Boston Cleanweb Hackathon an opportunity to innovate for earth

( AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
( AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)

On Friday, coders, entrepreneurs, and local students will convene at the new Greentown Labs in Somerville for the the third annual Boston Cleanweb Hackathon. Attendees of the two day event will attempt to apply innovative technology to some of the biggest challenges in the fields of energy and sustainability.

The hackathon fits into a larger trend in which entrepreneurs and environmental activists are trying to figure out new ways to leverage web and mobile technologies in order to reduce pollution and to launch green enterprises; a trend even the White House is paying attention to.

The 90 day “Data Jam Challenge,” an extension of the two day event, is an initiative developed in conjunction with the White House Office of Science and Technology and the City of Boston Greenovate program, which is designed to incubate ideas and launch new companies.

Last year the challenge produced Crowd Comfort, a company that leverages mobile technology to gather data on thermostat levels and body comfort, aids with environmental compliance and inspection, and keeps facility managers informed about problems in their buildings.

Crowd Comfort started when Galen Nelson from the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center responded to a call for ideas that relate to transportation and building energy efficiency from White House deputy chief technology officer Nick Sinai. Nelson’s original proposal was for gathering crowd sourced comfort ratings and measuring them against thermostat data based on an individual’s location within a building, which would enable facility managers to better avoid overheating or overcooling a building.

“I was just captivated by the idea,” Crowd Comfort chief executive Eric Graham said.

Nelson and Graham got together and expanded the company’s initial concept of tracking thermal comfort to other areas of facilities feedback — such as the ability to report burned out lightbulbs — as well as a compliance checklist for reporting on things like heating and cooling units and generators. Crowd Comfort’s innovations eliminate the need for manually tracking problems using paper documentation and allow for more analysis of data.

Crowd Comfort’s clients include the MBTA and General Electric’s 300,000 square foot facility in Billerica, among others.

This year Crowd Comfort will sponsor the Cleanweb Hackathon and celebrate its one year anniversary by officially launching alongside the event.

“Cleanweb” hackathons provide a platform to gather datasets from environmental companies, and places like the Department of Energy, to drive innovation using competition based incentives, Graham said.

“These hackathons are a great way to get these datasets available,” Graham said. “We have something like 20 datasets.”

With success stories like Graham and Nelson as an example, the hackathon presents an opportunity for budding clean tech entrepreneurs to turn two days of keyboard mashing into a year long adventure and, quite possibly, a handsome round of seed funding. To do so participants will need to deftly maneuver this year’s data sets covering topics ranging from building energy consumption to solar metrics and LED lighting.

George is a regular contributor to BetaBoston, and can be reached at george.levines@gmail.com.
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