Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Atlanta announces first citywide 'Govathon,' hopes to spark collaboration among local startups

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2013 at 1:11 PM

Lets do this for the betterment of Atlanta, friend.
  • Argonne National Laboratory/Wikimedia Commons
  • 'Let's do this for the betterment of Atlanta, friend.'
Atlanta announced its first-ever citywide hackathon this week. It's called "Govathon" and will connect local tech startups with city officials in hopes of addressing some of Atlanta's needs.

The city will partner with Startup Atlanta, an initiative that's focused on entrepreneurial growth. Eloisa Klementich, Invest Atlanta's director of business development, says the "Govathon" will help foster what she says is becoming an increasingly cohesive startup community. In turn, those companies will be able to connect resources and work together on other projects down the road, well beyond these civic partnerships.

"It helps with the networking because these folks will meet other folks," she tells CL. "It will interconnect the resources that are needed. It's not the end-all-be-all solution but it's one piece of an important puzzle. It sends out the message that [Atlanta] wants you and we want you to grow your business here."

Klementich says various city departments including the office of planning and the department of finance, will submit ideas for needed improvements over the next week. From there, startups participating in the hackathon can choose projects that they want to tackle, including ones they can specifically pitch to respective city departments.

While certain restrictions, such as questions of legality, might prevent some ideas from taking flight, ongoing conversations between city officials and companies will help determine the best ways for startups to help Atlanta. One example would be seeing whether police reports - which as of now can only be obtained in person or through the mail - could be placed online.

"It's a new way to involve citizens and taxpayers and give them unique insights," says Scott Henderson, who helps oversee Hypepotamus, an "open-gathering workspace" in Midtown where startups can set up shop for free. "We can actually work better and faster, without going through the normal pitch process. Let's just have everybody [get] in the sandbox and build something."

Sonji Jacobs, a spokesman for Mayor Kasim Reed, hopes that Atlanta's burgeoning startup scene can generate ideas addressing a wide variety of the city's problems. That includes everything from some of the city's recent transparency woes to certain aspects related to crime, poverty, transit, infrastructure, and local engagement.

"We believe [hackathons] will be the cornerstone for sparking innovation, accelerating development and encouraging greater civic collaboration." Jacobs tells CL. We're going to use the growing tech community here in the city to find solutions."

The "Govathon" will take place at City Hall's old Council Chambers on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. and will continue overnight and into the following day. Participants won't get paid since they are "working for the good of the city and for fun," but "awesome prizes" will be showered upon those who can help Atlanta solve its woes. And if you're not a developer, that's OK - there's also a need for designers, subject matter experts, testers, and individuals with other skill sets.

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