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Q&A with Daniel Huttenlocher, a BigApps 2015 Selection Committee Judge

Today we’re excited to talk to Daniel Huttenlocher, Dean and Vice Provost of Cornell Tech and one of our nine Selection Committee judges for this Wednesday’s BigApps Finals. Keep reading to learn about his responsibilities at Cornell Tech, his civic tech involvement, and why he supports the BigApps competition.




1. Tell us a little bit about what you do at Cornell Tech.

I am the founding Dean of Cornell Tech, the new graduate school for the digital age being built on Roosevelt Island. One of my most important responsibilities is leading the development of innovative education and research programs that weave together conventional academic disciplines with corporate and societal engagement and impact. We are growing rapidly, with about 160 full time graduate students and over 250 people overall, and more to come, currently in temporary space in Google’s building until we move to our permanent campus in summer 2017.


2. In what ways are you involved in civic tech?

I have been involved in technology and education for a several years, and at Cornell Tech we have active K-12 education activities as well as substantial civic engagement by our masters students. I have also been active in technology and education via work with nonprofit organizations.


3. Why are you excited to judge the BigApps finals?

One of the great advances of the digital age is that small teams can create new things with the potential to improve the lives of many people. The BigApps competition helps focus part of that creative energy on civically oriented products and services. I am interested in all possible such uses of technology.


Q&A with William Pence, a BigApps 2015 Selection Committee Judge

In the days leading up to the BigApps Finals on December 2, we’ll be chatting with several of our Selection Committee judges about their interest in BigApps and their own civic tech experiences. First up: William Pence, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Technology Officer at AOL. Read on to learn about his position at AOL, what he’s looking forward to seeing at the Finals, and his advice for all of our Finalists.


1. What you do at AOL?

I am responsible for all aspects of AOL technology and technology strategy, including infrastructure (owned and public cloud), internal IT, product development methodology, partnerships, and innovation (including management of our venture funds, university partnerships, and internal R&D). I am also involved in our M&A activities.


2. In what ways have you been involved in civic tech over the years?

I’ve been very involved in a number of mentorship programs, including YearUp, a Girls Who Code (I gave the commencement address to the class AOL sponsored last year), and AllStarCode. We are active in the NYC tech ecosystem as supporters of Cornell Tech and the Tech Council.


3. Why are you excited to be a judge for the BigApps finals?

I am very interested in seeing technology make government services more accessible, based on consumer-grade technology, and helping to drive insights by unlocking all of the data the city captures.


4. Any last minute words of wisdom to share with our Finalist?

Build the app you’ve always wanted. Solve a real problem that will help people navigate their lives in the city and help those who have historically not had access to take part and benefit from city services.

Announcing the BigApps 2015 Selection Committee Judges!



Team BigApps is thrilled to announce our all-star lineup of Selection Committee judges, who will select the winners of this year’s competition and award up to $120,000 in prizes on December 2nd. Please meet…



JOHN PAUL FARMER | Director of Civic Technology & Innovation, Microsoft

John Paul Farmer believes in the power of technology to fuel positive change throughout society. As Director of Microsoft’s Technology & Civic Innovation group, John leads company engagements with governments, non-profits, for-profits, academic institutions, startups, and civic hackers so that they can do more good together than they could apart. Key projects include the Civic Graph, Tech Jobs Academy, and Microsoft Translator.

Previously, John served as Senior Advisor for Innovation in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where he spearheaded President Obama’s government innovation agenda. Under President Barack Obama, he co-founded and led the Presidential Innovation Fellows program, which attracts top innovators and entrepreneurs from the private sector for focused tours of duty in government, in order to make game-changing progress on projects of national importance. Prior to Washington, John worked in the investment industry for Credit Suisse and Lehman Brothers, where he founded and built the Sports & Entertainment business unit from the ground up. He played professional baseball as a shortstop in the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves minor league systems, compiling a .344 career batting average. John holds an MBA with honors from the Graduate School of Business at Columbia University and an AB with honors from Harvard University.



BEN FRIED | Chief Information Officer, Google

I am a member of Columbia University’s School of Engineering’s Board of Visitors.

I graduated from Columbia College and worked for Columbia University for many years. While I was at Columbia, I did some early work on the original web software by NCSA and CERN.

