Startup

Social impact startups on the rise

Media coverage and chatter about “Valley douchebags” have raised eyebrows about tech’s role in San Francisco. While some have inspired the stereotype, the spirit of altruism and social impact is actually alive and well throughout the tech ecosystem.

We enjoyed attending the Startup in Residence demo day last month, sponsored by the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation (MOCI), where this altruism was on display. San Francisco’s STIR program has grown out of the 2014 “Entrepreneurship in Residence” pilot initiative. That first effort produced 6 technology products designed to meet local government needs. The current program selects startups who are matched with city departments to develop and prototype solutions catered to the $140+ billion public sector market.

MOCI recently received support from the US Department of Commerce. With its help, they have expanded the program to include Oakland, San Leandro, and West Sacramento as partners.

Demo Day Delights

This year’s demo day for the expanded program featured a total of 14 startups. Startups who partnered with departments from each the city were:

San Francisco

Oakland

San Leandro

West Sacramento

You can learn more about the participating teams, their accomplishments, and see video of their product demos on the STIR website.

We enjoyed seeing the productive partnerships between the startup teams and government departments. Each demo showcased significant outcomes for a 6-week program, and dynamic new thinking. It was a pleasure to see startup teams accustomed to corporate and consumer-facing spaces light up about helping their partners within civic departments. Many outcomes included new insights about the procurement process, the different type of customer in the B2G space, and problem-solving that transcends competing in the direct to consumer market.

Infectious Spirit of Social Impact

The spirit of these teams fits into an increasingly present pattern among the mission- and social enterprise-oriented startups building their companies in every vertical today. This includes companies with a strong sense of millennial altruism baked into the founders and their companies’ DNA. Many display an openness to embracing the community around them. Like the STIR startups, they share a tenacity that comes from tackling complex problems and navigating gnarly verticals to win funding, partners, and customers.

Some of these startups can be found among graduates or partners of programs like SoFi’s Entrepreneur program, Tumml, StartX, and the Pledge One foundation, among others. There are a number of later stage Valley companies with mission-oriented programs at their core. Some included mission-oriented work before the news-grabbing events and executives started dominating local and national media conversations.

While some may not be familiar as a “unicorn” or public household name, the teams’ positivity and winning personalities have powered their success. One of my favorite examples is Course Hero, whose customer acquisition model has social good at the core of product strategy, with their Books for Africa donation program.

It comes as no surprise to find former MOCI fellows working within the current class of startups who embody this spirit. Likewise, the partners investing in their accelerators contribute to and support the STIR program as ambassadors. The altruism and tenacity carry through many of these programs.

At Firebrand, we’re looking forward to creating opportunities for these types of startups and mature companies, and connecting them with the abundance of media opportunities. That may include graduates of this year’s STIR class growing their companies, channeling the lessons learned into other verticals, or partnering with MOCI and STIR alumni working in other spaces.