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Iowa innovator wins agency’s $10K Challenge.gov competition

17 August 2016

Jacquelyn Karpovich
NGA Office of Corporate Communications

The winner of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s first Challenge.gov competition never thought he “would in any way be involved with an intelligence agency.”

Nicholas Starke, a penetration tester and computer software evaluator in Iowa, spotted an advertisement for the agency’s living stories challenge on Twitter and “decided to take a swing at it.”

His idea took the challenge in a different direction than originally anticipated, said Chris Rasmussen, NGA’s GEOINT Pathfinder project program manager and one of the Challenge.gov judges.

“Mr. Starke’s idea helps reduce complexity tracking changes to a living story by navigating revisions with simple color-coded and clickable boxes of inserted and removed text," said Rasmussen. "Our team then turned this concept into a very simple ‘VCR button’-like navigation system to track changes.”

GEOINT Pathfinder developers implemented the code developed by Starke into an unclassified and mobile geospatial intelligence product line prototype.

“Our goal is to deliver high-quality, unclassified GEOINT to a customer’s mobile device or desktop hours before they come into a secret environment, while drinking their morning coffee,” said Rasmussen.

Ultimately, Rasmussen hopes this “coffee strategy” will spur institutionalizing unclassified GEOINT production within NGA and the intelligence community.

“As GEOINT becomes commercialized and pushes further into the unclassified space, we need to write more content within secured, unclassified channels,” he said.

According to Rasmussen, hosting NGA’s first challenge on Challenge.gov yields several exciting benefits, such as demonstrating that the agency is serious about paid crowdsourcing and embracing outside perspectives.

“One of our goals is to help IC employees and the public understand when we need to be open and when we need to be closed,” said Rasmussen.

That message has at least reached one person in Iowa.

“I think intelligence agencies in this country sometimes get a bad rap for not being transparent,” said Starke. “I think this was an excellent step in the right direction.”