A new administration equals a new spin on established ideas, Nia Richardson explained, previewing the launch of Kansas City’s InnovateKC program.
“I literally had a 45-minute conversation with [former city innovation officer] Bob Bennett before he walked out the door. He sent me an email with some notes and I had to pick it up from there,” Richardson, assistant to the KCMO director for small business and entrepreneurship, said of how the city’s Innovation Partnership Program (IPP) evolved into InnovateKC — a civic program that connects city departments with innovative technology startups for a 16-week entrepreneur-in-residence program and enables them to develop technology-based solutions to city government challenges.
“[IPP] was kind of the city piloting what [a program such as this] could look like. When I came on board, my boss, Rick Usher was advocating for us to really help structure that,” she added, specifically noting ways a shift in city administration presented an opportunity for innovative overhauls to entrepreneurial support programs.
“I’m hoping this is just the first piece [of innovative problem solving] that you’ll see. Me being so new to the city myself, this is the first piece that I’m really seeing — especially with the new administration,” Richardson added.
A conversation with the chief of staff for mayor Quinton Lucas saw Richardson pitch the idea for the overhauled program, highlighting ways it could elevate Lucas’ plans for the city.
“Anything the mayor is doing, affordable housing, crime — we can state a problem and put it out there for our entrepreneurs to help us solve. It doesn’t always have to be about how the city operates and how we can be more efficient,” she said. “We can leverage it to say, ‘What are the problems in our city as a whole?’ and ‘What technologies or things can we leverage to be more innovative about how we approach these issues?’”
“The startup-in-residence program provides Kansas City the opportunity to be at the forefront of both municipal procurement and equity,” mayor Lucas said in a release about InnovateKC.
Born of national collaboration, InnovateKC is the result of a strong relationship with San Francisco-based City Innovate and its Startup in Residence (STIR) program, Richardson noted.
“I just got back from San Francisco with City Innovate and I got to see what other cities did last year in their cohort,” she said, detailing first hand exposure to the impact of the program model.
“A few [companies] had solutions around affordable housing, development or things of that sort and how to better manage it, how to find solutions for it, how to get information out there. … There’s a number of different ways you can leverage this program to help solve [civic] problems,” she said.
Kansas City’s version of the program will include an educational component for startups and city agencies, designed to help participants learn how to navigate government partnerships, procurement processes, open data and systems integration, and civic tech trends.
Such an element also enabled city leaders to tap into the technology marketplace and learn how to build and solicit products, the city noted.
“InnovateKC is bringing creative problem-solving partnerships with our growing startup community to city departments. Our city staff are creative and working closely with entrepreneurial-thinking startups will accelerate our progress towards implementing technology driven public services,” Usher said.
Whatever mayor Lucas adds to his agenda, InnovateKC could provide a solid avenue for solving its stated challenges while simultaneously supporting local entrepreneurs, Richardson said.
“He could leverage this [program] to come up with an innovative solution — and the benefit for the city is that we get a ‘try it before we buy it’ type of deal.”
Run a startup? Click here to apply for the inaugural InnovateKC cohort.
Under the IPP model, the city-run program provided exceptional collaboration between civic and startup sectors, noted Kate Bender, deputy performance officer/DataKC.
“During the 2018 IPP, our office worked with local firm MySidewalk on a project that addressed a current need of the city — a platform for visualizing key data insights — and which resulted in a contract relationship and the development of several new city dashboards,” Bender said.
RFP360 also saw success with the program, the city said. The proposal platform helped modernize the way the city evaluates and contracts goods and services.
“[IPP] allowed us to get in front of the right audience quickly, and then the proof of concept was our part,” said David Hulsen, co-founder and COO of RFP360. “I wish all cities were as open to new technologies as Kansas City continues to be.”
“We are looking forward to being involved with the upcoming InnovateKC program, which is aiming to strengthen the connection between the city’s business needs and solutions from the entrepreneurial community,” Bender added.
Through InnovateKC, five challenges will be presented to startups, which include identifying solutions for community engagement, automated barricading and signage systems, data-visualization of surface and underground assets, a digital platform for resources and referrals and business development solutions for minority-owned businesses.
Applications for the program close Nov. 20.