CALGARY – It’s not usually a good thing when you hear about people hacking into government data, but for 48 hours this weekend, students, entrepreneurs and amateur developers are being invited to comb through the government’s raw data online. The point? To come up with apps that can help everyday Canadians.
“There’s all this data that the government has been collecting forever and it usually—until a few years ago—it has just been collected then sat on government servers or in books doing nothing,” said XMG vice president of operations and marketing Patti Mikula, one of the event organizers. “So this effort by the government has been to make that data freely and openly available to everyone so it can be used for cool applications that will impact everyday Canadians’ lives.”
Besides connecting with venture capitalists who could help bring their product to market, the winning team could walk away with as much as $25,000 in cash prizes. And the organizers say Calgary was one of the first communities to provide a location for in-person participants.
“Such a strong response from Calgary,” said Mikula. “The community is very innovative and tech savvy.”
The Canadian Open Data Experience (CODE) is calling on all tech enthusiasts 18 and over to “hack together a solution” and create an app that helps Canadians using open data available on Open.Canada.ca. The event is kicking off at the University of Calgary’s Taylor Family Digital Library at 4 p.m. Friday as well as many other locations across Canada—and of course, online.
Last year, over 900 Canadians entered the contest, and the winning team included Carlos Saavedra, who’s still a student at Ontario’s University of Waterloo. He spent the first day of the 2014 competition doing research and thinking of what type of problem he and his partner could solve.
“I thought about my parents; my mom is from Poland and my dad is from Ecuador,” said Saavedra.
“I thought about their immigration experience and looking at the open data available, I told [my partner] Jason, maybe we could build something that could help immigrants before they even arrive and give them an idea of where they should live across Canada, based on their preferences and what the open data allowed?”
Saavedra and his partner created newRoots, which took data related to climate, labour industries, crime and unemployment rates, to provide city suggestions for immigrants moving to Canada. The project has since morphed into imminy, which goes a step further to connect immigrants to people and organizations like YMCAs, English training or settlement services. The new project will include video chats and immigration consultants through the online platform.
Saavedra is still a student at the University of Waterloo, but he’s taken imminy to the Laurier LaunchPad program with Communitech—a tech hub where many startups get mentorship related to marketing and business. He doesn’t have investors “yet” but is working with advisory boards from the provincial governments of Ontario, British Columbia as well as Citizenship and Immigration Canada.
His advice for this year’s contestants? Think big.
“Try to figure out: What do Canadians really need? And really try to solve a problem that can help not just a few thousand people, but millions of people within Canada and even around the world,” he said. “That’s the mentality that we took – we’re not going to just build another messaging app or anything like that.
“We thought big. We wanted to make our mark in the world and really help a lot of people doing it.”
The three categories for Canadian entrepreneurs, innovators and amateur developers to tackle this year are youth, commerce, and quality of life. Contestants will be judged on user experience, innovation, functionality and potential to go to market.
You can find out more on the CODE 2015 hackathon here and stay tuned for the list of finalists in the weeks to come.