In late March 2020, as snow fell outside his home in Calgary, Derrick Koenig received news that only two other Canadian companies had ever received: His company, BoxofDocs, had been accepted into the spring cohort at Berkeley SkyDeck.
Koenig would be joining 23 other startups in the prestigious accelerator program. Typically he’d be getting ready to move to Berkeley for the six-month term, but with news of acceptance came another update. Due to the coronavirus, Berkeley SkyDeck would be operating entirely online for the coming months, while California remained under shelter in place orders.
The news meant SkyDeck participants would be working remotely with advisors and investors, a shift from previous programs. But online collaboration isn’t new territory for Koenig and the BoxofDocs team. In fact, it’s why their product exists.
As Govlaunch works to build the global wiki for local government innovation, we’re highlighting a series of Disruptive technologies — innovative companies who aspire to bring local governments cutting-edge products, which have the potential to fundamentally change the way local governments operate and innovate. We chatted with Koenig to talk about how BoxofDocs is revolutionizing the way government workers find and use day-to-day documents.
Stop Reinventing the Wheel
Among local governments, the desire to share has always been there. The tools have not.
This is a big pain point when it comes to government documents. When one city wants insights from another, the ask is usually carried out via phone calls, emails, or Google searches.
Between flooded inboxes, phone tag, and pages upon pages of web results, a simple search for a reference document can turn into an hours-long quest. Often, municipalities end up just starting from scratch, causing governments around the world to invest time and resources creating something that their neighbors may already have and be willing to share.
Enter Derrick Koenig and BoxofDocs. Backed by a team with deep experience in municipal government and public administration, Koenig set out to apply the sharing economy to local government files.
At first, the team focused on coming up with a way to create capital project design packages — essentially templates — that could be shared across governments. After six months of idea iteration, Koenig knew he was onto something:
“Every day, people are being asked to do more with less and they don’t just want a blank template, they want to see what has actually been implemented by their peers around the world. This approach allows them to actually build upon the great work already completed by others, creating a feedback loop of continuous improvement.”
So Koenig started thinking bigger. He worked with city managers in Alberta, Canada — his home province — to identify and solve for local governments’ broader need: the ability to share existing documents and resources across municipalities.
An AI-Powered Library
Today BoxofDocs hosts a massive library of documents sourced from public resources and member contributions.
The platform gathers non-proprietary docs from public and private sources to create a database of documents, from RFP templates and job descriptions to bylaws, ordinances, policies, procedures, and more. BoxofDocs then uses machine learning to index and categorize everything. This process runs on a regular basis, making sure content is always refreshed and up to date.
To find a file, users simply search the site, filtering as desired by geographic area, population, type of document, and the likes. Out comes a curated selection of specific results.
No culling through Google. No waiting for an email response.
Koenig estimates this time-efficiency will add up to $20,000 in savings per year for each local government user. Users sign up by purchasing seats, which start at $49 per month.
Beyond the time-savings for a single government, collaborative file-sharing helps local governments iterate and improve their policies.
One BoxofDocs user, Phyllis Forsyth, Director of Protective and Emergency Services for the town of Fox Creek, Alberta, uses the platform as a starting point for planning:
“I have found BoxOfDocs to be a great resource full of best practices that can be customized for our use … a great place to start when updating or recreating programs.”
The tool is a valuable component in our mission at Govlaunch to build the largest free resource for local government innovators, connect local governments across the globe, and enable them to create innovative processes and policies based on the learnings of others.
Sharing Beyond Borders
With 350,000+ documents from over 2,000 municipalities, BoxofDocs already claims to be the world’s largest collection of municipal documents. But Koenig — a competitive mountain biker in his spare time — has no plans to slow down.
After growing within Canada (BoxofDocs works with 40 governments there), the platform recently expanded into the United States. Additional growth is on tap via the start-up’s partnership with several industry associations, including the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA), and its acceptance into the Berkeley SkyDeck accelerator program — it’s only the third Canadian company ever selected to participate.
Next on the roadmap: further growth in the United States, and, eventually, the world.
“We’re starting by providing local governments in the U.S. and Canada with a best practices library, but North America isn’t the only place where governments could use a helping hand, and this isn’t the only way we can help” he says. “In the coming months, watch for additional tools that promote inter-municipal collaboration and knowledge sharing on a global scale.”
First though, Koenig and his team are focused on SkyDeck, and the chance to receive guidance from some of the top advisors out there while working with the extraordinary talent at UC Berkeley including interns and postdocs.