The city of Austin launched an online tool today called Smart Start that aims to provide a portal for small-business owners to get responses to questions they have on the city's development process.

Sylvia Arzola, public information and marketing manager for the Austin Development Services Department, said the online tool is geared toward helping small-business owners early on in their startup process.

“The development process can be very complicated,” she said. “A lot of times small-business owners don’t know what they are getting into when they sign a lease.”

Smart Start Austin Smart Start launched Oct. 13 as a way for Austin small-business owners to ask questions and get more information on the city's development process.[/caption]

By using Smart Start, business owners can ask questions about a prospective site to determine if it is zoned for the right use, such as for a coffee shop, or if demolition and renovation is permitted.

Anyone can post a question on the site, and Arzola said the goal is to have a response provided within 24 hours. Users can also explore Smart Start for more information on zoning, permitting and construction regulations to gather information before leasing a property or starting a project.

The city's development services and economic development departments collaborated on developing Smart Start. The tool was funded through a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which awards funding for developing, implementing and improving online tools designed to assist local business owners with the startup process, according to a city of Austin news release.

Northwest Austin-based Bazaarvoice, located at 10901 Stonelake Blvd., Austin, developed the Q&A platform for Smart Start. Bazaarvoice has the world’s largest network of active shoppers. It helps about 4,000 brands and retailers collect, moderate and display consumer-generated content, ratings, social posts, videos and Q&A's about the products.

The economic development department also has other free tools in its Small Business Program for small-business owners, including classes hosted regularly throughout the city. Topics include opening a new business, digital marketing, hiring employees and using Quickbooks.

Visit or for more information about these programs and tools.