2014 BigApps competition underway in NYC

Winners can take home more than $100,000 in cash.

If you have an idea for an app or gadget to improve New Yorkers’ quality of life and haven’t yet entered the city’s 2014 BigApps competition, it’s time to get moving.

The four-month contest aims to engage leading minds in tech, business and design to solve the city’s biggest problems. It was launched by the New York City Economic Development Corporation on May 7 and ends in September, with finalists chosen in mid-July.

Contestants have access to more than 1,100 public data sets, such as NYPD traffic numbers, along with dozens of application programming interfaces, and must use them to submit a beta project by July 12.

Last year, more than 500 people participated, creating more than 120 teams and more than 50 final products.

Available for winners is more than $100,000 in cash prizes, $200,000 in development-related perks, networking opportunities, promotions, and a deeper education into the city’s civic needs.

“The whole idea was, how do we use public data sets to improve the lives of all New Yorkers?” said Eric Gertler, executive vice president of the NYCEDC. “What this competition does, it rallies the tech community but it really does so for the betterment of New York City.”

How to enter

To enter the contest, visit NYCbigapps.com. Teams can submit an idea in four different categories: live, work, learn, or play.

Contestants can either aim to solve one of 30 BigIdea challenges already offered, or they can select “choose your own adventure” to pose their own NYC-centric problem and tech-based solution.

As of press time, 55 teams created pages on the BigApps 2014 site, 25 of which made progress on their ideas.

Teams can use the website and the contest’s BigBuild events, similar to last year’s “hackathons” — the second of which is on June 7th — to aggregate what they need to build their product.

This year’s contest

The 2014 competition is different in a few ways.

For example, contestants can submit connected devices, data tools, games and other technology products in addition to apps.

In terms of changes, Gertler pinpointed the four categories, the 30 BigIdea challenges and the civic partners and city agencies who posed them, including the Health Department, GrowNYC, Teach for America and the Trust for Governor’s Island.

“It is by far the most inclusive competition that we’ve ever held,” he said. “We really are including everybody and allowing the teams that compete and all the participants to find solutions for all challenges that come out of New York City.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife Chirlane McCray also posed BigIdea challenges for 2014. De Blasio, under the “live” category, is calling for technology to help achieve his Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities.

McCray’s “learn” idea involves providing mental health support for city students.

The benefits

Participants in this year’s competition will benefit from more than 80 mentors from city tech and civic organizations.

Winners from last year’s contest praised the experience.

Michael Conti, co-founder and director of business development at SolarList, an app that allows homeowners to get economic estimates for solar energy updates to their homes, said without the competition his app might have remained just an idea.

SolarList won $20,000, coming in first place in last year’s “cleanweb: energy, environment and resilience app” category.

The winners

In July, a panel of BigApps evaluators will choose 20 finalists.

While the 2014 judges were not announced as of press time, last year’s slate included Ariana Huffington, Tom Pinckney of eBay, and John Borthwick, CEO of Betaworks.

Those chosen will have the opportunity to make finishing touches on their products before the final judging event and award ceremony in September. Grand prizes will be given to four winning teams for the live, play, work and learn categories, along with up to five product prizes (web app, mobile app, connected device, data tool, and game/social).

Winners can use their prize money to further develop their ideas — whether through hiring more staff, paying for legal documents or adding on new features. In addition, their products and apps will be promoted.

In 2013 eight prizes were given to seven apps, out of 54 submitted.

Jocelyn Leavitt, whose app Hopscotch won $20,000 last year for “best lifelong learning app,” said she used her prize money to hold her company over until they were able to secure seed-funding.

Hopscotch is an iPad app for kids that lets users create their own games, animations and smaller software applications.

“The recognition from the contest I think was helpful,” she said. “It’s a high-profile thing, and it’s sort of nice to be recognized as the best education app. It shows from a quality perspective that we stood out.”

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