San Francisco, notorious for business regulations, opens up one-stop permit shop

150 150 Alexandra Bjerg

The Bay Area’s streamlined permitting means food trucks can go from idea to reality faster. (Photo Credit: J. Paxon Reyes)

Got a great idea for a business, like a food truck specializing in carnival and fair food (funnel cake and corndogs, yum!)? Figuring out which permits and licenses city, county, state and federal governments require is no easy task. The State of California alone has more than 200 different business licensing forms. After narrowing down this list, determining when, how and where to apply might intimidate even the most knowledgeable entrepreneur.

But if you’re hoping to drive that food truck up and down the steep hills of San Francisco, you’re in luck.

The Bay Area city recently launched an online tool to help entrepreneurs navigate the often cumbersome and complex permitting process, doubling down on the mayor’s commitment to making it easier to start and grow a small business in San Francisco. 

“Small businesses are the heart and soul of our economy and a significant job creator,” said San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, in a statement. “This new tool is a great example of how we are using technology and innovation to make government more responsive and efficient to help our businesses grow and succeed in our City.”

The City of San Francisco has teamed up with Los Angeles-based company Docstoc to provide the city’s aspiring entrepreneurs with a one-stop shop for business licenses and permits. The License 123 software compiles permitting and licensing requirements for all levels of governments for over 258 unique types of businesses in one easily accessible website. Through this public-private partnership, Docstoc, which usually charges users a fee to access the service, will give access to San Francisco residents free of charge. 

Business owners in the City of Angels are also benefiting from a similar agreement between the company and city leaders established last fall.

Rather than wade through multiple government websites, business owners can simply log onto License 123 to find all the necessary paperwork. Previously, new business owners “would have to approach many departments to pick up or download the forms they need to start their business,” said Regina Dick-Endrizzi, Director of SF’s Office of Small Business.

With a few clicks, selecting the appropriate industry and business type from a drop down menu, users get with a report that includes downloadable applications for all relevant licenses, instructions on how to fill them out, the licensing authority’s contact information, estimated total cost, and timeline for submission.

Users in need of additional help are referred to the Office of Small Business which offers assistance in English, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese.

“Knowing that the permitting process was not an easy one, I greatly appreciated that License 123 was able to gather all the information I needed in one place,” said Steve Fox, a beta user working on opening a restaurant and bar with an 18-hole indoor miniature golf course in San Francisco’s Mission District this Fall, in a statement. “Navigation was simple and I was able to get to every form I needed with no more than two clicks.”

In a city famous for its entrepreneurial spirit, where new businesses literally sprout up every day, removing obstacles faced by aspiring entrepreneurs could result in a welcome boost the local economy. 

Now that people everywhere have grown accustomed to easily finding just about everything on the Internet, aggregating all the permitting information a potential business owner needs on one site just makes sense. The more streamlined permitting process will potentially save entrepreneurs time and aggravation, alleviating some of stress of starting a business.

According to the Office of Small Business, the launch of License 123 is just the first step of a larger plan to streamline the permitting and licensing process. We’ll certainly be keeping eye on San Francisco’s efforts to use technology and innovative partnerships to help entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. 


Alexandra Bjerg

All stories by: Alexandra Bjerg