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Success Stories: Catherine Bass, CDC Healthy Behavior Data Challenge

MEET: Catherine Bass, Ph.D., director of informatics at Onlife Health in Nashville, Tenn.

THE CHALLENGE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is constantly collecting and analyzing data that can be used by health professionals, government leaders and the general population to guide public health policy, programs and action.

But collecting this data through traditional telephone and in-person interviews is becoming more challenging and costly due to declining participation and changes in the way people communicate. At the same time, new technologies and data sources—such as wearable devices, apps and social media—offer an opportunity to improve the reliability and usefulness of health-related information.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encouraged innovators to demonstrate new ways to address the challenges and limitations of self-reported health information and unleash the potential of new data sources and methodologies for public health surveillance.

THE PRIZE: $45,000

THE SOLUTION: Catherine and team’s proposal, “Closing the Loop: Augmenting Mobile Data Sources for Public Health Surveillance,” aims to improve the quality and quantity of health behavior data collection by aggregating personal wearable device and mobile health app data, and augmenting it through user validation and survey responses.

The solution successfully demonstrated the collection of data related to nutrition, sleep, physical activity and sedentary behavior, and included a series of short, just-in-time survey questions delivered through push notification to supplement mobile data sources.

The system cross-validated the collected information from mobile and survey data sets, as well as with the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which tracks health risks in the United States through a series of telephone surveys.


How did you hear about this challenge?

I heard about the challenge through our product and marketing team. They will often seek out opportunities such as these as a way to keep up with industry trends and to look for unique ways to innovate.  

A very basic way to look at this challenge is to see it as an attempt to find new technologies and approaches that can invigorate a 360-degree stream of health data — from the people to health experts and back to the people. Where does Onlife Health fit into this cycle and how does the solution you proposed for this challenge improve the collection and flow of information?

Onlife’s solution puts real-time data in the hands of the individuals who are making decisions about the health care of the nation. Rather than having to wait a year or more to collect data, analyze it and understand trends that drive decisions, this system allows for the collection of data while it’s happening so patterns can be identified more quickly.

Additionally, our solution is improving the quality of the data by providing more context around each of the measures. It provides a survey component that allows for collection of data that cannot be measured through devices. Coupling survey data with validated device data provides a comprehensive view of a person’s health behaviors.

A major shift in the collection of health data in recent years has been the proliferation of wearable and mobile devices. How does that help or complicate the process and how does your solution address these issues?

Wearable devices have revolutionized the world of data collection by making objectively collected data and self-reported data available in a relatively normalized format on a grand scale.

There are some barriers to overcome with device data, which we strove to address with our solution. When thinking about how an individual may use the device, device data can be incomplete, inconsistent and lack context. Our solution is designed to supplement mobile data sources through the use of validation grids. These grids prompted the user to confirm, edit or supply new information to the data that was tracked with their wearable device.

This additional data filled in the gaps in what we were able to see when looking at the data on its own.

Who provided the data through your solution? Did people sign up? How many?

For the challenge, people downloaded our app through the app store and connected their device to the app so we could use their device data with our validation grids. We partner with a data aggregator, which allows people to use whichever device they prefer.

We had 262 people download the app and 154 complete the whole process, including a survey and use of the validation grids.

What benefits did the open challenge concept provide for a smaller company likes yours?

The open challenge concept allowed a small team of people to innovate outside of our normal development cycle. Doing so allowed us to pilot technology and have results to share ahead of developing a long-term feature. We now know what worked well and what tweaks we’d like to make. It was a fun project!

What’s next in terms of your solution?

We’re looking forward to working with the CDC to understand how they may use our app to enhance their data collection methods for the BRFSS.

What ultimately do you hope to contribute to overall public health data and how will that benefit physicians and other health experts, CDC and the U.S. government, and the general public?

We are hopeful that this technology will provide more high-quality data to the professionals who can use it to positively influence the health of our nation, whether that be on a one-on-one basis through physician-patient interactions or larger initiatives supported by government efforts.

