graphic of people collaborating

The STIR program was created by Jay Nath in 2013, co-founder & CEO of City Innovate, at a time when he served as the CIO to the City of San Francisco.

The idea behind the program was to encourage the startup community in San Francisco to apply its considerable might and muscle to the problems facing government.  Structured as an incubator, STIR brought together start ups with a set of experienced mentors who went through the 16-week program as a cohort.  Each startup found a department to sponsor their work.  The program was designed to build capacity among the startup founders in the basics of design thinking, how to develop a minimally viable product, and the ins and outs of the procurement/acquisition process in government.  In short, all the steps needed to gain an initial government contract.

The program ran from 2013 – 2019 with four cohorts of startups participating.

The program moved to City Innovate – then incorporated as a nonprofit entity – in 2018.  The genesis of the move was federal funding from the Department of Commerce that enabled the program to expand – first to 9 jurisdictions in the Bay Area and then to 31 jurisdictions across the nation.

In total, 1000+ startups participating in this cohort-based program.  Some of the program participants went on to receive significant funding from the venture community and gained a national footprint with their solutions.  Stand outs include:

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Binti – reinventing the child welfare system through transformative technology

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Zencity – community engagement software used to gather feedback from residents

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Indoors – since acquired by ERSI – signage for the blind in airports and other public spaces

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Bayes Impact– structured as a nonprofit – citizen led public service

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In 2020, the National Science Foundation (NSF) approached City Innovate to create a similar program that would pair academics with cities and counties to solve urban problems.  This program became STIR Labs and also found great success.

That same year, City Innovate completed its transition from a nonprofit to a for-profit entity, structuring itself as a public-benefit corporation.  With this transition and the advent of COVID, leadership at City Innovate made the difficult decision to discontinue the STIR program.



innovative technology companies have participated in STIR


innovative technology companies have applied to government challenges


governments have used STIR to facilitate a procurement


of government/vendor partnerships initiated through the STIR program result in a contract

The legacy of the STIR program includes:

  • Enormous good will from the 86 jurisdictions and 1,000+ startups that participated in the program over a 7-year period.
  • Intellectual property in support of a Challenge-Based Approach™ (CBA) applied to both market research and procurement. What we learned through STIR became the basis of a successful commercial product – City Innovate’s Market Research Module.
  • The State of California recognizing our work with the creation of an RFI2 program – Request for Innovation.  RFI2 is another name for Challenge-Based Procurement, sometimes called Outcome-Based Procurement or Proof of Concept, depending on the jurisdiction. This enabling legislation was intended as procurement reform, to give procurement officials in the State of California more flexibility in solving the urgent problems facing the State.  RFI2 was used extensively during COVID – to acquire urgently needed technology + non IT goods and services.

Want to Learn More?

To learn more about Challenge-Based Procurement go to the Resource Center

Interested in taking a Challenge-Based Approach to Market Research?

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