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Open for business - open data gets serious

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Open data for business is suddenly the rage. The Economist calls it the new goldmine, the new open data policy released by the US government explicitly links open data with 'entrepreneurship and economic growth', a Capgemini report recently valued the impact of open data on the EU27 economy at 32 billion Euros in 2010, other estimates put the potential of open data in Europe at 180 billion a year, McKinsey valued health data alone at $350 billion annually - the numbers are eye-popping and 'no one has a clue what breakthroughs open data will allow'. The conversation around open data has definitely shifted beyond transparency, accountability, and civic engagement.

The best evidence for the potential of open data comes from weather and GPS data - open data from a time before the open data movement really took root. The recent surge in open data has only just about begun to produce commercial results - the health sector in the US seems especially ripe for open data based services. The biggest potential may however be in the developing world where mobile based Internet, open/big data, and the demand for new business services, especially from the so-called 'bottom of the pyramid' sector, may be creating the perfect storm for new businesses to emerge. There may be a genuine opportunity for entrepreneurs in developing countries to create new businesses based on open data that aren't just offshore services but that serve a new niche - as Ushahidi for instance does.

How do you kick start the open data for business movement in developing countries and create an ecosystem that entrepreneurs can tap into? The Open Finances team at the World Bank is taking a stab at the question at Montevideo, Uruguay on June 24-25 by bringing together entrepreneurs, mentors, and venture capitalists at a workshop to brainstorm business models and business ideas around open data. Among the questions on the table -

  • What business models have worked well so far in other countries? Do firms such as the Weather Channel, Garmin, or BrightScope offer a template that can be adapted in Latin America
  • What are the opportunities for new, local businesses - does open data offer any opportunity to connect people with data in ways that may not have been tried in the developed world? Does the proliferation of new types of data - especially mobile, social, and sensor data, plus new, reusable government (and sometimes even corporate) data - create new business opportunities. Is there a new M-Pesa out there
  • Are there new opportunities for social impact investing? Are there social enterprises out there that require greater access to capital from sources beyond the usual donors, and that have business models that could make them more sustainable than the usual CSO
  • What sort of services are new open data based businesses likely to need? Is there an ancillary industry that open data will eventually support
  • What kind of an ecosystem will open data entrepreneurs need? Is there an opportunity to develop innovative financing vehicles? Will this space need a new network of practitioners? Can entities such as the World Bank play a role in facilitating the growth of new firms in the region (and help grow jobs - a key focus area)

These are large but important questions and you can help answer them in several ways -

  • Join us at the event (register here) - it is free. Come especially if you an entrepreneur with a new business idea; we would love to see you there
  • Tell us about open data based businesses we should know about. Tweet with the hashtag #Data4Business, connect with us directly @WBOpenFinances, or write us at
  • Spread the word - we are just one of many groups trying to support open data for business; we need to work together

The event is part of the larger Regional Conference for Latin America on Open Data (supported by, among others, the World Bank open data team; please contact for more information about the broader event or follow them @WorldBankData) - definitely check out the agenda and speaker list there; it promises to be a fantastic event. See you there.


Prasanna Lal Das

Lead Knowledge Management Officer, Trade & Competitiveness

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