Hacking the government
The first Startup Weekend GOV happened April 27th to 29th at Seattle’s City Hall, which turned out to be the perfect venue for ~100 passionate attendees.
It was an inspiring weekend, full of grand visions, great cooperation and even some great food. I was involved as a Mentor and we (Apptentive) awarded our services to the top 5 mobile apps, but more importantly, I got to watch over a dozen passionate teams work their way through tough problems. It was exciting to be a part of it and I came away with a few really big takeaways:
Seattle & WA State are leading
I didn’t fully appreciate how much work the City of Seattle and WA State have done to embrace using technology to improve the citizen’s experience. When Mayor McGinn rattled off the awards and accomplishments of the past few years, I was impressed.
When he told us about some of the local startups, like Walkscore, that have grown up here, I was inspired.
Passionate involvement with support goes a long way
Startup Weekend, as a rule, is a pretty incredible feat: convincing 75+ people to commit their weekends to working on something new with a new group of people is pretty freaking impressive, when you think about it. The vast majority of us are simply too tired from a week of work to commit to what a Startup Weekend takes.
When you show up at Startup Weekend, you know that those who show up are involved. They want to see some changes made in the world and want to try and push them into the light of day.
In addition to the Mayor’s comments, Washington State’s CIO, Bharat Shyam, got up and told us about the work that he and his team are doing. He then shared with us that public officials are monitoring a hashtag, #needdatanw, which we can all use to request access to public data. The simple act of listening can be really powerful in and of itself and to know that these public agencies are listening to how we could utilize data to make the world a better place is pretty great.
The power of Access
One of the cool things about Startup Weekend’s approach is that it really emphasizes “getting out of the building” when it comes to building your project and preparing your pitch.
What this means is that it’s important to try and find some way to hack the validation stage of product building. If you can figure out who your customers are likely to be and then get them to understanding what you’re building, you can validate whether or not it’s worth something to the buyers and why.
With Startup Weekend GOV, one of the coolest things was having officials from the city, county and state governments present. On a regular basis I saw teams sitting down with 1 or 2 government officials, peppering them with questions, taking notes and vetting whether or not their idea really had a chance. This was hugely important, because it shortcuts a process that is typically slow and daunting. The access afforded the teams participating in Startup Weekend was extraordinary and really allowed them to “get out of the building” to investigate how to make their idea turn into reality.
Whether it was hearing about how David Keyes was getting texted and called all throughout Saturday by various teams or seeing Sol running around, taking notes and answering questions, the involvement and commitment by everyone on the GOV side of this equation really made it special.
I particularly appreciated that the Reporta team actually had a government employee on their team who was able to really elaborate on the problems they were solving and how much it was worth.
I’ve been to Startup Weekends, hackathons, startup pitch events etc. The judging and feedback section is always very valuable, but in my experience, the feedback at this event was even more enthusiastic and empowering than at other events. There was a strong desire to see several of these ideas come to life and soon.
- Bill Schrier, to the CivicRally team, “You have done more in one weekend than Code for America has done all year”
- Bharat Shyam, to the Artrover team “This idea was so good we spent 10 minutes coming up with new things for your roadmap while we were trying to vote”
Based on what I was hearing and seeing, several of the companies that presented have a great headstart on the Evergreen Apps Challenge.
Conclusion: Government for the people, by the people
The first Startup Weekend GOV was an awesome start to what I hope becomes a more regular occurrence around the country and the world. Giving involved and passionate entrepreneurs great access and resources with which to build civic-minded solutions is the best way I know of to create meaningful and lasting change. From what I saw, there’s a hunger on the part of citizens to get more involved in solving the problems that face their communities and neighborhoods. Kudos to all of the teams that formed and started the Startup Weekend GOV ball rolling!
Teams that ended up presenting: