Sketch City: New Home for Houston’s Civic-Minded Tech Entrepreneurs

Houston has a new hub dedicated to fostering civic innovation.

Called Sketch City, it’s the latest organization to pop up on the city’s startup scene, and its goal is to connect techies with civil servants interested in using software to make Houston and Harris County run better.

“It’s more important than ever that our government understands technology and how it can help them,” says Jeff Reichman, a Houston consultant who founded Sketch City. “It can decrease costs, improve citizen communications, and improve services.”

Sketch City—so named because Reichman says he wants the organization “to provide a canvas for people to sketch out the city they want to live in”— is in the process of obtaining nonprofit status. The group has set up shop in a building in downtown Houston, in space that Reichman rents for his firm, January Advisors.

The city of Houston itself employs about 20,000 people, many of whom are located nearby at the downtown City Hall complex. Reichman’s vision is for the Sketch City office to be a friendly place for city employees, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, and software developers to work together on projects. “We hope this will be a place of serendipitous interaction,” he says.

Many organizations focus on social entrepreneurship and within that, civic entrepreneurship is growing. Southeast Michigan, in particular, has seen a boom in this type of activity, including the University of Michigan’s Social Venture Fund.  In January, Civic Hall opened in New York as a place for “hacktivists,” public-sector workers, and techies to gather and work on civic-minded projects.

While the apps and software created by these projects live in the virtual world, tech community leaders say having a dedicated physical space in which to create them helps jumpstart the innovation process. “We’ve had these hack nights … Next Page »

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