SHIFTING PAST ROADBLOCKS IN A DATA-DRIVEN WORLD
The BlastPoint team spends a lot of time sitting with organizations discussing what their location intelligence needs are. It’s one of my favorite parts of my job because I love helping people solve problems. Sometimes the organizations we work with are big. But most of our customers are small to medium-sized business (SMBs) and nonprofits – whether it’s retail franchisors churning their great local business into a regional or national organization, food security advocates searching for residents most vulnerable to hunger, or small university administrators in pursuit of better serving their students and community. I love offering tools that work for these seemingly disparate groups. It’s seriously gratifying.
Last week we got to travel out of the office for a meeting in New Kensington, a small rust-belt city where community development leaders and university administrators are ambitiously working together to rebuild a local and regional economy that has been in decline for several generations. Any drive through Western Pennsylvania is an experience in rapturous landscape wrapped around the bones of abandoned infrastructure. In this case, the destination was a room full of brilliant and generously hearted people searching out a path forward for economically disenfranchised residents of their idyllic little Allegheny Valley city.
This wasn’t the first meeting we’ve had in a room full of people with huge ambition and even bigger heart. And in every meeting, there is a common theme – people have all the information they need to create a plan for success. They know we are in the midst of a data revolution. Across every industry – nonprofit and for-profit alike – there is the awareness that gut-driven decisions can’t compete with data-driven decision making. When it comes to site selection, economic development, technological innovation, targeted marketing, strategic business development, structuring social support services, everyone already knows: The information is there to make smarter decisions. If it’s not used, a crucial opportunity is being missed – a potential death knell for small organizations.
So why do our customers, who have the will, the imagination, the commitment, and the niche expertise, not implement data-driven decisions? Well, for two reasons:
1) Time: At this particular meeting one stakeholder raved about how much useful information the American Community Survey gives her access to but then lamented, “…you crack it open and then what? We don’t have time to parse through it, even if it is freely available.”
Data is a process. Deciding what questions to ask of the data takes time. Analyzing data takes time. Even outsourcing data to consultants takes time – days, weeks, oftentimes months – before results can even begin to be seen.
2) Money: Another stakeholder in this meeting disclosed that they were currently waiting on the results of a $250,000+ contract with a consultant from another city to move forward with site selection for one of their current projects. He didn’t expect to see the results of that expenditure for another three months.
Most SMBs and non-profits don’t have that kind of money and they certainly don’t have that kind of time. The margins are small when an organization is small and the work is time-sensitive.
Here in the rust-belt, we know what it means to be left behind as an economy changes. Boom time for the steel industry was so long ago that the people who experienced it are long past their working years. But here in the rust-belt something really fascinating is happening… the economy is changing again. And this time, with a clear-eyed vision about what happens when we don’t participate, communities are searching out ways to become a part of that change.
BlastPoint exists because we don’t think time or money should be the roadblock anymore.
We think that the data revolution can be for everyone and we think the data revolution can be good to everyone.
We think that the data revolution can include every organization that wants to participate.
It’s a joy to be a part of organizations transforming themselves, transforming their work. Bringing real, useful, effective solutions to people is fun. When we sit down to meet with people coming from organizations with very different missions and very different kinds of work all at the same table together, we show them a SaaS platform for translating big data into usable, readable, comprehensible knowledge in real time. Eyebrows raise. Shoulders drop. We’ve removed the roadblocks. And ideas about all of the problems that BlastPoint might help them solve start flowing.
Scot MacTaggart from Pitchwerks Podcast spent some time with Tomer talking about the ins and outs of BlastPoint. Aside from trying to learn how to properly say Tomer’s last name, the duo discussed how BlastPoint’s user-friendly geospatial data has been helping economic development agencies, public utilities, and both franchisors and franchisees – among others – to be able to study their markets and more carefully plan ways in which to better serve them. Tomer and Scot also discussed the process BlastPoint followed in building its price schedule – an important question startups want to know
This is an open letter to the people at GeekWire (Hi!). We heard about your contest to find a new headquarters and we are excited to see that Pittsburgh is a finalist. We’re BlastPoint, a Pittsburgh-based startup and we specialize in helping regular people use maps to find insights about locations. We just want to say that you should definitely choose Pittsburgh! It’s a great place for tech and a really special place to live. But don’t just take our word for it. We have data to back up why you should choose Pittsburgh over Raleigh (nah), Cincinnati (uh-uh), or Denver (our mountains are less pointy).