Our methodology is immediately applicable for any health behavior for which wearable devices, mobile apps and remote monitoring devices track data. In the same way, many chronic conditions benefit from improved lifestyle behaviors and can be tracked using a similar solution. Understanding more about the populations’ behaviors can inform campaigns designed to improve chronic conditions. This information also lends itself to monitoring progress in improving chronic conditions.

Thinking in terms of infectious diseases, pushing a simple survey question through push notification would be one useful application. Questions and monitoring could also be targeted to populations based on location. If a participant is near a doctor’s office or hospital, the app can push a quick question to verify their location, and then ask if their presence at the medical building is related to a particular disease or set of chronic conditions that the CDC wishes to track. Similarly, if a user is in a region suffering from an epidemic, the solution could be used to track symptoms.

Another thought is tracking and improving people’s medication adherence. This could be useful for certain populations, particularly those with chronic conditions such as diabetes or persons taking a course of antibiotics. Clinical testing may also benefit from such a solution with the ability to not only track the person’s data around the clock, but to push survey questions and push notification reminders.

We believe that the general framework of passive data collection combined with a limited number of active questions to close the loop, has nearly unlimited potential.

We are a society that is increasingly driven by data, which makes it all the more important to have high-quality data in the hands of those making decisions.

Let’s end with a free-for-all. What else would you like to add about your participation in this challenge?

I’d like to recognize that this was a team effort and I was lucky to work with smart, talented and dedicated individuals on this project:

  • Erica Zuhr – data scientist
  • Tommy Strickler – statistician
  • Sean McCoy – mobile app developer
  • Erik Hiser – database architect
  • Biaunca Edwards – UI/UX graphic designer

Everyone contributed something critical to the effort and I’m so proud of our work. I think our solution can significantly improve the quantity and quality of data collected by the CDC.

Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 835 competitions have been listed on, where members of the public can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Data, Department of Health and Human Services, Success Stories, Winner Stories | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Maggie Weighner, GSA Student Design Competition – New San Francisco Federal Building Plaza

MEET:  Maggie Weighner of Grand Rapids, Mich., a landscape architecture student at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

THE CHALLENGE: The General Services Administration (GSA) challenged students to reimagine the outdoor plaza at the new San Francisco Federal Building by proposing new programs and designs.

GSA’s Design Excellence Program enlists the nation’s most talented designers and artists to design responsible, reliable and contemporary federal workplaces. The new federal building in San Francisco embodies these characteristics and has become a landmark in the city. However, its outdoor plaza has yet to become the kind of public gathering place that supports the energy and spirit of those who work there and visit.

GSA invited students in architecture, landscape and urban design programs to envision a design intervention that would bring the plaza to life while preserving the existing artwork, a piece called “Skygarden” by James Turrell.

THE PRIZE: $1,000 for first place award

THE SOLUTION: Maggie’s proposal, “Keeping Time,” features an aluminum orb structure that would move along suspension cables while being illuminated by a heliostat. Because it would be visible at certain times from the busy pedestrian thoroughfares of nearby Market Street and United Nations Plaza, the orb would extend the presence of the plaza beyond the property line, engaging both federal workers and members of the public.

Maggie’s proposal “challenges conventional notions of landscape architecture and urban design with a highly creative and contemporary intervention, communicated through a professional-quality presentation,” according to competition organizers. “A floating orb traverses the site and beyond in motion reflective of the celestial movement of the moon, reminding visitors of the connection between the site, city, nation, and even the cosmos.”


How did you hear about GSA’s design competition?

I heard about the GSA competition through my studio professor last semester; the focus of the studio was Urban Design, and she actually made the competition a required project.

Your idea would strike a lot of people as futuristic. How do you see it? Can you walk us through your thought process in coming up with your concept for the plaza?

The winning design features a floating orb illuminated by a heliostat to being light and attention to the plaza.

