Data Biz

NEW: Report from South by Southwest

0 Comments26 March 2015

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This post originally appeared on the Center for Open Data Enterprise website.

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Last week I had the good fortune to moderate a panel at South by Southwest, the annual Austin gathering for the interactive, musical, and film communities. The structure of SxSW itself is a testament to how much these three worlds now overlap and how our visions of information and entertainment are being transformed by the day. The event still feels like a music festival at heart – but one with a more serious purpose as well.

SxSW Interactive has developed into an all-star event for anyone who follows innovation, technology, and government. Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, gave a keynote on how coders can help reshape American democracy. Eric Ries gave his latest insights regarding The Lean Startup – a book that has not only become a bible for entrepreneurs, but is also inspiring tech innovators in the federal government. In a first for SxSW, Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker swore in Michelle Lee, the new head of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Under Secretary of Commerce Mark Doms and former U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Nick Sinai shared their insights about federal and state government, data, and green energy. And government and innovation came together in a panel with Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Walter Isaacson (author of The Innovators), and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, a former Googler herself.

SxSW is an all-star event for anyone who follows innovation, technology, and government.

Our own panel got to talk about “Building Businesses on Open Government Data” to a great audience of about 70 coders, entrepreneurs, and government innovators, many of them from cities with vibrant open data programs. Jed Sundwall shared the impressive ways that Amazon Web Services now support both business and government, and previewed the announcement of their major new initiative to make Landsat data easy to access and use. Marc DaCosta, co-founder of Enigma Technologies, described how that innovative startup provides infrastructure and analytics for government data of all kinds, and outlined four business use cases: researching company public records, prospecting for companies of interest, modeling risk, and competing globally for contracts. Our last panelist, Ian Kalin, had to drop out at the last minute, but for the best of reasons: He had just been named the first Chief Data Officer of the U.S. Department of Commerce and was due back in Washington.

My own presentation gave an overview of our work at the Center for Open Data Enterprise and what we’ve learned about how open government data can be a key business resource. You can see my slides, with several examples of open data revenue models that we’ve found promising.

An important message: Open data businesses often serve social needs.

One of the most important messages, however, is that open data businesses often serve social needs as they’re achieving financial success. My first several slides are a visual narrative of Good Guide, the company that helps consumers and businesses buy products with information about their environmental, social, and health impact. Good Guide was founded by Dara O’Rourke, an environmental scientist at the University of California, Berkeley. The inspiration came when he was putting sunscreen on his four-year-old daughter at the beach one day and realized that he had no idea what was in it. (It turned out that the top-selling kids’ sunscreen had a chemical that’s been phased out in Europe and elsewhere.) That epiphany led to a review of all kinds of personal products that Dara’s family was using, and led from there to a company that now draws on more than 1,500 data sources to give consumers the information they need about the products they use.

SxSW embodies the concept of serious fun: A celebration of what’s new and exciting in all media, and a chance to explore solutions to social, governmental, and environmental challenges at the same time. I hope to be back next year with an update on how open data is contributing to more innovative and effective solutions.

Joel Gurin, President and Founder, Center for Open Data Enterprise

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