We would also like to say thanks to Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science for submitting a proposal on behalf of Pittsburgh. [Alumni high-five!]
To help you make the best data-driven decision you can make, we used our software to look at comparative data for Pittsburgh and our competitive cities. Borrowing some of the techniques we used to evaluate locations for Amazon’s HQ2, we can see that Pittsburgh has the edge in several categories based on our data for 30-minute drive times from each city’s center. Here’s what we found:
Fuel for February: Shivering at the idea of coming here in winter? Fear not, GeekWire peeps, we are home to Primanti Bros. and Fat Head’s Saloon. Their sandwiches and grub will keep you warm for the month of February and beyond – guaranteed. We also have other eclectic dining experiences, such as Superior Motors, a former Chevy dealership turned into a fine-tuned restaurant in the city borough of Braddock, one of the remaining areas in Pittsburgh where an active steel mill still exists. Bon Appetit also rated our very own Morcilla one of the top 10 new restaurants in America. If eating animals isn’t your thing, we have vegetarian and vegan restaurants in most neighborhoods (we recommend B52 in Lawrenceville). Pittsburgh also has the most bars per capita in the entire United States which our boozy, busy SouthSide neighborhood can attest.
Pittsburgh beats both Cincinnati and Raleigh in number of bars and restaurants. Denver is ahead, but we bet our food tastes better anyway.
Cars Need Not Apply: Pittsburgh has a good public transportation system with its busway and burgeoning cycling community. Our neighborhoods are highly walkable, bikable, and connected by short bus rides. And free bus rides, too, in the Free T Zone. If you’re feeling particularly daring and energetic to explore Pittsburgh’s winter topography, buy some crampons and traverse portions of our neighborhoods using the Steps of Pittsburgh, over 700 sets of city-owned steps, some of which are actual city streets!
For their commute, Pittsburghers use the bus and walk far more than Cincinnati, Denver, and Raleigh. They also own fewer cars, at 14.8% of households not having a vehicle.
An American Dream: Pittsburgh is one of the handful of cities in the United States where the American Dream isn’t a contradiction. With its social mobility and affordable housing prices, Pittsburgh is one of the few cities in the U.S. where you can afford to buy a house for under $1000 a month. We can hear you crunching numbers now, thinking about all the money you can save or spend on that new Tesla or Kaiser Encore earbuds.
Living in Pittsburgh is cheap and that’s amazing. That is reflected by the fact that income and housing prices in Pittsburgh are in sync with one another, while houses in Denver and Raleigh are more pricey.
COMMUNITY & CULTURE
From Rust to Shine: Pittsburgh is one of the only Rust Belt cities to be able to revive itself from a collapsed industrial empire to a beacon for tech entrepreneurs and giants: Apple, Uber, Facebook, Google and Amazon, to name a few. This innovative embrace of modern enterprise – with the helping hand of its top-notch universities – has made the Steel City a media darling for food, culture, and affordability in the past decade. Pittsburgh’s tech ecosystem is robust and diverse with connections spanning throughout city. Bakery Square in East Liberty is ground zero for Google, University of Pittsburgh’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, and UPMC Enterprises. Lawrenceville is where CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) resides along with some of the fastest-growing robotics startups in the country. Both these neighborhoods were ranked #1 by both Lonely Planet and Money magazine as the coolest neighborhoods in the nation. Think of what that industrial history meets tech and healthcare prowess does to a city – your Pittsburgh neighbors and future friends know the value of good work and a cold beer but will check in on you too when flu season hits. Pittsburghers are known for our friendly and welcoming nature – even Travel+Leisure agrees and puts us at #7!
