Startups Share Experiences from Solving City Challenges in CivTechSA

By Iris Gonzalez
Reckon Point's Thomas Decker works on the indoor map of San Antonio International Airport. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.

Startups San Antonio continues its series of articles on different San Antonio startup programs. The first was Startups Share Experiences from Geekdom’s Pre-Accelerator Program. This second story features San Antonio’s CivTechSA program, a residency for startups to work closely with municipal departments in search of innovative solutions.

After 16 weeks of hard work, the first CivTechSA residency ended July 27 for two San Antonio startups. Kinetech Cloud and Reckon Point worked with the City of San Antonio’s Department of Human Services and the San Antonio International Airport respectively, devising solutions to their municipal challenges. The City of San Antonio program launched the CivTechSA program in late 2017 partly because the City was trying to identify different ways to expand its capacity for innovation, said Jose De La Cruz, chief innovation officer for the city of San Antonio.

“In government, we have limited resources and wanted to partner with the tech community in a meaningful way,” Cruz said. “There is a longer-term goal of creating more startups in San Antonio and nurturing the talent here, so part of this program focuses on startups but also on students and lone entrepreneurs.”

CivTechSA will showcase the two companies at its Demo Day event August 29.  The startups will present what they have developed at Geekdom, a downtown co-working community. City council members and other local government representatives will be in attendance. RSVP here for a free ticket.

Two Very Different Challenges and Solutions

Kinetech Cloud worked to automate the City’s utility assistance application and helped the Department of Human Services transition from a paper-based application process to a digital one. The City department oversees programs that help low-income or other qualifying households pay their water and electricity bills. Kinetech Cloud developed an app that gives residents the ability to apply for assistance using their mobile phones, as many households do not have a computer.

The CivTechSA program helped the Department of Human Services improve both their application processes and the customer experience. Previously applicants did not receive notification of their application submission or knew at what stage their application was at any time, Gonzales said. Customers now can receive immediate feedback, which is critical for those applying for assistance.

“Most are in dire need—they are in crisis and at risk of disconnected services, so time is of the essence,” Department of Human Services assistant director Edward Gonzales said. “This solution will help us increase the amount of assistance we need to get to those who need it the most.”

Kinetech with clients
Kinetech Cloud’s Bo McGuffey (left) stands next to Department of Human Service client Jaslynn Tenerio. Kinetech’s Jon Lamb is next to another client, Francisco Rodriguez (right). Photo courtesy of Kinetech Cloud.

The airport’s goal was to develop a wayfinding app that would assist passengers as they move from the TSA exit to the baggage claim, then outside to short-term parking, ground transportation, or the car rental facility. The airport was interested in integrating its existing tools and resources into one platform, Syed Mehdi, the airport’s chief strategy and development officer, explained. What Reckon Point proposed was the addition of their unique navigation solution to develop a wayfinding app with a precise indoor map of the airport spaces. The startup was able to map and display the exact location for hundreds of points of interest down to power plugs, changing stations, and bathrooms in one of the airport’s terminals.

Read more: Reckon Point’s Indoor Wayfinding App Places Startup on the Map

“The CivTechSA program provided the airport the opportunity to solicit the startup community for an innovative technological solution,” Mehdi said.

Looking Ahead to CivTechSA’s Year Two

The City’s chief innovation officer thinks the first residency has been “a big success for us, seeing how engaged our city departments have been with our city residents.”

“Year one was a learning phase for us, so going into year two we’ll have a solid foundation of how the residency will work,” de la Cruz said. “The City’s partnership with Geekdom was also helpful in linking us to the startup community.”

Discussions are in progress on when to schedule the next cohort, once City leadership finalizes its budget and City departments submit new technological challenges.

“We’re looking to expand upon what worked in the pilot year, so potentially we may solicit challenges from the community,” City of San Antonio innovation manager Kate Kinnison said. “We’re building capacity and trying to expand on our engagement over time, as we’ve found more people want to engage with us than we realized.”

The City departments have been impressed with how agile and creative the startups were in devising solutions to the challenges each one faced, CivTechSA program manager Joyce Deuley said.

“Every solution is very different, so you can’t compare what they each have done,” Deuley said. This partnership between the City and Geekdom allowed for creativity and talent from startups to shine where they can best serve.”

Startups Share CivTechSA Residency Experiences

Bo McGuffey, Kinetech Cloud sales executive and Gabe Garza, Reckon Point founder and CEO, talked about their respective startup experiences in the CivTechSA residency.

Why did you decide to join the CivTech SA residency program?

Kinetech Cloud: We’re Geekdom members and thought that CivTech SA represented an opportunity for us not only to get involved in government technology development but to help residents of San Antonio at the same time. During the peak winter months and in July and August, the Department of Human Services caseworkers can’t process all the applications promptly because there are just too many coming in. It hasn’t been easy for them to track applications either because they use a paper filing system.

We developed the utility rebate program application because it can manage many users applying digitally for the rebate while also automating tasks, streamlining documentation, and providing status updates to applicants. They can apply for the rebate from a desktop computer, mobile device, or tablet.

Reckon Point: We found out about the program and applied just before the deadline. Because of our company expertise in indoor GPS mapping and way-finding services, we knew we could help the airport with an innovative wayfinding application. The city told us their biggest issue was helping passengers find their way to the rental car and parking areas.

We’ve gotten a lot of reactions of ‘I didn’t know anybody in San Antonio is doing anything like this!’ so I would say it was a really good match for us to work with the airport on mapping the airport’s terminal B and creating a searchable interactive map to guide passengers to baggage claim and beyond.

How did participating in the residency impact your company?

Kinetech Cloud: It was16 weeks of unpaid development work before the (private) demo day for the final product, but the work has created a new opportunity for us to explore. We allocated internal resources that were fully dedicated to this effort. We committed to this, and the City, in turn, has committed to our company in working with us.

Reckon Point: From a technical standpoint, we had to narrow the scope because we only had 16 weeks to develop something that was both functional and doable. That’s why we scoped it down to only mapping Terminal B, which was about 60,000 square feet of the airport or only 15 percent of the total space. We also self-funded this. It’s the only part of the demo that was challenging, as I’m not sure every startup can do this.

What did you learn from this experience that will be crucial to your startup’s success?

Kinetech Cloud: We’ve been able to network extensively with the City of San Antonio which affords us the opportunity to market this post-solution. It has allowed us to explore other government tech opportunities. As the City continues to grow in size, tech will play a key role both in the City’s management and resident experience. Tech is an investment in the city’s infrastructure and digital services and a small part of the City’s overarching Smart City Initiative.

Reckon Point: Working on the airport challenge has accelerated our startup’s development as we learned to become laser-focused on this specific goal. We have also ramped up our cloud infrastructure and put it into overdrive as a result of this challenge. We saw the airport challenge as a great opportunity to develop a world-class wayfinding platform and focused on pushing the envelope to make robot-mapping smarter, faster, and even more precise. We know if we do this right it will help us succeed, as we have developed a fully functional platform for an airport in a major U.S. city.

Featured image is of Reckon Point’s Thomas Decker working on the indoor map of San Antonio International Airport. Photo credit: Startups San Antonio.

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