Stillwater software programmer wins top AT&T app prize

Times Union story

Russell Kirkwood of Stillwater has won the $10,000 grand prize in the AT&T Tech Valley Civic App Challenge. His mobile app, Food Pantry Helper, helps food pantries manage their operations.

Kirkwood works at Creating Genius, a web design and software programming firm in Saratoga Springs that also happens to do mobile app development.

He is also a co-director of the Stillwater Food Pantry. He said that he noticed the need for a software program to run food pantries since most use paper to do accounting and management.

Kirkwood says he plans to put the money back into the app to make it better. It is is a free service for now, he said.

And while Kirkwood came away the winner of the $10,000 grand prize for his app, the biggest beneficiary may have been the regional technology community, which pulled together during the two-month contest — called the Tech Valley Civic App Challenge — like no other time in recent memory.

“What we’ve done in a greater sense is create relationships,” said Kale Kaposhilin, a principal with the Evolving Media Network in Kingston in Ulster County. “This would never have happened without the challenge.”

Kaposhilin, who founded the Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, a monthly gathering of entrepreneurs and technology start-ups, is one of dozens of people who volunteered for the two-month mobile app “hack-a-thon,” as quick-turnaround software development contests are called. Over 25 teams comprised of 125 people participated. Alex Muro and Eric Krans of the Albany Visualization And Informatics Lab at UAlbany won the $5,000 second prize for a voter participation app called Electorate.

Kaposhilin said he is in the process of lining up support for a new tech incubator in Kingston. He said he got great insight on how to approach the venture from another volunteer, Rick D’Errico, who is managing director of the New York BizLab, a newly opened business incubator on State Street in Schenectady. New York BizLab is owned by Antonio Civitella, CEO of Transfinder, the Schenectady transportation software company.

“I was very familiar with the old IBM site, and some of the other things that have happened in Ulster County, so we were talking the same language,” D’Errico said of his initial talks with Kaposhilin. “I started talking with Antonio (Civitella) about ‘What do you think of New York BizLab south?’ Now we reach out to each other multiple times a week. It really has started a friendship.”

Kirkwood, a software programmer at Creating Genius, a Saratoga Springs Web development firm, said he started to see the need for inventory and management software for food pantries when he became the co-director of the Stillwater Food Pantry last year. When the AT&T contest was announced, he decided to jump head first into developing an app for food pantries.

“Right now, everything is done on index cards,” Kirkwood said. “I sat on the idea for a while, but (the AT&T contest) was the catalyst. I started working nights and weekends on this.”

Kirkwood said he plans to use the prize money to make the app even better. He doesn’t plan on charging for the software at this point since food pantries are mostly operated by volunteers.

“It will go right back into the app,” Kirkwood said. “I plan to offer it free. I don’t want to charge for that. I also want to do a lot of improvements.”