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New Brunswick Private and Public Sectors Collaborate on Big Data Project

In 2012, entrepreneur Phillip Curley stepped outside during a startup event in Fredericton. Looking at a parking meter he had an idea; he would make downtown parking stress-free. The result was a new company, and the launch of HotSpot Parking’s mobile app.

Curley and his team next recognized a parking-related challenge for retailers; small businesses in the downtown core had little control over parking. Using Bluetooth technology HotSpot looked to simplify parking for consumers and business owners. Bluetooth sensors would allow instant validation when a customer walks through a business’ door. It was this innovation that led to the company immersing itself in Big Data.

Erin Flood joined HotSpot in 2013 as COO. Erin will speak at this year’s Big Data Congress on October 18th, where she will discuss HotSpot’s Pattern of Life Data Project. Opportunities NB (ONB) spoke with her to learn more about the company’s partnerships, and involvement in the Big Data world.

ONB: Before we talk data partnerships, can you tell us about your collaboration with Passport Parking in the U.S.?

hotspot parking big dataFlood: Phillip and I felt we had successfully won over Atlantic Canada with the HotSpot mobile app. So we headed west, knocking on municipal doors and visiting business improvement agencies. Everyone loved the sensor technology and our data collection ability. The problem was most of those municipalities had signed RFPs with competitors in the mobile parking market.

We had to step back and reassess. We figured we couldn’t move fast enough to take over that space, but had this great competitive advantage with the sensor technology. We investigated the mobile parking market to find a partner that fit with our culture, had a similar vision, and could leverage our beacon technology. This ultimately led us to Passport Parking. They were at the top of the mobile parking space then, and still are. We contacted them, pitched the beacon validation idea, and they saw the possibilities. It’s a win-win situation; we scale to new municipalities without having to go through the RFP process, and Passport wins new markets with our beacon tech as a competitive differentiator.

ONB: You’re speaking at the 2016 Big Data Congress. What can you tell us about your involvement?

Flood: We’ll be showcasing our Pattern of Life Data Project. Its purpose is to better analyze and understand both vehicular and pedestrian traffic patterns across Uptown Saint John. The data collected will illustrate traffic flow patterns, and provide visualization and trend analyses on the impact of these movements on the local economy across many sectors; including retail, entertainment, restaurants, and tourism. The results will drive and inform infrastructure investments, provide an understanding of the relative performance of streetscapes, and allow for the modeling of the impact of new ideas based on historical information for any given geographic location.

It’s part of a larger vision for the region taken on by Enterprise Saint John (ESJ) to create a community-wide data strategy; it’s not something we’re tackling by ourselves. We have all this data but in order to leverage it properly we need a collaborative effort. We’re working with a number of partners including ESJ, the City of Saint John, Cisco, T4G, Saint John Energy, and Bell Aliant, to name just a few.

This project is just the first of many that will seek to educate citizens, businesses and government on the opportunity derived from the deployment of sensor networks. T4G, the project’s analytics partner, offers the perfect mix of both business intelligence and data analysis that the project consortium requires. T4G has been instrumental to the project’s success, and has been actively working on the larger scale Community Data strategy that aims to put Saint John on the map as a national leader in the use of big data analytics.

The idea is to build a formal data infrastructure, and to encourage organizations across the landscape to collect and share more data so we can create a richer repository of regional data. By doing so, we can enable researchers to solve a variety of social and economic problems.

The project was born from HotSpot’s core competencies: developing a business community, capturing meaningful real-time data with our sensors, and creating engaged citizens.

ONB: Has the project already begun?

Flood: We have deployed sensors around Uptown Saint John. The next step will be looking at the city’s—and region’s—priorities. Is it climate change or pollution maybe? We will look at how we can use sensor information to build digestible data formats that are relevant to the success of a city. So if for example our partners at Uptown Saint John came to us saying they needed to justify their spend on street sweeping, could we justify it with data? Hypothetically, you could look at the data and say there’s X number of people travelling up A Street, so you need to place more investment there versus B Street.

It’s about exploring why this sensor data matters, and how we can collaborate across the region.

ONB: Finally, what do you see as advantages of doing business from New Brunswick? 

Flood: That collaborative nature is certainly one. Support for young companies like HotSpot is outstanding here. ONB, to use just one obvious example, has helped us tremendously with various programs, whether it was for product development, export development, or scaling up. Trade shows and travel are huge benefits too. Our trip down south to build that Passport partnership was made possible with help from ONB.

Our biggest advantage, however, really is our people. Quality people are at arm’s length here, and we have benefited from everyone’s willingness to contribute to the success of the company. We’ve leveraged everyone from PropelICT, to Ignite Fredericton, to a host of terrific mentors.

Want to learn more about doing business in a collaborative business environment like New Brunswick? Connect with an ONB Business Development Executive at the button below.

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Cover image via Flickr Creative Commons