From discovering new life-saving drugs to helping driverless cars become a reality, AI is being used almost everywhere. The Tel Aviv-based startup Zencity has also found a new way to use AI for our benefit, which includes helping the local government leaders make decisions based on real data. The company has now secured €11.43 million in a new funding round. In a conversation with Silicon Canals, the company’s CEO and co-founder, Eyal Feder-Levy, talks about Zencity’s workings, future plans and more.
Helping local governments make data-driven decisions
Zencity is an AI-powered data analytics tool that helps local governments take data-driven decisions for their community. “The Zencity platform gathers and analyzes millions of anonymised, aggregated data points of community feedback from various channels such as social media, local broadcast media and government customer service channels (such as 311 and call centers),” says Levy.
The data is then transformed into actionable insights about trends in the community. They also highlight resident priorities for decision makers in local government. “As governments are alerted to these trends in real-time, officials can act immediately, allowing for a more proactive approach to governing that’s in line with their constituents.” Levy adds.
With its offering, Zencity is trying to solve the problem of local governments lacking necessary resources. These resources are indispensable for gaining a complete picture of how residents view and talk about relevant municipal issues, especially in a timely way. Currently cities worldwide rely on limited resident feedback via official channels, such as town halls or official feedback forums. Only a handful of people use these channels but based on this feedback, policies are influenced and shaped.
“Governments don’t have the bandwidth, or resources to monitor the myriad of channels where citizens are talking about issues that matter to them or understand how to translate that into smart policymaking,” notes Levy. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this challenge even further. Local governments are in need of real-time data about public sentiment during the pandemic. Closing this communication gap enables officials to create unified, pragmatic policies that will slow the spread of the virus while tending to the pressing needs of their citizens.”
Using AI to eliminating guesswork in policymaking
With data collection and simultaneously turning that raw data into actionable insight, Zencity is helping governments better connect with their communities. As per Levy, “Zencity offers governments actionable insights based on trending topics in citizens’ conversations, helping local governments with policy shaping, messaging priorities and budgetary allocation to govern with citizens’ concerns more effectively in mind. Zencity’s platform eliminates the guesswork in policymaking and empowers city officials to make more effective decisions regarding the most pressing issues within their communities.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Zencity platform was used by cities and counties to understand top priorities for their citizens. “Difficult decisions such as deciding when and how to reopen cities, have been informed by insights produced by Zencity about what residents are most concerned about. Zencity has been able to assist governments in successfully navigating through the pandemic,” Levy notes.
There is also an interesting story behind how the idea of Zencity came to be. “My co-founder and I have been passionate about this problem for years, working in and with local government agencies for a big part of our career. We were surprised to see the gap between the importance of resident input for governments, and the tools they had on hand to measure that,” notes Levy.
“Governments were using tools which were anecdotal, limited in scope, and not data-driven, such as surveys and town hall meetings, to collect residents’ feedback, despite the fact that extremely important decisions had to be made based on them. We understood that good decisions had to be based on residents’ feedback on the one hand, but data on the other. We wanted to find a way to combine the two in a way that was suitable and usable for local governments, and thus came about Zencity,” Levy adds.
Zencity is currently working with 150 cities across four countries and 29 US states. The company’s offering breaks down trending topics in the city, which users can filter according to date, source, and sentiment. There are also daily and weekly reports from Zencity that provide users with a summary of discourse in their city to help pick up on trending topics easily, and address them proactively. Zencity also has no direct competition even though there are some Social Media monitoring companies that offer a partially comparable solution. These competitors are also geared towards big brand management and not governance.
Expanding Zencity’s capabilities further
Zencity has closed its €11.43 million Series B funding round, which was led by venture capital firm TLV Partners and joined by strategic investor Salesforce Ventures. Additionally, company’s existing investors Canaan Partners Israel (CPI), Vertex Ventures, M12 – Microsoft’s Venture Fund, and i3 Equity Partners also participated in the funding round.
The freshly raised funds will be utilised by the company to grow and expand its product’s ability. It will focus on serving the unique needs of state and local government agencies, especially during the current times of uncertainty. The funding will also help the company build out new strategic partnerships and further expand their market presence. Zencity has raised a total of €17.94 million funding so far.
Founded back in 2015 by Eyal Feder-Levy and Ido Ivri, Zencity is a Tel Aviv, Israel, based startup. The company is also currently hiring and you can check out the open positions here.
Interview by Akansha Srivastava