Yes, I quickly learned that! In fact, after I was well into development of the concept, I discovered that there was a time when artists were proposing “universal sculptures” to be launched into space and seen by the whole world – and my proposal looked quite similar to theirs. So it definitely has this cosmic, post-Cold War futuristic aesthetic to it.

My initial thought came from wanting to complement Turrell’s public art piece, which you can really only notice at night, with art that would be more prominent during the day. I read interviews he had given where he mentioned how the moon as a reflection of light rather than a source has inspired his artworks. For whatever reason, that just grabbed me. The whole idea seemed ridiculous at first, but more and more justifications kept building until I realized, “it really does make sense to propose this giant orb in the sky!”

The material of the “moon,” along with the use of heliostats, helps to get more daylight into the dim plaza via reflection. Its sheer scale acts as a landmark and attraction to an easily passed space, and its trajectory, along with ground plane design details, marks the rhythm of city life while grounding it in the greater cosmic keeping of time. These were the main needs I perceived, and the installation was able to meet all of them in a unified way.

Have you ever been to San Francisco? If not, what was it like designing something for a building and place you have never visited?

I have not – but it’s definitely on my list now. At Ball State we mostly pick regional project sites, so this was a challenge for me. I spent hours on Google street view trying to get a sense of the site and surroundings. I also made a model to use in the school’s heliodon; that’s what tipped me off to the extreme lack of sunlight in the plaza! And with all my projects, I like to look into history and culture. It seemed this “moon” would fit right in with San Francisco’s affinity for the cosmos and various celebrations of it.

What was your reaction when you heard that your concept was chosen as the winner?

I was shocked! When I submitted the proposal, I hadn’t even refined it to the level I have now and was worried I hadn’t explained the concept clearly enough. At first I learned that I was “a winner.” Then when I heard it was first place, I was even more surprised!

How did your professor and classmates react?

Another one of my classmates also placed, so the whole Department [of Landscape Architecture] and College [of Architecture and Planning] was quite proud of us! Some of my classmates may have thought I strayed too far from a “landscape architecture” proposal, but I am so thankful to my professor for encouraging me to stick with it.

What would you say is the most important thing you learned from this challenge?

To be bold with my designs. Not every project calls for something like this, but I learned how good it feels to grab onto and actually follow through with a striking and unconventional concept.

Beyond the prize money, what other benefits have you experienced by participating in this challenge?

It’s been a really great boost to my self-esteem as a designer, honestly. This major and profession come with a lot of doubt and self-criticism, so I was happy to have my work recognized and celebrated in this way.

Can you share what you did with your prize money?

I am saving most of it to fund a field trip to New York City!

Have you looked for any other prize competitions that you might want to try your hand at?

I have not. But I’m graduating this May, and will probably submit this design and/or my final project to the American Society of Landscape Architects for consideration for awards, though.

Is there any advice you would give to other students looking to enter a competition like this?

First, it helps tremendously to have someone like a professor or other classmates motivating you and critiquing you. Second, don’t worry if you feel like your technical skills are inferior – I think clear presentation of a strong “big idea” is what’s most important. And lastly, take these opportunities to push beyond the boundaries of your own major! Who says landscape architects can’t be installation artists too?

Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 830 competitions have been listed on, where members of the public can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Creative, General Services Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Loren Hampton, NIH Sickle Cell Disease Undergraduate Challenge

MEET: Loren Hampton, Graduate Student Instructor/Graduate Student at University of California, Berkeley

THE CHALLENGE: A lack of awareness about sickle cell disease (SCD) among the general public and affected communities can contribute to stigma and confusion about how the disease affects people and their families on a daily basis. It can even lead to substandard care for many patients. To address this problem, the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute challenged college students across the nation to develop creative new strategies that raise awareness about SCD. The challenge launched in October 2015, and winners were announced in April 2016.

Hampton, who grew up in Atlanta, served as captain of the winning team while she was an undergraduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. She and her teammates presented their research and solution to medical experts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as part of the competition.

