This is no ordinary acquisition in the Code for America community. Textizen was originally developed in 2012 by Code for America fellows working with the City and County of Philadelphia to increase the diversity of public input on the Philadelphia 2035 plan. Their goal: to hear from Philadelphians who didn’t or couldn’t take part in meetings at City Hall. From the Textizen team’s announcement back in June 2012:
Now, all residents and community members need [to contribute to the plan] is a few spare moments and a cell phone that supports text messages (the CDC estimates this to be 92 percent of Philadelphia households). In a city where 42 percent of residents don’t have internet access at home, we see text messaging and other mobile technologies as critical doorways to digital citizen participation.
When the project finished, the City and County of Philadelphia had received new feedback from hundreds of Philadelphians who would not have otherwise weighed in on the future of the city. And three Code for America fellows (Michelle Lee, Serena Wales, and Alex Yule) realized that every city in the country that wanted more diverse, representative feedback from its community had a need for Textizen. Michelle, Serena, and Alex took the brave step of starting a company to help spread the practices of inclusive citizen engagement they had built into the product they’d developed. We agreed and decided to support them, as did the Knight Foundation.
The Textizen team, along with Civic Insight and LocalData (also founded by 2012 CfA fellows), became the first Code for America incubator cohort. These three companies were an experiment to see if investment in civic startups could transform the ecosystem of companies selling civic technology to local governments.
Today’s acquisition of Textizen by GovDelivery proves that local governments want to meet people where they are and validates the role of the civic technology movement in larger change. This movement is revitalizing, transforming, and improving the universe of companies providing the tools our governments need to effectively govern in a digital world.
It’s also a testament to the dedication and tenacity of Michelle, Serena, and Alex. Their simple, inspired insight about texting’s potential to broaden participation was only the beginning; building a viable company in a market that was still in its early stages then wasn’t an easy feat. Investment in government technology and civic technology has taken off recently, in no small part due to proof points like Textizen’s success. But Serena, Alex, and Michelle largely bootstrapped this company. With only limited investment, they’ve made Textizen a success, and a target for acquisition by an established government technology vendor.
Congratulations to the Textizen team, to GovDelivery, and to everyone who cares about a dynamic, innovative ecosystem serving governments.