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This week, a data analytics firm seeks help making the transition from working with the public sector to selling to the private. –Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

Carey Anne Nadeau spent more than five years at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution in Washington before earning her master’s degree in city planning from MIT. When she was in graduate school, a number of cities were increasingly publishing information online in open-data formats – information about the business of government including data on restaurant inspections, whether or not permits were approved, outlines of plans for construction sites, and police reports and arrests.

“There is this new wealth of information that we can look at to start to answer some of the questions that we have about the cities where we live and work,” Nadeau says. “We want to be able to use this data to most effectively and efficiently mitigate risk to public health and safety.” That was Nadeau’s motivation for starting her company, Open Data Nation.

The pitch

Nadeau, founder and chief executive of Open Data Nation, based at the Halcyon Incubator in Washington, D.C.

“Open Data Nation focuses on risks to public health and safety. We bring together the raw data from multiple sources: open public data that city and municipal governments provide, federal data, and private data sources like Yelp reviews. By combining all of these data assets, we’re able to ask questions about where and when risks will arise.

“We think of city and county governments as our partners in doing research and development. We are developing algorithms with cities that have broad applications to promote public health and safety for multiple partners.

“A very tangible example is restaurant inspections. The department of health performs restaurant inspections at the thousands of restaurants in any city. The results are often made publicly available; we look at that data to understand and predict which restaurants are most likely to fail a health inspection. Our FIVAR (fivar.org) software can then generate a prioritized list that can help a health department go to the riskiest locations first. The data science component is a tool we use to predict the future, and the software that we developed and sell are the applications through which the data administrators can access that intelligence and incorporate that into their data-driven decision-making.

“Our next move is scaling to more cities. How do we do this quickly? We think the most effective way to do this may be to look to private-sector partners that have aligned interests in seeing risks to health and public safety mitigated effectively and efficiently. Specifically, we’re targeting the insurance industry.

“We know that information is also useful for insurance companies to price policies, offer discounts and educate existing clients about risk factors that result in claims. And we believe we can better scale the benefits of public health and safety to consumers by working with insurance industry partners because they work with many restaurant locations and chains of restaurants across many cities. As we transition to enterprise sales from selling to government, how do we align interests and build public-private partnerships to bring about this social good?”

The advice

Elana Fine, executive director of the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business

“Clearly establish some business-use cases that show the value of the data you provide and how it can be used. This goes beyond explaining how you combine data to being clear about why it is worth investing in. Be clear about why potential customers need this data combined in this way. Why is the data important and what better decisions will it help you make? Point to specific results that can be achieved by using the unique combination of data that you provide. This will demonstrate your value proposition for potential clients.

“If you’re going after the insurance industry, really tailor your business pitch to that industry. Understand who in the insurance industry you need to talk with and who would be able to use the information you can provide to make decisions. Formulate your hypothesis and develop a business case study on how your data solution can help insurers solve a specific problem in their industry. Seek out a first partner customer to develop a business case with you. Then you can shop around that business case to other clients.”

The reaction

Nadeau

“We’ve been making customer discovery calls to clarify interests and define relevant outcomes for insurance companies and brokers specifically. We agree that the right next move is to test our assumptions and validate our value with potential clients.

“Given that we have the software and the algorithms built for major U.S. cities, we are confident that we can make this product quickly available and commercially viable. We’re excited to take on this next business opportunity and hope to see you on the front page of the business section soon!”

Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? Capital Business and the experts at the University of Maryland’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business are ready to assist. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com.