THE PRIZE: $7,000 for first place award

THE SOLUTION: Hampton’s team developed a fully functional iOS app, SickleShare, that uses videos of patients’ personal experiences, medical providers’ stories, and researchers’ layman explanations of novel therapies for SCD to increase knowledge and awareness of the disease. The team also conducted a small randomized study to test the efficacy of SickleShare for increasing disease knowledge. Results from this pilot study showed that participants’ knowledge of the disease had significantly increased after using the app. Hampton also appeared in a video pitch for their idea.



At the time, I had been working at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Vascular Medicine Institute, looking at pulmonary arterial hypertension as a result of chronic illness, and looking at the pharmacokinetics of nitric oxide. I was preparing for a career in medicine, and all of my interests and activities at that point aligned with the medical school track. As a research assistant, I performed polymerase chain reaction (analysis of DNA and RNA), western blots (protein analysis), spectroscopy, and chromatography. Needless to say, I was on the very technical side of the disease. What I hadn’t had an opportunity to do before this project was meet real people who were living with this disease. Because of my background on the research side of SCD, a principal investigator in my lab thought this would be a great project for me to be involved with, and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to do it.


This was my first competition of this kind. At first I was a bit apprehensive because it allowed for so much freedom of thought and ideas, but in the end, it is this exact freedom that allowed us to be creative and produce a great project.


The first thing we did on day one was get to know one another’s strengths, weaknesses, skills, and knowledge sets. I think because we were all so different in these regards, brainstorming for the challenge lasted quite a while and there was a broad range of ideas. The way we settled on the app was actually by trying to incorporate everyone’s unique ideas into one project. Having tech gurus as part of the team then allowed us to encompass all the features of our ideas into one functional app.


One thing that was really incredible is that each member of our team came from a different background. I was doing research on SCD, one of my teammates was working with our mentor on new technologies in health, another member of the team was working at a children’s hospital in the sickle cell ward, and another teammate (who is now a first year at Pitt Med) was doing research and also has SCD herself. It was an absolute privilege to have everyone come from such different backgrounds and be able to provide skills that complemented one another. I could not have asked for a better team!


I was able to use the prize money to help supplement my graduate school tuition, which was a blessing.


The app is still available on the App Store; however, due to the cost of maintaining the app, it has been stripped of most of its functionality, only allowing users to view the information and videos but not post their own videos to the app. In the future, I hope to secure funding to continue the work we started with the app and expand its use as a tool to positively impact the SCD community.


Being a part of this challenge actually launched my career in public health. The experience of conducting video interviews and gathering data was my first glimpse into the world of public health, and I have been hooked ever since. Being a part of the challenge opened a lot of doors for me including mentorships with people at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that have been instrumental to my ongoing academic career.


As a team, we were required to come up with an innovative idea to increase awareness and knowledge of SCD. This experience was so much bigger than creating a great project with an incredible team. This project was the first opportunity I had to be in front of patients collectively facing public health challenges such as issues obtaining pain medication from the hospitals, lack of quality health insurance and food insecurity.


I have not, this is my first and only thus far. What I will say however, is that I have participated in scholarship competitions that I was able to win by referencing the great work that my team and I did for this challenge.


I truly believe this challenge is an incredible opportunity for undergraduate students. It was surreal visiting the NIH, and presenting my research was a life-changing experience. Sometimes when you’re young you feel like you don’t have a voice, or at least that no one “important” wants to hear what you have to say. Standing with my team, as a recent grad at 21 years old, there was nothing more powerful and reassuring than holding a captive audience of some of the most brilliant minds in the world.

Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 820 competitions have been listed on, where members of the public can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps,, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | 1 Comment

Success Stories: Jenna Ryan, SBA InnovateHER

MEET: Jenna Ryan, CEO of Uqora, San Diego, California

THE CHALLENGE: InnovateHER is an annual cross-cutting prize competition sponsored by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to open opportunities for entrepreneurs throughout the United States to showcase products and services that have a measurable impact on the lives of women and families, can be commercialized, and fill a need in the marketplace.

