New York-based Citymart wants to change how municipalities handle procurement. The startup has been proving its concept in the Eurozone, and recently moved to the US with a few significant partner cities including New York City, and Long Beach, California. We spoke with the founders who say that while conducting their first 100 challenges, they learned a lot about how big the problems are in municipal procurement.
“We started out Citymart with the idea that you could create a catalog of solutions and if you put them all in one place, cities would just pick the best ones. But one thing we found is that cities need a lot more help than we expected. So we are working with them to prioritize the problems,” explains Citymart CEO Sascha Haselmayer in an interview with CivSource.
Here’s how it works: Cities partner with Citymart which provides a platform and knowledgebase for cities to open up procurement to small businesses and civic startups. Through Citymart, municipalities learn how to prioritize and communicate problems into a challenge question hosted on the Citymart platform. Startups, businesses, and other stakeholders can submit solutions to that problem and the city will choose the best option. The platform is designed to orient procurement away from single task orders, or pure purchase agreements, and toward solving actual problems.
Audience is also key. Because each challenge must be communicated through the platform as a problem to be solved, the potential audience for a procurement is widened to include startups and other providers who may not be tuned in or eligible for a standard RFP process executed through arcane contracting vehicles.
“One of the big things for cities has been for them to see that the best challenges also have a clear communications strategy that launches with them,” Haselmayer says. “When you start a procurement you also start a public debate about city services so government has to do the outreach required with that.”
So what about the vendors involved in the challenges on the platform? We asked if these opportunities provide a lasting business pipeline for civic startups or if it is just another novelty like Hackathons or a handful of other civic tech initiatives.
“Absolutely not. We have had vendors win multiple challenges on the platform. One startup in France has won six. Another was able to show proof of concept in one of the smaller challenges and use that as a reference for a much larger contract win that wasn’t tied to our platform. Bigger vendors compete for these challenges as well. The platform is open for any company to submit a solution. If they advance beyond that it is on their own steam,” he says.
Citymart received a grant from the Knight Foundation earlier this year to help bring the platform to the US. Since then, the company has been building partnerships with cities including New York City, Philadelphia, Miami, San Francisco, and Long Beach, California.
The company expects to have challenges from five U.S. Cities on the platform by the end of the year.
Even as Citymart expands, Haselmayer has no plans to bring state or federal procurement on to the platform. “We think city government is really the biggest challenge. Local government is really where the need is the strongest because cities deliver the services that residents notice. We think it’s a specialty to focus on cities only.”