How One Local Entrepreneur is Reinventing Civic Engagement
For as long as he can remember, Tony Newell has been passionate about civics. During high school, he binged the TV series “West Wing.” At the University of Florida, he majored in political science. After graduation, he ran for Coral Gables office. For years, he’s been volunteering on local boards.
Now, the 38-year-old Gables resident is developing a tech company to bring city government, business, nonprofits and people closer together. The first phase of his Resorcity venture debuted this summer: An app that offers discounts and loyalty points for purchases at Coral Gables restaurants and stores. More than 65 businesses and over 550 shoppers have signed up so far.
Over time, Newell plans to expand the platform to offer points and rewards to people attending city meetings, answering city surveys, taking part in coastal cleanups and other nonprofit activities. The points could be redeemed at shops or for public services like parking. He envisions Resorcity (a combination of “resource” and “city”) becoming a hub for civic engagement nationwide.
“When this platform is mature, the idea is to help local governments tap into people as a resource,” says Newell. “Every community has brilliant scientists, businesspeople, philanthropists, etc., that they’re not really tapping into when it comes to solving public problems.”
The tech venture started as a passion project. Newell was working at his family’s construction business in Miami and noticed that some building inspectors did a better job than others. Yet there was no accountability for the weak ones nor rewards for those providing outstanding service. So, three years ago he launched City Grader, a platform that lets users rate public employees, aiming to boost accountability. Soon, he found users busy chatting on the site about local government. He found many citizens spoke more freely on the private platform than they did on official sites, where city employees posted news and answered questions.
Spurred by user feedback, Newell and his team developed “a QR-based product that cities could add in their front-line offices.” If you went to a city department, there’d be a placard with the QR code. When you scanned it, you could enter your review and it would go straight to that department manager.
Newell was talking to Miami Beach about buying a one-year contract when the coronavirus hit, evaporating in-person contacts at city offices. Newell and his team pivoted. With small businesses in trouble, he created the initial Resorcity app to encourage local shopping and offered the platform free to Coral Gables and its merchants. “He really wants to share everything he’s learned with the city,” says a grateful Aura Reinhardt, executive director of the Business Improvement District, who has knocked on doors with Newell to sign up merchants for the cross-marketing program. She sees opportunities for community building through Resorcity as “huge.”
Several Florida cities are now considering using Resorcity. Newell says he’s talking to Miami, West Miami and Fort Myers, offering them service contracts for $10,000 to $50,000 annually, depending on volume. “We think we can be every bit as prevalent as NextDoor,” the app for neighborhoods, says Newell, who has already invested $100,000 from founders, family and friends, and is now looking for $1 million to scale up.