While on a leave of absence from Columbia, I helped design and develop the Decision-Theoretic Scheduler for Heuristicrats Research, under contract to NASA. It was used by NASA scientists to schedule missions for their orbital observatories.

In 1994 I joined Morgan Stanley’s technology department, where I spent over 13 great years; in my last role there, as a managing director, I ran a group called Application Infrastructure, which was responsible for all technology for software development, electronic commerce and knowledge worker productivity: compilers, development environments, scm, build tools, vendor and in-house toolkits and frameworks for java, c++, and .net; in-house developed middleware, including real-time market data, soap messaging, high-speed pub-sub, and grid computing; testing; application hosting; configuration management, release management; application monitoring; all web and portal technologies and hosting, including the internet-facing infrastructure; document management, search, business intelligence, reporting systems, email, instant messaging, video conferencing, computer-telephony integration, web conferencing; and desktop productivity applications

In 2008 I left Morgan Stanley to join Google as its CIO.

I’m a member of the Association for Computing Machinery, and serve on the editorial advisory board of the ACM’s Queue magazine, which also comprises the Practice section of Communications of the ACM.

Other trivia about me: I was a UI and a head UI, and the staff liaison for the UIs after that, and a unix systems programmer, too, if those things mean anything to you. I used to spend a lot of time playing Ultimate Frisbee. But I have bad knees now, and only play occasionally. I’m also a partner in Fra’Mani Handcrafted Salumi, makers of the world’s finest cured meats.



DANIEL HUTTENLOCHER | Dean and Vice Provost, Cornell Tech

Daniel Huttenlocher is the Dean and Vice Provost of the Cornell Tech Campus. As Dean, he has overall responsibility for programmatic aspects of the new campus, including the academic quality and direction of the campus’ degree programs and research. Working with both internal and external stakeholders, he is tasked with developing strategic plans for the most effective ways of working with companies and early stage investors in New York City as well as overseeing the faculty recruitment and entrepreneurial initiatives of the campus.

Dean Dan has a mix of academic and industry background, from being a faculty member at Cornell for two decades, previously serving as the Dean of the School of Computer and Information Science and holding the John P. and Rilla Neafsey Chair in Computing, Information Science and Business to working at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and serving as CTO of Intelligent Markets. Dan’s technical interests are rooted in computer science, particularly computer vision, but he has worked in a number of other domains including autonomous vehicles (competing in the DARPA Urban Challenge autonomous vehicle race), and analysis of online social networks. He is broadly interested in how computing and communications technologies are changing the ways people live, learn, work and play.

Huttenlocher has also been recognized on several occasions for his excellence in teaching, including New York State Professor of the Year in 1993 by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and as a Stephen H. Weiss Fellow at Cornell in 1996. He has published a number of award winning scientific papers, was named a Presidential Young Investigator by the National Science Foundation in 1990, and was honored as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 2007. Beyond academia and the tech industry, Dan also serves as a Director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and of Corning, Inc. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and both his Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).



JENNIFER JONES AUSTIN | Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies

Jennifer Jones Austin, a child and family advocate, is Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), an anti-poverty, policy and advocacy organization with 200 member human services agencies operating throughout New York City. Prior to joining FPWA, Ms. Jones Austin served as Senior Vice President of United Way NYC; Family Services Coordinator for Mayor Bloomberg; Deputy Commissioner for the NYC Administration for Children’s Services; Civil Rights Deputy Bureau Chief for Attorney General Eliot Spitzer; and Vice President for LearnNow/Edison Schools Inc.

Ms. Jones Austin has chaired and served on several influential boards and commissions, including serving as Co-Chair of NYC Mayor de Blasio’s Transition, Chair of the NYC Procurement Policy Board, and Co-Chair of the New York State Supermarket Commission.  She is currently a Board Member of the National Marrow Donor Program, the New York Blood Center, the NYC Board of Correction, and the Fund for Public Housing.



JESSICA LAWRENCE | Executive Director, NY Tech Meetup

Jessica Lawrence is the Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup (NYTM), the largest Meetup group in the world, and a non-profit organization supporting the growth and diversification of New York’s technology sector. In 2013, she co-founded The Work Revolution Summit, a conference on the future of work. Previously, Jessica was the CEO of Girl Scouts of San Gorgonio Council in Southern California, where she supported a community of 75 staff, 5,000 volunteers, and 15,000 girls. Jessica speaks frequently on the tech sector, the future of work, and organizational development and culture at events such as PopTech, SXSW, and TEDx.



