MISSION, RGV – The organizers of the recent Civic Innovation Summit at the Mission CEED building said they devised the event for those who both want to shape the future of the Rio Grande Valley, and develop the region’s economy through technology.

“A gathering of game-changers and builders of the Rio Grande Valley’s new economy,” the program noted.

After the summit concluded, Alberto ‘Beto’ Altamirano, co-founder of civic technology company Cityflag, said the event achieved its goals.

“The summit was about bringing movers and shakers together – people that are influencing the new era of digital engagement,” Altamirano told the Rio Grande Guardian.

“What I saw today were people who are genuinely interested in innovation, people who are genuinely interested in nurturing an ecosystem of economic success. I saw the future of the Rio Grande Valley under this roof, in this building. That makes me very excited because you had folks passionately talking about the future of the Rio Grande Valley in such a way that it really conveys a message of not only hope but of success.”

Half of the Cityflag team originate from the Valley, including Altamirano, a Sharyland native. After Alex Meade, CEO of Mission Economic Development Corporation, invited Altamirano and his team to be temporary “experts in residence” at the EDC’s Center for Education and Economic Development, they wanted to finish with a bang – hence the innovation summit.

“We proposed this idea of ‘what if we created an innovation summit?’ and we spoke to (Mission EDC Program Director) Cristina Garza, and she loved the idea, and she spearheaded all this effort in conjunction with the CEO Alex Meade, and his colleagues, Daniel Silva and Teclo Garza. And, this was the result of that – an idea about promoting or nurturing an ecosystem of innovation in the Rio Grande Valley.”

In his remarks at the summit, Altamirano spoke about the challenge Cityflag found in discussing civic engagement. “Some people get it and some people don’t,” he said. He told of the experiences he found working on election campaigns on the east side of Austin, with its large minority population. Altamirano said he found a disconnect between residents and their local government. Convinced that technology could be used to improve communications, he and co-founded Cityflag.

“We wanted to build a social platform to engage people and build a community. It had to be people-centric, not government-centric.” The company’s ideas attracted interest from different municipalities and it started working with the City of San Antonio. He acknowledged it is a challenge for a start-up company to work with the government due to bureaucratic and political roadblocks. However, he said if one pushes for innovation it can happen.

“When we talk about civic engagement, it comes in all sorts of forms. But, one thing that is important to understand is that the digital world – the internet, social media, you name it – is playing a big role in our democracy. It’s also shaping cities. In that it shapes cities, it’s important to see who the actors are, and in essence the actors are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs – people who are spearheading innovation, innovative initiatives. I find that very attractive.”

Meade and his team at Mission EDC hope technology and innovation can shape their city. In the program notes, they say they “hope to turn Mission into the next smart city.”

Altamirano is certain that can happen in part because of the innovative ideas on display at the summit.

“This is an idea about promoting or nurturing an eco-system of innovation in the Rio Grande Valley. The panels were about innovation districts, civic engagement in the digital age, smart cities, going green. You had an array of panels and they were so dynamic, interesting and fun. We had a great time. We had a great turnout and I think we will do it again. This was an amazing time.”

Asked which panel discussions were most interesting, Altamirano said he particularly liked the one that asked if innovation districts can steer or promote economic success in cities.

“I thought that panel was really interesting because you had Indira Kempis, who is an entrepreneur and a civic leader in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, and you also had Javier Paredes, who is an architect and urbanist in San Antonio. Indira is currently running for state Senate in Nuevo Leon. But, prior to that, she experienced the changing fortunes of Barrio Antiguo, an area in Monterrey that was very popular at one point in the early 1990s to early 2000s because it is an historical district and there were a bunch of bars and restaurants, a fun and vibrant nightlife,” Altamirano said.

“But then, because of organized crime in 2008 and 2009 and so on, Barrio Antiguo became a very dangerous place. People died on those streets, that is how dangerous it was. But, Indira found a way to rehab this area through innovation. And now the district is enjoying a healthy, robust lifestyle with entrepreneurs coming in, nurturing an environment of economic success, where now people are building companies, opening restaurants. It has become a vibrant community.”

Altamirano said he was fascinated with the story Kempis told. “I think that is a very unique story because it is appealing, it is the power of innovation, it is the power of people. They come together to try to push forward for a successful outcome after what happened in Monterrey. And Javier supported those comments from a theoretical and practical point of view as an architect. It was beautiful, with very interesting dialogue.”

Altamirano said he also enjoyed a panel discussion he moderated, called From URLs to IRL. “It was all about going from Internet activism to offline activism, real life.” Its speakers were Michael Henderson, project manager for Innovation Office at the City of Austin, Drew Galloway, executive director of MOVE San Antonio, and Maximo Anguiano, vice president of collegiate outreach at BeVisible in San Antonio.

