March 29, 2017

A Start-Up Born at CITP

As is probably the case with many start-ups, Gloobe was born late at night. Early in 2013, on the night of a snowstorm in Princeton, I presented at the student-led Code at Night hackathon an idea for a web site that organized civic information onto online maps of local communities. With experience as a former elected representative of a relatively small community within Washington, DC, I understood the value of easing the availability of information about voting, upcoming community meetings, and regulatory agency actions, but lacked the coding skills to bring the project to life. Jian Min Sim, a student from Oxford who was spending his senior year at Princeton as part of an exchange program, heard about my presentation from a friend and when we got together, pulled out his laptop and said, “I have already built something very similar.” After winning a contest sponsored by the ITU, Jian had built a mapping website designed to provide a platform for NGO employees and others who travel frequently to share information about places that lacked detailed on-line limited maps. A partnership formed.

Over the course of the year, we have talked repeatedly about different ways of using technology to reach different groups of people – young people, people working for the government, in education, or at large corporations – who are looking to share knowledge more effectively. Through all of these conversations, we have sought to figure out what we think is important – a preference for wireless solutions, a simple platform, providing real-time access to information about what’s happening in local communities. Do we think our mission is best served as a for-profit or non-profit entity?

Early this summer, we had a productive meeting with Tigerlabs in Princeton discussing whether our civic information-mapping site was a good fit for their incubator program. Ultimately, it was not. However, we had a great conversation about the market for investments in start-ups in the local and hyper-local space: It has proven to be one of the most difficult for entrepreneurs to crack. Groupon, for example, had a great run of success, but has struggled to maintain that momentum.

Informed by our conversation with Tigerlabs and in light of our desire to make a product that will appeal to both people who don’t realize just yet how engaged they are in their local communities and community activists, we are developing a mobile app that will allow people to make more efficient use of the commercial and public spaces in their communities. We attended the MobileBeat 2013 conference in San Francisco in July and had some great preliminary meetings with IBM, SingTel – a Singaporean telecommunications company with over 400 million mobile customers – and others. We are still working to improve the app and plan an initial a test phase in Singapore when it’s app store ready. We will move forward thinking about how to help people connect and share knowledge to make their lives and local communities better. It’s going to be smart citizens that make smart cities.