Complex permit requirements in Miami were more than just a headache to the city’s business community — they were an active obstacle to growth. As of today, things are different. Here’s how one forward-thinking mayor and a strategic partnership with OpenCounter helped pave the way forward.
Swept into office on a platform that promised to transform Miami into a world-class innovation hub, Mayor Francis Suarez had a clear mandate to break new ground — and to break with “business-as-usual” approaches to city government. But to do so, first he’d have to streamline the city’s existing permitting and licensing processes. After researching multiple vendors, his technology leadership team called in the experts at OpenCounter.
The process of applying for or renewing a business license is famously difficult in Florida counties, and especially so for residents of Miami, who must contend with approval flows involving both the county and city. To briefly sketch the situation:
- In Florida, every business applicant must apply for a Certificate of Use (CU) as well as a Business Tax Receipt (BTR), two separate approval processes that are based on similar information.
- Despite that similarity, the CU application process is fully owned by the city and determined by Miami’s zoning code, while the BTR is governed by the county and partially administered by the city.
- Prior to OpenCounter’s involvement, Miami had successfully created a prototype for a pre-application permitting tool and compiled a “one-stop-shop” of online resources for business owners. However, there was still much to do to prepare the prototype for production use at scale.
With little time to spare, the team from OpenCounter was engaged to provide a production-ready solution. We fast-tracked our in-depth discovery process, pinpointing interventions and aligning on priorities. Meanwhile, we worked closely with the tech team attached to the mayor’s office, which included project managers, user experience (UX) designers, and geographic information system (GIS) experts, among others. In a matter of weeks, a solution was in place: a single front-end intake process to handle applications for BTRs and CUs.
“Last year, I challenged our administration to make it possible to open up a business in Miami from a phone, and with the launch of eStart today, we have delivered on that pledge,” said Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “Miami has always been a city — and an economy — underpinned by entrepreneurs and small businesses and eStart will ensure that future businesses of all sizes can open their doors even more easily.”
Our team rose to the occasion, quickly rolling out intake solutions tailored to the specific needs of the City of Miami on an extremely tight timeline. Our partnership is ongoing, but it’s already led to some notable wins, including:
- Completing the rollout of a consolidated CU and BTR application that’s mobile-friendly, in less than three months
- Narrowing the notoriously complex fee structure associated with BTR permits in Florida — to the point where most applicants are now able to get accurate fee estimates in real-time while they’re filling out their applications
- Enabling applicants to check the zoning for their business projects from mobile devices
“We’re proud to launch eStart this week and we’re confident it will make it easier to open a business in the Magic City,” said Mike Sarasti, Chief Information Officer for the City of Miami. “A lot of hard work by our team went into this effort and there’s more to come, as we aim to make continuous improvements to eStart.”
What’s more, with a slew of tech juggernauts — including Spotify, Goldman Sachs, and Blackstone — as well as influential tech organizations like FoundersFund all poised to make the move to Miami, it appears the best may be yet to come.
Today, Miami has all of the right resources in place to bring to life Mayor Suarez’s expansive vision. Going forward, we’re excited to track the impact of the project — and to watch as it continues to make it easier to open new businesses for all Miamians, as well.