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Winners chosen for 2014 AT&T Rochester Civic App Challenge

Rochester Business Journal
May 13, 2014

CityWhisk and Public Market Guide, Monroe County Edition, were grand prize winners of the inaugural 2014 AT&T Rochester Civic App Challenge.

The two-month “virtual hackathon” aimed to foster the creation of civic apps that served a community need and engaged and connected the community at large.

The winners were divided into two categories: those who created their app during the challenge, and those whose app was in existence at the start of the contest.

In the existing civic app category, CityWhisk is a travel itinerary app that works to put local businesses into the hands of their customers. The app was created by Marissa McDowell, a Rochester Institute of Technology graduate student and Jonathan Markowicz of Rochester. The duo took home $5,125 in prize money.

“It was a surprise,” Markowicz said. “We’ve always been trying to just get some traction to CityWhisk, so this is big for us because it feels like it gives us an opportunity to keep working.”

“It was awesome, there are so many different cool projects,” McDowell said. “Just to come and here (and see) what everybody else is doing was pretty fun. There’s a lot of cool apps that came out of this competition.”

In the new civic app category, creators Nick Evevsky of Webster and Peter Traeg of Greece took the top spot for their app Public Market Guide, Monroe County Edition. The app focuses on creating social media and event and venue information for farmers markets, including the Rochester Public Market. The pair was awarded $5,000 to continue their app’s progress.

Forming a civic-minded app in two months caused early ideas to deviate from original paths, Traeg said.

“What we wound up (with) is different than what we envisioned,” he said. “The initial thought was before you even get to the market you can see what vendors they have, when they sell out of something, and then we talked to the real people and they said to us half the vendors don’t even have a smart phone…We would be putting the cart before the horse.”

Through the early stages and future stages of the app, the importance is placed on locating value, Evevsky said.

“I think it offers value but I think the primary value is to bring folks in and understand what they actually have (locally),” he said. “The app will continue and hopefully I think our next goal is to actually publish the app. Right now it’s not in (the) state to actually put it out in the world.”

Winners were chosen from 23 entries. As the first competition of its kind in the area, AT&T Inc.’s expectations were met.

“I think the quality of the apps submitted ... speaks to the talent here in Rochester and explains why we chose Rochester as the site to pilot this whole challenge,” said Neil Giacobbi  AT&T’s public affairs director for New York City. “There’s a huge demand for app developers and programmers. Regardless of where you live you can make work for yourself and you can earn money making apps that travel over our network which is the whole point we’re trying to make.”

The RIT’s Media, Arts, Games, Innovation and Creativity Center played host to the awards ceremony and offered the community a chance to engage with the developed apps on a variety of computing devices.

Evaluating an app takes multiple forms, contest judges said.

“We could experience their app on the device they intended it to be viewed. Some of the judges actually would dig into the code behind the scenes so they could evaluate how well written is the app itself overall,” said Michael Riedlinger, program manager of technology commercialization for High Tech Rochester Inc.

The success of the contest sets a new standard,  RIT officials said.

“Everything that we did worked out really well. It’s not a matter of improving something that we did poorly, it’s a matter of thinking what else can we do to have impact,” said Andrew Phelps, RIT MAGIC Center director. “This is now the model. When somebody does something like this as a first step and its successful, people then look at that and say well that was important and I think that speaks well both to AT&T’s credit but also to the excellence of the Magic Center, RIT and our partners.”

Regional partners that supported the challenge included RIT, Digital Rochester Inc., HTR and HackUpstate.

AT&T reached out to Digital Rochester initially to kick start the contest.

“It was our first year so next year we’re hoping to engage more companies,” said Lisa Doerner, executive director of Digital Rochester. “(AT&T) did select Rochester first which is pretty cool. We’re very happy about that.”

The winners, by category, include:

New Civic App
Grand prize ($5,000): Public Market Guide, Monroe County Edition, created by Nick Evevsky of Webster and Peter Traeg of Greece. It contains social media, event and venue information on farmers markets around the county, including the Rochester Public Market;

Second place ($2,000): RShield, created by University of Rochester student Francis John Hinson and Princeton University student Andrew Jung-Ming Ng. It uses a laptop webcam to create an in-home or business security system;

Third place ($1,000): RocReport, created by RIT student Debjit Saha and Syracuse University student Ricky Laishram, to serve as a virtual marketplace for area contractors to learn about civic projects;

Honorable Mention ($500): Erie Canal App, created by Eric Harty of Gates. The app provides information on boat launches, locks and other features along the canal; and

Honorable Mention ($500): College Locator App, created by Nilay Yildirim of Henrietta and Gregory Sapio of Syracuse, which provides information on New York colleges, including institutional profiles, available scholarships, financial aid and cost details

Existing Civic App:

  • Grand prize ($5,125): CityWhisk, created by Marissa McDowell, an RIT graduate student and Jonathan Markowicz of Rochester, which allows the user to create an entertainment itinerary using information on a variety of businesses and attractions;
  • Second place ($2,125): Monroe Minutes, created by Timothy Duffy of Henrietta, an aggregator and indexer for producing meeting minutes;
  • Third place ($1,125): NextPlex Mobile, created by Nathan Henderson and Kyle Macey of Greece and Lail Brown of Rochester, which focuses on public events for entrepreneurs and technologists, providing a directory of civic and small business resources; and
  • Honorable Mention ($625): RHoK the Hood, created by RIT students Mihir Singh and Mike Nolan, which provides concise versions of information frequently requested through Freedom of Information law.

The event is expected to return next year, officials say.

“AT&T is committed to Upstate New York. We’re committed to continuing to build this partnership,” Giacobbi said. “Quite honestly I don’t think we could do any better than what we’ve done here today judging by the diversity of the winners and the apps that they produced. This was the whole story we wanted to tell so we’ll be back next year.”

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail service@rbj.net.


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