An Amherst duo won the $10,000 grand prize of the AT&T Western New York Civic App Challenge that invited local developers to create mobile apps to address a community need or problem.
Scott Falbo and Karl Newell, both software developers, designed “WNY Family Connection,” an iPhone app that puts community resources and services, like day care centers and recreation options, at the fingertips of families who need them.
The pair received their prize Thursday when winners of “virtual hackathon” were announced at a news conference at dig, the co-working space at the Thomas R. Beecher Jr. Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“It’s an honor and surprise,” said Newell, 30. “It’s great to develop an app that could have an impact in the community by providing parents with important information.”
Also, $5,000 went to the second-place team that comprised Sarah Marcy, Dan Wheeler, Amber and Shana Marcy for their “NY Thruway Guide” iPhone app, which provides Thruway motorists with traffic alerts, cameras, rest stops and other information. And $3,000 went to the third-place finisher, a team of local residents Eileen Ruberto, Tim Nabzdyk and Sarah Quintal for creating Rentegrity, a map-based app that provides renters information about properties and their owners, including if the landlord is local and recent 911 complaints.
“I’ve done this all over the country and the quality of apps were consistent with the best I’ve seen submitted anywhere,” said Neil Giacobbi, executive of public affairs for AT&T, adding that the real winner of the competition was Western New York for being the home to a large pool of talented developers. Winning apps, along with some of the other submissions, are already available for download.
“They are commercial-ready,” Giacobbi, who was also one of the judges of the contest.
There were 33 entries from 125 participants who created mobile applications tackling issues related to tourism, public safety, public transportation, health and other areas. Winners were chosen by a panel of local tech experts, elected officials and other community stakeholders. Marnie LaVigne, president and CEO of LaunchNY, said judging was a challenge because of the quality of the entries, and every app was civic-minded, adhering to the main requirement of improving the community.
“Every team did that,” she said.
Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, who also served as a judge, said the contest confirmed that “we’re a region on the move with really talented innovators.”
In September, the telecommunications giant, through a partnership with local organizations and institutions, announced the $18,000 contest, opening it to residents of all ages, requiring that teams have at least one member who is a current resident of Western New York’s eight counties or is enrolled at a local college. AT&T, which provided the prize money, has funded similar contests, including in Rochester and Syracuse. A free symposium to identify community issues was held, and Falbo and Newell attended it.
“We already knew how to develop and design, but we didn’t know what the issues were,” said Newell, 33. “Going to the symposium and meeting different community members helped us understand some of the problems, giving us the idea for the app.”
Z80 Labs and other groups will work to market the winning app.
“We’re here to help with marketing or fill whatever ever gaps they may have,” said Dan Magnuszweski, managing partner at Z80 Labs.
Hack Upstate, which organizes twice-a-year hackathons, was the facilitator. Also University at Buffalo, SUNY Fredonia, Z80 Labs, InfoTech Niagara, Launch NY and United Way of Buffalo and Erie County partnered with AT&T to create the competition.