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How a local data guru built a network of 5,000 data scientists

Meet Patrick Callahan, the guy who could be key to galvanizing open data in Delaware.

A photo from the launch of the London data meetup that Patrick Callahan organized in 2012. (Courtesy photo)

When Patrick Callahan moved himself and his family to San Francisco in 2011, he didn’t really have a plan. Or a job. Just a passion for data.
Callahan is back in Wilmington now, and you should know about him: He’s a Delawarean with great potential to lead the First State’s charge in advocating for and analyzing open data.

Patrick Callahan.

Patrick Callahan. (Courtesy photo)

Before San Francisco, Callahan studied business and economics at Drexel and later went to law school at Widener. He worked in the tech and data field throughout the ‘90s and, in 2003, was a cofounder of interactive marketing firm The Archer Group, where he served for seven years as chief operations officer.
But his curiosity for doing something new and exciting led him to California. Social data, he said, is powerful: It can, for example, detect when floods will happen in Jakarta, and can tip off Homeland Security for first-responder situations. He’s had a nagging hunch, too, that the cure for cancer is hidden somewhere in data.
Still without much of a plan, Callahan noticed there weren’t any Meetup groups for data enthusiasts in the Bay Area, so he created an event. “In the first three hours, 150 people had signed up,” he said, adding that the top scientists in the valley RSVPed. Soon Callahan found himself throwing a party for 500 data scientists and enthusiasts.
It was such a hit that then-social media API aggregation company Gnip paid him to continue the meetings. Six months later, Twitter bought Gnip and asked Callahan to organize a data meetup in London. He did — and it grew to more than 1,000 members.
Most recently, he launched soirees in Berlin and Paris, also sponsored by Twitter, and has managed meetups in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Callahan started his own social data analytics company, CompassRed. And he also had a geographical revelation: California is the place where ideas are percolated, the East Coast is where those ideas are applied and London is where theories on data are studied. San Francisco was too expensive, and he already came up with his new ideas, so Callahan returned to Delaware about a year ago.
“There’s no better place to have a business,” he said, noting Wilmington’s proximity to New York and D.C.
Now, as he’s grown his company to five people — and his network of data scientists to 5,000 — he believes open data would be a boon for improving life in Delaware. He’s hopeful Gov. Jack Markell’s new executive order could begin opening doors to more accessibility.
“This opportunity is right in front of us — people want to (analyze Delaware data) for free,” he said. “Instead there are guys here doing analyses in Boca Raton because there’s nothing here.”
He believes that a key to establishing an analysis of open data in Delaware involves finding funds from an independent organization, like the Knight Foundation, to support the research.
It’s all a matter of changing mindsets, he said. “This could be one of our crowning jewels.” He’s not alone in thinking that.

Companies: CompassRed / Archer Group

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