NEW YORK—Winning the grand prize in the 2012 NYC BigApps contest was only a beginning for Filipino tech startup founder Joel Natividad. A year later, in the same prestigious app award-giving body that honored him, he and his eight staff quietly launched pediacities.com in the presence of Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has been seen grinning from ear to ear these days because New York has emerged as the fastest-growing tech city.
As we know, information is created from data, but we are experiencing information overload. It’s time for some housecleaning. It’s time to organize, collect and curate it, which is what Meta Data can do—segment data into categories that makes sense for us, to our lives or purpose. The data is there, we just want data to present itself better. Open Data is what should be readily available public data.
What Pediacities has going for it is how New York has granted the data company access to the city’s resources. Short of saying Pediacities has received a haystack of data to work on, it’s found the needle to help curate it all for us—rivers of data, as Natividad likes to call it.
Currently in its early stage, Natividad’s winning idea, pediacities.com, envisions a platform for New Yorkers to understand how big data is really useful in people’s lives. For now, you’ll find basic information about education, housing units, jobs, restaurants and tourist attractions on his site.
Data you can use
Later, you’ll find more essential data like the one it recently generated—that the most number of 311 complaints in my neighborhood was about high energy bills. People will be able to feed data to Pediacities the way they post entries on Wikipedia, and it’ll be served up back to you in a more useful way.
Can you call data good, bad or ugly? With the controversy surrounding the alleged snooping of the National Security Agency on our phones and Internet habits, people have a right to be skeptical how data is used and for what purpose.
Natividad assures that Pediacities is “for the people. It’s a tool that you (as a journalist) and consumers can use (to find out more about the city and your elected officials).” Data-informed journalism, here we go, and while we’re at it, think how this could root out corruption anywhere.
Where the Philippines can calculate Manila’s traffic’s toll on productivity (about $3 billion in 2001, according to the National Center for Transportation Studies), imagine how data can also root out corruption, poverty and other problems pointed out by its citizens with a little help perhaps from international non-profit organizations.
Last March, the World Bank with non-profit DataKind, hosted a data event that gathered 150 data scientists and civil “hackers” in accomplishing one goal—how to reduce the serious problems of global poverty and corruption through data. This is what Natividad’s pediacities.com could bring to the table.
Inspired by original data geek
Natividad came to the United States from the Philippines in 1991, fresh out of college with a Computer Science degree. “I went to the States because life was hard back then in the Philippines.” Here, the challenge is different. Life may afford more comforts, but getting a job you want is not easy.
Natividad said he did grunt work for many years. Then three years ago, he tried to convince the company he worked for to support him and his Pediacities co-founder, Sami Baig, with an idea. When he didn’t get the support, he and Baig joined the NYCBigApps contest. A week after winning, Natividad quit his job.
“I realized I was not getting any younger,” the 43-year-old Pinoy founder said. He draws inspiration from “(Mayor) Bloomberg, the original data geek.”
Natividad is talking about Bloomberg’s own tech journey—and how he formed his terminal for financial news the day after he was fired. He has always been thankful for being fired. Today, Bloomberg has a net worth of $27 billion, making him one of the top 10-richest persons in America. Not bad for someone who was ignored by Wall Street.
This is what resonates with Natividad. Even better is how Bloomberg’s support of the tech industry has inspired him. “Everybody’s talking about Big Data. Who’s the producer of Big Data, government?! So I decided to become the Bloomberg of Open Data,” he said.
Natividad has come a long way from “being a son of civil servants.” He recalls growing up in the Philippines where young people were raised and educated to work for a multinational, not to become entrepreneurs. “I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. Teaching entrepreneurship is key.”
Natividad took a year and a half to bootstrap his idea. “Getting financing was tough. We spoke with several venture capitalists. We were able to raise half a million from friends. They don’t even have a technology background.”
This year, Natividad said Pediacities is focusing on New York’s boroughs. “We are excited about New York. We’ll expand to other cities later,” he said as he brings his booming voice everywhere in the city. Early this year, he spoke in front of 600 people in the largest tech meetup in New York University, sharing the limelight with Dennis Crowley of FourSquare. He also presented to a small group at a Queens Tech meetup, hosted a hackathon a few weeks later and was recently seen at a Tech Policy Forum with New York’s aspiring mayors.
The win has opened doors for Natividad and his parent company, Ontodia Inc. He worked with an incubator, NYU-Poly in Varick Street in Manhattan where he was able to rent free while also getting tech startup business advice. It’s part of Mayor Bloomberg’s Five Borough Economic Opportunity Plan.
Grinning from ear-to-ear
The no-nonsense armor Bloomberg puts on in front of media was noticeably absent last June 14, and in place was a convivial mayor, telling people in attendance not to blame him if their apps didn’t win that night. He had every reason to be in high spirits. In the second quarter of 2012, New York’s metro area enjoyed $568 million in total venture capital funding, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
How amazing is this windfall for the city, perhaps fast becoming known more as Silicon Alley than the Big Apple? Investments are up 2.56 billion from last year, 19 percent from 2010 and 51 percent from 2009, according to data from Dow Jones Venture Source. The number of New York startups has grown by 32 percent, while that number fell by 10 percent in California’s Silicon Valley. This, in fact, is one type of information Pediacities can deliver to the public.
Natividad recognizes this and he’s giving back to the city by getting to know more of it than it currently knows itself. In a sense, New Yorkers will find out more about the city they love from a Filipino.