Civic engagement has always been disheartening as government agencies are inundated with complaints and requests from the public.
That unrest trends nationally because requests aren’t formalized through an efficient process. One New Haven native recognized this communication breakdown and decided to fix it.
After growing up on Alden Avenue, Berkowitz was off to George Washington University to study electronic media. Studying in Washington, D.C. encouraged Berkowitz to start thinking in terms of municipal aid.
Following graduation in 2001, Berkowitz briefly worked in Los Angeles before returning to the Elm City with brief stints at BAR, Urban Outfitters and working construction. After discarding the idea to enter a career in the music industry, Berkowitz turned to full-time freelance graphic design, which led to web design.
Working with national organizations, he became familiar with Google Maps API software and began to grasp the design paradigms that Google was offering.
After purchasing a home in 2005 on State Street, Berkowitz started the Upper State Street Association — a nonprofit group that bridged neighbors and government together to find solutions to common problems.
In 2007, Berkowitz pitched his long-time friend, Miles Lasater, an idea of building a social platform connecting residents with their governing body. In March on 2008, the tandem would launch SeeClickFix — a website and app enabling residents to communicate with government agencies in non-emergency situations.
Regular requests include issues with graffiti, road repairs, missing animals and non-emergency policing, among others.
In the company’s first year Berkowitz cold called the Boston Globe’s digital editor and left him a voicemail presenting the problems with their digital maps. Within the next week the SeeClickFix team was servicing the Globe’s lacking software.
It was initiative like this that helped the startup company grow into a platform used in thousands of communities. Roughly 300 cities use SeeClickFix as a primary service request management platform.
By creating this platform, SeeClickFix established a massive stream of public feedback to government in an organized and categorized manner. Its value has shown as over three million issues have been reported while 86 percent have been fixed. The platform has more than 15 million comments, plus votes allow digital engagement to work in a totally hopeless system.
While SeeClickFix is not a voting booth, it offers citizens a significant way to reach government and be heard, Berkowitz says.
The cultural and economic impact to New Haven has been significant, as Yale University has grown the city into a socially focused community. That connection to municipal activity is what has led to a thoughtful and diverse staff at SeeClickFix, Berkowitz says.
“I’ve talked to a number of people who have told me they have chosen to stay in their home and not move out of town because of their connection to their government through the platform,” he explains.
Check out a few other startups making an impact on the world, straight from New Haven.
Lead photo courtesy of Startup Grind Connecticut.