By Riley Kaminer
This week, Boston-based venture capital firm General Catalyst announced plans to launch a Civic Tech practice based in Miami.
The VC, which in the last 12 months has participated in deals totaling an estimated $6.9B, is one of the highest-profile American investors to take the leap into the public purpose tech space.
General Catalyst reports that they will focus on five sub-sectors in particular: Aerospace and Defense, Public Safety, Education, Transportation, and Infrastructure.
In a tweet, General Catalyst Partner Katherine Boyle said, “we believe technology is essential to solving civic problems across America.”
She continued: “We also believe there’s a reason why civic companies are being founded all over the country, outside of [Silicon Valley]. It’s why we’re launching our Civic Practice in the great city of Miami!”
It’s undeniable that Miami Mayor Francis Suarez’s tech prowess played a role in General Catalyst’s decision to choose Miami as its civic tech headquarters. According to Boyle, “Miami is among the great emerging tech ecosystems building a new dynamic America, and proof that government and tech can work together to solve difficult problems.”
In a cafecito talk, Mayor Suarez said that General Catalyst’s foray into the public sector space is “important because it shows where the city’s going, where the country’s going, where the private sector’s going.” He expressed excitement about the ability for startups to help solve “problems that the government can’t solve or has trouble solving, or that are not within their core competency.”
For decades, many investors have had a bearish attitude towards companies that sell to the public sector, citing long sales cycles and slow moving bureaucratic processes as barriers to innovation.
However, particularly since the onset of the pandemic, the tide has shifted. Jack Siney, Co-founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Deerfield Beach-based public sector procurement platform GovSpend, told Refresh Miami that the catalyst for this shift was, in part, a numbers game. This year the public sector is on track to spend more than $9 trillion because of the coronavirus relief packages: an increase of around 30% from the government’s usual spending.
In her investment thesis, Boyle noted that “private tech companies have become instrumental to solving civic problems that government oversees.” Simultaneously, she noted the trend of startups “usurp[ing] the responsibilities of governments at breathtaking pace.” Take Uber and Lyft as examples of companies that have had a profound impact on how cities approach public transportation – and have attracted a commensurate amount of public scrutiny.
For Boyle, the role of VCs like General Catalyst is twofold. First, she said that venture capitalists can more effectively deploy large amounts of capital: “venture capitalists are better at taking on risks than the American taxpayer.” Second, she noted the “talent problem” governments face, whereby ambitious graduates prefer working in the private versus public sector. In her words, “with talented young people flocking to technology companies or choosing to build their own, the tech industry can work together with government to create new civic companies.”
While General Catalyst’s announcement marks a new chapter for civic tech in Miami, this tech sector is not necessarily new to the city. One particularly noteworthy initiative is Code for South Florida, founded by Gregory Johnson and Livio A. Zanardo, which aims to promote civic innovation for public interest technology.
“General Catalyst coming to Miami only reaffirms how we are also leading in civic and social innovation nationally as a community,” Zanardo said. “It’s a great opportunity to prove that market driven technologies and government can work together to build a better future.”
You can learn more about General Catalyst’s civic tech vertical on their website here.
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