WILLIAM PENCE | Executive Vice President and Global Chief Technology Officer, AOL

As Global Chief Technology Officer, William Pence leads all aspects of AOL’s global technology strategy, platform development and external technology partnerships, as well as plays a key leadership role in the overall strategy and direction of AOL. He also leads the newly established Area 51, focused on synchronizing innovation efforts across AOL’s venture investments, incubators, university relations, and internal R&D. He is an accomplished leader in the digital technology industry with over 25 years of experience. William joined AOL in April of 2014.

Before joining AOL, William served as Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of WebMD from 2007 to 2014 as well as Chief Operating Officer of WebMD from 2012 to 2014. At WebMD, he led many cross-company initiatives that drove innovative new products, improved operational efficiencies and user experiences for consumers and advertiser partners. He also drove technology and corporate operations improvement through automation, cloud technology and data management systems. William was instrumental in mobile product efforts across WebMD’s properties as well as the company’s global expansion. Prior to WebMD, William served as Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President at Napster from 2003 to 2007. From 2001 to 2003, he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of pressplay, a Universal Music Group/Sony Music Entertainment joint venture, and from 2000 to 2001 he served as Senior Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Universal Music Group. Previously, William spent more than a decade at IBM.

William received a Bachelor of Science in Physics from the University of Virginia, and a PhD. in Electrical Engineering from Cornell University.



EUAN ROBERTSON | Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, NYCEDC

The New York City Economic Development Corporation is the City’s primary vehicle for advancing inclusive innovation and equitable development across  the five boroughs. As Chief Operating Officer, Euan leads NYCEDC’s Center for Economic Transformation, and the Strategic Planning group, and co-leads the Asset Management and Capital Construction divisions. Recently, Euan spent 17 months as the First Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Small Business Services, where he oversaw the launch and implementation of key initiatives including the Small Business First program and the City’s First Look initiative. Previously, Euan served as President and COO of the not-for-profit MaRS Discovery District in Toronto and as an Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the Center for Economic Transformation at NYCEDC. Euan holds an MBA from London Business School and an MA from the University of St. Andrews.



ANDREW SALKIN | Chief Operating Officer, 100 Resilient Cities

Andrew Salkin joins 100 Resilient Cities from New York City’s Department of Finance, where he was the Deputy Commissioner of Operations, managing more than 800 people and responsible for collecting $30 billion annually through real estate, business, and excise taxes, as well as parking summonses. In this role he improved efficiencies and customer service, including introducing web-based payment options. Previously he served as the First Deputy Commissioner of the Taxi and Limousine Commission, overseeing day-to-day operations of the agency, including the regulations of New York City’s medallion taxi fleet, livery vehicles, commuter vans and paratransit vehicles – comprising 50,000 vehicles and 100,000 drivers. Some of his hallmark projects included equipping taxis with credit card payment machines, and New York City’s Taxi of Tomorrow competition. During the transit strike of 2005, he developed and oversaw the implementation of the Transit Strike Plan that allowed for an additional 1,500,000 rides a day.

Prior to joining the Taxi and Limousine Commission, Andrew worked at the Department of Transportation as Lower Manhattan Borough Commissioner, the “Downtown Construction Czar,”  where he led the City’s efforts to balance the needs of residents, employees, and tourists of Lower Manhattan amidst the clean-up, construction, and rebuilding post-September 11.

Andrew holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse University, and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



MINERVA TANTOCO | Chief Technology Officer, The City of New York

Raised in Flushing, Queens, Tantoco is a product of New York City public schools. She attended Bronx Science High School and while still in college, moved to Silicon Valley where she co-founded technology startup, Manageware, Inc., which was successfully sold five years later.

Since her artificial intelligence software startup in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, Ms. Tantoco has led emerging technology initiatives including artificial intelligence, e-commerce, virtualization, online marketing and mobile applications. Ms. Tantoco holds four US patents on intelligent workflow and is a speaker and author on mobile, security, big data, and innovation. As Senior Product Manager at Palm, Tantoco pioneered mobile enterprise solutions in the early 2000s which helped pave the path in mobile technology, developing and deploying some of the world’s earliest mobile applications. As Chief Architect at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Tantoco led the re-design and implementation of the company’s Investment Banking data warehouse, a project that mirrors many of the City’s big data and analytics initiatives.

