Nov 03, 2016

How I Pitched the US Secretary of Commerce… Off a 13 inch laptop

It is one of those surreal moments where time slows down. Cameras seem to flash slower, security guards in black suits keep a watchful eye at a safe distance, and all eyes follow the group surrounding one very important person.

Recently I had a chance to present the vision we at Spatial have for the future of cities to the 38th Secretary of Commerce, Penny Pritzker. A future of cities not defined by census data, GDP, demographics 0r government borders. A future where we can track the true human story of cities as they play out in real time.


48-hour real time tracking of Bunbury music festival

I arrived in a massive, empty industrial facility in Detroit an hour before to set up AV and really put on a Whizzbang show along with three other startups who were selected. I walked toward the only structure in sight figuring I would find some high-tech equipment. Its the secretary of commerce right? You have to put on a show! Nope. I walked up to find four empty tables, one outlet, and a piece of paper on a table with my name scrawled out on it — misspelled.

That’s it. No conference room, no big screen. We get two minutes to make an impression on the secretary of state. “Well” I thought, “At least everybody is on level playing ground here”. Which made me feel quite a bit better… Until the other startups walked in. One carrying more swag than a pirate ship, and another carrying a drone the size of a small flying saucer.

So there I was. With my flimsy table, three business cards, and a 13’ inch macbook air.

I had never felt more ready

You see, I had been preparing for this moment the past 26 years. It started on a sandpile where I would spend hours making elaborate cities. Then my parents bought a 95 Packard Dell, and my brother got Sim City 2000 which ended up consuming most of my childhood. At five I remember typing command prompts into MsDOS to fire up the game.


Ok, I’ll admit I still play Sim City. Replica of Detroit Circa 1915 with complete with historic Belle Isle fire.

Studying data mining during college I became fascinated with the fact that all data has its origin in the humans that create it. This gave me a totally different lens on cities. The lens of an Anthropologist and applied Ethnographer. I spent the next four years of my life flying around the world studying the human and community threads that hold a city together.

Fast forward to March of this year. I was talking to someone in the economic development department for the City of Cincinnati. I asked how he went about getting local community understanding. I couldn't believe his response.

“Surveys and census data.” He said.


The best tools for people building our cities are survey cards and years-old census data? That is a huge problem. He went on to describe his frustration in attracting retailers to the downtown area. And it is no wonder.

Because census data reflects what was, and not the true human story of what is.


 Census Data 2.jpeg


Brilliance is all around us… And no one notices it.

When it came my turn the stars aligned, I shared our vision of how cities can leverage this layer of human-driven social data that surrounds us every day. The answer to so many questions, hidden in plain sight.

I shared the story of how we saw a need for a different type of technology. One that holds humans at the center of everything. One that planners can use to see in real-time how communities react without slow-biased surveys.


So what of it?

Let’s just say I get the sense that my time playing Sim City is far from over. The reception was very positive,  likely because the concept is very timely.

The speed at which cities is moving is unlike we have seen before. As Millennials and Gen-Z flock to renaissance areas like Minneapolis,Cincinnati, and Detroit, the need for a technology that captures, analyzes the DNA of cities becomes imperative.

And people get that, even when you pitch it on a 13' inch screen.


We’re focused on changing how humans experience data on maps. Spatial is building a future that empowers people to know cities like a local anywhere on earth. To achieve this, we build interactive and dynamic social layers directly into maps through a human-driven, machine-assisted analysis.

Interested in enriching your application with local-live community understanding? Come schedule a demo and we can chat.

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