You want ME to judge an apps competition???

| Shelley Stern Grach

Center for Neighborhood Technology Urban Sustainability Apps CompetitionNothing brings a cold sweat to a person who works for a tech company (but is really a human being in disguise) than being asked to participate in an external program that focuses on Developers and Tech Innovation. That was my visceral reaction when two of the greatest guys in Chicago—Steve Perkins and Steve Philpott of Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) — asked me to be a judge for the 2015 CNT Urban Sustainability Apps Competition. Oh no, I thought, this will blow my cover! So I meekly said “yes” and started to sweat.

Boy, was I wrong!

For those of you who have never participated in a hackathon, or Apps Competition, the first rule of thumb is that real people participate in these events. It’s all about #hackingforchange and making a difference in our neighborhoods. As my colleague Adam has described in earlier blogs, CNT had a great, well thought out process to identify critical issues that could positively impact our neighborhoods and people’s lives. The actual Apps competition is truly the frosting on the cake of the experience.

And… did I mention the food? …pizza, subs, snack bars, muffins and lots and lots and lots of caffeine.

I had the pleasure to listen to presentations from eight truly terrific teams, who had worked (literally) day and night to put their ideas and prototypes/demos together. Each team was limited to only ten minutes for their presentations—although some of the more creative teams found ways to stretch their timeslots. Criteria for judging was developed in advance by CNT (so no cheating allowed!), and the judges were given a formal Score Card to fill out. My administrative control freak Type-A nature absolutely LOVED this approach. I instantly felt more at ease.

And did I mention the food…?

The Judges were asked to consider 3 key areas as we awarded points to each team:

  1. How the team summarized the concept, including name, problem or need statement, key features and how the Concept aligned with Urban Sustainability.
  2. The Demo of the prototype, including the interface, is the app easy to see, is the app “considerate of the User experience/easy to use (YEAH!), does it address the problem and does it work.
  3. Business Sustainability-will people use this app, will people benefit from this app, can this potentially be a real business and will it grow.

And did I mention the food…?

I realized I was in 7th Heaven, and that the approach to judging for an Apps competition was based on common sense, with a bit of business acumen thrown in. I’m all in! I can do this! Let’s rock!

Shelley Stern Grach and Stephen Philpott

Congratulations to all the teams who worked so hard and participated at the CNT Apps competition. In alphabetical order the teams are:

  • Black Genesis Project
  • Drek Beach (you really had to be there for this one!)
  • EmployABLE
  • Fresh Eats
  • Neighbors Create Neighborhoods
  • Purshable
  • Ridewitme

Urban Sustainability Apps Competition Winners

The presentations were terrific—full of passion and making our neighborhoods stronger, and many had direct impact on sustainability and making Chicago’s neighborhoods safer and stronger and easier to navigate. Many focused on erasing food deserts, and improvements for people with disabilities. The teams were a mixture of students and businesspeople, with lots of Higher Ed degrees (Law, Education, Spanish, etc.). And yes, there were also coders, and data scientists. But what was so impressive is that it was all so seamless. It was a highly motivated group of people devoting a weekend of their free time to build a better Chicago.

Urban Sustainability Apps Competition Winners

Special shout out to the Purshable team, which focused on reducing food waste. Their presentation used the City SDK, they had great analysis for targeting their market, developed a fee based business model, and are solving a huge societal challenge.

As the Competition finished, and everyone celebrated their accomplishments and new friendships, I realized…

No sweat!

And did I mention the food…?

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Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.