GovHacks 2013: Reflections on simPROVAL and a Start up Weekend

Though this event happened a few weeks ago, I feel it would be wise to document it here.

What is GovHack?

2013 Gold Coast GovHackGovHack is an event put on by the Australian government to motivate the public to build solutions to government problems.

The government is dealing with a problem in that they spend too much on solutions that don’t work so well. The idea of the event is to incentivize the public to solve problems by offering prises.

To me, it was exciting to see that at there where people coming together on the Gold Coast (which is a place I generally regard as full of surfers and babes, not techies) to explore building solutions based around open data. The prize money seemed interesting, but I didn’t really consider it to be a main motivating factor.

Attending GovHack

The event was a delight. We had food, beer and wine on the first night, breakfast-lunch-dinner for the whole weekend and on the last day another round of booze and snacks. This is all great because it allows you, as an attendee, to focus primarily on your objective, which is to win some prize money.

The thing that was so great about the event is to sit down for a weekend and build a passion project with people who are executing on ideas. Even if the “carrot on the stick” is to get a big check; to me it’s just great to be wrapped up in the entrepreneurial storm.

What We Made – simPROVAL

GovHack 2013 Gold Coast WinnerOver the weekend we made a “minimum viable product” called simPROVAL.

It’s essentially a tool that takes multiple spacial data sets (open data provided by government sources) and makes the selection and display of that data open to a query based on address. This data aids engineers and builders to select the proper building requirements when planning buildings.

That’s geek talk for; it makes it so you can get wind sheer building requirements by putting in the address in the iPhone app.

The hope would be to automate parts of the building approval process while simplifying the process and eliminating mistakes through an automated feedback system. Ideally, builders could just do their building approval from their phone and the form could be automatically sent to the council via FAX with a little simPROVAL logo on it. This would eliminate the cost of turning down many building approvals. It

We made this video to tell that story:

We’re happy with the results. We won.

Are You Getting Ready for GovHack?

Here are some resources I wish I had looked over before starting it this year:

What’s Next?

We won a start up incubator program at Silicone Lakes in Gold Coast, Australia. We just had another meeting discussing the challenges that arise from building a tech startup. The complexity that we are about to undertake is very interesting.

  • On the Same Track – We all have different assumptions as to what the project is
  • How to Begin – 
  • Who’s the Customer
  • Government – I avoid dealing with government as often as possible, but they are a potential customer of the service. It’s interesting that some of the team wants to discuss the product with government, where as I’d like to take the approach of building something for the day to day builder that makes it easier for him to interact with government. These types of questions are a challenge, because the truth is, no one knows the right answer.

Final Note

Starting a business is working the frontier. It’s the wild west where no one really knows what to do next because we are all existing in an ether space. The goal of the entrepreneur is to find solid ground in this vacum and build a house on it. It’s a fascinating challenge and I’m looking forward to continuing this “startup incubator.”

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