I’ve done a few Startup Weekends over the past couple of years – 6 to be exact. This is a recap of the latest one I attended, Startup Weekend Seattle Gov. In fact, it was the first Startup Weekend focused on using government data to build startups.
I’ve had such a good time at past Startup Weekends that I was a little skeptical coming into this one. I mean, “Government” is in the name after all.
Oh boy, was I wrong.
The room on Friday night was completely packed with over a hundred developers, designers, and business people and dozens of government employees. During the opening keynote, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn announced the Evergreen Apps Challenge, a contest to award over $75,000 in prize money.
The pitches were great with tons of ambitious ideas that could really change the world. After voting, about a dozen teams formed to build everything from our bus app to public art to reporting issues to fixing parking. In usual fashion, the teams worked till late Friday night.
The buzz continued on Saturday with lots of folks arriving early to cram in as much work as possible. After a quick afternoon break with sliders from Skillet, the teams were back at it again.
One thing that was unique to this Startup Weekend was that many government employees were there to help, and it was awesome. I heard a few comments like “once you launch, let me know and I’ll promote it from the parks website” or “[redacted] is the person you need to talk to, here’s his email address.” Many were technical too, helping teams navigate the various public data sets.
The stakes were high with the winners receiving lunch with Mayor McGinn and a free legal package from Sophos Law. The judges panel was: Bill Schrier, City of Seattle CIO; Kate Matsudaira, Decide.com; Bharat Shyam, State of Washington CIO; Greg Gottesman, Madrona; and Mike Mathieu, Front Seat. After an exciting set of presentations and one hour of deliberations, the winners were:
1st place (tie):
- WhichBus – a simple beautiful way to navigate public transit. In addition to trip planning and real-time arrival information, the team also built out an SMS interface for accessibility.
- Art Rover – which uses a public art database to create walking tours of public art in the City of Seattle.
- Reporta – an easy and gamified way to report issues in your neighborhood to the city.
- Civic Rally – a Kickstarter like site where members post projects and solicit volunteers and money, including local matching funds programs.
Second and third place also won a legal package and the My Spot team won a meeting with officials from the Seattle Department of Transportation to discuss their product.
What I learned
Building businesses using government data can be sexy. It can also be profitable. Another team I helped, Let’s Play Now actually had an advertiser sign on and pulled in revenue before the site has even launched.
In the end, this event really changed my perceptions of our local government when it comes to technology and startups. Congratulations to all who participated, I was so inspired by all the cool apps and can’t wait to use them!