Information is a powerful — and expensive — tool.
Aileen Gemma Smith, founder and CEO of Vizalytics Technology, Inc., recognized the public’s need for easy and inexpensive access to government information. So in 2012, she founded Vizalytics, a New York technology company that provides openly available government data to business owners, residents, public organizations and government agencies.
Using city, state and federal data, Vizalytics bridges the “digital divide between the public and government data” and distributes information through three platforms — Local Insight, neighborhoods.nyc and Mind My Business — that leverage the web and mobile apps.
Local Insight provides information to government agencies and other organizations users via a dashboard. A client’s dashboard could show an overview of the “business scene” in a specific location, including loan activity and foot traffic in the neighborhood.
Neighborhoods.nyc is a web and mobile platform specifically for New York City residents who want to get involved with and learn more about what’s going on in their communities. Launched in October 2015, it is available in 13 languages and was funded and created through a partnership with the City of New York, forged after the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation became familiar with Mind My Business. Unique sites for each neighborhood are set to go live in 2016.
Vizalytics launched Mind My Business, a mobile app that delivers open government data to small business owners, in 2013 after Hurricane Sandy struck New York. “I was humbled by how many folks that were store owners had no idea of where to turn,” Smith says. “And listening to their stories of frustration of having to go to multiple sources for info compelled me to act.”
Mind My Business distributes information that can help owners better manage day-to-day business operations, such as traffic updates, construction alerts, health and safety tips, and fines and regulations affecting local business owners.
“Our mission is to equip small businesses with insightful data that makes a valuable impact on the bottom line,” and can help them stay afloat and succeed, Smith says. Whether due to a lack of awareness or lack of resources, accessing this type of information is “a real painpoint that [shopkeepers] can identify with.”
By providing these information tools, Smith aims to lend a hand to help neighborhood businesses make it. “I believe in helping the mom and pop stores — the stores that have been there since I was a little kid,” she says. “It’s not necessarily the sexiest or the most fun place in startup land, but I want to help [that local] diner be there for the next 20 years.”
Like many other business owners, Smith started her company after identifying a problem to solve and solution that would fill a gap in the market. In fact, 41 percent of the women owners who participated in The Story Exchange’s 1,000 Stories campaign, a 3-year project that collected the entrepreneurial experiences of 1,000 women in 50 countries, say they started up for this reason. Many of the women in our study also seek to make a social impact.
Smith is part of a small group of 1,000 Stories women (4.3 percent) who own and run firms in the technology and telecommunications industry. She comes to the technology space after a career in media, having worked both domestically and internationally as a writer and a content strategist and manager. “I’ve always been a content person. [I enjoy] connecting people with information that they need,” Smith says.
Mind My Business delivers relevant information to Apple and Android app users based upon profiles each user creates. For example, if you’re a deli in the East Village, your Mind My Business updates could include inspector checklists, customer complaints and alerts about construction taking place on your street. If you’re a bar owner, your updates could include noise complaints, local events and emergency alerts.
“Folks love it because it’s simple and targeted” to their needs, Smith says. Currently, Mind My Business is being used by 1,500 shopkeepers in New York including bars, pubs, dry cleaners, laundromats, delis, cafes and bodegas. Smith is working to expand Mind My Business through outreach to local press and ads on the subway.
Most of Vizalytics’ products are free, but Smith has a strategic plan to set her company up for financial success. In November, Vizalytics launched a premium version of Mind My Business that costs $39.99 a month and features an enhanced neighborhood map, community questions board, transit alerts and data visualizations. The basic version, however, offers all essential data.
Smith declined to disclose revenue figures, or revenue sources beyond the City of New York. Vizalytics has a full-time staff of nine, including Smith and her husband, Christopher Smith, who is chief technology officer and co-founder, and a handful of rotating high school interns and a remote team in India. She feels a responsibility to them to succeed financially, but Smith is equally concerned with meeting a social need and making a difference.
“People have left their jobs to join our teams. We need those numbers,” Smith says. “But I didn’t do this to buy a fancy boat. How much cash [a business has] in the bank doesn’t interest me.”
But she is thinking big. Smith ultimately wants to take Mind My Business global, bringing open government data to businesses’ fingertips around the world. For now, she’s focused closer to home, though: Expansion to Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco is coming by the end of the year, she says.