More than 100 so-called “civic” tech organizations — businesses and nonprofits focused on sharing data and resources between governments and citizens, and citizens with each other — received $431 million in investments between 2011 and 2013, according to a new report.
More than 80 percent of this capital was from private investors, the Knight Foundation report found, while the remaining investments were philanthropic (such as those from the Knight Foundation itself). The Knight Foundation is a nonprofit supporting journalism and media.
The report’s definition of civic tech included a wide scope of ventures, including nonprofits such as TurboVote, which allows voters to register online, and for-profit start-ups such as Waze, which uses crowd-sourced information to suggest driving routes with less traffic. (Israeli start-up Waze was bought by Google this summer for about $1 billion.)
These numbers suggest growing investment activity in civic tech, said the report’s authors, said Knight Foundation strategy and assessment director Jon Sotsky and vice president of strategy and assessment Mayur Patel.
Private investors have noticed particular opportunities in companies helping citizens connect with each other, Patel noted. These companies, often called “peer-to-peer”, attracted $234 million in investments between January 2011 and May 2013. The number of peer-to-peer organizations has more than tripled each year between 2009 to 2012, the report notes — these include Lyft, a start-up helping car owners give rides to those without cars for a fee.
Peer-to-peer are likely attracting investment and entrepreneurs “as a response to changing consumption habits of people living in cities. People aren’t as interested in owning something if they can find a way to access it easily and readily,” Patel said, noting that both are increasingly aware of the profit potential in such ventures.
But while it’s encouraging to see investment activity in civic tech, agreeing on standard definitions for terms like “civic tech” and measuring investment in the field could help investors , philanthropists and entrepreneurs realize its business opportunities, Patel added.
“This [report] is really a first cut,” Sotsky said, noting the foundation plans to update its analysis every few years. The Knight Foundation partnered with San Francisco-based analytics firm Quid to compile the data.