Heather Alcott dreamed of introducing one of Japan’s best kept secrets, the Baum cake, to the people of Denver, Colorado. She wanted a location with high foot traffic and an urban feel. Not long after she opened Glaze The Baum Cake Shoppe in a hip Denver neighborhood, Heather realized her approach of driving through Denver taking notes with paper and pencil had not been the best way to shop for commercial property. At the time, there were no other options available to her. The data she needed to make a more informed decision was either unavailable to her or outdated.
“Wouldn’t it be ideal to stand in front of a vacant commercial real estate space and have a Zillow-like application, so we all could better understand things like foot traffic numbers?” Alcott asks at the GoCode kickoff event. If Heather had an application like this she would have known most foot traffic in the area was two blocks away. She would have been made aware of major construction plans for the buildings on either side of her shop. And, most importantly, she could have taken advantage of available tax incentives by opening her business in a nearby enterprise zone.
When Glaze’s situation was brought to the attention of Colorado’s Secretary of State’s office, they knew something had to be done. Business Intelligence Center Program Manager Bryan Gryth used Heather’s story as a motivating factor to put together a plan to address problems faced by Colorado business owners. “One of the things we try to do at the Secretary of State’s office in Colorado is return value to the people who pay the business fees that keep the lights on in our organizations,” says Gryth. “Heather Alcott and Glaze humanized major concerns within Colorado’s business community.”
After releasing a quarterly business report online last year Gryth and the Secretary of State’s office realized people wanted information the State didn’t have. “We had to ‘stick to our knitting’ so to speak. We had to figure out what we were and were not good at,” says Gryth. Mainly, the state government had to identify what the business community wants and what their true needs are so they could build applications that are commercially viable and solve problems like those faced by Heather Alcott.
In order to make sure the right problems were addressed, Gryth and his team took an innovative new approach. Instead of prescribing a problem to the business community, and then asking developers to solve it, they went straight to the source. They gathered the business community together and came up with five key issues faced by Colorado’s entrepreneurs.
This allowed the state government to create an accurate and descriptive problem brief for developers and also shaped the five challenges featured at GoCode.
Once the problem was defined, Colorado started looking at apps challenges and hackathons as possible solutions. After researching major coding events such as Code for America, NYC’s Big Apps Challenge, and Open Chicago, Gryth realized how crowded the code-a-thon landscape was. To get the right people to come to the inaugural event in such a competitive landscape, GoCode needed to set its event apart from the others.
Sticking to their habit of going straight to the source, Gryth’s team went to the developer community to find out what attracts them to civic hacking events. They found the key to getting top-notch developers to attend events was not offering a big prize, but providing a fun communal environment focused on making a tangible difference and doing real good. Developers also expressed a desire for events that didn’t take as much time commitment as apps challenges but produced the same quality of product, unlike a weekend hackathon. Taking this feedback into consideration, Colorado decided to combine the two types of coding events. GoCode was born. Half apps challenge, and half hackathon, GoCode Colorado is the only statewide event of its kind.
Teams of developers and entrepreneurs had two months to come up with an idea and a weekend to make it into a sustainable finished product. The hackathon weekend took place in four different locations across the state and included ten different teams competing for first, second, and third cash prizes. Five challenges were devised based on feedback gathered from local business owners’ top problems related to poor or no access to information. Each challenge focused on a different aspect of being a small, local business owner and required a different set of data to make the app a reality. The top three finalists were entered in either challenge one, Business Site Location, or challenge two, Competitive Landscape.
Challenge one centers on helping new or relocating business owners access the site location information that would allow them to find the best place to thrive. The types of data used in this challenge includes infrastructure data, demographic data, incentive information, and statistics on available workforce resources in an area.
The aim of GoCode is to make the State’s economy stronger by engaging Coloradans and creating tools of value for Colorado businesses.
Challenge two addressed the local competitive landscape. Much of the competitive data businesses need to assess the inherent competition within an industry is held by private companies and is expensive or inaccessible. Apps in this challenge worked with both industry and company level data so business owners could view items such as: competitive density, mergers and acquisitions, and market analysis tools.
The aim of GoCode is to make the State’s economy stronger by engaging Coloradans and creating tools of value for Colorado businesses. The challenge recognized the talents of government, businesses, and Coloradans, and brought them together to produce practical solutions to real problems. “We did a very large scale operation,” Gryth comments, “but the model we developed is very scaleable. It can be tailored to fit industries of any size, the main focus has to be making apps that are sustainable. If you are thinking of doing something like this we are here to help.”
As the GoCode team discovered, events of this magnitude require two key components to pull them off: support from leadership and access to data. “[An event like GoCode] is one of the only times you can get Democrats and Republicans to agree on something,” says Gryth wryly. “Without bipartisan support, GoCode would never had become a reality.”
Thirty-eight datasets were uploaded to Colorado’s Socrata-powered Information Marketplace for GoCode. In addition to the apps developed for GoCode, another nineteen data objects were created from the data published, which resulted in more than $90,000 of savings to Secretary of State customers and vividly illustrated the power of public information. “Data is the infrastructure for the digital world,” says Gryth. “We had to find partners to help fill in the data gaps.”
In Socrata’s “How Do You Hackathon” webinar, Gryth identified three takeaways for organizations planning an event like GoCode. First, plan to pivot. That is, be flexible and prepared to change your direction at a moments notice. Second, build coalition. You must create a brand for everyone and provide an experience that gets the best judges, participants, partners, and speakers to your event. Finally, you don’t have to have all the answers. Ask for help when you need it, and reach out to those who have put together events like this before. Good luck, and happy hacking!
GoCode Colorado’s 2014 Winners
Beagle/Fort Collins, Colo.
Simply provide an address and Beagle will fetch a business fitness score based on dozens of sources. The app provides a simple tool that lets you explore the data behind the numbers, helping you find your business’ next home.
Bizlink Colorada/Durango, Colo.
This app allows business owners to build their B2B network and show how they fit into the Colorado business community. These connections help to build a business’s reputation and make it easier for established businesses to be found. It is also a tool for new and expanding businesses to source partners.
LocalSage/Colorado Springs, Colo.
LocalSage helps business owners determine the best location for their businesses. The LocalSage process is unique and personal, making the complicated process of site selection easy and fun. This app provides access to complex and powerful data without sacrificing usability or clarity.