It’s 101 degrees outside and most of Dallas is seeking refuge from the usual heat in the usual ways: at the pool, mall, movies or the museum. But I’m here at the “DEC” (the Dallas Entrepreneur Center), a collaborative office space on the second floor of a renovated red brick building in the West End historic district. Here with me are about 50 developers, entrepreneurs, and similarly switched-on types who are passing the day designing apps.
The hackathon is part the NTx Apps Challenge, a three-month app development competition designed to generate innovative software-based solutions and companies to make North Texas more livable and sustainable.
The Challenge is organized around five major verticals: water, waste, energy, transportation, and the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Over the course of three months, teams of coders, developers, designers, and entrepreneurs will work to develop web and mobile applications that address specific issues within those verticals.
“Need is the mother of all invention and the NTx Apps Challenge offers us an opportunity to engage fresh thinkers to develop unique and innovative solutions to solve regional issues,” said Robert Kent, Director of Public Policy for the North Texas Commission and NTx Apps Challenge co-founder.
“In addition to developing solutions, we are engaging and supporting entrepreneurs and keeping the region strong in technology.”
As 101-degree days become the new normal, I was grateful to meet a group of North Texans interested in using their tech savvy to help stave off the negative effects of a warming planet. Trying to get a handle on the hackathon culture, I started by asking a few participants what brought them here.
“I like to keep up my skills,” said Toi Wright, a web developer and president of One Stop Designs. “Things are changing so fast.”
“I think people enjoy coming to these for support. I have mentors, that’s how I get better,” said software developer and IT operations manager Bill Deihl, who also runs a user group for developers.
Another group that included employees of TI and the City of Dallas put it like this: “It’s not just a hackathon. We’re a group of people coming together to make a cultural change.”
While everyone I talked to was stoked about the opportunity to give back, the $80,000 in prize money doesn’t hurt, either.
Each winning submission receives a prize package including $10k cash upfront and an additional $10k in follow-on funding for continued development and work on the app. Each winning team is also paired with a local app development, marketing or creative agency to help polish their product and help bring it to market, and six months of desk space at a local co-working place.
Major prizes for each vertical are sponsored by Dallas Water Utilities, Dallas Sanitation Services Department, Gemalto, Garrett Boone, and the North Texas Commission.
NTx Apps is the first app challenge of this scale in Texas, and is modeled after several successful programs in New York City and San Diego. The Challenge features five major events. Submissions are due by October 6, with the Awards Night program to follow later in October. Winning teams get to pitch their creation in a special showcase in November hosted by Dallas New Tech.
“The Cleanweb Initiative has worked in over twenty countries with thousands of entrepreneurs to spur on the successful application of web and mobile technologies to solve resource challenges,” says Blake Burris, CEO and Chief Hacktivist for The Cleanweb Initiative and NTx Apps Challenge co-founder.
“We are thrilled to be applying those principles here in DFW to help local entrepreneurs tackle the big challenges our region faces, while helping create the next North Texas start-up success story.”
These are the moments I want to remember next time I get that look. You know the one. It happens when that ‘cultural creative’ or ‘change agent’ from somewhere else regards you with a frozen smile, blank eyes, and nodding head, as if to say, “I’m trying to look like I appreciate where you live, but based on what I think I know about Dallas, I consider it irrelevant.”
Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. As one of the most significant users and generators of energy, including renewable energy, Texas is ultra-relevant. And from what this event demonstrates, this region is also a potential hotbed for sustainable innovation.
Where the greatest problems are, you’ll find the greatest solutions. Dallas has its share of innovators. They’re usually hiding in plain sight. You just have to know where to look. For the next three months, the space to watch will be the NTx Apps Challenge.
Hackathon image via wired.com