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San Antonio Awards $15k Contract At Inaugural Datathon

Courtesy CivTechSA
From left: VIA's Steve Young, CPS Energy's Karen Kierwan, Livia Istrate, Radu Istrate, SAWS' Sree Pulapaka, SARA's Alex Rodriguez, Angel Investors' Cat Dizon, and COSA's Craig Hopkins.

San Antonio, it’s utilities and partners threw back the curtain on some of their data. The city’s first datathon concluded Sunday and was intended to find solutions through data on either transportation, sustainability or access to services.

Thirty-two groups submitted proposals to CivTechSA, the city’s startup engagement collaboration with Geekdom, during the three-day event. The list of teams was narrowed to seven who spent from Friday night to Sunday afternoon poring over datasets from the San Antonio River Authority, CPS, San Antonio Water System, VIA Metropolitan Transit and the city. At stake, a $15,000 prize and contract with the city to develop their solution.

“It’s about making our community better,” said Craig Hopkins, San Antonio’s chief information officer. “I think it’s a really big deal that not only the city but all the municipal agencies up there are willing to open our data up, share our time and talent because we want to be part of the community.”

Unlike other cities datathons, San Antonio agencies chose which datasets to share and focus areas for solutions. VIA has held two codeathons independently, but the effort is the first citywide effort to leverage big data in this way.

“The whole thing is a big proof of concept,” said outgoing CivTechSA manager Joyce Deuley. “No one really knew what to anticipate, and the fact we got 32 proposals with so many amazing things, and to whittle that down to seven was really exciting.”

Despite the limited datasets, the teams offered up a myriad of pitches Sunday afternoon. One was a proposal to better assist residents on homeownership costs to decrease foreclosures. Another wanted to use lots of water, power, and city datasets to visualize and forecast areas in distress based on current usage patterns.

Ultimately, a brother-sister team called Cool Connect took home top prize. Livia and Radu Istrate pitched a subscription service that automatically calls and texts users when power or water outages are occurring in their neighborhood. The messages could direct users using public transit to the city’s cooling centers during summer months.

“Our solution is really for seniors in those hot summer months,” said Livia Istrate, who works in healthcare.

The Istrates took home $2,500 with the option of developing the project with the city for a total of $15,000. Coding for civic problems had never occurred to either of them before the competition.

“I’m a software developer so I have experience with data but not really on the city level,” Radu Istrate said.,

Leveraging and engaging this community was one of the core attributes of CivTechSA when it was created by the city’s Office of Innovation.

“Honestly I don’t think it was about the prize money, I just think they wanted to give back,“ said Kate Mason Kinnison, San Antonio’s innovation manager. “Tonight is just an illustration of a lot of collaboration, hard work, and interest from our community to move the ball forward.”

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org