What will you find at the intersection of entrepreneurship and social impact in Pittsburgh? Google Pittsburgh’s Mike Capsambelis.
He’s the Pied Piper who has been leading the march toward collaboration between what have typically been two separate domains.
His personal work in advocating for entrepreneurship led to the co-founding of Awesome Pittsburgh to support new ideas in our city. He also volunteers as a mentor with Entrepreneuring Youth and is an active leader on the Google for Entrepreneurs team.
In the social impact realm, Capsambelis has been a pivotal contributor in getting the Steel City Codefest and the recently announced UpPrize off the ground—two initiatives that aim to spur direct collaboration between technologists, entrepreneurs, the City and social and nonprofit organizations.
Earlier this year, Capsambelis, who has worked as a product manager at Google since 2012, joined Google’s Civic Innovation Team—a practice within Google with a charter to use Google technology to connect people with their governments and communities.
We sat down with Capsambelis to talk about innovation, collaboration and social impact.
What drives the work you do in the community—why is getting these diverse sectors together so important?
I believe that nonprofits and public organizations can benefit greatly if they have access to the same innovative opportunities that propel the most successful startups and businesses. I’m extremely committed to helping make that happen in Pittsburgh.
The stuff that I have been doing with Awesome Pittsburgh, Codefest, UpPrize, Google for Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneuring Youth has this in mind.
Social Entrepreneurship has been such a buzzword lately. What do you think is important to make it succeed?
I think there is no option but to make it succeed in order for the business ecosystem to stay sustainable. But we need to provide an environment that encourages and supports organizations to experiment with new models, to team with unconventional partners and overcome assumptions about the “way things are done.”
What is Google’s Civic Innovation team? How does being part of it complement the work that you already do in the community?
The Civic Innovation team at Google aims at to make tangible and lasting change by connecting citizens with their communities and governments. It’s precisely in line with the advocacy that I have been doing in the community.
Pittsburgh is a perfect example of a city that is trying to modernize government and connect citizens—the snowplow GPS, the Open Data initiative, the Code for America fellows—some of the things we hope to see all cities implement. Pittsburgh is a great laboratory for some of these innovations and inspires me as I do my work in the Google team.
Can you give me examples of work from the Civic Innovation team that speaks to this?
Part of what we have to do is figure out how to engage with citizens—where can we really help with that—and doing it in Google scale.
For example, one of the things the team is trying to do is—instead of just giving you on-point search results, to give you actionable information.
In the past, a lot of this work has been done with the elections. Now when you search for elections, you not only get links to relevant results but you’ll actually see information about where to register, who’s on the ballot, where to vote—information that will actually get you to the polling place.
Other examples—let’s say you are searching for a particular local issue like bike lanes. Google will not only display search results but it will tell you if there is an upcoming City Council meeting on getting them in your area. That way you can take the next actionable step with the particular issue you are interested in.
These are great examples of how technology spurs civic engagement and changes the way we interact with government.
What are some of the things you are looking forward to?
This weekend’s Steel City Codefest. I think it’s one of the best examples of cross-sector collaboration that really spurs innovation. It’s Google working with the City of Pittsburgh, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, The Forbes Funds, to launch a civic hackathon aimed at solving problems that challenge our nonprofit community.
The Codefest extends an opportunity—in this case, technology—to nonprofits that will help move them forward.
This access should be true for all—small businesses and nonprofits. We need to equip them with the resources to thrive and compete in the current economy.
I’m looking forward to seeing that happen more and more in Pittsburgh.