Government Technology

New York City, App Developers Win Big in Local Innovation Competition

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto

February 10, 2010 By

Photo: WayFinder NYC

In the nation's most populous city, jam-packed with some 8 million people, it makes sense that the grand prize of a New York City innovation challenge would go to an application that helps travelers find their way around.

WayFinder NYC, a program that helps users locate the nearest subway station by looking through their camera display on Android phones, won $7,500 in awards in the city's first "NYC BigApps" competition, which was launched last June by the city's Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC).

"The applications will generate millions of dollars in economic impact -- a figure that will only increase as more entrepreneurs become aware of the opportunities available here," NYCEDC President Seth W. Pinsky said in a statement.

As more local governments push to improve transparency, competitions like New York City's allow citizens to convert data into shared apps that serve the public and help cities save money. Mirroring other innovation contests like Washington D.C.'s Apps for Democracy, NYC BigApps gave software developers access to more than 170 data sets from 30 city agencies: traffic updates, taxi info, citywide event schedules, property sales, recreational facilities, restaurant inspections, etc. Using at least one data source from the Data Mine (, programmers had to develop innovative tools that the public could use online.

With cash prizes totaling $20,000 as well as a dinner with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg up for grabs, more than 80 entries poured in. Ten winning applications were selected. But in the big picture, the city itself was the real winner, said Brandon Kessler, founder of ChallengePost, which powered the competition. Out of the competition came free tools worth more than $4 million that can help citizens navigate the city and its cultural resources, he said.

"The big win," Kessler said, "was when all of the apps were released to the public and people could start using them."

And the Winners Are ...

Best Overall Application

Grand Prize

WayFinder NYC: An application powered by Google's Android operating system that layers map information with GPS data to help people find the best directions to New York City subway and New Jersey PATH stations by holding up their phones in the camera view.

Second Prize

Taxihack: Similar to Yelp, this Web tool allows people use e-mail ( or Twitter (@taxihack) to post comments on individual city taxis and their drivers.

Third Prize

Big Apple Ed: This Web-based guide offers detailed profiles, reviews and information about the city's public schools, including school searches, top 10 lists, analyses, comparison charts, and detailed school profiles.

Popular Choice Award

NYC Way: This iPhone application bundles more than 30 useful NYC resources into one, allowing users to obtain and send information based on their current location.

Video of App:

Other awards were given for the application with the highest potential for commercialization as well as honorable mention

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