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2017 Idea Challenge brings nonprofits and tech community together

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The 2017 Idea Challenge, organized by the Technology Forum of Delaware, partnered local non-profit organizations with teams of entrepreneurs, students, and community members interested in innovative technology. The teams had three and a half hours to work out a rough draft of their idea.

The Food Bank of Delaware, Wilmington University, the Committee of 100, and Network Delaware, a new grassroots group launched by Eugene Young, formed this year’s line-up of organizations in need of a tech solution.

Armed with a PowerPoint and a podium, the teams presented their ideas before a panel of judges inside the 1313 Innovation Building. The challenge: increase access to food, job skills, community involvement or education by using technology in an innovative way. In addition, the competitors were asked to incorporate open data into their idea. Experts from Open Data Delaware, a group of civic-minded developers, joined each team.

“What I’ll be looking for is something that makes sense logically and would fit into a business plan in the real world,” said Janet Reed, a partner at Potter Anderson & Carroon and a returning judge, prior to the presentations.

The audience, through a text poll, chose the Food Bank of Delaware team, which proposed an app for matching surplus volunteers with surplus food supply. But the judges chose Network Delaware, which aims to engage community members around political issues outside of election years.

“We thought that they had the clearest connection between the open data the presentation,” said Greg Gurev, CEO of MySherpa and one of the judges.

Eugene Young formed Network Delaware following his defeat in the recent Wilmington mayoral race.

“We had a lot of volunteers who after the election, even though we lost, they wanted to get involved,” Young said.

The team proposed using “geo-fencing,” which is the concept of creating a virtual boundary around a geographic area, to enable useful data sharing within grassroots organizing. One member described the idea as a mix of Kickstarter and Netflix, in that users would be able to explore different programs and initiatives and then support them through the platform.

For now, at least, that’s as detailed as it gets. The goal of the challenge is to come up with a persuasive idea and acquaint people with the possibilities of technology.

“We had a pretty clear sense of the problems we wanted to address, but I had no idea of any of the tools most of the folks mentioned,” said Drew Serres, captain of the Network Delaware team. “Even if we don’t go any further than this, we have some tools and resources we can go back to.”

George Rotsch, an organizer for the event and a board member of Tech Forum, said the challenge aims to show how easy collaboration between the nonprofit sector and the tech community can be.

Both Network Delaware and the Food Bank of Delaware will have a chance to move onto Open Data Delaware’s National Day of Civic Hacking event in June, where a new set of teams will select a series of projects to prototype over a 48-hour period.

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