Code For America’s Accelerator: Disruption As Public Service

CfA_logo

Pre-applications open now for the Code for America Accelerator 2013. The Accelerator turbo charges “civic startups,” providing mentorship, funding and support to entrepreneurs helping government work more effectively and transparently.

By Caitria O’Neill (Co-Founder & CEO, Recovers)

The learning curve for a startup founder is very steep. So steep that if you don’t approach it at the appropriate speed and angle, it can feel a lot like kissing bricks at 50mph. In my experience, this is where business accelerator programs come in. They can give you speed and they can give you direction. You just have to know what you need.

I got into both the tech startup and emergency management worlds quite by accident, in the wake of a tornado in my hometown. Having previously studied an unrelated field (cough, Soviet Russia), there was a significant amount of “getting up to speed” involved. Complicating matters, our market for “community powered disaster recovery tools” was firmly lodged in the still-developing civic technology space.

We applied for the Code for America Accelerator program for very specific reasons.

Speed wasn’t our problem at the time – a slot on TED.com and a few other well-placed publications had launched us into the international disaster management limelight.

A lot of the time I felt like I was smiling largely because G-Force was smooshing my cheeks back. Our problem at the time was angle of approach. How, oh how, does one sell the concept of “startup” to cities accustomed to enterprise platforms?

I remember seeing an ad for Code for America’s Accelerator that talked about teaching startups how to scale civic tech products. Of course I applied. What’s more, I actually listened. More astonishingly, I actually brought CfA’s advisors into the hearts of the problems we were dealing with.

Most surprisingly, their help made a difference in the direction we’ve taken the company since arriving in San Francisco. We were even able to hire graduating CFA Fellow Emily Wright as our Design Director, making our staff 3/5 ladies.

There’s more to accelerator programs than just getting handed a pair of sparkly tights, front-loaded into a rocket launcher and fired at the moon. There’s exploration, and support, and a network to help you grow in the directions you need most help with.

It’s up to you to choose an accelerator that will fire you in the right direction.

Women 2.0 readers: How did you evaluate accelerator or incubator programs to find the best fit for you? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Caitria O’Neill is CEO and co-founder of Recovers, making disaster response smarter by providing a lightweight, community-powered toolkit. Recover’s software helps communities prepare together, mitigate risk and match local resources with local needs. Caitria has worked for Harvard Law Review and the US State Department, and brings legal, political and editorial experience to the team. When not organizing tornado relief, she spends time leading backpacking trips and reading. She holds an A.B degree in Government from Harvard University and has completed FEMA NIMS 700/800 ICS 100/200. Caitria was a member of the inaugural class of the Code for America Accelerator. Follow her on Twitter at @caitriaoneill.