The open data community is chock-full of do-gooders.
There are "open" data-driven applications that track government legislation in the US, tools that help calculate taxi fares in Bogota, Colombia, applications that track how tax payer funds are spent in the UK, the state of school sanitation in Nepal, and many more.
It's clear that innovators are out there and full of terrific ideas about how to help their fellow citizens by harnessing public data. The question is, how can more of these projects follow examples like GovTrack and transition from hobby to successful, sustainable business models? And while there may be technical talent out there, what about entrepreneurial skills? How many data rockstars out there also have the "courage to create a business"?
In June 2013, as part of the Latin America and Caribbean regional open data conference and the Abre LatAm unconference, the World Bank Group's Open Finances team organized a two day “Sustainable Business Models with Open Data” workshop in Uruguay. The goal was to offer entrepreneurs and innovators struggling with shaping their startup’s business model, opportunities to pick the brains of experienced investors.
The businesses and project teams who participated were impressive, and colleague Alla Morrison made a case for the opportunity for the World Bank Group and partners to support innovative open-data based businesses.
David Sasaki (Omidyar Network) and Pablo Brenner (Globant), investors who served as mentors in the workshop, shared advice with participants on topics like:
- What investors want to see:
- vision of product and customers: what will the customer pay for? how will they pay?
- focus of the product and on execution: not so much on fellowships or awards and contests won
- awareness of market and a level assessment about competition
- commitment beyond financial success (what are they trying to change?)
- team the talent and the management structure; willingness to listen and accept feedback
- business plan that reflects the team's strategy and thoughts towards growth
- Sources of funding:
- innovation funds, like Omidyar Network and AVINA's Civic Innovation Accelerator Fund , Knight Foundation Innovation Challenges
- venture capital, like Atomico and Sequoia Capital
- crowdfunding (including the limitations)
- Connecting and networking with the startup community, particularly in Silicon Valley
The advice was invaluable and at the same time, potentially overwhelming for innovators who are technical and creative geniuses, but aren't quite sure how to navigate the business side.
For innovators in Latin America, there is an opportunity kicking off on October 5 via Desarrollando América Latina , a regional apps challenge, with 12 participating countries. What's exciting about this challenge, is that it focuses on sustainability of the products and comes with a LOT of mentoring.
The projects are required to meet one of the three of their country's challenge themes (set by the local coordinators in each country, depending on both the relevance of the theme as well as the stakeholders and data available), and the teams must show collaboration with the stakeholders/data owners.
One of Chile's themes is agriculture, and local coordinator, Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente, is working with two institutes that form part of the Ministry of Agriculture - INDAP (Institute of Agriculture & Livestock Development) and ODEPA (Office of Agricultural Studies and Politics).
Pivota Brasil, and the teams will work closely with INEP (National Institute of Educational Studies) on one of their key themes of education.
On business model sustainability, 3 apps from the countries who are participating in this year’s mentorship pilot, will be accelerated locally with the support of the stakeholders as well as the coordinators. Then Socialab, a social accelerator in Chile, will then incubate the top 3-5 apps which come out of the mentorship pilot. Socialab will work with the teams for three months in a lean startup model, help with beta-testing, working with ground users, and help the projects connect with potential investors.
Through a partnership with Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology, Pivota Brasil is pursuing a model where the top app from Brazil (that goes through Socialab) will then have the opportunity to spend a month in Silicon Valley.
This type of support this challenge promises to offer seems very much in line with what the ‘Sustainable Business Models’ workshop mentors advised. I'm looking forward to following this thoughtfully designed series of opportunities and hope you'll join me in cheering on the teams of do-gooders. If you know of similar efforts in regions beyond Latin America, be sure to share!