Municipal intelligence

Curate’s web-sweeping technology brings knowledge of public and private projects and ordinances to those needing an early seat at the table.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Imagine being a general contractor whose livelihood requires knowledge of future projects or rezoning issues, or a local or state association or lobbying firm interested in ordinances or laws being discussed. Council meeting agendas and minutes are available online but can take hours and staff time to compile.

Now, imagine receiving all that information each week, updated, categorized, and at your fingertips with just a few clicks of a mouse.

That’s the remedy of Curate, the brainchild of UW alums and co-owners Taralinda Willis, CEO, and her husband Dale Willis, chief technology officer. “Finding early information is the difference between winning and losing a job,” Taralinda insists.

Curate software scans meeting agendas and minutes from cities, counties, and school district websites, categorizes them using artificial intelligence, and presents much-abridged versions to customers on a weekly basis.

As a former project manager on the renovation of Union South, Taralinda witnessed firsthand how vendors were being shut out of the bidding process simply because they lacked critical information. Many were too late to the game.

The couple set out to change things with Curate, which was accepted into the gener8tor program in 2016. They signed their first client in January 2017.

Fourteen months later, Curate had raised a total of $540,000, according to media reports, with most ($450,000) coming from the Idea Fund of La Crosse, a venture fund set up as part of Wisconsin’s Fund of Funds. The company now employs eight others in its downtown Madison office and serves about 100 clients in 14 states. “And we’re hiring!” Taralinda adds, and they are on a fast track to gathering data nationwide.

Curate is a technology platform that brings information about future projects to customers interested in economic development, from general contractors and bankers to lobbyists, by scanning municipal meeting agendas and minutes and categorizing the data. “We aggregate public documents and identify relevant pieces,” she says. “Almost every city has a website, and that’s where we get our data from, which these people are usually reading through anyway.”

For customers, the knowledge gained by being that “fly on the wall” at meetings could be a game-changer. For example, Curate had been watching abnormalities in Racine County for months before Foxconn was ever announced.

“There were some large economic packages (e.g., infrastructure) being discussed that were out of the norm for that part of the state in both size and scope,” Taralinda explains. Something big was brewing, they knew, based on wastewater (sewer) work being planned and other signals. “This is all public information,” Dale reminds, but it would take an inordinate amount of time to gather it all.

“We compile our data by topic starting with specific keywords our customers were interested in. Then we developed AI (artificial intelligence) around that to actually select usable information. On a weekly basis, we may identify 10,000 unique hits that we boil down for our customers,” he adds, “because who wants to go through all that data?” In fact, less than 1 percent of the data typically reaches the customers, based on their own filters.

Taralinda explains. “If someone is interested in what’s happening in Illinois, we’re able to boil the ocean and narrow the data down to 25 pieces that happened in Illinois in the last week.”

Monthly fees depend on the amount of data a customer wants to track and the areas of study.

General contractors or vendors use Curate technology to identify information about projects they’re not yet aware of, whether it’s a public project like fire stations, K-12 schools, or libraries, or private projects like industrial, manufacturing multifamily housing, retail, or senior living complexes. Curate even tracks all new Kwik Trip locations.

Is the young company considering an exit plan? “We’ve got a monumental challenge in front of us,” Dale states. “We’re climbing a mountain and are focused on making this as big and as great as possible. That’s our vision.”

“That said,” Taralinda pipes in, “we also understand the market and space, and we see this as an easy acquisition down the road.”

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