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Tampa Mayor Jane Castor looks to tap startups’ genius

City Hall brought together startups and the nonprofits that nurture them for a discussion of possible ideas to improve city operations and service.

TAMPA — As a candidate for mayor, Jane Castor talked about the importance of encouraging innovation and working with local nonprofits that nurture startups.

This week, not quite six months into her term, she brought together about a half dozen Tampa Bay area accelerator, incubator and tech support groups, plus a like number of the startups they’re coaching.

One goal of the two-hour discussion was to explore ideas and possible projects that could help the city tackle Castor’s top priorities: affordable housing, workforce development, transportation, construction support and services, and resiliency and sustainability.

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“We are looking for those innovative ideas that will make us more efficient and more effective on the services that we provide our community every day," Castor told a crowd of about 75.

With that, the startups pitched services that ranged from using predictive analytics to help contractors make more accurate and competitive bids for construction projects to providing remote, online notary services to creating marine-friendly concrete that gives native species an edge in the competition against invasive outsiders.

And it didn’t take long for city officials to hear something that made them sit up.

At one point, the chief executive officer of a startup called Ruckit talked about how his company is simplifying the process of documenting for payment the thousands of truckloads of dirt and rock that go into major construction projects.

Have you thought about doing something like that for hurricane-recovery efforts, a city official asked. After Hurricane Irma in 2017, City Hall had to hire private contractors to remove more than 100,000 cubic yards of debris from Tampa streets.

But to qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the city had to keep meticulous records on. among other things, every truck and driver involved, what kind of mechanical claws were used to grab the debris, and how full each truck was when it dumped its load at the city’s storage site.

“We haven’t gotten into that, but I think that’s an absolutely great idea,” Ruckit CEO Tarun Nimmagadda said.

“It’s a gold mine,” Castor said, “because of the process they have.”

And that’s an example of the kind idea that Tampa wants to hear in what is expected to be a series of discussions about innovation and opportunities for collaboration, she said.

“You just look at all of the connections that were made in this room today,” Castor said afterward. “It’s those connections that allowed for shared ideas and innovation.”

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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