(Photo by Flickr user woodleywonderworks, used under a Creative Commons license)
Matthew Eierman was trying to look up a restaurant inspection a few years ago in the small Anne Arundel County town of Deale, Md. What he got was a labyrinthine saga just to get what should have been an easily-accessible public record.
The 28-year-old Glen Burnie culinary school graduate-turned-marketer-turned-founder is the CEO of HDScores, a company building an app that compiles and maps inspection scores from across the country.
The goal is to empower consumers by making inspection data easy to find and use.
Eierman’s app recently won the audience vote at a Tech Cocktail pitch event during Baltimore Innovation Week and Eierman won a trip to Tech Cocktail Celebrate Oct. 6-7 in Las Vegas.
"When you increase transparency of the scoring system, you increase consumer confidence while increasing economic development."
He hopes to have HDScores out on iOS “as soon as possible,” with a few late hangups caused by Apple’s move to iOS 8 and developer documentation requirements, he said.
“We wanted it out by the end of September,” said Eierman, with Android, Windows Phone and web apps becoming available later this fall.
HDScores uses a bot to pull and compile digitally-available restaurant inspection data from more than 800 localities. It then maps the records. In addition to having the inspection details (and all violations) accessible via the app, each restaurant is given a percentage grade based on how its health score stacks up against other establishments in its jurisdiction.
Users can log in via Facebook or Google (with Twitter access in development), read the inspections and share them with friends via social networks or email. The compiled data is also being shared with five academic institutions, Eierman said.
“When you increase transparency of the scoring system, you increase consumer confidence while increasing economic development,” Eierman said.
Regionally, Eierman was able to get data for Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties, as well as all of Virginia, Delaware and the District of Columbia. In Baltimore city, Eierman found that records were clunky, incomplete and unusable. He then lobbied for accessible records to be part of long-planned reforms to the Baltimore city restaurant inspection system. The city legislation, currently in work sessions, would move to a grading system like the one in place in cities like Los Angeles, with inspection grades publicly posted at establishments.
“Part of the legislation also tells the health department to make it possible for folks to go online and see the full inspection report,” City Councilman Brandon Scott told Technical.ly Baltimore. “Folks like you and I who are technology savvy will be able to see the full report.”
Transparency through public records and advances like Eierman’s app will be positive developments for both city residents and restaurateurs, Scott said. He cited New York City, where restaurant grading led to an $800 million (9.3 percent) jump in the food service industry’s revenue there, according to a 2012 release.
“Any time you can be more transparent as a government and empower residents with information, it’s a great thing,” Scott said.
HDScores, true to that vision, will remain free. Eierman leads a team totaling five, and has been bootstrapped since day 1, in January 2012.
“We are monetizing user data,” Eierman said, like what types of restaurants users are looking for and where they are looking for them. “Ad networks are interested in that sort of data.”-30-
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