By Doreen Hemlock
Working at his family’s construction business in Miami, Tony Newell has long dealt with a variety of building inspectors - some great, some not. Yet he saw no way to hold those government employees accountable, commending those who give outstanding service or dinging others who act subpar.
In 2018, he launched a passion project called CityGrader that let users rate inspectors and other city employees, hoping the feedback could improve the quality of public service. Citizens chatted so freely and broadly on the platform that he saw potential for a business and a tool for government itself. The idea took shape for Resorcity, a civic engagement hub whose name means Resource and City.
Newell sees Resorcity as a way to bring government, business, nonprofits and people together to share resources and ideas. It encourages engagement by offering rewards, such as points for filling out city surveys, attending city meetings or taking part in coastal cleanups. Those points can be redeemed for ice cream or discounts at local shops or perhaps for select government services such as public parking.
To start up, Newell’s team first focused on developing a QR-based product for cities to install on placards in their front-line offices. He imagined that citizens would scan the code and enter a review with a grade. He was talking with Miami Beach about a one-year contract.
Then came coronavirus. Newell instead launched an app last September to help his hometown of Coral Gables, offering discounts and other rewards to people shopping in person in the city. More than 70 shops signed up, for free. Aura Reinhardt, executive director of the city’s Business Improvement District, calls it “brilliant.” Merchants like that the app helps them move up on search engines like Google.
Now, Newell’s team is pivoting again. It plans to launch a pilot program this summer with Miami as the lead city, plus possibly Hialeah, Coral Gables and others. The program would offer a new version of City Grader that later will work inside the Resorcity hub, combining feedback on city employees and rewards for users.
The grading function would let cities add a QR code on business cards for employees in select departments, such as inspectors. The recipient of that service would scan the code and complete an online survey about the employee. That survey would then earn the user points to be used through Resorcity at participating vendors. Municipalities would pay a subscription fee for City Grader, maybe $30-150,000 per year initially, depending on city size, says Newell. Resorcity would come for free later.
“On Resorcity, a city might engage with a feature like Feedback Fridays. It could ask, “If you were mayor for a day, what one thing would you change?” And users would get points for answering,” Newell says.
For Newell, the venture is a natural outgrowth of love for civics. The 39-year-old majored in political science at the University of Florida, ran for office in Coral Gables and volunteers with civic groups.
So far, he’s financed Resorcity through founders, friends and family, investing more than $100,000 and employing five. Now, he’s trying to raise $1 million, eager to expand staff and sales and one day become “every bit as prevalent as NextDoor,” the app for neighborhoods.
Aiming high, Newell is working 12-hour days and weekends, rising at 5am and stretching every dollar. His advice to fellow entrepreneurs: “You have to really believe in what you’re trying to build.”
- Resorcity is building a virtual community for civic engagement - April 7, 2021