FRESH DIRT > The city’s new online business hub is up and running
The new online portal OpenCounter, a system that streamlines the process of applying for business licenses, permitting and other legal startup requirements, went live on the City of Santa Cruz’s website Wednesday morning, Jan. 9. The launch was celebrated by a small group of city officials, business owners and tech professionals at Cruzio Coworking in Downtown Santa Cruz.
The system enables users to enter their business information and then see the details of what they must do to implement their plan, greatly cutting down the confusion that is often associated with the bureaucratic requirements for starting a business.
OpenCounter organizes an entrepreneur’s business information, which was previously written and filed by hand, and delivers it to the right departments at the city in the correct sequence to maximize efficiency.
In partnership with the San Francisco-based public service nonprofit Code for America, the city worked to develop OpenCounter throughout 2012, says Peter Koht, economic development coordinator for the city.
“It’s really a way to discover the [business application] process dynamically,” he says. “You give it answers to questions, you’re served the requirements you need to start your business and you’re given an idea about the whole process. And at the end, all that information is sent to planning.”
Koht, who took a lead role on the project and worked with people from Code for America to see it through, describes working with the nonprofit as one of the most positive experiences of his career.
Code for America Tech Strategist Joel Mahoney compares OpenCounter to TurboTax, the popular program that walks people through filing tax returns.
“It has simplified an incredibly complicated process and helped walk people through it in a really intuitive and user-friendly way,” he says.
Santa Cruz City Councilmember David Terrazas, who participated with the technology task force that led up to adopting the OpenCounter plan, says it’s a game changer for entrepreneurs.
“It cuts through a lot of the bureaucracy,” he says. “Instead of putting it on the prospective business owner to go to different [city] departments, this brings the departments to them.”
The city issues between 210 to 230 permits a year, and Koht hopes the new system will cause those numbers to go up.
“Maybe we’ll see more because it’s a lot easier to apply for now,” he says. “It’s still an experimental process to have this resource out there, but my thought is that it’s really going to improve people’s ability to get the information they need to start businesses.”
Peggy Dolgenos, co-owner of Cruzio, say she believes OpenCounter will encourage more entrepreneurs to choose Santa Cruz as the place to start their businesses and also incentivize growing businesses to stay local.
“We’d really like to get some of that Silicon Valley spillover in Santa Cruz,” she says. Dolgenos hopes OpenCounter will help that to happen.
“It’s a very intuitive process,” she says of OpenCounter. “It’s all laid out on a platter.”
To access OpenCounter, visit opencounter.cityofsantacruz.com.