From Free Pizza to Startup Success: How the GovHack Hackathon Transformed My Life and Career

– Interview with Maz Heidari regarding his experience participating in GovHack 2019.

Here is the Link to the Maz Project:

What initially motivated you to participate in GovHack and how did you first hear about it?

Pizza! I was on the UTS campus one day I think it was in 2017, a saw a bunch of pizza boxes, as a student, wherever there is pizza, you are automatically drawn to it, at least that was the case for me. When I asked about what GovHack is, one of the GovHack team members told me that it’s a 3-day hackathon and you can win prizes by attempting challenges that are addressed using data. I thought to myself, there is probably more free food, I get to mingle with other individuals there and experience a hackathon and maybe win some money as well.

Could you share a little bit about your experience during GovHack? What were some of the highlights and challenges you encountered?

Well, I consider myself a wannabe entrepreneur and I am always trying to find solutions for problems I see in the world around me. But, sometimes, people like me, come up with a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist and that could be very demoralizing. So naturally, I started looking for problems that already exist that people and organisations are looking to solve. I then started reading the news and talking to business people to identify problems so I could attempt to fix them. I found a handful of issues I thought could be fixed. One of those was for a large state organisation. I put a lot of thought into it, sought advice from my professors on how to address them and I came up with a pitch. I was naïve enough that I thought people from that organisation are going to call me and bring me to fix the problem I found. I was never contacted. I thought to myself, maybe my solution wasn’t correct, maybe my pitch was unprofessional.
Having gone through these experiences, I saw the benefit of GovHack. As someone who wants to be an entrepreneur or someone that wants to have a meaningful impact on society, I found GovHack very insightful. Those problems or challenges I was trying to find, are already defined by organisations, and the resources to attempt those challenges are made available, I was able to showcase my solution to the organisation as the projects are presented to them after the competition and there are likeminded individuals to share this path with to work towards a common goal. And, that is the highlight I encountered, I befriended people I would have most likely never met outside this event and now I have multiple entities with those individuals and we have co-founded businesses together.

How did the supportive environment and networking opportunities at GovHack contribute to your overall experience and project development?

The mentors and volunteers I had the privilege to get to know, have made a big impact on how I have been able to direct my vision to come up with a solution that I get to work. An example would be a gentleman from ATO, telling us and some of the other participants the wealth of knowledge and data that is accessible to everyone prepared by ATO to refine our project. The data is out there, but knowing the story behind it and where and how to find it is something I was able to learn in GovHack.

Could you tell us about the project you worked on during GovHack? What was its main focus or objective?

The project that our team worked on was about using data to identify the ideal location to start a business. Our solution used government data to provide insights for users to make impactful decisions before starting a business. It also attempted to help existing business owners to assess and evaluate their business location and to align their strategy with the trends of their surroundings including demographics, transport access and etc.

How did you come up with the idea for your project? Was it something you had been working on prior to the event, or did it develop during the hackathon?

In my professional career, I knew the business location was important. However, formulating this importance never crossed my mind, because I didn’t know where to begin and what resources I needed or are available to me and if they are, it’s probably expensive. The idea for our project came from GovHack. It was right there, it was one of the challenges. It was the proof I needed that the need for this solution exists.

What were some of the key features or innovations incorporated into your project? How did they contribute to addressing the problem or challenge you were trying to solve?

One of the features we were able to incorporate into our project was using geo-mapping and visualisation of open data such as data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This helped provide a more holistic approach to the challenge defined by the Victorian state government, by combining siloed data on federal government-level data with state data.

How did you leverage open data and technology resources available at GovHack to enhance your project? Did they play a significant role in its success?

Our project would not have been possible without state and federal government data, and the custodians of those assets with GovHack. Those datasets that were used in this project, are now made available and it has been a golden resource that has fueled our success to this day.

Looking back, what would you say was the most rewarding aspect of participating in GovHack?

Connections and friendships formed by embracing open data initiatives have been the most rewarding of participating in GovHack and I plan to be part of the initiative of removing data silos and for the general public to know how to utilise such a wealth of resources that could one way or another better our lives.

In what ways did participating in GovHack benefit you personally and professionally?

Participating in GovHack has made me and our organisation to be more data-driven and make more informed decisions while having a transparent approach to our decision-making.

How has participating in GovHack influenced your career or educational path? Have you seen any tangible outcomes or opportunities as a result?

Our company, BizVision has been the result of our project. We are able to stand out from the crowd in our industry by utilising a resource available to everyone, however, simply having access or knowing this resource exists is not the entire story. For us, it has been knowing what the data represents and how it all fits together.

Can you share any specific ways in which the skills and experiences gained from GovHack have positively impacted your professional journey since the event?

Theoretically, I was adequately equipped to reason and plan for the project we had developed, due to my academic background. It was having a limited timeframe of two and a half days and the collaborative nature of the competition with other individuals with complementary skillsets to come up with the solution to implement the project that was key.

What would you say to someone who is hesitant about registering for GovHack? Why should they take the leap and be part of this event?

 There is food for one, and you have the chance to meet people from all walks of life that you would probably not cross paths with in your regular daily routine. You will also get to action and beat procrastination and possibly come up with an idea that will lead to employment opportunities for yourself and other people as well.