Apr 9, 2014

7 Questions to Solving the Enigma of Public Data

Since 1999 Comcast Ventures has been helping turn great ideas into powerful businesses. Working with some the brands like Flipboard, Vox Media, Fan Duel, the Ventures team has a passion for building businesses and a track record of spotting and scaling innovative companies. 

In our Comcast Ventures Q&A Series we take a closer look at some of the companies that are helping shape the future to learn what keeps them up at night and what advice they have for entrepreneurs.  This month we talked to Enigma Technologies co-founder Marc DaCosta (MD) to learn more about trying to bring order to the chaos of public data. 

What's the problem you were trying to solve for with founding enigma? 

MD: We founded Enigma to make public data usable for both the public and for business. There are trillions of dollars of economic activity reflected in public data sets -- everything from government contracts, to real estate records, electricity transactions, the contents of shipping containers, the oil extracted from every well in the United States -- but no good comprehensive way to gain insight from that data and to use it to drive decision making. That’s what we are trying to solve with Enigma. 

You’ve talked about the "public data paradox", can you elaborate more about that? 

MD: The public data paradox comes into play when someone actually tries to find or use public data. While there is so much data out there that's technically public, it’s extremely difficult to find many times, and even when you do find it it’s often in a cumbersome to work with form. 

What's a real world example of how Enigma works? 

MD: The use cases are really varied, and that’s part of what makes working at Enigma so exciting. We've seen everything from people analyzing the relationship between play grounds and child abuse in order to drive policy improvements, to looking at the supply chain of scrap metal recycling to help improve operational efficiency and reduce carbon output, to finding out that Jay-Z gave a poetry reading in the White House for the President. 

How does your technology make sense of all this data? 

MD: At Enigma, we face a lot of challenges in helping our users make sense of public data. First we have to actually get the data, which we do through crawling government websites and reaching out to government offices. Then we have to clean it up and normalize it in a way where it there is clear understandable metadata about what the data actually is, as well as a consistent format so it can be searched and consumed easily. Lastly, we extract entities from the various datasets and link them together so that our more advanced users can leverage the implicit relationships across datasets. 

Do I need an advanced degree in analytics to understand the data? 

MD: No, not at all. You can think about the data in Enigma as a whole collection of facts: records of people owning buildings, statistics on how much iron Australia exported last year, what port your car passed through when it was imported (hint: search for the vin number) and much more. With Enigma you can search through all of this data to find what you are looking for. However, if you do happen to have an advanced degree in analytics, you can draw upon our APIs to model and understand really interesting things about the world.  

What advice would you give to startups / entrepreneurs? 

MD: Every entrepreneur will tell you that having an idea for a new product or company and seeing through its execution is an extremely challenging but rewarding undertaking. I think it’s important that one keep their eye on the prize, as it were, and to not let the obstacles and roadblocks that present themselves along the way become a distraction. 

What do you do when you’re not at your day job? 

MD: I live in New York, a city I consider to be one of the most dynamic and interesting places in the world. When not in the office, I try to take every opportunity to explore it and to take advantage of what it has to offer. Taking a bike ride along the Hudson River, popping in to the MoMA to see an exhibit or merely playing the part of the flaneur, there is little occasion to be bored.

 

Tags : Big Data, Comcast Ventures Q&A Series, Enigma

 
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