Ian Henshaw is managing partner of Technology Tank LLC, co-developer of Raleigh’s new parking app and an organizer of this year’s NC DataPalooza.

This Friday, the annual NC DataPalooza competition culminates with the crowning of the winner.

Actually, no crown is given, but this is the end of a huge effort and one team will win after six months of hard work. I hope that team will go on to create something great for the region.

To make that happen, there have been months of planning by the organizers a data tiger team curating open data sets, an open data boot camp and an open data Startup Weekend Health DataJam. The teams spent months honing their ideas for pitches to the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network and three winning teams spent one month in an accelerator with help from Blackstone’s business mentors and fellows.

I have a unique perspective on NC DataPalooza. Last year, I was a participant on the winning team, which has since developed a parking app for downtown Raleigh and raised a small amount of seed funding from the City of Raleigh. We continue to move forward. This year, I will judge the three finalist teams LocalMedAdvisor, Freewheeling NC and Stone Soup (DataJam winners, pictured above) at Friday’s event.

By participating in NC DataPalooza, I was introduced to a truly large cross section of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Triangle entrepreneurs, investors, academics, government workers and corporate players. I don’t think it’s possible to get this sort of exposure in six months through any other program.

From the first NC DataPalooza event the DataJam I was part of an impressive group of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, etc. who wanted to be a part of something bigger and help develop an idea that would make a civic impact using open data. I signed up for a few ideas, but one idea particularly struck me how to solve the problem of finding parking spots downtown. It’s a problem I’ve heard many complain about, so it struck me as something that could be improved.

The parking team members all brought different perspectives and strengths. We put in quite a lot of work, had several great business mentors and support from organizations like Forward Impact, HQ Raleigh, the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network, CED and many others. We were pushed almost daily to go out and talk to people to make sure we were providing something they wanted. Our team and mentoring worked well, as we ultimately won the 2013 NC DataPalooza competition and a chance to pitch at the CED Tech Venture Conference! I’m proud to see the parking team still going strong and moving forward.

With that experience, I knew I had to get involved with the planning and support of the next NC DataPalooza.

Through my company, Tech Tank, I was getting more involved on the policy and implementation side of the open data movement, and ultimately took on the role of CEO of the Open Data Institute node in North Carolina (ODI NC). The ODI NC provides open data thought leadership, research, training, consulting, dataset certifications and networking opportunities in North Carolina and throughout the Southeast. Supporting something as vibrant and important as NC DataPalooza is a great fit for both of my organizations, so I dove in with both feet.

Why is open data such a big opportunity for entrepreneurs?

Open data is a new frontier in government efficiency and economic development. For the first time in history, enormous amounts of government data and other data is being made open and freely accessible for citizens and entrepreneurs to use and monetize. No one knows what will happen with all of this data, but we’ve already seen quite a bit of innovation.

There’s been an explosion of innovation and economic development since the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and GPS satellite systems released weather data. No one expected the types of mapping, tracking and forecasting capabilities we now have on our smartphones since these data sets were opened.

A recent McKinsey study suggests an additional $3-5 trillion per year of U.S. economic output is possible with open data put to use. That data can provide a lot of fuel for many, many new companies as they develop their businesses. The first to the data will not always develop the best ideas, so this new open data marketplace will be vibrant and rapidly developing for many years to come.

Join us at the Red Hat Tower in Raleigh this Friday to see the final pitches, hear from the distinguished panel about the current use and future of open data and find out who takes the crown (or at least the title). Registration and breakfast starts at 8am and the competition runs from 9-11am.

Register with the code “PARTNER50” for a nice discount. I, for one, can’t wait to see what these three teams have been working on!