Derek is an entrepreneur, developer and a leader of the civic technology community in Chicago. He uses data, builds tools, and organizes people in Chicago to democratize power.
Derek is Founder and Partner at DataMade, a company that tells stories and builds tools with data, Co-Founder of Dedupe.io, a machine learning service that de-duplicates and find matches in spreadsheets and databases, Co-Founder and Board President for Chi Hack Night, Chicago’s premier weekly event for building civic technology, and Co-Founder of Civic Exchange Chicago, a co-working space and learning community centered on how news, information and technology can increase democracy and freedom.
|Company / organization||Position||Dates|
|DataMade||Founder and Partner||Jul 2012 - present|
|Chi Hack Night||Co-Founder and Board President||Mar 2012 - present|
|Dedupe.io||Co-Founder||Oct 2018 - present|
|Civic Exchange Chicago||Co-Founder||Jan 2019 - present|
|mRelief||Board Member||Aug 2015 - present|
|Transition Team - Good Governance
Mayor-Elect Lori Lightfoot
|Member||Apr 2019 - May 2019|
|Transition Team - Data
Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi
|Member||Oct 2018 - Dec 2018|
|Digital Privacy Alliance||Board Member||Mar 2017 - Jan 2019|
|Read/Write Library||Board Member||Mar 2016 - Nov 2018|
|Environmental Law & Policy Center
Next Generation Advisory Council
|Co-Chair||Aug 2016 - Aug 2017|
|Environmental Law & Policy Center
Next Generation Advisory Council
|Member||Jul 2014 - Feb 2018|
|Open City||Co-Founder||Feb 2012 - June 2017|
|Chicago's Emerging Power Players||Chicago Magazine||May 2017|
with Christopher Whitaker for Chi Hack Night
|Route Fifty||Nov 2016|
|2013 Emerging Leaders||Community Indicators Consortium||Oct 2013|
Or, my journey in civic tech.
In the beginning, there was open data
In August 2011, I was working for a dev shop in Chicago called Webitects when the City's recently elected mayor (Rahm Emanuel) decided to start releasing some interesting data on the city’s Data Portal. At the time, I already had an interest in government and technology and had volunteered my tech skills to the Obama campaign in 2008, but this data gave me a way to engage with my local government and community that was completely new.
Paul Baker, my boss at Webitects, decided to put a group together — Chad Pry, Nick Rougeux, Ryan Briones and me — to take one of these newly released datasets on lobbyist disclosures to create our first "civic app" called Chicago Lobbyists.
The app, which I like to describe as a "Facebook for lobbyists," allows you to see who the top paid lobbyists are, who's hiring them, and who in government they are lobbying. Through this app, this raw, open data was made accessible to average citizens (like ourselves) in a way that was easy to understand and delightful to interact with. The response from the City, local press and tech community was immediate and positive.
Co-founding Open City
At this point, I was hooked on making civic apps. I continued collaborating with Paul, Nick, and Chad to build new apps with other available datasets like ChicagoBuildings.org, which tracks vacant and abandoned buildings in Chicago, and Look at Cook, a visualization for exploring Cook County’s budget over time.
Through the OpenGov Chicago(-land) Meetup run by Dan X. O’Neil and Joe Germuska, I met and collaborated with Juan-Pablo Velez and Forest Gregg to create ClearStreets, an app to track where snow plows go during a snowstorm. This got us our first big exposure in the Chicago Tribune.
I eventually found myself among a core group of volunteer developers, designers and policy wonks who all shared a common goal: to create apps with open data to improve transparency and understanding of our government. We knew we had a great thing going, so in January 2012, we decided to give it a name and call ourselves Open City.
Chi Hack Night
In order to better facilitate collaboration and get work done outside of our regular 9-to-5 jobs, we decided to start meeting regularly every week. Our first meeting consisted of Juan-Pablo Velez, Scott Robbin, Tom Kompare and myself (I gave a lightning talk about this moment in 2016).
We dubbed this event Open Gov Hack Night (now Chi Hack Night), made it open for anyone to attend and publicized it on the OpenGov Chicago Google Group. The idea of a friendly place to talk about civic tech and get work done was apparently very appealing to a lot of people.
Over the first few years it grew from 4 to 40 to over 100 weekly attendees - developers, designers, researchers, journalists, policy wonks and curious citizens who all want to build or learn about open data and civic tech.
Starting DataMade, a civic technology company
In the Summer of 2012, I was approached by Dan X. O’Neil, the new Executive Director of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, to work on some projects (Connect Chicago and Chicago Early Learning) as a consultant. I had already decided to go part-time at Webitects to devote more time to Open City, and it seemed like it was finally time to strike out on my own.
I formed my own LLC, called it DataMade (my wife Aya’s idea) and got to work. At the same time, my collaborations with Forest Gregg continued on projects like CPS Tiers, Dedupe and Councilmatic. In January 2013, Forest joined DataMade as a partner.
Over the years DataMade has grown our staff, clients and expertise. Our clients include many notable universities, nonprofits and municipalities, including University of Chicago, The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Associated Press, LISC-Chicago and The State of New York.
Growing up and taking my place as a leader of Chicago’s civic tech community
Since my first civic app back in 2011, through persistence and determination, I steadily became a leader in the open government and civic tech movements in Chicago.
Many of the applications, approaches and ideas we championed have spread to cultural institutions like the Chicago Architecture Foundation via their City of Big Data Exhibit, to academia via programs like the The Eric & Wendy Schmidt Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship, to the Chicago startup scene, and even back to the City of Chicago and their ambitious Tech Plan.
As the Chicago civic tech community continues to mature and evolve, so have the fledgling organizations I have started. Chi Hack Night is now incorporated as a non-profit organization with an 11 member board, of which I am now the Board President. DataMade has grown to 6 staff and we have spun out one of our data tools, Dedupe.io, as its own software as a service company.
I have become one of the most visible people in the Chicago tech scene, appearing frequently on shows like WTTW’s Chicago Tonight and participating as a member of both Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi’s and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Transition Teams.
In all of these positions I now hold or have created for myself, I will continue to elevate and highlight the work of our community and organizations, and create some more of it myself. I will advocate for the ethical and humane use of technology and continue to push for more transparency, accountability and equity in Chicago. And now that I am in a position of power and influence, I will use that power to open more doors for those who seek to follow the same path I did.
Last updated on May 3, 2019
Photo credit for my headshot: ©️Chicago mag, Photo by Taylor Castle