Go Code Colorado Looks to Reward Apps Built Around Government Data

Hey, hackers, the state of Colorado wants to talk to you—and maybe give you some money.

This week marks the start of Go Code Colorado, a competition sponsored by the state government. It is intended to reward teams of software developers for making apps that use public data collected by government agencies like the Secretary of State’s office. The state is offering the teams that make the best apps a share of $50,000 in prizes, in-kind services, and the chance to receive another $250,000 in grant funding.

Go Code Colorado kicks off Wednesday with a reception in Denver, but it begins in earnest on Friday with “challenge weekend” hackathons in Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Durango. Rally Software Development (NYSE: RALY) will host the Boulder competition, while SendGrid will host the Denver event.

Two teams from each competition will advance to the final round, scheduled for May 9 in Denver. The top three teams from that competition will win $25,000, $15,000, and $10,000, respectively.

The winners, organizers say, will be apps that make public data more accessible and user-friendly while addressing several issues that cause problems for businesses.

The government collects a lot of information about people and businesses—such as new business registrations—and much of it is considered to be a public record. That data can show important trends, said Brian Gryth, program manager of the Secretary of State’s Business Intelligence Center and a Go Code Colorado organizer.

“This is a really important resource the state has that we need to make available to folks,” Gryth said.

But there are a couple problems, according to Go Code Colorado spokesperson Elaine Marino. One is simply accessing the information.

“There’s a lot of data that the government sits on that is very inaccessible. It’s in PDFs, it’s behind firewalls,” Marino said. “This group is going to those government agencies and take the data, and … we’re getting cleaner data sets that are available to the business community and software developer community.”

Another challenge is making the data useful to people.

While Go Code Colorado is a state initiative, organizers understand they need software developers from private industry to make quality apps once the data is available.

“It’s one thing to house data. It’s another to make useable applications,” Marino said.

Gryth said that ideally, the apps will be compelling enough to become a tool for people who would usually not turn to public records.

“The reason we’re doing Go Code Colorado is because we recognize data is dry by itself. It is something only certain people are interested in,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is take that data we have and bring it to life through the challenge and have people who find data really interesting creating compelling applications that will help people who don’t want to sift through data.”

Go Code Colorado also turned to the private sector to learn what issues they should be addressing. Marino said more than 50 people attended a brainstorming session last year to figure out what challenges they should take on.

“We really asked what are the major issues facing small- to medium-sized businesses in Colorado,” she said.

Those issues turned out to be: selecting a site to open an office or business; analyzing the competitive landscape; finding access to capital; learning what higher education resources are available; and identifying business partners.

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