THE PRIZE: $40,000 for first place award

THE SOLUTION: Uqora is a women’s health company built around a pink lemonade with ingredients that have been shown to decrease the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs), reducing the need for antibiotics.



San Diego’s InnovateHER competition was hosted by Hera Labs, an accelerator for female founders based in the Sorrento Valley neighborhood in San Diego. Hera Labs does an incredible job of fostering community and bringing founders together. I had heard about the pitch competition through the grapevine and fortunately decided to apply last minute!


My personal experience with UTIs led my co-founder and me to investigate an alternative to antibiotics for UTI prevention, which come with side effects and the increasing risk of resistance. We teamed up with urologists to tackle the problem. Together, we developed Uqora. You can mix Uqora with a glass of water to flush UTI-causing bacteria.

Jenna Ryan with competition judges and SBA officials.


Before Uqora, I worked at DocuSign, an electronic signature and digital transaction company. I worked on their e-commerce team, focusing on marketing and revenue growth, and later product management. The company was still in the startup phase when I joined and then grew a ton, really quickly. I learned so much about scale and growth-hacking during my time there. I feel very lucky to have grown with the company.


InnovateHER was my first competition like this, but I suspect it’s a bit addicting! It most likely will not be the last.


Meeting the other entrepreneurs. All of the finalists at the InnovateHER competition are tackling meaningful issues in creative ways. All of the pitches made such an impact on me, but I was particularly inspired by Bianca CerqueiraI’s pitch for NovoThelium, which is enabling women to regenerate a nipple made from their own cells after a mastectomy. How incredible is that? Everyone’s drive and talent are next-level, and I’ll be rooting for everyone’s continued success.


For the InnovateHER business challenge, judges evaluated how big of an impact each startup could have on the lives of women and families. At first blush, that sounds like altruism. But over the course of the event, we talked about how much influence women have in the economy. For instance, nearly 75 percent of women identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households. The event is a powerful reminder that developing products that impact women is not only the right thing to do but is also just great business.


We’re going to expand our team! We’re hiring a digital marketer to help us reach our customers and optimize our online advertising channels.

Beyond that, we believe we have a huge opportunity to help reduce UTIs among our most vulnerable population, older adults. After menopause, the likelihood of developing UTIs increases, and the frequency and severity continues to grow. Recurring UTIs are a huge problem among our most vulnerable population in long-term care organizations like nursing homes and assisted living organizations. UTIs are traumatizing to the residents, expensive for everyone, and also contribute to antibiotic resistance, a very real threat among these populations.

We’re aiming to partner with a handful of these organizations and supply Uqora for free to a subset of their residents who suffer from UTIs. This money will help us fund this effort and amplify the results.

Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 800 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Business Plan,, Small Business Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | 1 Comment

Success Stories: Erin Lavik, NEI 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge

MEET: Erin Lavik, professor at University of Maryland Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland

THE CHALLENGE: Launched in June 2017 the NEI 3-D Retina Organoid Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute (NEI), sought innovative ideas for a 3-D system that models the cellular organization and function of the human retina. Such artificial retinas could help researchers in their study and understanding of eye disease. Winners were announced in September 2017.

THE PRIZE: $90,000

THE SOLUTION: Lavik’s team won the prize with a new approach to making a retina that combines screen-printing materials developed in her lab with cells from fellow professor Steven Bernstein’s work. The idea is to screen-print the gels and cells to make a functional retinal model.



We’re still in the early stages, but we hope that this will provide a platform for understanding eye diseases and allow the rapid screening of drugs to treat those diseases.


It has provided us with the seed funds to start building the models. None of us have ever participated in a challenge like this before. It was a completely different sort of experience. This was much shorter than the typical grant proposals we pursue and was focused much more on the idea and potential than our previous work. It has allowed us to think about the work in a more open-ended way that we would not have otherwise.


We are working on building and validating the model. We are extremely grateful to the NEI for this opportunity.

Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 800 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.