Ms. Tantoco most recently served as APAC CTO for client-facing technology and innovation, with regional responsibility for the Asia Pacific region. She currently holds 4 US patents in artificial intelligence and workflow systems. Tantoco lives in Greenwich Village and has one daughter.

Meet WeIntervene, Winner of the BigApps Battlefield

BigApps Demo Day Battlefield winner, WeIntervene

On November 1, WeIntervene was named a People’s Choice winner at Demo Day and went on to win the BigApps Battlefield. WeIntervene is a case management and search platform for school guidance counselors and other City employees to improve speed and effectiveness of service delivery. Before the Civic Engagement project competes at the BigApps Finals on December 2, we chatted with Natasha Green, the creator of WeIntervene, about her experience at Demo Day and the BigApps participants she’s excited to see at the Finals.


1. Please tell us a little bit about your project, WeIntervene.

My project was an idea I had when I was a Dean of Discipline at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx. I wanted to create a complex tool that would allow Deans to give students an infraction (code for “unruly behavior”) and, after they were given an infraction, the tool would automatically suggest a service that could be considered guidance intervention.

As I thought more and more about the project, I realized I had to start at the simplest level possible. That simple idea is now called “WeIntervene”.  WeIntervene contains a database of services that can help students and families academically or socially by allowing school counselors to find, share, manage and monitor referrals shared with students and families.

Our early focus was on educational institutions, but any organization that finds itself sharing information about services in their community can use this tool.  If organizations want a way to manage and maintain those services, they can use WeIntervene.


2. What were your expectations going into Demo Day on November 1?

I only hoped to get into the finals for the NYC BigApps competition. I believe my app can make a difference and change the lives of many individuals for the better.


3. What was your first reaction upon learning that WeIntervene was the winner of the BigApps Battlefield? 

I squeaked! I knew I had a strong performance, but you never know if you’ve won until your name is called.


4. The Civic Engagement Challenge is our largest category of Finalists. If you weren’t participating, which project would you be most excited to see win?

Addicaid or Benefit Kitchen. We’ve all participated in the New York Tech Meetup Women in Tech event together, so I know them and will cheer for them also.


Check out the complete list of teams advancing to the BigApps Finals here.

Congratulations to the BigApps 2015 Finalists!

Team BigApps is thrilled to announce this year’s BigApps Finalists! This elite group – selected by industry-leading evaluators and our network of Challenge partners – will move on to the BigApps Finals and Awards Ceremony on December 2nd to compete for $120,000 in prizes and invaluable post-competition support from our sponsors and Challenge partners.

First, a big thank you to our amazing 40+ Semifinalist teams for attending, pitching, and demoing at BigApps Demo Day on November 1! We were incredibly impressed by the high caliber of projects that sought to solve New York City’s toughest challenges through tech, and very appreciative of all the hard work and dedication that our teams have put in over the past four months.

And now the moment you’ve been waiting for: the BigApps finalists are…




Affordable Housing

  • Affordable Housing Online | NYC – A web- and mobile-enabled search platform for affordable housing
  • JustFix.nyc – A tool for renters to organize and take action in getting repairs made in their apartments
  • NYCHousingMap – A portal that maps City- and State-financed apartments and (based on input from managing agents) lists the building’s vacancy status
  • PadRanker.com – A website that ranks multifamily property managers based on portfolio composition, average violations per unit, average response times, and other metrics

Zero Waste

  • Buymeby – An app that allows food-sellers to post – and users to access – discounts on food based on expiration dates
  • Recycle:It – An app that uses barcodes and RFID tags to help users locate the nearest recycling location for specific items, and helps municipalities, property managers, homeowners and tenants to track their recycling
  • RISE – An online marketplace that connects buyers and sellers of waste products so that companies can reduce costs and eliminate waste
  • Treasures – A mobile app that allows you to share objects with others in your community

Connected Cities

  • BreatheNYC – A real-time air quality map of New York City that uses city vehicles (e.g. buses, Citi bikes, taxis, etc.) as sensors
  • CityCharge – A solar-powered charging station for public spaces that uses Bluetooth and beacon technology to gather environmental data and act as a wi-fi hotspot
  • Knodes – A network of low-cost, solar-powered sensors and e-paper monitors that helps cities “listen” to their environment, and “speak” to the public
  • SONYC* – A system to monitor noise pollution, provide an ongoing description of acoustic environments, broaden citizen engagement in noise reporting, and enable agencies to take action
  • SQUID – A low-cost sensor and data platform to measure street surface quality in an effort to help the city better respond to potholes and other street defects

