Code for America (CfA) describes itself as “a Peace Corps for geeks.” Its mission is to improve the way governments work through the creative and intelligent use of technology. The organization operates a fellowship, an accelerator, a brigade for civic organizing, and a peer network that all work toward this goal.
The fellowship program connects web developers, designers, and entrepreneurs with cities to find innovative solutions to municipal problems. The 11-month program also includes government training, professional development, and networking. When the 2012 fellowship concluded, three teams of fellows were interested in launching full-fledged businesses to scale their products and expand nationwide.
This is where the incubator program steps in.
This new “no-nonsense, highly focused experience” will last for six months and help transition early-stage civic entrepreneurs into startup mode as they develop business strategies, improve their products, and acquire customers. The first companies to participate are LocalData, BlightStatus, and Textizen.
“Google’s been with us from the start, and we’re excited about their continued interest in transforming government by investing in a new generation of disruptive entrepreneurs,” said CfA’s founder Jennifer Pahlka in a blog post. “These startups are developing light-weight, flexible, affordable tools that help cities work better and are becoming the foundation of a new market for civic innovation. Google’s support in this effort is invaluable.”
The partnership is not Google’s first with CfA. The search giant funded its 2012 programs, including the launch of a civic startup accelerator program that took on “disruption as a public service.” The accelerator program chose seven companies out of a pool of 230 to “turbocharge,” providing them with opportunities to raise awareness of their project, access training and advice, and be introduced to a network of potential investors, civic leaders, and partners.
This incubator program as the same fundamental goal — to bring government operations up to date — but it also serves as a bridge for CfA fellows rather than independent startups tackling this issue. Sustainability is key here, not only to create businesses and products that endure, but also to retain talent and creativity within the civic space.
Peace Corps volunteers and entrepreneurs share a great deal in common. Serving in the Peace Corps honed my determination, resourcefulness, adaptability, creativity, and ability to think outside of the box (not to mention my spice tolerance). Many of the qualities that make a successful Peace Corps volunteer make a successful entrepreneur, but in both cases, a support network is necessary to create change. The challenge for both, is to develop projects that not only sustain on their own, but grow.
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