‘Govtech’ Startups Ride Wave of Citizen Activism

OpenGov scores $30 million round led by Emerson Collective

Entrepreneur Zac Bookman is on a mission to hold government officials accountable to the public, and he’s relying on the power of cloud-based software.

Mr. Bookman, a former law clerk who has served as an anticorruption adviser in Afghanistan, has built startup OpenGov Inc. around that mission.

Silicon Valley-based OpenGov is part of a movement of “govtech” companies like Socrata Inc., Viderum and GovDelivery aiming to empower bureaucracies to unlock vast sets of data and share analytics with the public. Improve transparency, these groups say, and you can improve government effectiveness and civic innovation at the same time.

Thanks in no small part to a new surge in citizen activism over the past year, startups in this so-called open data movement have ridden a wave of interest in government transparency and renewed civic engagement.

In the latest sign of investor interest, OpenGov said Tuesday it has raised $30 million in venture funding led by the Emerson Collective, the social impact fund founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, wife of the late Steve Jobs.

The Series C round marks the first time OpenGov, co-founded by 8VC partner Joe Lonsdale, has gone outside traditional venture capital to back its mission.

“They’re obviously iconic names in Silicon Valley, and there’s a lot of mission alignment about our potential to create opportunity in our country and to do that through improving the effectiveness and accountability of all the nation’s governments,” Mr. Bookman said.

Emerson Collective supports tech initiatives in media, education and social-justice meant to strengthen the foundations of democratic society.

Ms. Jobs said OpenGov is “empowering citizens to drive positive impact in communities across the country.”

Mr. Bookman says more than 1,500 government and other public-sector customers across the U.S. are using OpenGov’s web-based software to tap into outdated data repositories for budget planning, financial analytics and sharing their data sets with the general public.

With the latest funding, OpenGov has raised more than $75 million to date from investors including Andreessen Horowitz, 8VC, and Thrive Capital since its founding in 2012. Its chief rival, Seattle-based Socrata, has raised more than $55 million from investors like OpenView Venture Partners.

OpenGov, based in Redwood City, Calif., declined to put a figure on its revenue growth, but Mr. Bookman says it had a record first quarter, not normally known as a hot season for new contracts.

He called this a “Trump bump” that reflects public officials “trust building” in response to increased public demand to see government to function more openly and effectively.

“When a community can increase its level of trust, that’s when you can execute,” he said. “That’s when you can get things done.”

Recent new customers include West Virginia, the state of Ohio, San Antonio, and Boston, which used the software to launch a public-facing portal that shares data on everything from fire-hydrant maintenance to mapping rooftops for possible solar energy projects.

Mr. Bookman said governments report they’re able to cut costs by 20% because citizens can ask and answer their own questions using the platform. Using outdated technology, bureaucrats would spend hours, sometimes days, responding to public requests for information. Now, according to Mr. Bookman, that can be done “in five clicks” of a button.

“It’s becoming a standard,” he said. “You can’t run a government in 2017 without a strategy, without really making investments to build trust in your community.”

By Alexander Davis
Published: May 16, 2017
Source: The Wall Street Journal | ‘Govtech’ Startups Ride Wave of Citizen Activism