Helping Start Startups in Sacramento

Building the Mayor's Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Sacramento to grow the region's economy

The City of Sacramento is committed to become a hub of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in order to create new private sector jobs that will bring new wealth to the community and drive growth in other industries — and position the city as a national leader in municipal innovation. To that end, six months ago, Sacramento established the Mayor’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and appointed an interim Chief Innovation Officer with the goal of building a sustainable and aggressive strategy for growing and diversifying the city’s economy. EthosLabs was asked to lead the development and execution of this program, from laying the foundation for the office, but also implementing new programs / projects with immediate impact in under 6 months.

Hightlights: Impact

Innovation & Growth Fund (IGF)

As part of the Mayor’s Economic Development 3.0 strategy, the Mayor’s Office recommended to to the City Council a repurposing of the existing Innovation and Growth Fund towards diversifying and growing the economy through new technologies and new industries.

Three areas of focus were identified:

  1. Supporting a Pipeline of talent and startups in Sacramento (RAILS program)
  2. Making it simpler, easier, and smarter for companies to work with City Hall (CHIPS)
  3. Connecting and highlighting the region’s successful innovations (MOFIE)

These three IGF strategic programs were designed to be sustainable over time, falling under the expected $2M annual revenue from the special fund supporting the IGF. Additionally, with a reserve balance of $5-8M the city retains its ability to make larger scale strategic investments as opportunities arise.

This $10M plan — which makes it the largest innovation fund of its kind — was presented to the Council in May 2016, and it was approved unanimously (9-0). Following this vote, the Economic Development Department, the Information Technology Department, and the Mayor’s Office collaborated to identify concrete recommendations for appropriations for Council to fulfill the IGF’s goals and objectives.

Pipeline for Startups


After a thorough review of other cities’ innovation programs, Sacramento decided to focus not simply on an individual company or organization, but instead the pipeline for entrepreneurship: from training new leaders, to incubating new projects, and finally scaling up successful ideas. The RAILS program (Rapid Acceleration, Innovation, and Leadership in Sacramento) was designed to have the city act as a platform to support each piece of that pipeline; for example a STEAM education program for area youth, or a hackathon focused on civic issues. Leveraging funds from the Innovation and Growth Fund, the city allocated up to $1M in grants for these “startup enablers” to openly compete for funding. After receiving 100+ applications in a short span of just 4 weeks, and going through an extensive review process with internal and external leaders, City management selected 15 grantees for council to consider for funding. ( >See the full list here .) These 15 organizations represent the following values, which reflect the City’s value and unique strengths):

  • Diverse, Inclusive, and Creative
  • Broad-based innovation in fabrication, energy, avionics & more
  • Civic & Socially Oriented

(Already multiple cities have asked to repurpose this program for their own locality, and to put it into perspective, LA’s innovation fund took 1.5 years to go through council, and then another year before the first grant was made. Sacramento is on pace to do both within 6 months.)

Status: Council unanimously approved the 15 organizations on November 1.

Connecting the Community


Modeled off of Kansas City’s “Challenge Cabinet” and Los Angeles’ “Tech Advisory Council,” MOFIE established a “Mayor’s Tech Council” to provide external expertise, guidance, and input on the city’s strategy. This group not only brings to bare tremendous insight in the innovation arena, but also helps evangelism Sacramento’s commitment to entrepreneurship; in so doing, they help attract and retain talent within the region. Further, the Tech Council serves as a “sounding board” of sorts for key strategic decisions (e.g. which organizations to fund) outside the traditional City Hall mindset.

It’s important to note that while similar models in other cities exist, critiques also follow; particularly, members of other councils often feel unengaged or not influential — more of a “rubber stamp” than a insightful lens. And with rosters exceeding 30+ participants, any one individual had little direct impact. Learning from this, Sacramento’s Tech Council was deliberately created to be decidedly small (currently 7 members) and tasked with specific, actionable requests (e.g. reviewing the RAILS applicants). To date, every member of the Tech Council has been actively engaged in some fashion, and continue to ask for more ways to help the city and the Mayor’s office accomplish its innovation and entrepreneurship goals.


  • Innovate Your State: Civic & GovTech Showcase: The City partnered with an internationally recognized Venture Capitalist, Tim Draper, to host a.demo day of 15 companies in front of an audience of 200+ regional leaders. Sacramento is the only city outside Silicon Valley where Draper has held such an event.
  • National Day of Civic Hacking: As part of a national effort coordinated by the White House, Sacramento hosted a hackathon over the summer with over 100 attendees, where a handful of apps were built with a focus on economic development and access.
  • TEDxSacramento: The Mayor’s Office was asked to present Sacramento’s TEDX event, where the cities’ commitment to innovation was highlighted and the video will be featured on for national and international attention.


To ensure the sustainability and growth of these efforts, there is the need for a permanent institution within City Hall that can cut across departments and drive structural change — and also serve as a bully pulpit to celebrate Sacramento’s innovative culture to attract and/or retain new entrepreneurs and businesses.

Over the past 6 months, while executing on the previously mentioned programs, there has been an intentional effort to build out the structures and roles needed to build upon those programs’ momentum. Practically, this meant the creation of a Mayor’s Office for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, led by a Chief Innovation Officer and supporting staff. Progress to date on this effort include:

  • Drafted a job description for a Chief Innovation Officer
  • Hired a full-time program manager
  • Working with IT and EDD to develop a lightweight “working group” for ongoing collaboration