Smart City Startup Programs Accelerate Civic Innovation

Change. Complexity. Decreasing resources paired with escalating need. These phrases describe the past two years as government leaders grapple with the impact of a global pandemic and its associated challenges. These words also happen to express the conditions in which innovation and entrepreneurship thrive.

Startup founders are becoming more attracted to the govtech and smart cities space as a way to marry passion and purpose. Subsequently, support networks such as accelerators, incubators and other ecosystem partners are increasing as well. These groups play a critical role in aiding entrepreneurs in building their business, understanding the public sector and increasing access to potential customers, talent and marketing channels. 

Three of those entrepreneur ecosystem builders will be at the Smart Cities Connect Conference and parallel activities taking place in National Harbor, MD this October 2021. More than 250 innovators will be on site participating in the joint events.


CivStart has chosen thirteen startup companies to join its annual Govtech Accelerator

Program focused on providing local governments with affordable and innovative solutions to their biggest challenges. An inclusive mission is embedded in CivStart’s ethos. Eight of the thirteen companies have underrepresented — women & minority — founders, and all of the startups’ solutions are aimed at building more equitable and inclusive communities. This new cohort joins an existing 24 govtech startups in the CivStart Accelerator’s portfolio.

CivStart CEO, Anthony Jamison, CEO, stated, “Whether it’s improving public engagement or digital workflows during a pandemic, rethinking 911, or increasing employment and building up a more equitable economy at a local level, this is a very impressive array of solutions for state and local governments.” 

Learn more about the 13 CivStart cohort members here

RISE Innovation Challenge 

The federal government is the world’s largest user of energy, and the nation’s largest landlord, including tens of thousands of buildings, critical infrastructure, communication networks and fleets of vehicles. The federal government is also uniquely positioned – through its world-class research and development portfolio and its procurement strategies – to spur innovation, commercialization, and deployment of innovative energy and infrastructure technologies to build a stronger, more resilient nation.

The RISE Consortium is the nation’s largest pipeline of dual-use funding opportunities for  emerging technology aligned with critical energy, climate and infrastructure issues. The RISE Innovation Challenge invites entrepreneurs to submit and pitch their technology to top investment, industry and military tech-scouts and a chance at the $50,000 RISE Innovation Award prize pool. 

Consortium Members are encouraged to innovate in the areas of Smart Grid & Security, Energy Resilience & Security, Renewable Generation, Portable Power, Energy Storage & Access, Transportation & Mobility, 5G & Resilient Networks, AI & Autonomous Systems, Sensors & C5ISR, Cyber & Infrastructure Security, Urban Environments & Smart Cities, Food, Water, Supply Chain Resilience, Emergency Response & Mitigation and Climate Resilience Solutions.

Start Co. 

This Memphis-based venture development firm has been seeding the city’s startup ecosystem for more than a decade. By forging partnerships with public, corporate and social sector entities, they have launched several successful programs including a Smart Cities Accelerator and an effort to boost minority business participation called The 800 Initiative which includes public and private partners such as Shelby County Government, Epicenter, Chirstian Brothers University and FedEx. 

Committed to instigating and developing system change, Start Co. also engages in Innovation Scouting, Innovation Adoption activities in addition to their Acceleration programs. Startups are encouraged to “plug in” to Memphis’ Digital City, which merges smart city infrastructure, data and analytics with entrepreneurial methods to enable civic, social and business problem solving. This unique model will ultimately result in a Living Lab built by a Consortium of public, private, academic and entrepreneurial partners. 


Startups bring a new perspective and innovative ways of addressing challenges that governments face. Their nimble, low-barrier and lower overhead approach makes it easier to test and pilot small projects. 

Engagement between the cities and startups is not automatic and has its own set of challenges. Cities tend to be concerned about the risk – both of a company’s ability to survive and of the reliability of the technology. For startups, working through standard public procurement with long sales cycles can often be prohibitive. 

Programs like the ones mentioned here help to balance the challenges and opportunities of public sector problem solving. City leaders are wise to work with these groups, articulate their own unique issues and adopt programs, frameworks and structures that mitigate risk while moving quickly to solutions.