Indianapolis has joined about a dozen cities in hiring a California-based startup to develop a portal designed to help small business owners cut through red tape.
The step-by-step interface dubbed OpenCounter provides entrepreneurs a roadmap to handle permitting, zoning and licensing issues, which can be intimidating and time-consuming. The Indy Chamber paid for the project, at a cost of $36,250.
The site, which is live in beta at Indianapolis.OpenCounter.com, is offered in English and Spanish and is free to use. It connects with case-management software used by the city's Department of Code Enforcement, but users cannot yet handle everything online.
If the system is well-received, economic development officials hope to expand OpenCounter to allow seamless online permitting, said Ashley Elrod, the Indy Chamber's program director for economic development.
The current version allows business owners looking to open their first location or a new location to get information on what permits will be required, how much they will cost, and how long the process likely will take. The system lets users search an address to find out which types of businesses are allowed in the area.
For instance, an entrepreneur might search Fountain Square to see which buildings are permitted for restaurant users.
The Indy Chamber worked on the project in partnership with Mayor Greg Ballard's office in hopes of prompting more new business creation by eliminating some hassles. Cash-strapped entrepreneurs may be able to skip the upfront cost, for instance, of hiring advisors on zoning or permitting.
"While larger companies may also use the tool, we see this as being used mostly by small business owners navigating city processes for the first time," Elrod said.
OpenCounter began as a Code for America project, working from the premise that economic development efforts should give more attention to startups and emerging companies, not just big firms with hundreds of employees.