Startup Weekend Launches its GOV Initiative in Seattle

Mayor McGinn Kicks it Off

This past weekend Startup Weekend kicked-off it’s GOV initiative in Seattle.  The premise is simple: connect communities and governments to innovative and entrepreneurial people.  Startup Weekend has done such a great job of rallying these DOers over the years in order to solve persistent and pressing problems.

Mayor McGinn and representatives from the City of Seattle, King County and the State of Washington were on hand this past Friday to kick-off the event and thank everyone for spending their weekend thinking about how to use technology and think differently about improving their communities.

Crunching Data and Hacking Government

Team My Spot busy finding a better way to pay for parking

Over 100 developers, designers and entrepreneurs participated this event, which was held in Seattle’s City Hall.  This was my first ever Startup Weekend and I was excited to be a mentor and help the teams define their vision, compile customer validation and build their prototypes.  There were several other mentors there from both the public and private sectors.  A big focus of the weekend was data: the government has a ton of it, but it’s not necessarily being put to productive use.  Teams were challenged to take advantage of data that was currently being made available by companies such as Socrata. For governments who haven’t yet released data sets, teams tweeted the hashtag #needdatanw to request information.

Which Bus Makes Finding the Right Bus Safer and Easier

Gilad Gray and team tied for 1st with Which Bus

By the end of the weekend dozens of ideas had been whittled down to 10 teams that would present to the judging panel, which consisted of Bill Schrier (City of Seattle CIO), Kate Matsudaira (Decide.com), Bharat Shyam (State of Washington CIO), Greg Gottesman (Madrona) and Mike Mathieu (Front Seat).

I was fortunate to spend some time working with a team building Which Bus, an app that takes the best of Google Maps and One Bus Away providing a simple way to figure out how to get from point A to B in Seattle. Figure out how to use public transit, see which bus to hop on and when it’s expected to arrive.  A big theme of the weekend was accessibility and making sure that public services are available to as many people as possible.  Most apps and services require a web browser or smart phone, which excludes many of the residents of the State of Washington.  Once Team Which Bus decided to use Twilio for SMS notifications, it only took about an hour to implement, which caught the attention of Sol Villarreal, the community engagement director for the City of Seattle.

Thinking about technical solutions for government issues was new to me and my guess is it was new to many of the attendees of Startup Weekend GOV.  I’m really happy that I had the chance to attend and am looking forward to see this initiative roll-out to more cities and hopefully see some great solutions get some tractions and improve the quality of our communities.