6 New Year’s Strategies for Open Data Entrepreneurs

The GovLab’s Senior Advisor Joel Gurin: “Open Data has fueled a wide range of startups, including consumer-focused websites, business-to-business services, data-management tech firms, and more. Many of the companies in the Open Data 500 study are new ones like these. New Year’s is a classic time to start new ventures, and with 2014 looking like a hot year for Open Data, we can expect more startups using this abundant, free resource. For my new book, Open Data Now, I interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs and distilled six of the basic strategies that they’ve used.
1. Learn how to add value to free Open Data. We’re seeing an inversion of the value proposition for data. It used to be that whoever owned the data—particularly Big Data—had greater opportunities than those who didn’t. While this is still true in many areas, it’s also clear that successful businesses can be built on free Open Data that anyone can use. The value isn’t in the data itself but rather in the analytical tools, expertise, and interpretation that’s brought to bear. One oft-cited example: The Climate Corporation, which built a billion-dollar business out of government weather and satellite data that’s freely available for use.
2. Focus on big opportunities: health, finance, energy, education. A business can be built on just about any kind of Open Data. But the greatest number of startup opportunities will likely be in the four big areas where the federal government is focused on Open Data release. Last June’s Health Datapalooza showcased the opportunities in health. Companies like Opower in energy, GreatSchools in education, and Calcbench, SigFig, and Capital Cube in finance are examples in these other major sectors.
3. Explore choice engines and Smart Disclosure apps. Smart Disclosure – releasing data that consumers can use to make marketplace choices – is a powerful tool that can be the basis for a new sector of online startups. No one, it seems, has quite figured out how to make this form of Open Data work best, although sites like CompareTheMarket in the UK may be possible models. Business opportunities await anyone who can find ways to provide these much-needed consumer services. One example: Kayak, which competed in the crowded travel field by providing a great consumer interface, and which was sold to Priceline for $1.8 billion last year.
4. Help consumers tap the value of personal data. In a privacy-conscious society, more people will be interested in controlling their personal data and sharing it selectively for their own benefit. The value of personal data is just being recognized, and opportunities remain to be developed. There are business opportunities in setting up and providing “personal data vaults” and more opportunity in applying the many ways they can be used. Personal and Reputation.com are two leaders in this field.
5. Provide new data solutions to governments at all levels. Government datasets at the federal, state, and local level can be notoriously difficult to use. The good news is that these governments are now realizing that they need help. Data management for government is a growing industry, as Socrata, OpenGov, 3RoundStones, and others are finding, while companies like Enigma.io are turning government data into a more usable resource.
6. Look for unusual Open Data opportunities. Building a successful business by gathering data on restaurant menus and recipes is not an obvious route to success. But it’s working for Food Genius, whose founders showed a kind of genius in tapping an opportunity others had missed. While the big areas for Open Data are becoming clear, there are countless opportunities to build more niche businesses that can still be highly successful. If you have expertise in an area and see a customer need, there’s an increasingly good chance that the Open Data to help meet that need is somewhere to be found.”