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Harnessing Open Government Data to a Wellness Intiative

Omar Haroun & Aaron Royston, Co-Founders of Sportaneous, describe their inspiration for aligning private industry goals with the public health initiatives, alleviating obesity and diabetes by encouraging group physical activity.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

Sportaneous, like many of the other Champions of Change recipients, is both a private company and one which is highly reliant on open government data for its social mission. Sportaneous makes it easy for busy people to get physically active by harnessing location-based technology to facilitate “pick-up” sports games and group fitness activities.  Through the Sportaneous mobile app and website, a person can quickly view all group sports games and activities that have been proposed at nearby public facilities. It was only through data sets made publicly available by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Office, for example, that we were able to compile the database of parks and public sports facilities intrinsic to our web platform and iPhone app. This productive use of open data sets is part of the reason we were recognized by the White House as “Champions of Change”, an auspicious honor that we found both humbling and massively exciting.

This was especially so on the day of the award ceremony.  The day began with a presentation by Aneesh Chopra, the White House CTO, and Vivek Kundra, the White House CIO. Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup, also spoke briefly, his advice proving especially pertinent to Sportaneous as we stand in our current phase of growth. The theme of creative uses of open data prevalent throughout the speakers’ presentations struck close to home, inspiring ideas that later manifested themselves as additions to our web platform and mobile app.

After the Open Innovation presentation we had a rare opportunity to pick the brains of the tech world’s best and brightest in the Eisenhower Executive Office’s “War Room”. What stood out in the roundtable discussion was the administration’s enthusiasm to support the Champions’ private ventures. The administration seemed intent on taking the White House’s involvement even further than supplying open data. Our conversation explored the benefits of public-private partnerships between the Champions and White House, and how we could help execute many of the objectives of the Obama administration on a local scale. This led to Sportaneous readjusting our general approach. We became more cognizant of the value of public-private partnerships, and we have a heightened focus on fostering relationships with universities, community colleges and local government organizations whose goals are aligned with the Sportaneous. It is our hope that by exposing our wellness initiatives to these communities, we can live up to our goal of alleviating the obesity and diabetes epidemics by encouraging group physical activity.

Omar Haroun & Aaron Royston are Co-Founders of Sportaneous, an app enabling New Yorkers to locate nearby public facilities for playing sports and planned game.