the first to try something out, they want to know other agencies are already using it. This is a huge hurdle for lots of start-ups. If the accelerator can help build a core of government agencies that are willing to test new technology, that is a huge asset that helps the company get real-world experience and learn what’s working.

3) Access to integrators and partner companies – Lots of government purchasing is not done directly to small companies but is instead done through system integrators and larger software companies (ESRI to Microsoft to Lagan and more). These vendors are often looking for interesting new technology to integrate into their product and services – the incubator should foster these relationship and help new start-ups integrate with larger product and service stacks..

4) Access to problems – The hardest part for a new start-up is to truly find the real problem you are solving for the customer. In government, there are lots of problems that seem simply from outside but are way more complicated when you actually work in government (from legal to security to simply not being a priority). It would be great if the incubator could both help bubble up key problems that government agencies want solved as well as help further vet out ideas that entrepreneurs have.

5) Access to contract vehicles – A huge issue for many government-focused startups is getting on the relevant contract vehicles for purchasing. A start-up incubator would both help new start-ups get on the existing vehicles but probably even more importantly establish relationship with resellers to find easy way for these start-ups to sell through at the beginning

6) Access to data – A lot of civic startups are built on open data. Sometimes that data can be really hard to get – whether the main agency you need to cooperate doesn’t or maybe 10 cities cooperate but you really need 50 more to. If the incubator could help facilitate access to the data, whether it’s simply extra pressure and connections to building structured databases of similar data across cities, that’d be a huge help

So that’s my top 6 suggestions. What’s yours?

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Heidi Sheppard

Access to manufacturers who can scale-up your product.

Access to technical assistance and business assistance providers.

Corey McCarren

I never really considered that many venture capitalists would be libertarians, but it makes sense, and it is logical to assume that they would avoid a government-focused start-up. Venture capitalists should, ideally, be more focused on their return on investment than what the company does. As long as it isn’t controversial, a business is a business regardless of who they’re catering to. Also a question, wouldn’t providing private sector services to government make government smaller, and possibly even cut costs?