City City Bang Bang:
a CYstarters start-up
Recent Innovation Fellow graduates Diaz and Polonia-Suarez breaking barriers with civic engagement and city planning
By Julia Meehan, Communications Assistant | Published July 8, 2021
“Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” may ring a familiar bell to musical enthusiasts, but do not get it mixed up with City City Bang Bang. Unlike the 1968 musical-fantasy film with Dick Van Dyke, this city planning project to increase civic engagement stars Iowa State University CYstarters and innovators Eric Diaz and Abraham Polonia-Suarez.
Diaz and Polonia-Suarez confront the problem of community involvement in city planning head-on with City City Bang Bang, which is one of the 14 businesses in the 2021 CYstarters Cohort. CYstarters is an 11-week summer accelerator for current Iowa State students and recent graduates with a business or start-up idea.
Great minds think alike
It all started eight years ago when incoming freshman Diaz and Polonia-Suarez met at a summer learning opportunity, the Academic Program for Excellence (APEX). They had no idea at the time that their small fluke encounter would lead to a lifelong friendship and working partnership.
As Cyclones, they each followed similar paths as they both graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and continued their studies by pursuing master’s degrees in industrial design. During their time at Iowa State, Diaz and Polonia-Suarez became part of the Student Innovation Center’s Innovation Fellows program.
While pursuing their master’s degrees, they both were also exposed to the triggers of city planning. Diaz and Polonia-Suarez attended workshops where government officials touched on how they struggled with community input. And, as great minds think alike, they said a light bulb was lit.
City City Bang Bang was born.
“We’re trying to see how they [city government] could hear from more voices because usually, they would hear from the few vocal people that voiced their opinions a lot and aren’t necessarily a good sample or a representative sample of the community,” Diaz said.
City City Bang Bang in a nutshell
Cities are what shape individuals. From the schools they attend, the churches they congregate at and the transportation services they use, City City Bang Bang wants citizens to have more control and say in which direction things go in their communities.
Polonia-Suarez said, “It’s (cities) where you connect with others, where you form a family … and where you go through so many experiences in this place.”
City City Bang Bang wants to tackle the barrier between the city government and the community. Their goal is to implement this service sooner rather than later in the process of city planning. Far too often, they said, the community’s input is too late and their input turns into complaints rather than ideas in the planning process.
“Sometimes it can feel from a resident’s perspective that the city government doesn’t care, and sometimes it can feel from the city government’s perspective that the residents don’t care when they don’t show up to community meetings, city hall meetings or voice their opinions,” Diaz said. “But it’s not a lack of motivation and care on either side. It’s really just a result of barriers, and so that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Where the entrepreneurial mentality sparked
The Student Innovation Center’s Innovation Fellows program is where the entrepreneurial journey of turning City City Bang Bang from an idea into action really began, Diaz and Polonia-Suarez said.
Attending Flagship Fridays Innovator’s Forums and Innovation Circuit Series sessions, where students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in innovation and gain expertise, introduced a new dialogue. They were exposed to knowledge outside of their disciplines and, along the way, learned about new horizons.
With the influence and guidance of entrepreneurs and business leaders, Diaz and Polonia-Suarez were prepared to jump-start their idea for city planning. Diaz said they asked themselves, “How could we target the rest of the population and provide that communication between residents and city government?” Their answer, he said, was innovating a consulting firm that would help cities with civic engagement and give a voice to the voiceless so their voices can be heard and implemented in the process.
“We want to be a connector between City Hall and its residents and help with the dialogue and show care from both sides of the spectrum,” Polonia-Suarez said.
CYstarters, the backbone of City City Bang Bang
City planning is not their discipline but the need for it to be filled is what triggered them to act. For City City Bang Bang to come to fruition they needed funding. The program for them to launch their idea fell in line with CYstarters, an intensive program for young entrepreneurs to flourish their innovations with time, funding and a network of mentors.
Judi Eyles, director of Pappajohn Center of Entrepreneurship, saw that what they were pitching was not this tangible product, but a service.
“What they shared in their presentation was a real problem with a creative solution to solve that problem,” Eyles said.
They’re not a business yet and they have not held any events, but they have identified a problem that many communities deal with. They stood out to Eyles and the others with the CYstarters program because City City Bang Bang was real and valid.
Since starting the cohort, CYstarters has helped with each phase of jump-starting City City Bang Bang. They’ve taken steps to figure out how to best provide this value and how to best serve it.
“I think it’s fair to say we can credit all the progress we made to the CYstarters program because if not, the project probably would have ended in the class,” Diaz said.
The future for City City Bang Bang
After the 11-week cohort ends, the week of July 30, they are not sure how it will continue. It depends, they said, on how much they accomplish within the CYstarters program. They’re planning to have a validation session and a testing portion of the service to validate whether the tool of engagement is successful. Moreover, the exposure and feedback from city officials on whether this is something they would implement.
If it is not ready to be launched, they are not wiping their hands from this problem. They will continue their partnership and work on City City Bang Bang until it gets off the ground.
Diaz and Polonia-Suarez hope after CYstarters City City Bang Bang will be implemented. The goal is to provide a civic engagement strategy and facilitate that engagement with a mobile unit like a van that would pop up around the community.
Polonia-Suarez said their overall goal with City City Bang Bang is, “We want to develop or implement and validate a tool of engagement that would touch, not only to the privileged few but also those who are low income.”