Rising Social Entrepreneur Helps Two San Antonio Startups Take Root

San Antonio—Stumping for a political candidate can be a mixed bag. For every friendly conversation, you’ll get at least one that’s filled with complaints—about the government, about potholes, about neighbors, about anything.

That’s something Alberto Altamirano discovered when he was organizing for a county government candidate in Austin, TX, during a 2014 election. It’s not that Altamirano minded having conversations with citizens about complaints, such as needing a new stop sign at the end of their street. He just didn’t have a better answer for them than to call 311, the government’s non-emergency services hotline.

That’s how he came up with Cityflag, a social media-meets-government startup that he’s now operating out of San Antonio, about an hour-and-a-half south of Austin. Altamirano believed that the average citizen would prefer posting about a local service that is needed to an online social network, which is monitored and operated by the local government.

“No one wants to be on their phone talking to their local government about a pothole in the street,” Altamirano says. “We welcome and need an entry point for people to participate in a policy making process in the city, which is healthy because it’s building community.”

Through Cityflag, which Altamirano founded in 2015, citizens can talk with government officials and other citizens about anything from cleaning up graffiti to filling potholes—identifying and prioritizing initiatives they care about. Cityflag has contracts with three governments so far: San Antonio, Mission, TX (where Altamirano is originally from), and the Cuauhtémoc district in Mexico City, he says. He plans to launch San Antonio’s network in January, and hopes to have as many as 15 cities online in 2018.

The venture isn’t Altamirano’s only startup work. This year, he co-founded a company that’s developing an app that aims to help anyone pursue a goal they might not otherwise. Called One Million Dreams, the business aims to apply digital technology to consulting work that co-founder and CEO Winslow Swart has done for the last 25 years.

Swart helps people—for example, a government office worker who once hoped to be a writer or a high school student who wants to learn to write software—identify a goal they had dreamed of, create a timeline for achieving it, and find mentors to help them achieve it. One Million Dreams is a digital version of that work, applying Swart’s analog process to an application, says Altamirano, who is effectively the chief operating officer of the company.

“Being the millennial he is, [Altamirano] got me thinking about what a social application might look like,” Swart says, who met Altamirano through network organizations in San Antonio. “It’s been a great collaboration.”

Like Cityflag, One Million Dreams has a social aspect to it. Once people identify their goals and a timeline for achieving them, they can share them on the app like a social network, where others can like the goals or even provide connections to someone who might help the user achieve a goal, Swart says. The app will also prompt users to keep working on their goal, among other features.

One Million Dreams had a soft launch of the public version of the app last month, and is currently working on beta testing. The company is also going to sell a white label version to businesses and schools.

Advertising is a possible revenue source for both businesses, Altamirano says. Selling data for analytics may be another possibility for Cityflag, while subscriptions could come into play for One Million Dreams, the entrepreneurs say.

Swart and his family and friends have funded One Million Dreams so far, though he is considering potentially accepting other outside capital.

Cityflag has a different funding story: It is currently in the process of raising what it hopes will be a $1.5 million seed round, Altamirano says. The company previously raised a $150,000 angel round, and received two grants: One from a Mexican startup group, and a second from winning a competition related to the MacArthur Foundation.

In 2015, Altamirano was one of seven winners of the VotoLatino Innovators Challenge, a competition supported by the MacArthur Foundation for startups looking to improve Latino communities. The winners split $500,000.

For Altamirano, that was only the beginning of big accolades. In 2016, he was named the Ricardo Salinas Scholar by The Aspen Institute. Just last month, Forbes named Altamirano to its 30 Under 30 list for Social Entrepreneurs.

“It’s great to put South Central Texas on the map in regards to tech and social innovation,” he says.

David Holley is Xconomy's national correspondent based in Austin, TX. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow @xconholley

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