From the Editor / Women in Business

Meet Paola Newell, Woman in Business Spotlight

This week’s Woman in Business Spotlight is Paola Newell, Co-Founder of CityGrader.com

Paola Newell is Co-Founder and CEO of CityGrader — a civic network meets GovTech solution that lets the public discuss local issues and review cities, departments and local government employees. CityGrader.com was created on the principle that the public should have the power to hold their local governments accountable, and the tools to improve their communities and strengthen democracy. Founded in 2017 in Miami, CityGrader recently expanded to every city in Florida and will soon launch to cities across the US. The company also expects to roll out new user features and a mobile app in the coming months.

WE Magazine for Women recently sat down with Paola to learn more about her entrepreneurial path including founding her company CityGrader and the challenges she has overcome along the way.

Which person was most influential in your path to becoming an entrepreneur?

Paola Newell: My parents have been by far the most influential people in my career, especially my father who is an entrepreneur and has owned several businesses throughout his life. My family emigrated from Argentina when I was a young girl in order to provide me and my four siblings a brighter future. My father started and ran a number of businesses in Argentina from a food market, which he founded at the age of 21, to a scrapyard. When he arrived in the United States he started working as a handyman until he was able to establish his own construction company.

I was inspired at a young age to follow in his footsteps and run a business of my own. I’m fortunate that he has always been supportive of me and my ambitions as an entrepreneur. Principles he instilled in me at an early age, including integrity and resilience, guide me to this day. He always told me that I should never stop learning and to always be confident in what I do. More than anything else, it was my father and upbringing that propelled me to become an entrepreneur.

What is CityGrader.com and what inspired you to launch the platform?

PN: CityGrader.com is a one-of-a-kind civic network that allows the public to provide targeted feedback on the performance of cities and local government employees via a grade and review system based on their ‘customer-service’ experience. CityGrader is to cities and public employees what Yelp is to restaurants and local businesses. The reviews are a way to increase accountability and transparency with the purpose of improving the services provided by our local governments.

My husband, Tony, and I are both in the construction industry and we have a lot of experience dealing with local-government bureaucrats including building inspectors and plan reviewers. Whether we had a positive or negative experience with a local government employee, there was never a reliable way for us to leave meaningful input about the experience we had. Complaining to supervisors often led to us facing retaliation. Praising a government employee directly didn’t publicly, or even internally, acknowledge their great work. It was this lack of accountability that inspired us to launch CityGrader.com. We felt that there was a huge need to create a public platform that would cut through the red tape and allow citizens to provide feedback on the performance of public employees and the cities they live in or visit.

By creating a platform for the general public to engage with their local governments, CityGrader has become an invaluable resource not only for the community but also for government agencies looking to demonstrate that they are listening to their constituents. It has resulted in improved customer service and enhanced quality of life for residents.

How has CityGrader.com grown since its launch and what is on deck for the platform?

PN: The response from cities and residents since we first launched the platform in 2017 has been tremendous. We initially launched the website focusing on South Florida and recently expanded to include employee data for every agency across the state of Florida. We plan to expand the platform to include employee data for major markets such as New York and San Francisco over the next several months. All local government agencies in the US are currently on our site but only Florida agencies have employee data.

We are constantly adding new features to enhance the user experience, increase transparency and provide more value to our users. For example, over the summer we tested our “Open Access” feature that allows users to send a public email to their elected officials about pressing concerns, address issues with key members of staff, or request and receive public records from their jurisdiction’s records custodian. We will be launching the feature revamped in the coming months. We are also in the process of adding a ton of social networking features that will allow users to connect with other users and develop their public profiles to build up their credibility and increase their contributions to their communities. We also plan to launch our mobile app within the next few months.

CityGrader’s goal is to become the public’s go-to resource for discovering, discussing, and solving local issues. We are trying to make it easier than ever for citizens to make valuable contributions to local policy making.

What are some of the challenges you have faced and had to overcome as a female entrepreneur?

PN: One of the most rewarding challenges I am facing now is balancing running a business with motherhood. I gave birth in April to our first son, Logan, and I didn’t have time to take maternity leave. Instead I worked from home days after returning from the hospital and was back at the office a few weeks after. I’ve learned that organization and teamwork are key to helping me get through the challenges I have been presented with in building a start-up and becoming a mom. My husband has been the most incredible partner during these trying times and I am so grateful for his support every day.

Early in my career, I learned to believe in myself despite my lack of self-confidence. When I was in college, I worked as a hostess in a restaurant to pay for my tuition. I really wanted to become a server but I was shy and afraid of disappointing my managers. After being offered the position several times, I mustered up the courage and took the position. It turned out great and I was recognized as one of the most valuable employees at the restaurant. Through this experience, I learned to overcome my fears, trust my abilities, and own my accomplishments. I also learned to seek out opportunities even if they seem intimidating.

These are all challenges that have shaped me into the leader I am today and I apply these lessons daily in my current role at CityGrader.com.

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