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AT&T backs joint effort to create apps here

AT&T Inc. is teaming up with High Tech Rochester Inc., Digital Rochester Inc., Rochester Institute of Technology’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction & Creativity, and Hack Upstate to play host to the Civic App Challenge, an effort to create new smartphone apps with the community in mind.

“We really thought that it was important, given that we are investing so much nationwide in our network, that we focus on those communities that traditionally have been hubs for innovation in New York,” said Marissa Shorenstein, president of AT&T New York. “Certainly Rochester is very much one of those.”

The virtual hackathon will last for two months, with top winners receiving prizes totaling $18,000. It differs from the traditional hackathon, which usually takes place at a specific location for 24 to 48 hours.

The Civic App Challenge allows people to participate remotely and at their own pace. The two-month format allows full-time workers and students to take part in the challenge.

To compete, teams must have at least one participant who resides in Rochester or who attends one of the region’s higher education institutions. Companies as well as individuals can participate.

“I think having a multibillion-dollar company like AT&T partnering with our community will just continue to highlight our region as a leader in technology and also showcase our collaborative spirit,” said Lisa Doerner, executive director of Digital Rochester.

The Rochester focus aims to link developers to their community and to lay the groundwork for future locally based technology jobs and economic development. Submitted apps will be judged on potential impact on Rochester, the app’s execution and creativity.

This is the first of three app challenges to be presented by AT&T in Upstate New York; the next two challenges will be at undisclosed locations within the year. Though this hackathon is the first in Upstate New York, it is not AT&T’s first app challenge or hackathon in the state. In 2013, AT&T produced three hackathons and app challenges in New York City.

The RIT MAGIC Center will serve as a home base for people participating in the challenge.

“I think events like this are really important because they engage young people in creating technology, which is always a good thing,” said Andrew Phelps, founder and director of the center. “But they engage people in creating technology around specific societal and community issues, which I think is equally important. One of the reasons that I think we’re real excited is that it is regionally aware; it’s not just ‘Make an app for whatever.’”

Competing teams will be judged in two categories: one for apps that are in the process of development and one for apps created in the duration of the contest.

First place in each category comes with a $5,000 prize. Second-place winners will receive $2,000, third place $1,000 and honorable mention $500. Winners will be announced in May.

“One of the primary goals here is to really end up with 10 new apps that are going to address our social and civic issues,” Doerner said.

Having a recognized brand such as AT&T could help developers distribute their apps to a larger audience.

“It changes the focus and it enables things to happen at an event when you have an outside sort of large-scale partner like AT&T,” Phelps said. “It gets students excited to be a part of it because they recognize (AT&T’s) name (and) they recognize the reach that their app could have. When you have folks like AT&T in the background, scaling up becomes really obvious.”

The challenge fits well with AT&T’s investment in New York, officials said.

“We feel that given that we’re investing so much both financially and from an infrastructure standpoint in what the network will look like down the road, we very much want to encourage the demand for developers and engineers and others to create the software that will drive that demand,” Shorenstein said. “We want them to stay in their communities and feel like they can.”

The AT&T hackathon program was started three years ago, and the company has played host to 64 mobile app hackathons nationwide. Nearly 7,000 third-party developers have produced more than 1,000 prototypes of apps through this process, company officials said.

“We want to ensure that communities like Rochester have students and career technologists who stay in those communities to continue to develop these types of skills,” Shorenstein said. “We know that the future economy relies on people with skills in software engineering and app development and all different types of technology-related demands.”

The challenge kicks off with a 24-hour organizing hackathon at 6 p.m. today. It runs until April 23. Interested persons can follow the challenge on Twitter using the hashtag #ATTROC. Participants can register or get more information on the AT&T Rochester App Challenge at

“We just hope that the Rochester community embraces this and engages with the virtual hackathons,” Shorenstein said. “We’re very excited to see what they come up with.”

2/21/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]


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