Article by Esteban L. Hernandez, Register Citizen
Article by Esteban L. Hernandez, Register Citizen, November 3rd, 2014 - View Source
Many years ago, when he first started his web development business, Evan Dobos got advice that proved useful.
“Mentors and guidance counselors of mine would say, ‘Make sure you find a niche,’” Dobos said.
Dobos, who runs PictureThisWEBCENTER from offices on Main Street overlooking downtown Torrington, helped create the website “It’s Happening Here” last year for the city. He now owns the website, which provides event and business listings for community members. The experience helped him follow the advice of his mentors.
“Then, all of a sudden, it all came in on me: That is my niche,” Dobos said.
Last week, CivicLift, a startup he conceived while working on the Torrington website, was one of five companies in the state to receive awards for innovative businesses with a focus on social enterprise. The award, the Walker Group Community Impact Award, was given to the company because of its community focus. The award was bestowed by the Social Enterprise Trust.
CivicLift is software still in development that creates a website where community-based social events, businesses and other community happenings can be marketed and displayed. Dobos said Torrington’s “It’s Happening Here” website was the case study for the new software.
Dobos wants to market CivicLift toward municipalities, who would pay for the software and be responsible for adding content.
“CivicLift is like a glorified bulletin board in the middle of the town market,” Dobos said. “It’ll be a civic engagement tool for communities that are interested in place-making and neighborhood connectivity.”
The award included a $10,000 grant to help develop the software. Dobos said he will use the money to continue developing the service, which will eventually be implemented into the Torrington website.
Much like “It’s Happening Here”, CivicLift would find local curators to ensure the content is relevant and useful to the municipality it serves.
“I remember having the thought, ‘If I do this right, I can do this for other communities,’” Dobos said. The launch of the website generated interest from other nearby municipalities.
The software would build upon the existing Torrington site model by adding more features, including allowing users to view site analytics, catered content and engagement tools. It includes a complete website redesign. But the new software’s crown jewel is providing a mobile app, helping keep the service at people’s fingertips and further improving its engagement.
“That really does take it to street level,” Dobos said of the app.
Dobos is hoping the software becomes self-sustaining, paying for itself through ads and revenue-generating premium features.
“When they’ve been made whole, then we can convert to a profit-sharing model so they can actually make an ongoing revenue from the site,” Dobos said.
Dobos is already talking to several communities about the service, including New Milford, Tolland, and Springfield, Massachusetts.
Thanks to the award and through word-of-mouth, the service has started generating buzz around New England.
It’s getting some international buzz, too: The company is one of a handful of finalists competing for a chance to provide services for the Madrid Smart Lab in Spain. The lab is hoping to focus on improving civic engagement and information access.
CivicLift will cost between $60,000 and $100,000 to develop, Dobos said. He’s already identified several local software developers to help build the platform.
“CivicLift really is going to be built out of Torrington,” Dobos said. “I really want to keep it in Torrington and have it grow out of Torrington.”