Boston's Building a Synergy Between City Hall & Startups

at BostInno: “Boston’s local government and startup scene want to do more than peacefully co-exist. They want to co-create. The people perhaps credited for contributing the most buzz to this trend are those behind relatively new parking ticket app TicketZen. Cort Johnson, along with a few others from Terrible Labs, a Web and mobile app design consultancy in Chinatown, came up with the idea for the app after spotting a tweet from one of Boston’s trademark entrepreneurs. A few months back, ex-KAYAK CTO (and Blade co-founder) Paul English sent out a 140-character message calling for an easy, instantaneous payment solution for parking tickets, Johnson told BostInno.

The idea was that in the time it takes for Boston’s enforcement office to process a parking ticket, its recipient has already forgotten his or her frustration or misplaced the bright orange slip, thus creating a situation in which both parties lose: the local government’s collection process is held up and the recipient is forced to pay a larger fine for the delay.

With the problem posed and the spark lit, the Terrible Labs team took to building TicketZen, an app which allows people to scan their tickets and immediately send validation to City Hall to kick off the process.

“When we first came up with the prototype, [City Hall was] really excited and worked to get it launched in Boston first,” said Johnson. “But we have built a bunch of integrations for major cities where most of the parking tickets are issued, which will launch early this year.”

But in order to even get the app up-and-running, Terrible Labs needed to work with some local government representatives – namely, Chris Osgood and Nigel Jacob of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics….

Since its inception in 2010, the City Hall off-shoot has worked with all kinds of Boston citizens to create civic-facing innovations that would be helpful to the city at large.

For example, a group of mothers with children at Boston Public Schools approached New Urban Mechanics to create an app that shares when the school bus will arrive, similar to that of the MBTA’s, which shows upcoming train times. The nonprofit then arranged a partnership with Vermonster LLC, a software application development firm in Downtown Boston to create the Where’s My School Bus app.

“There’s a whole host of different backgrounds, from undergrad students to parents, who would never consider themselves to be entrepreneurs or innovators originally … There are just so many talented, driven and motivated folks that would likely have a similar interest in doing work in the civic space. The challenge is to scale that beyond what’s currently out there,” shared Osgood. “We’re asking, ‘How can City Hall do a better job to support innovators?’”

Of course, District Hall was created for this very purpose – supporting creatives and entrepreneurs by providing them a perpetually open door and an event space. Additionally, there have been a number of events geared toward civic innovation within the past few months targeting both entrepreneurs and government.

The former mayor Thomas Menino led the charge in opening the Office of Business Development, which features a sleek new website and focuses on providing entrepreneurs and existing businesses with access to financial and technical resources. Further, a number of organizations collaborated in early December 2013 to host a free-to-register event dubbed MassDOT Visualizing Transportation Hackathon to help generate ideas for improving public transit from the next generation’s entrepreneurs; just this month, the Venture Café and the Cambridge Innovation Center hosted Innovation and the City, a conference uniting leading architects, urban planners, educators and business leaders from different cities around the U.S. to speak to the changing landscape of civic development.”