Posted in National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Success Stories, Uncategorized, Winner Stories | 1 Comment

Crowdsourcing Takes on a National Public Health Emergency

On Oct. 26, the Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared a public health emergency to combat the abuse of prescription drugs and heroin across the nation.

During that same week, the number of crowdsourcing competitions on surpassed 800.

What’s the connection?

Since 2010, GSA has helped federal agencies crowdsource solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing problems through And one of the challenges that put over the 800 mark last week takes direct aim at the opioid crisis.

The HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon will take place in-person Dec. 6-7. HHS is calling on computer programmers, public health experts, data scientists, researchers and other innovators to participate. Those who do will use datasets provided by HHS to come up with solutions to improve treatment, prevention and our understanding of opioid usage.

The code-a-thon is the most recent challenge to address the opioid crisis, but it isn’t the first.

In summer 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) sponsored a hackathon to create apps that would help prevent opioid overdoses. The first-place winning app gives people clear guidance on what to do in cases of overdose and allows them to build a care network through invitations.

SAMHSA followed this competition up with the Opioid Recovery App Challenge in March 2016. The winner of this challenge, Harold Jonas, hopes to reduce relapse, re-hospitalization and overdose for those addicted to opioids with a free smartphone app. It allows patients to track their recovery through self-reporting and connect with others in recovery through discussion forums and support meetings.

In September 2016, the Food and Drug Administration partnered with SAMHSA on another app competition that looked for innovative ways to get life-saving medication to those experiencing an opioid overdose. A small startup company won this challenge with an app that uses mobile geospatial technology to connect those experiencing overdose with carriers of Naloxone, a prescription medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Three challenges issued; three timely solutions.

Crowdsourcing is the government’s way of saying, “We don’t have all the answers.” It allows the government to tap into the American public’s creativity, fresh perspective and diverse skillsets. It places public servants in touch with innovators and ideas they otherwise may never have found.

And it allows citizens to play a direct role in their government and contribute to a greater good.

At least 64,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s why HHS, SAMHSA, the FDA – and GSA – are looking to the American people for help. That’s why they’re crowdsourcing solutions that can save lives and put people on the path to recovery.

Posted in Apps,, Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Healthcare, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration | 1 Comment

Success Stories: George Lee, USDA Innovation Challenge

MEET: George Lee, chief technology officer and co-founder of livestock grazing management software company PastureMap, San Mateo, California

THE CHALLENGE: The USDA Innovation Challenge, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Launched in July 2015, this challenge sought the development of apps to put USDA data into the hands of farmers, researchers, and consumers to help build a more sustainable U.S. food system. Winners were announced in January 2016.

THE PRIZE: $29,500 for winning the grand prize, open-source application, and best visualization in time and space awards

THE SOLUTION: FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends is an easy and innovative way for farmers to explore USDA statistical data about the most important crops grown in their area. The application interface shows the farm location on an aerial image; the crops grown within five miles of the farm are obtained from the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service CropScape database. Economic data about these crops through time are extracted from Economic Research Service and Agricultural Research Management Survey databases to allow a farmer to make informed decisions about crop choice.




I’ve talked to many farmers and ranchers and learned how hard it can be for them to make a living. Farmers have to deal with unpredictable weather, changing consumer demand, and endless pests and weeds. And while they are struggling to stay in business, they also have to take good care of the land and soil for future generations. USDA has a wealth of data on crops and prices that can help farmers. The challenge is making it relevant for their own local circumstances.

I decided to use my own extensive experience in data analysis and app development to create a better way for farmers to visualize the crop and price information most important to them. Showing all this information on a map makes it easy to browse and understand.


Participating in this challenge and creating FarmPlenty Local Crop Trends opened my eyes to the wealth of data available to farmers and ranchers and the potential for technology to transform our food system for the better. I went on to meet Christine Su and we teamed up to create PastureMap, a technology company that empowers farmers and ranchers to be more profitable while building healthy grasslands.

