More than 30 designers, developers, coders and tech enthusiasts assembled last weekend in downtown Colorado Springs to compete in a challenge with but one goal: to serve the state’s business community.
March 21 marked the launch of Go Code Colorado, a challenge in which makeshift teams develop web-based applications designed to help entrepreneurs make more informed business decisions related to site location, competitive landscape, access to capital, higher education resources and business partnerships.
The inaugural statewide event was created by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office, in partnership with various agencies and industry sponsors (including Google), to create user-friendly interfaces for easier access to public databases and better understanding of socioeconomic trends.
Though similar programs have been organized in New York City, Chicago and San Francisco, officials say no such match has taken place on as grand a scale.
“This was the very first time a challenge like this has been attempted on a statewide level,” said Andrew Cole, Secretary of State Scott Gessler’s director of communications. “From the energy and enthusiasm we saw, this looks like a program that will just keep getting better. And I think other states will look to what Colorado is doing as a way to engage the entrepreneurial community while giving all businesses the tools they need to make better decisions.”
Teams in Colorado Springs, Denver, Boulder, Durango and Fort Collins competed deep into the weekend for the chance to advance to the state finals (beginning May 9 at Denver’s History Colorado Center) — but only two of each city’s fledgling tech firms will carry on.
In Colorado Springs, those companies are Local Sage and ConnectSpot.
“Colorado Springs was a great location to host Challenge Weekend,” Cole said. “They have a group of dedicated leaders … who helped harness the entrepreneurial energy of the community. The teams … created great apps that have the potential to help businesses across the state make better decisions with more information at their fingertips.”
The winners were among six teams in the region — ranging in size, speciality and demographic makeup — that spent copious hours developing their concepts at Epicentral Coworking, 409 N. Tejon St. Throughout the weekend, Epicentral served as a home base where teammates refueled with local food and drink while plugging away in a sea of laptops.
“It was really good and we really enjoyed it,” said Epicentral co-founder Hannah Parsons. “I think we really struck a good balance [with the number of participants]. It turned out perfect for this location.”
TechWise General Manager Jay Chesney, Colorado Springs Community Initiatives Manager Aimee Cox and FullContact’s Kip Chambers judged the six pitches and presented the results after the clock ran out Sunday night.
First-place winner Local Sage — comprised of team leader Scooter Wadsworth, Chris Bachicha, Karen Dunne, Jeremy Folds, Spencer Norman, Mark Rantal, Kyle Tolle and Chris Volpe — developed a software suite that uses public business and geo-spatial data to help business owners determine the best locations for their companies. Norman, a small-business owner himself [story on page 4], said that Local Sage will use a client’s criteria to create “actionable steps” and suggestions, rather than just offer organized data en masse.
“We want to tell businesses where to put their business and what to do when they get there,” he said. “Making good business decisions is hard. Finding the information you need to make those decisions is even harder. … We exist to help businesses make informed decisions using the data that matters to them.”
Representatives of ConnectSpot, which placed second, described the company’s application as one “that connects businesses for long-lasting relationships.”
Described as an online dating site or social network for businesses, ConnectSpot is a membership-based system that matches companies based on criteria with a star-rating system. The application is web-based and mobile-friendly, but the team plans to further develop the program for other platforms.
The ConnectSpot team, led by Colorado College graduate Daniel Castillo, also includes Scott Cink, Anthony Canino, Greg Walters, Bret Brander and John Franck.
In preparation for finals competition, the state’s 10 winning teams will continue to develop their products while undergoing business and technical coaching, mentor meetings and code review.
Stakes for the final challenge are $25,000 for first place, $15,000 for second and $10,000 for third — and Parsons said that an additional $5,000 will be thrown on top for any Colorado Springs victors. Ken Lund, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said that the first-place winner will also receive $250,000 through the organization’s Advanced Industries Accelerator Grant Program.
“The OEDIT has been an enthusiastic partner,” said Gessler, who added that the winning apps will be licensed by the state and placed on the SOS website for public use. “I think that is because they see the benefit in being able to better market the state of Colorado.”
Gessler said that the challenge not only will benefit the victors and those who use their products, but also will help foster a spirit of entrepreneurialism, collaboration and innovation throughout the state.
“I think this is bigger than the Go Code challenge itself,” he said. “I’m hopeful that not only will it help existing companies to further their businesses, but also launch new companies to use this data in ways we haven’t yet seen.”