With NC DataPalooza coming up this weekend, I wanted to catch up with last year’s winners to hear their take on the event and find out how things have progressed since September. 

Carter Vickery, senior GIS analyst with Wake County GIS, and Aaron Terry, business relationship manager at Blue Cross Blue Shield NC, teamed up (along with others pictured above) at the kickoff event in May 2014, and worked through the summer developing a solution called Stone Soup. 

Me (Allyson Sutton): You two, like most participants at NC DataPalooza, Startup Weekends, and other competitions in the area, have full-time jobs—so why did you decide to sacrifice a Saturday (and ultimately dedicate months of time to building out your idea)? 
Carter Vickery: I’m a big proponent of Open Data in my organization, and I am always interested in hearing how data can be used, and whether there are additional datasets of use that we can make available. It was a chance to learn in action and to meet people with a variety of talents. 
Aaron Terry: I saw it as a great chance to work with some other data people to help make a difference in health care. 
AS: The concept you decided to build is called Stone Soup, which is an online platform that connects those who need food, or those with food to donate, to food pantries in their area. Individuals in need can also register to get alerts when food is available. Your team built the idea off of the data set USDA Food Access, which helps identify food insecure areas in North Carolina. Were you familiar with open data before the event? 
AT: I was not very familiar with open data beyond general Census and other government data. While participating in DataPalooza, I was surprised to learn about all of the other sources, like not-for-profits & even some for-profit companies who had data to share. 
CV: I was just getting to know Open Data before last year’s event. My day job includes a role as Data Provider (see our Beta Open Data Site), so I wanted to hear what folks were looking for at these events. 
AS: It’s always interesting to hear where participants at these events find the most value. So besides winning seed funding and media exposure at the September pitch event, what do you feel like you gained from NC DataPalooza? 
CV: I had a great time at NC DataPalooza last year. I met a lot of cool people and learned about co-working spaces and start-ups in downtown Raleigh. It opened my eyes to emerging opportunities, and a much more fluid process for designing apps. 
AT: I found the most value in the opportunity for collaboration. We were able to work with and build relationships with other data people who have different backgrounds, ideas, and approaches to problems. The best way to meet the critical challenges we face in our society today is with this diversity of thought, where everyone brings what they have and helps solve a problem together. 
AS: NC DataPalooza is coming back for a third time, with a kickoff event on May 16th…and as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Do you have any advice for folks who might be interested in participating this year? 
CV: My advice to those participating this year is to keep your idea simple. Focus on creating a viable prototype and then build on it over the summer. To the NC DataJam winning team I would say: Spend as much time as possible at HQ! We didn’t take advantage of the facility enough, but every time I was there I became more energized. 
AT: I suggest meeting with your team often, a minimum of once a week, to keep the energy & momentum going, so everyone on the team feels energized and is motivated to keep moving ahead. 
AS: Speaking of momentum, where do things currently stand with the Stone Soup project, and how can the community help out? 
CV: We’ve been building out the concept and pitching the idea around the community. In November, I gave a talk at the Open Data Institute of NC for their Friday lunch series, called “Neighbor Feeding Neighbor.” 
AT: We also recently pitched the idea to Code for America, and made it onto the Board as a priority project! Ideally, we would like to get an executive stakeholder group from somewhere to sponsor this, maybe from an existing non-profit corporation. We’re looking for a group to really own the project and drive it forward, and have started exploring the possibility of getting some local students involved to help us further build out the site. 
Those interested in attending NC DataPalooza can find out more and register at ncdatapalooza.com. The event is Saturday, May 16th from 8:30am-5:00pm at American Underground @Main and is hosted by HQ Raleigh, Ambrose Strategy and a diverse group of sponsors. 
And, for those who might not know much about open data (guilty), I recently interviewed Jason Hibbets and Reid Serozi, two organizers at NC DataPalooza, about why data isn’t just for developers. You can listen to the interview here.