Launching and running a small business in San Francisco can be daunting. Just ask the many restaurant and bar owners, craftspeople and manufacturers who have been through the process of navigating the unique permits, licenses and regulations required for their specific businesses. For the City’s 65,000 small business owners who employ more than 230,000 people, the experience is complicated and cumbersome.
Tomorrow Partners was asked by Mayor Lee to determine how the City and County of San Francisco could better support its spirited entrepreneurial culture and small business community. Working closely with a dozen City agencies and local business owners, we created The San Francisco Business Portal, a comprehensive one-stop web tool that features a wealth of resources aimed at first time or seasoned business owners. The portal was designed to help nurture the small business sector and create an environment where everyone can realize their dream to become an entrepreneur.
To understand their hopes, needs and aspirations – as well as their frustrations – we visited business owners where they work. These dedicated entrepreneurs described an inefficient startup process riddled with detours and difficulties. Not enough people knew about the resources available at City Hall, which led to missed opportunities and a perceived lack of support, as well as a sense of isolation at critical moments throughout the business life cycle.
As civic institutions tend to be notoriously complex, we also engaged stakeholders from a dozen city departments in hands-on workshops to view the process of starting and growing a business from their perspective. We mapped out bottlenecks and high and low points throughout the experience, and identified key opportunities for improvement, while also fostering collaboration between city staffers who might not usually have the chance to work together.
It was clear from our research that both business owners and City Hall wanted a more streamlined, accessible, reliable and unified experience.
To be effective, the Portal needed to address the fundamental problems faced by both novices and experienced business people. Practical resources range from guidance on writing a viable business plan to meeting ADA compliance, choosing a business structure, financing options and labor regulations. For newcomers, we included Starter Kits covering the 10 most common business types and everything an entrepreneur needs to know to get going.
The Business Portal leverages technology to make government more efficient, and positions San Francisco on the leading edge of civic innovation. It also shows that the City is serious about the success of its small business sector.