Tech Startups Help SA Come up with Solutions to Lingering Problems
Two companies, Atlanta-based Rubicon and San Antonio-based RedSquared Consulting LLC, presented their solutions to problems posted by CivTechSA Tuesday evening. CivTechSA is a partnership between Geekdom LC and the city of San Antonio’s Office of Innovation.
Red Squared Consulting LLC was charged with building a unified interface that would serve as a one-stop mobile app where citizens can pay for and request various city services, connect with related vendors, and connect with community events and organizations in a simplified way.
“What we hear is that residents don’t typically know the differences between where to pay their light bill or water bill, the challenge we presented Red Squared was for them to think outside-in to be able to put what is wanted by our residents in front of them,” city of San Antonio’s Chief Information Officer Craig Hopkins said. “We asked them to rethink the delivery from the customer’s perspective to better meet their needs.”
A women-owned business founded in 2014, Red Squared consists of a team with a background in design and anthropology, so they also enlisted the help of San Antonio-based startup Irys to help with app development. Irys previously helped the city develop its 311 app that allows residents to report issues.
“I can bring in the insights to the table, but the Irys team is there to give technology advise. Without their help, this would not be possible,” Tara Schwegler, co-founder of Red Squared said.
Together, both organizations created the “One City” app prototype that has an AI-powered chatbot named “Sammy Antonio” that can make location-based recommendations to give the resources a person is looking for such as paying a bill, paying a fine, applying for a permit or license, using city services, reporting issues, or finding the best places to get a taco.
Hopkins said it will take the city “a while” to roll out since the app still needs some work.
Rubicon worked alongside the city of San Antonio’s Solid Waste Management department to find a solution to help reduce the amount of contamination entering the recycling stream, and subsequently help the department reach its recycling rate goal of 60% by 2025.
“With the pandemic, a lot more residents at home there are a lot more opportunities for residents to make [recycling] mistakes, we want to make sure the residents are participating in the recycling program correctly, which is one of the things we wanted to work with Rubicon,” Nick Galus, assistant director of the Solid Waste Management department, said.
Founded in 2008, Rubicon’s goal is to eliminate waste and they have worked with 50 different cities across the nation to try and come up with products. Rubicon developed a program called Rubicon Vision with the city of San Antonio, which uses a camera, computer and edge-computing software that is helping the city filter out contaminants such as plastic bags and glass bottles within organic recycling bins. The data provided gives them geo-located information, so that the city can easily send out reminders to people who are not complying with their recycling efforts, and overall saving them money.
“Every city we talk to is trying to do more with less, the key to doing more with less… is through technology,” Conor Rifle, vice president of Rubicon said.
The two companies are part of the CivTechSA Residency Program, a 16-week course that challenges companies to create solutions for civic issues while working alongside city of San Antonio departments.
The residency program was created three years ago to help connect the city of San Antonio with educational institutions and startups to solve issues they may have had “forever,” Charles Woodin, CEO of Geekdom, said in his introduction, adding that the goal of the program is to have “innovative companies” and their founders cultivate their business and talent here in San Antonio, rather than moving to other places such as San Francisco.
The intent of the residency program is for the city to possibly build upon the relationship that it establishes with the startups, Hopkins added.
Such is the case with one of the inaugural residency’s participants, Kinetech Cloud LLC, who at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic worked with the city of San Antonio’s Neighborhood & Housing Services on software — called Government Technology, or GovTech — that helps municipalities digitize paper-based processes to collect data used to screen for eligibility, coordinate payment between tenants and creditors, and distribute funding, while providing automated notifications at each step of the process, as reported by the Business Journal in May.