“Maximo is a chaotic, fun, dynamic personality. The conversation was so much fun. It was sexy, it was informative, it was cool to talk about how we are using these digital tools to promote a healthy democracy,” Altamirano said. “But, at the same time we face challenges, as we saw in the 2016 election, with fake news and so on. How do you create this balance where you use this technology component but at the same time you create a healthy environment offline, where you actually have people participating in the process of getting people elected, or engaging with your community and facing those challenges head on? I found that to be fun and dynamic also.”

Altamirano concluded by restating that the summit was a “one of a kind” event for the Rio Grande Valley.

“We had so much fun. We had leaders and experts from different routes come together to discuss these important and relevant topics for our community and I thought that was amazing, beautiful. We had packed rooms. It was a great turnout. I am very excited for the future.”

Partnering with Mission EDC and Cityflag to put on the Civic Innovation Summit were Texas Workforce Commission, CompTIA, Sequel Data Systems Incorporated, Whataburger and Jitterz Coffee Bar.

In addition to Meade, Altamirano, Henderson, Galloway, Anguiano, Kempis, and Paredes, other speakers at the event were Lena Afridi, of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development in New York City; Mark Hanna, of the Rio Grande Guardian; Eduardo Bravo, of Cityflag; Cristina Garza of Mission EDC; Sam Garcia of Sam Garcia Architect in McAllen, Texas; Natalie Campos Goodman of IncentiFind in Houston, Texas; Antionette Carrol of Creative Reaction Lab in San Francisco, Calif.; Julian Alvarez of Texas Workforce Commission; Marco Antonio Castro, an artist, designer and curator from New York City; Julia Barraford-Temel, of Code/Interactive in Austin, Texas; Chelsea Collier of Digi.City in Austin, Texas; Lorenzo Gomez, of Geekdom in San Antonio, Texas; Uriel Sanchez of ULinks in Monclova, Coahuila; Annie Plotkin of Ashoka in Arlington, Virginia; Felix Ortiz III, of Virdis Learning in New York City; Daniel Lucio, of Google Fiber in Austin, Texas; Mark Madrid, of Latino Business Action Network in Stanford, Calif.; Amelia Winger-Bearskin of Interactive Digital Environments Alliance in New Rochelle, New York; Chris Ripley, of Smarter Sorting in Austin, Texas; John McGlinchey of CompTIA in Chicago; Illinois, Mike Perez, city manager for Weslaco, Texas; Jose Alberto Gomez of Cityflag; and Juan Pablo Escobar of Civica Digital in Mexico City.

Peterson replaces Altamirano as ‘Expert in Residence’

Meanwhile, former Procter & Gamble executive Mark Peterson has taken over as Mission Economic Development Corporation’s new “Expert in Residence” at the Center for Education & Economic Development.

He replaces Alberto ‘Beto’ Altamirano, co-founder of Cityflag, who held the temporary post for the past three months.

Mark Peterson

“I love Mission EDC’s vision to help create, foster and support Entrepreneurs to drive job and wealth creation in the region. I am humbled to be named as Expert in Residence,” Peterson said. “My hope is that by leveraging my knowledge, network and experiences we can help the local Entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.”

Procter & Gamble is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of household products and a Fortune 50 company. Among the company’s top brands are Tide, Charmin, Pampers, Pringles, Duracell, Gillette and Crest.It is headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Peterson, recognized as a top tier trainer, spent 40 years at P&G, recently retiring as head of Global Business Development, Sales and Innovation. He spent the first 26 years in sales, leading to advanced roles in developing customer growth strategies.

According to a Mission EDC news release, Peterson, a University of Notre Dame alum, has served on some of the state of Ohio’s top economic advisory boards. Since his retirement from Procter & Gamble in 2016, Peterson has started two firms including the Peterson Consulting Group and The Founders Page. Peterson will be the third professional to staff the Mission EDC’s Expert in Residence program.

Mission EDC CEO Alex Meade said Peterson is exactly the type of adept professional that can sustain the high level of expertise needed for the Expert-in-Residence program.

“Procter & Gamble is one of the world’s leading companies known for innovating, its knowledge of consumer behavior and business acumen,” said Meade. “With his vast experience and his willingness to share and mentor others, Mark will be a huge asset for the Mission EDC and the business community. We are very pleased to have him here.”

Meade said Peterson will primarily provide direct mentorship to small businesses in the Mission area in collaboration with Mission EDC personnel. Meade said he will also work to provide local entrepreneurs key tenets of practical and successful business strategies for growth.

Meade said Peterson will move to Mission for the duration of the program and will office at the CEED Building.

Editor’s Note: Reporter Patricia Martinez contributed to this story from Mission, Texas.