Amazon Web Services announced Wednesday the creation of a new accelerator program to help government tech businesses scale up and find new investors.
The first cohort of the accelerator, which was announced at AWS’ annual Public Sector Summit in Washington, will be built around companies that specialize in public safety and criminal justice, said Josh Weatherly, the cloud services giant’s global managing director for startups, venture capital and industry partnerships.
“Right now, from 911 call centers to public defender offices, justice and public safety organizations are contending with staffing crises and decreasing funding,” Weatherly said in an interview. “And so when we think through the impacts that our justice and public-safety customers are facing, it’s impacting their ability to run their anti-drug task forces, their domestic violence initiatives, their juvenile justice strategies and other outcomes that they’re trying to drive.”
Weatherly said the new accelerator will be patterned after similar programs AWS has run in the health, space exploration and generative AI sectors and for companies led by female, minority or LGBTQ founders. He said the initial focus on public safety and criminal justice was determined after feedback from AWS customers in those fields, including police departments, corrections agencies and prosecutors’ offices.
According to a blog post published Wednesday by Kim Majerus, vice president of Amazon Web Services’ state and local government practice, the accelerator program will look for companies developing technologies “that can address challenges such as increasing community engagement, deterring crime and reducing recidivism.”
To qualify for the accelerator, Weatherly said, companies that apply will already have to have an existing public-sector portfolio and demonstrate the ability to derive revenue from a product that can run — or already is running — on the AWS cloud. Companies that are accepted will receive virtual and in-person guidance from Amazon professionals, get meetings with some of Amazon’s government clients and be introduced to venture firms for potential investments.
“We want to make sure that we’re engaged with startups that have longevity, and a big marker of longevity is their ability to meet their financial obligations as well,” he said.
Amazon does not plan to take an equity stake in any of the companies that participate in the accelerator, Weatherly said. He described Amazon’s investment as limited to running the program and providing $125,000 worth of AWS credits.
“Our job is to provide the very best technical building blocks, the very best services, the widest array of capabilities, and then provide that mentorship with startup founders that have great ideas and challenges that they want to solve,” he said.
Some of those challenges that could be highlighted in the first cohort, Weatherly said, include cybersecurity — he mentioned the recent ransomware attack against Dallas, which has hampered police investigations there — and the transition to next-generation 911.
The application window for the AWS accelerator opens Wednesday and will run through July 10, with approved companies being notified by Aug. 9. The formal program is expected to begin in fall 2023, with an in-person event, followed by four weeks of virtual sessions.
Weatherly said that if successful, future cohorts of the government-tech accelerator may focus on other policy areas.