PastureMap incorporates some of the same technology used in the FarmPlenty app and both apps help farmers visualize data on a map. PastureMap goes much further, however, and lets ranchers record geotagged data in the field about their pastures, animals, and herd movements. We then combine this information with rainfall data and soil maps to provide additional insights that help them better manage their ranch to increase profits and improve ecological function.


PastureMap helps ranch managers save time, make better decisions, and make the most out of their cattle and grass operations. Grasslands are one-third of the world’s land mass and represent a tremendous opportunity to store carbon in the soil while supporting a better food system. We’re also aggregating ranchers and using their collective power to shift the beef supply chain away from the commodity model, towards giving consumers what they want — healthy meat that’s raised with integrity and good for the planet. Our user community now includes more than 7,500 ranchers in over 36 countries. We are excited to continue developing the technology platform to support innovative farmers and ranchers to create a better food system.

Learn more at


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. Nearly 800 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps, Data, Department of Agriculture, Entrepreneurship, Success Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

NIST Seeks Futuristic Ideas for Public Safety Communications

Join us to help inspire Americans everywhere in developing the Public Safety communications technology of tomorrow with a Video series about the #PSprizes Crowdsourcing Competitions.

Do you and your team have a creative approach to video design? Can you engage an audience of science and technology solvers through unique messaging and videos? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) team is looking for innovators to develop video concepts, pitches and actual videos that will encourage a futuristic and inspirational approach to improving public safety communications technology and help first responders save citizen lives. The driving motivation of these videos will be to “excite and inform!” by using — live-action, animated, CGI, or a mix thereof — cinematography to effectively engage the audience and communicate the research opportunities at PSCR (Public Safety Communications Research).

If interested, go to the link on to register and participate in this one of kind challenge with the possibility of winning up to $100k in prize money. The PSCR Innovation Accelerator is spearheading R&D of next-generation technology over the next several years and these videos will be designed to encourage any person —  team, entrepreneur, inventor, or company — to contribute their ideas and help NIST solve public safety technology challenges.

This Challenge is also posted here on  It’s being launched by NIST and their Public Safety Open Innovation Accelerator.

Posted in National Institute of Standards and Technology, Uncategorized, Video contest | Leave a comment

Success Stories: Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, Startup in a Day – Dream Big Model

MEET: City of Los Angeles, Mayor’s Office of Economic Development | Project Lead: Frank Aguirre, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Team

CHALLENGE: The Startup in a Day Competition – Dream Big Model, sponsored by the U.S. Small Business Administration, was launched in June 2015. The competition was part of a broader initiative to streamline the permitting and licensing process at the local level for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Winners were announced in August 2015.

PRIZE: $1.6 million was distributed between Startup in a Day’s winners, representing cities and Native American communities across the country. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Economic Development received the largest prize called the “Dream Big Prize,” with a grant of $250,000. The grant application and the project were led by the mayor’s small business development lead, Frank Aguirre. The office used the grant to develop the LA Business Portal.

SOLUTION: The LA Business Portal is a free, open-source, comprehensive guide that provides most local small businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools they need to start a business, grow a business, utilize city resources, and navigate the local permitting and licensing requirements. An interactive startup guide was designed to provide personalized registration checklists for individual businesses. In addition, starter kits based on the most frequently opened business types in the city give further specific direction on who to contact and how to find them. Recently, the portal was translated into Spanish to better serve the large Hispanic business community located in Los Angeles.



Frank Aguirre

The portal assists small businesses that want to expand in the right direction and helps local entrepreneurs who have great ideas, but don’t know where to start. We know that small businesses and entrepreneurs – who create jobs for themselves and others – form the backbone of the Los Angeles economy, employing approximately half of the entire private workforce in Los Angeles. SBA’s Startup in a Day Competition galvanized our team to bring together resources and departments across the city, gather input and experience from the private sector, and pursue a common goal. Because the competition required us to utilize the funds within a year, our team was forced to use time wisely and efficiently.


