Another Way to Start the Conversation


This past weekend in Seattle, the first ever government focused Startup Weekend was held in City Hall. It followed the usual Startup Weekend model of building a product over the span of just one weekend, but with a special emphasis on taking advantage of open data to build businesses that worked with government to provide a product or service to the public. Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, already a big proponent of open data, opened the event.

If you’re not already familiar with Startup Weekend, it’s an event series hosted worldwide in which enterprising developers, designers, and business experts come together, pitch ideas for businesses, form teams, and then get it done -- all in the span of a weekend. Come Sunday night, the teams present a demo of their product and their business plan in a pitch, and the best are selected as winners.

In this session, there was no shortage of ideas to fuse open data with private sector entrepreneurship, from web and mobile apps that engaged with arts and events data, to local community volunteer opportunities, socially curated legislation, and a directory for Seattle’s best locally grown businesses. WhichBus, a public transit trip planner that showed route safety based on crime data, tied first place with ArtRover, a mobile app that used geolocation technology and data on public art works to make the art of Seattle’s streets easier to access. The teams from these apps will meet with Mayor McGinn to discuss their business ideas. 

Participants proved their mettle at finding private sector solutions to public sector challenges, often under the mentorship of local government attendees, and in a shorter time than many who are familiar with the general timeline in the public sector might think possible. And while these businesses are not fully formed at the end of a weekend, some teams will stick together and keep working at it.

Zachary Cohn, facilitator of the event, noted Startup Weekend’s knack for bridging divides for common cause -- the Startup Weekend held in Gaza sparked business ideas that Israelis and Palestinians formed teams to work on together in easy accord, he said. With previous successes like that, bridging the divide between public data and private sector entrepreneurship was easy by comparison. And the teams that competed this past weekend demonstrated this, with great ideas transforming into great products in a very short amount of time.

Startup Weekend hopes to continue these open government workshops, including one coming up in Washington in June. We’re very supportive of their efforts and look forward to working with companies that grow out of these and other Startup Weekends in the months and years to come.