Start Co Accelerator Invited to Spend Day with Memphis City Government

Source: Start Co | Liza Crichton | June 17, 2019

Public innovation, meet private innovation. On May 29th, startup founders from the Sky High accelerator at Start Co. were invited to spend a day with officials from the City of Memphis. The full day of programming included an invite to Mayor Strickland’s monthly data meeting, a presentation from Chief Information Officer for Memphis, Mike Rodriguez, and a visit to the MPD real-time crime center.

Each event throughout the day was designed to highlight the innovative strides Memphis is taking as a city. By investing in and expanding the use of civic data and technology, city officials hope to improve Memphian’s quality of life while also attracting a new generation of entrepreneurs. Startups selected for Sky High are using technology to find solutions to city problems surrounding transportation, mobility and, or public safety. Using public, civic data provided by the City of Memphis, Sky High startups can use their technology and creative skills to develop accessible, user friendly devices and applications.  

The 2019 cohort all bring fresh solutions to civic problems. Moment AI, from Memphis, is using facial recognition to improve driver safety; PAT, also from Memphis, uses augmented reality software to help solve Memphis transportation problems; and Atlanta based Parka Solutions, is developing a digital advertising platform that can be used in city transportation apps.

The day began at the monthly Mayor’s dashboard review meeting at City Hall with Mayor Jim Strickland and department directors. Craig Hodge, who runs the Office of Performance Management, presented current city data, ranging from violent crime rates and 911 call times, to library and youth summer camp attendance rates. While the data visualization is compelling, the true novelty of the meeting is the real-time, inter-department communication and reactions to the data. Department directors take time to reflect and comment on how data influences their department’s strategies, reflecting the actions city leadership is taking to make Memphis a smarter city.

“…Memphis is different. The Mayor’s dashboard review, with all those chiefs and directors from different departments together at one time and sharing each other’s data – that’s not normal to see” said Ryan Ramkhelawan, Director of Start Co’s Acceleration Program.

Sneh Parmar, Founder and CEO of Parka Solutions, noted how the meeting, and overall smart city initiatives taken on by the city, disrupts the stereotypical view of local government as antiquated and slow-moving with little diversity. Data initiatives, like the Mayor’s dashboard, help create a more equitable, efficient government by relying on raw numbers over personal preferences.  “…Everyone is looking at raw data and then making decisions. They are trying to be as unbiased as possible” Parmar said.

Parmar also commented on how Memphis’ commitment to innovation is inspiring for young entrepreneurs such as himself, “For a company like us, who wants to be able to work with the city government, it’s great to see that opportunity.”

The meeting was also an opportunity for the startups to introduce their work in Memphis to local city officials. Each Sky High startup was given 1-2 minutes to deliver their pitch to Mayor Strickland and department directors. Each startup received feedback and more than a few business cards – Sneh Parmar has a meeting with a board member for Memphis’ bike share program this week. 

The Sky High startups were equally impressed with the City of Memphis Information Services office and EMS/MPD Real Time Call Centers. Mike Rodriguez, Chief Information Officer for the city, graciously hosted the teams. “For the startups, having the CIO of a city caring enough to host you and educate you, [that] was so impactful,” said Ryan Ramkhelawan.

Mr. Rodriguez demonstrated the smart city initiatives he is spearheading that is improving the quality of life for Memphians while also being attractive to entrepreneurs. For Memphians, there will be greater access to internet services. For entrepreneurs, like those in the Sky High accelerator, this excites them because it opens up a new world of technological possibility. And all this will allow the city to even further distinguish Memphis as the standout smart city in the Southeast.   

Kareem DaSilva, COO of PAT, summarized his experience at the Information Services office, “Seeing what I saw this day, showed me Memphis is moving towards the future. The best time to take advantage of that is now as the city continues to grow and invest in smart city technology.” 

Thanks to the facilitation of Innovate Memphis, the day was a memorable introduction between public and private innovation. The commitment to Smart Memphis inspired and galvanized the Sky High accelerator cohort to invest and stay in Memphis markets, while Memphis city officials saw firsthand the entrepreneurial enthusiasm sparked by smart city investment. 

Reflecting back on the day, Leann Grabski said “We’re all still having open and honest conversations, there are things in Memphis that are not great, and we all know that. But it’s really exciting to see the passion that people have to make it better. It just makes you proud to live in Memphis, particularly now, and to be excited to stay.”   

Start Co would like to thank Innovate Memphis, Justin Entzminger, Mayor Jim Strickland, the City of Memphis, Craig Hodge, and Mike Rodriguez for being so generous with their time, warm welcomes and coordinating the day’s programming.

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Liza Crichton is a native New Yorker who was first introduced to Memphis almost a decade ago when her family relocated. She is a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Survey Research and Data Analytics. From an early age, she has been interested in studying equitable economic development and redistributive policies. This summer she is happy to be interning at Start Co where she is assisting in their efforts to bring innovation and smart city technology to downtown Memphis. Next year after graduation she plans to return to her adopted hometown of Memphis to continue helping the city to grow.