The LA Business Portal’s purpose was to make it as easy as possible for anyone to start a business within city limits. Before the implementation of the portal, Los Angeles residents looking to start a business had to search the internet and review individual department websites for information about city resources and compliance requirements. Although existing programs to guide small businesses through city registration continue to be available, the portal complements these efforts by providing local entrepreneurs with the in-house expertise in a click-of-the-button “one-stop shop” format. Not only did the development of the LA Business Portal help residents, but by publishing the source code for the portal online, the city has provided other cities and communities across the country with the opportunity to create and implement their own business portals around the needs of local businesses and startups.

STATUS: The website went live in September 2016 and receives 5,000 views per month. Approximately 55,000 business entities register their intent to do business in the City of Los Angeles each year. The business portal does not process the transactions, but rather serves as a guide to help entrepreneurs find where to register with the city, county, state and federal government.


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 780 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Business Plan, Small Business Administration, Success Stories, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Success Stories: Debi Willis, Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge

MEET: Debi Willis, CEO/Founder of software development company PatientLink, Oklahoma City

THE CHALLENGE: The Consumer Health Data Aggregator Challenge, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC). Launched in June 2016, this challenge sought the development of apps to help consumers collect their health data from different sources in one, easy-to-use product. Winners were announced in December 2016.

THE PRIZE: $50,000 for first place

THE SOLUTION: MyLinks is an interactive platform that allows patients to import their medical information from all their health providers and mobile devices, transmit their records, plus link to researchers, pharmacists, caregivers, and family and friends. MyLinks is built using the Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) application programming interface (API), the newest technology standard for healthcare interoperability. Patient health information is pulled into MyLinks as structured data, allowing consumers to easily aggregate data from many sources.



In 2015, ONC published a “Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap,” which included a vision for patients to be able to retrieve their own health data. MyLinks brings that vision to life.

We are on the verge of a new era in healthcare, with patients taking a more active role in their care and health decisions. Many hospital stays will be replaced with remote monitoring in patients’ homes. With MyLinks, data will flow freely to and from patients, allowing patients and providers to more easily understand and monitor health conditions. Patients will be able to share their full medical records with research – giving researchers better, faster, and less costly data – to find cures faster. Patients will be able to connect with and encourage each other in a safe and private social platform.

I believe that patients having electronic access and control of their full medical record will have more impact on health outcomes in the future than physicians’ use of electronic health records (EHR). Patients will now have their own EHR in the palm of their hand, and a network of people to encourage and help them get better and stay better!


It has been a tremendous encouragement to our team to be recognized by ONC as the BEST! Because of the win, we have enjoyed increased exposure for our company and received many requests for demonstrations of our product. This has given us an opportunity to show our technology, expand our user base, and connect with organizations who understand the value of unlocking data. We were no longer a single voice calling out the potential to change the way medicine is practiced, but we were validated by the most prestigious health IT organization in the United States, ONC!

We also received more positive collaboration with the EHR vendors. When they realized we were working to compete in an ONC contest, they wanted to show their own advancement in the use of FHIR and this pushed them further in their development and testing.


MyLinks is complete and currently waiting on the FHIR API to be installed at clinics. A new mandate, which takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, requires providers to allow patients to download their health records using any application of their choice, but the application must be built according to the EHRs API specifications. The FHIR API is a new technology standard that EHR vendors are including in their new releases this year to facilitate interoperability. As the FHIR API is being rolled out across the United States, Willis and her team are working with clinics to test MyLinks with their systems to prepare them for the 2018 mandate. Most health systems are testing the FHIR API in their test environments and many expect to place the API into production in October 2017. When they are ready to start using FHIR, health systems will be sending out invitations to their patients to allow them to join MyLinks.

MyLinks is free to physicians and to patients. Contact Debi Willis at for more information.


Since its inception in 2010, GSA’s program has provided resources and training to federal agencies using crowdsourcing competitions to solve critical problems. More than 770 competitions have been listed on, where citizens can find and participate in crowdsourcing events open to the public. Success Stories is an ongoing series that highlights past winners and their work.

Posted in Apps, Data, Department of Health and Human Services, Success Stories, Uncategorized | Leave a comment