Educational attainment levels in Pittsburgh are second only to those in Raleigh, but not by much. UPMC and University of Pittsburgh are the drivers of our large healthcare employment sector, bringing the best and brightest to our research labs where the life sciences and technology meet.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about summer. As gray as February may be in Pittsburgh, our amazing mild summers more than make up for it. Don’t think you’ll be here for the summer? We’ll see. Our world-renowned arts festival lasts three weeks and brings national and international artists to the stage every night. For free. North and South Parks each have free live music each weekend. Our AAA public radio station WYEP is a monumental resource for new and live music and they, too, bring a music festival in June – also free! And if there isn’t a baseball game with fireworks over the rivers on night, there is some kind of bridge festival going on. We have 446 of them, after all.
For the sports fans among you, Pittsburgh is home to three beloved professional sports teams (we bet you know one of them), a soccer club, and three nationally ranked college basketball and football programs. Best of all, tickets are still affordable.
So we’ll be straight with you. You come to Pittsburgh and you dig into life here, and Pittsburgh’s gonna give back to you. Know how we know? Because a lot of us came back. We left for school and jobs on the East or West Coast…and we came back. We came back to greenspace, affordable houses with backyards, dive bars next to four star restaurants, good schools, reasonable commutes, and good neighbors. But if you come, we’re going to expect you to be a good neighbor too – just like our most famous alum Mr. Fred Rogers asked of us from the time we were little. It’s a beautiful day in our Pittsburgh neighborhood.
Won’t you be our neighbor?
BlastPoint founders Alison Alvarez and Tomer Borenstein recently spoke at the Greater Pittsburgh Non-Profit Partnership (GPNP) Summit on October 5 with their talk entitled, Big Data: Uses in Other Fields, Application in Nonprofit. Alison and Tomer explored how large companies think about big data and how non-profits can translate these ideas into the purpose and mission of their operational and policy development – without the price tag of hiring experts or expensive analytic tools. The session covered concepts like indexing, segmentation, and forecasting, and showed how real examples from the world of marketing and analytics are within reach of anyone with the right tools. One of these tools, BlastPoint, produces a data visualization that can be used for presentations and proposals quickly – in a matter of minutes – saving hours of time and stress. Also included in the talk was an introduction to sources of free data and, for the technically savvy, access to a free iPython notebook.
On Thursday, September 21st MANY hosted the Connection2017 “Unconference” in Pittsburgh, gathering speakers and nonprofits from around the country to connect and engage. The event was a whirlwind – with incredible talks from people like David M. Wertheimer of the Bill + Melinda Gates Foundation, musical performances from 1Hood (an inspiring nonprofit based here in Pittsburgh!), and a delicious lunch at the Smallman Galley.
BlastPoint CEO Alison Alvarez gave a talk on data techniques from Corporate America that anyone, including small nonprofits, can utilize to better communicate inside and outside of their organizations.
After Alison’s presentation, the BlastPoint team provided attendees with a hands-on demonstration of our software. Nonprofits shared the challenges and opportunities being faced, and our team helped look at their unique geographies as well as the relevant questions, to provide these nonprofits with actionable insights.
On Saturday, September 9th, BlastPoint’s Sales & Marketing Director, Jeremy Shafton, spoke at the NADO Annual Training Conference. Alongside four other speakers, Jeremy participated in an interactive “Learning Lab” called “Harnessing the Power of Data to Improve Your Community Economic Development Strategy”.
Carol Rogers from the Indiana Business Research Center shared a wealth of information about the latest updates at StatsAmerica. After Carol’s presentation, Jeremy shared some techniques for working with data and walked participants through a scenario using BlastPoint. Finally, three speakers from Utah (Marion Bentley, Russell Cowley, and Jody Gale) shared their experience developing and deploying the Area Sector Analysis Process for the Six County Region in Utah.
BlastPoint works with many Economic Development Organizations, enabling them to easily tell a data story which can attract and retain business, as well as determine where to make strategic investments.