This post is part of an ongoing series about civic startups. What’s a civic startup? Find out. Code for America recently launched a civic startup accelerator to help promote and “turbo charge” civic startups. We’re accepting applications for the accelerator now through June 1, 2012. Apply: codeforamerica.org/accelerator
Nick Bowden is the co-founder and CEO of MindMixer. MindMixer has transformed the old-fashioned town hall into a virtual community engagement platform, strengthening citizens’ voices while broadening community and governmental leaders’ audience. We had a few questions for Nick about MindMixer. He was kind enough to answer our inquiries. Here is what he had to say:
What is MindMixer? How did it get started?
MindMixer is a web and mobile community engagement platform. MindMixer focuses on citizen-based idea generation and prioritization. Most importantly, MindMixer is dedicated to working with government and quasi-government entities. The existing model, which requires someone to physically attend a meeting, often leads to low turnout, yielding very few insightful ideas. MindMixer is designed to broaden and extend that conversation in a supplemental manner, ideally leading to better participation at the traditional town hall.
MindMixer started in July 2010 as a side project and was self-funded. We got started through previous experience with government as urban planners, designers, and traditional public involvement practitioners. All of the founders have spent their careers servicing municipal clients and facilitating traditional public meetings, leading to a desire to improve the face-to-face meeting experience cities currently employ. As the application picked up traction and new cities began to come onboard, we decided it was in the best interest of the company and its scalability to take on outside seed funding. In March of 2011, we secured a small seed round.
How would you define a civic tech startup and would you consider MindMixer one?
I believe a civic tech startup is a company truly dedicated to providing technology services that improve government efficiencies, better leverage available data, or enhance the constituent engagement process. I definitely consider MindMixer a civic tech startup, as our goal is to creatively impact and improve the citizen engagement process, particularly as it relates to ideas and implementation.
What is the business model? Who are the customers? Has it changed, and do you foresee change?
Our business model is to work with as many cities, government entities, and elected officials as possible to improve their constituent outreach capabilities. Our customer base today includes cities, counties, regional planning organizations, and elected officials. We were initially focused exclusively on cities but have recently expanded into the elected officials market. I imagine our customer base will continue to expand to any government-related entity that does outreach and engagement.
What challenges have you faced?
Our biggest challenge to date has probably been our location (Omaha, Neb.) and having access to the best talent in programming and development locally. We currently house our development team in the Los Angeles area, as it was difficult to attract top class developers to a startup in our area. We haven’t seen significant issues on the IP side, however, like all service providers in the government market, there are always challenges with procurement, time to contract, and ability of the government entity to move quickly and implement programs and policies. Additionally, the fact that each state has different laws on open information acts has proved to be a legal hurdle in each new state.
Is there a story or word of advice?
I think the best word of advice that I can give is keep pushing forward. Oftentimes the speed of government can be discouraging, but the movement is definitely happening. So staying committed to the process and constantly improving your technology is super important.