Are Cities Walking the Startup Walk? Part 3: Innovation & Small Business in US Cities
Our approach to benchmarking public procurement is designed to represent the perspective of a small business or start-up. Over the past 10 years, we found that discovering opportunities is a crucial first step for business owners to even consider government as a customer. To capture how discovery varies across cities, we developed the “Small Business Accessibility Score” (SBAS) and applied it to 56 leading US cities to measure how much effort is required in identifying and evaluating a cities’ opportunities.
We know that start-ups and small business prefer procurements that offer flexibility on how to deliver a service or encourage new ideas. So we looked at every procurement published by US cities governments to count procurement opportunities that matched our “innovative” criteria.
Key Take Aways
- Boston still #1 when adjusted for size, outperforming second placed Austin by about 30%
- Atlanta is now #1 on small business access, continuing it’s shake-up by providing the best discovery and decision-making experience for small business — good news for the recently recruited Chief procurement Officer David L Wilson II who took the city from 27th place to #1 in just 6 months.
- New York City tops in absolute numbers of innovative procurements, followed by Austin and Boston — but ranks just 39th when adjusted for its size.
- Only Clark County, NV did not issue any innovative RFPs out of the group of 56 major cities.
- 40% of governments continue use platforms that try to generate revenue from business users in the form of upsells or mandatory fees to access public documentation. We strongly believe that such practices are not helping small businesses participate in procurement.
More on how & what we measured
A first step to tracking what is innovative.
Data on US local procurement is deeply fragmented, held in dozens of platforms and aggregated poorly by commercial operators charging businesses hundreds to thousands of dollars to find opportunities. Like any small business, we wanted to rely on information that is publicly available. We tracked only those procurements above the city’s competitive threshold — i.e. those opportunities that are published.
What is innovation? It is important to note that we used our own judgement to identify a procurement as innovative. We looked for procurements that either explicitly referred to their interest in innovation, or provided an implicit opportunity to do things differently. For example, Los Angeles Airports RFP for guest satisfaction surveys is in, because it is open to new ways of collecting the data. If it had provided a fixed specification to repeat the same methods and tools used before, we would have not included it. Every judgement is prone to error, and more likely than not we have missed some good things. But, we believe that this approach is more aligned with the reality of many start-ups and innovators, who may work between traditional commodity codes or have their own smart ways of getting things done efficiently.
Since March 2019 we added an additional dimension: The number of days a procurement is open for submissions, after feedback from small businesses that they struggle with short opening times (read more here). We have heard their concerns and will now expect procurements to be open for at least 28 days to be considered or provide strong justification otherwise.
About the Small Business Accessibility Score
Citymart developed a scoring method that builds on the discovery journey of a small business that has not yet worked with government. It starts with the question of how easy it would be to discover procurement opportunities in your city, and the effort required to obtain sufficient information and the actual opportunity documentation — all needed to determine Go / No-Go. We measured seven features of the journey we know to be important. Our overall score is subject to a weighting of these individual measures to reflect their relative importance to a small business.
Elements of the Small Business Accessibility Score (SBAS)
# of procurement sites in city
Opportunities should be in one place. Some cities, like Austin (TX) list all opportunities in a single location, whilst others (like Jacksonville) have more than 5 pages on which opportunities are posted.
# of steps to access RFP document
Opportunities should be quick to assess. In Memphis you get to the RFP document with just 4 clicks from the city homepage, whilst New York City provides no identifiable path from nyc.gov to its solicitations page.
Sort / filter functionality
Opportunities should be easy to find. Pittsburgh lets you search and filter opportunities using keywords, dates and other criteria. In Tulsa no such feature exists.
Completeness of listing information
Quick decisions happen when the right information is available. San Jose provides users a complete overview of information about the opportunity like dates, contacts, plan holders. Milwaukee’s department of public works gives you barely more than a title, before your left to figure things out by reading a 50+ page RFP document.
Level of registration required to view RFP
Procurement opportunities should be open information and easy to access. Cities like Indianapolis let you have it all, whilst Lexington requires a W-9 and San Mateo County leaves it at the portal operator’s discretion (publicpurchase.com) to let you see RFPs (Citymart was denied access).
Most cities don’t charge you for RFPs. But almost a third of governments we reviewed use portals that aggressively upsell services or have mandatory charges, like Jacksonville’s public schools.
San Francisco’s Office of Contract Administration offers RSS feeds of their procurements. Others offer opt-ins for email or SMS notification. But 60% of cities, like Houston offer no notifications at all.
Many cities, regrettably, publish procurement opportunities on different websites. To assemble the score we assessed each procurement site in the city. The City’s SBAS is calculated as an average of these individual scores (contact us for your sub-scores).
Example: The Denver Score
2.4 Denver Public Schools
2.4 Denver City Procurement
2.0 Denver Airport Procurement
1.8 Denver Transport Procurement
1.9 Denver Water Procurement
2.1 Total Denver Score (AVG sub-scores)
To get the most recent version with most complete data of this report visit Citymart.