Civic Engagement

  • Addicaid – A digital support network that helps individuals struggling with substance disorders enter and stay in recovery
  • Benefit Kitchen – A benefit screening tool that low-income families can use to learn about the public benefits they’re eligible for
  • IssueVoter – A nonpartisan, end-to-end constituent engagement tool for busy Americans to weigh in on important policy questions and monitor their representatives’ records
  • Simpolfy – A platform that allows users to define their political positions based on influencer groups, and tracks elected officials’ voting records based on those positions
  • SpalChat – A mobile platform to connect NYC school parents with schools to enable efficient collaboration and communication
  • Subnodes – An open-source network of Raspberry Pi-enabled sensors that serve as wireless access points for distributing content, media, and shared digital experiences
  • Voice Polls – An online voting platform meant to increase participation in and inform electoral campaigns
  • WeIntervene – A case management and search platform for school guidance counselors and other City employees to improve speed and effectiveness of service delivery


* Indicates that a team is competing under BigApps Pro status. 


A big congratulations to all of our Finalist teams! Keep your eye on your emails and on BigApps.NYC for more updates on events and resources for the final month of the competition, and to see who takes home our Grand Prizes on December 2!

Announcing the BigApps 2015 Semifinalists!

A big thank you to all of the 110 teams that submitted their projects to BigApps 2015! We appreciate your hard work and dedication to leveraging the power of technology to solve some of New York City’s toughest challenges.


It was a tough job, but we did it–Team BigApps has selected the most promising teams to move on as Semifinalists in the competition and pitch/demo their projects at Demo Day on November 1.



The BigApps 2015 Semifinalists are…


Affordable Housing


Zero Waste


Connected Cities


Civic Engagement




* Indicates that a team is eligible for more than one challenge category.


Make sure to swing by BigApps Demo Day on November 1 from 12-5PM at the Made in New York Media Center by IFP! You’ll have the chance to hear pitches, see demos, and vote for your favorite teams to advance on to the BigApps Battlefield, where they’ll compete head-to-head for a cash prize and an automatic spot in the Finals. We’ll also have demos from our sponsors, food, music, and more! Click here to RSVP.




[EVENT] BigApps Demo Day on November 1



The projects are in – it’s time to meet our teams and cast your vote!


BigApps Demo Day – NYC’s largest civic tech expo – takes place on Sunday, November 1 from 12PM to 5PM. Hosted at DUMBO’s Made in NY Media Center, Demo Day is an all-out celebration of all things tech, featuring:


  • Live pitches and demos from the top 50 BigApps teams across the four Challenges and wildcard track. Get a front-row seat as evaluators help decide who gets to compete for over $125,000 in cash prizes in the BigApps Finals.
  • “People’s Choice” public voting. Cast your vote for your favorite project. The top five teams will move on to the BigApps Battlefield.
  • BigApps Battlefield. The top five “People’s Choice” teams will go head-to-head and pitch to a panel of industry-leading judges to win a $5,000 cash prize and an automatic spot in the BigApps Finals.
  • …And more! We’ll be announcing more pieces of the event in the coming weeks on this page, so keep checking back!


Come celebrate the amazing work that our project teams have put in over the past four months into solving NYC’s biggest challenges: affordable housing, zero waste, connected cities, and civic engagement!


REMINDER: Team BigApps will select the top 50 submissions to pitch/demo at Demo Day. If you are selected, you MUST attend in order to be eligible for future stages of the competition. All teams will be notified by Friday, October 23 of whether or not they have been invited to Demo Day.


Click here to RSVP.


What: BigApps Demo Day

When: 12:00PM – 5:00PM  |  Sunday, November 1, 2015

Where: Made in NY Media Center  |  30 John Street  |  Brooklyn, NY 11201

Meet a BigApps Mentor: Outworking the competition with Brian Shimmerlik

Meet BigApps Mentor Brian Simmerlik

Brian Shimmerlik (find him on Twitter at @ShimmersAtStern and @VengoLabs) is a winning BigApps alumni and two-time BigApps mentor. Today we’re asking him about his experience as a both a competitor and a volunteer mentor.


