TECH TALK

Civic hacker honored by White House, other news

 

ndahlberg@miamiherald.com

When you speak at the White House at age 22, what do you do for an encore?

Last week, the White House honored 15 leaders from around the country — including Robert Davis of Cooper City — as open government and civic hacking “Champions of Change.” These honorees build high-tech tools to help health and safety workers better serve communities, pilot programs to involve traditionally disengaged communities in local governance, and use new technologies to enhance government transparency, the White House said.

Let’s meet our local honoree.

Davis, a recent Nova Southeastern University graduate, is co-founder of RadSocial in Cooper City, a social media consultancy for small businesses, and works part-time at Broward College. But after hours he’s a civic hacker, helping to create tools to mine government data for the public good. He also interned at Code for America in San Francisco last year.

The Code for America internship stoked a passion for civic projects that was already burning since he was in student government at Broward College, he said. When he returned to South Florida after the Code for America internship, he wasn’t sure if he’d find a civic hacking community. But he attended the Knight Foundation’s IdeaJam in the spring, and signed up for the Hack For Change: Miami hackathon at the LAB Miami in June.

For that 24-hour hackathon, he and Cristina Solana, a local developer, created the Florida Bill Tracker, forked from the MinnPost and redeployed to easily track Florida legislation. Davis had been thinking about developing the bill tracker for a few days before the event — he even found out that the MinnPost’s creation was developed by a fellow Code for America alum — and said he went to the local hackathon wondering if he’d find someone to team with.

“I’m not a developer, I just saw the idea, and when I spoke to Cristina, she was this developer ninja, and said we can do this, we can do that,” said Davis, who met Solana for the first time at the event. “That’s why I like civic hacking — it creates this cross community collaboration.”

After the hackathon, Davis and Solana finished up the Tracker and hope to integrate it with major media platforms, said Solana, who is also passionate about civic hacking.

Davis said he is happy to report that there is a strong civic hacking community growing in Miami. Each Monday night at the LAB Miami, the Code for Miami Brigade gets together and he attends as often as he can (sometimes using Google Hangout from Cooper City). He’s working on starting a Code for Broward Brigade.

The White House Champions of Change program is part of President Obama’s Winning the Future Initiative. Last year, Susan Amat, founder of Venture Hive and co-founder of The Launch Pad, was named a Champion of Change for outstanding leadership in entrepreneurial mentoring, counseling and training.

Startups on stage

LiveNinja rocked the pitch and took home the honors at Startup World held at Venture Hive last week. LiveNinja will be competing against 20 other cities in North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa later this year in a global Startup World competition for the title and a host of prizes.

LiveNinja created a platform to help people create jobs instantly for themselves — fitness instructors, developers, guitar teachers, yoga instructors, fashion experts, etc. “It’s a real time video chat monetization platform in the marketplace. We allow you to sell the skills you have... and we help you get clients from around the world in real time,” pitched CEO and co-founder Will Weinraub.

LiveNinja — now a team of six in Wynwood — launched late last year, has raised $500,000 in seed funding, and recently relaunched on a much more advanced platform. LiveNinja now has more than 1,000 experts on its site, is preparing to release an iPhone app and will soon be able to allow experts to host large group sessions and webinars on the site.

Eleven companies in total pitched to a packed house. The semifinalists were all winners too because they were chosen from a pool of more than 100 applicants, said organizer Hermione Way of Startup World, a nonprofit that promotes entrepreneurship in emerging tech markets. The other semifinalists were: WedWu, clearCI, Fly In Style, Raw Shorts, WeRX, Tabber, Do You Remember, Groupflix, Mobicon and MunchkinFun.

Funding news

Miami Beach-based SafetyPay recently closed a $7 million round of funding from IFC, a member of the World Bank Group. Through its secure payment system, SafetyPay gives people in Latin America access to the lower prices and increased efficiency of online commerce. Led by CEO Manuel Montero, SafetyPay currently has partnerships with 84 banks in Latin America and is active in Mexico, Costa Rica, Brazil, and Colombia.

Tri-county collaboration

In a region plagued by fragmentation in the past, South Florida seems to be pulling together to build a tech community. Last week, economic development chiefs — CEOs Robin Reiter of Miami-Dade’s The Beacon Council, Bob Swindell of The Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, Kelly Smallridge of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County and Diane Sanchez of Technology Foundation of Americas, along with other key leaders from their organizations — met to discuss marketing South Florida’s tech businesses and emerging hub and developing a common database for companies, job listings, events and more.

Send your startup news to ndahlberg@miamiherald.com and follow me on Twitter @ndahlberg

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