As a program focused on “startup enablers,” the inaugural Rapid Acceleration, Innovation, and Leadership in Sacramento (RAILS) grant recipient cohort comprised incubators, accelerators, co-working and maker spaces, training programs, and community organizations that add capacity to Sacramento’s innovation ecosystem. An innovation ecosystem is one that encourages serendipitous “collisions” among entrepreneurs, technologists, academics, investors, and community leaders.
On June 21, 2016, the Sacramento City Council amended the Innovation and Growth Fund Policy to authorize the creation of new programs to expand the startup pipeline and engage the innovation ecosystem (Resolution 2016-0240). In doing so, Council unanimously approved a framework for the RAILS Program.
RAILS was designed as a $1 million annual grant program to support the development of Sacramento's entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem through “startup enablers” – community-based initiatives and programs that help entrepreneurs gain new knowledge and skills, and take their startup from initial idea to viable company.
The RAILS program is designed to achieve medium to long-term economic outcomes by increasing the capacity of Sacramento's innovation ecosystem and enhancing the conditions under which startup formation may occur. These outcomes will be measured by the number of startups that choose to launch and stay in Sacramento, as well as the number of startups that are successfully able to become viable businesses.
The City received 143 applications for the 2017 Program with funding requests totaling nearly $18 million. The Economic Development Department, Information Technology Department, and the Mayor's Office for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (MOFIE) reviewed and scored applications, with the Mayor's Tech Council serving in an advisory capacity as industry experts. Top-ranking applicants were interviewed and funding recommendations were developed using a competitive selection process based upon the following criteria:
Proven track record
Clear, actionable plans that achieve RAILS objectives
Fills an industry gap or local market need
City funds would be "catalytic" to completing the project
Value to the Sacramento innovation ecosystem
Program deliverables and metrics
There are three categories of grants offered under RAILS. Each of these grant categories reflect a phase in the startup pipeline:
Leadership Grants ($10k to $50k): for educational programs training our next entrepreneurs in technology and business to build Sacramento-based startups.
Innovation Grants ($20k to $100k): for companies and organizations making it easier to work with and in Sacramento; or for local organizations bringing together the innovation community in Sacramento.
Acceleration Grants ($50k to $250k): for accelerator and incubator programs supporting Sacramento startups through mentorship, networking, and education to raise capital, grow their business, and create new jobs.
# of Grant Awards
Average Grant Size
Types of Programs Supported
Youth/STEAM education, entrepreneurial training, technical training
Maker spaces, digital media production, community organizations
Incubators, accelerators, community hubs
Green Technology Education & Employment
Square Root Academy
Code for Sacramento
Dynasty Video Productions
I/O Labs Foundation
Square One Clubs
As a result of the City’s support through RAILS, grantees report being able to attract a total of $4.8 million in additional investment, grants, and earned income – a leverage ratio of 5:1.