1. What’s your area of expertise?

As the co-founder & CEO at Vengo, my expertise is business development, strategy, fundraising, marketing & early-stage management.


2. Tell us about your experience as a NYC BigApps 2012 participant.

The Next Idea Competition was a game changer for Vengo. We won “NYC Next Idea 2012″ and ended up on the inside cover of the NY Post the next morning. We even made Drudge Report!


3. This is your second year as a BigApps mentor. Why do you volunteer?

I want to share my experience to inspire BigApp-licants to work as hard as they can to win the competition. I love volunteering to help young startups to develop their businesses. I’ve been working closely with one applicant so far with whom I’ve been so impressed.


4. Any tips or suggestions you’d like to share with this year’s participants as they get ready to submit their projects?

Outwork the competition! Make as much progress as you can talking with customers and proving out demand for your product. Don’t start building the product you want before you know if your customers will benefit from the product. Once you prove that out, start building.


Don’t forget to submit your completed project page by 11:59 PM
on Wednesday, October 14! See our FAQ for full submission instructions.

Meet a BigApps Mentor: Talking entrepreneurship with Arthur Tu

Meet a BigApps Mentor: Arthur Tu

Today we’re  to introduce Arthur Tu, a tech entrepreneur and mentor for this year’s BigApps competition. In this Q&A, the 2012 BigApps alum shares a valuable tip for participants building their projects.

Submission deadline: Completed BigApps projects pages are due 10/14

1. What’s your area of expertise?

I am a tech entrepreneur with specialization in user experience and artificial intelligence, and focus on educational technology. I’ve founded two companies so far, one (LearnBop) is an adaptive learning platform company that was acquired, and the other (Elemental Path), an AI-powered smart toy company, is launching its product right before Christmas. I will also be working with a third team to launch a technology-oriented micro-school.


2. Are you a BigApps alum?

Yes, LearnBop participated in BigApps in 2012, but we didn’t win.


3. Why did you volunteer to be a BigApps mentor this year?

I really like the mission of BigApps and would like to make my expertise available to other founders who are passionate about social good.


4. Any tips or suggestions for this year’s contestants?

Talk to your potential users as much as possible. If you can learn from a mistake without building anything, that is the cheapest lesson you can sign up for in the school of entrepreneurship!

Meet a BigApps Mentor: 3 tips for participants from Sanjay Seth

BigApps Mentor: Sanjay Seth

Today we’re happy to introduce you to Sanjay Seth, a researcher at Regional Plan Association (RPA) and a BigApps 2014 alum. The first-time mentor discusses his involvement with the civic tech competition and the three things this year’s participants should be considering as they prepare to submit their projects.

Reminder: The NYC BigApps 2015 submission deadline is October, 14!

1. What’s your area of expertise?

RPA is an urban policy think-tank focusing on long-term planning for the future of the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area. At RPA, I work on a wide range of topics – from natural resources and economic development to technology and open space – at both a local and regional scale.


2. Are you a BigApps alum? 

Yes! I participated in BigApps last year. I had a great experience. Through the networking events, a couple of us formed a team and worked on IBM’s challenge. We eventually built a prototype urban simulator. Although our idea ultimately wasn’t a good fit for the competition, it was a great experience and brought me into the BigApps community.


3. What has your experience been like as a BigApps mentor? 

Last year, our team had a great mentor from IBM. He connected us to resources, shared his advice, and offered suggestions on how to improve our ideas and pitches. (Thanks, Steven!) I wanted to be a mentor for BigApps to support the community’s growth and to get to help shape several great ideas in this year’s competition.

The teams that have been reaching out have been exceptional. Almost all of them have been working together prior to the competition – and it shows. The quality of the submissions have been great. I have been mentoring several teams and offering them opportunities to present their work – and I’ve definitely enjoyed the experience myself.


4. Any tips or suggestions you’d like to share with this year’s participants as they get ready to submit their projects?

Definitely! First, focus on the connection your idea has to the physical world. Make sure the connection to the real world is explicit in your pitch and your product.

Second, be really useful. (This one seems a bit obvious, but you would be surprised.) Focus on your audiences’ pain points and really try to understand them before you offer a solution.

Third, be very clear about the audience for your pitch and for your product. Know the general policy framework surrounding your idea. And ensure it is scalable to the entire city – or even the region!