Local startup grows
You’re new to the area and want to find the schools, parks, hospitals and maybe even a mall near your house. Well, thanks to some local entrepreneurs, you can get all that information in one place.
Chris Gilhooley — with the help of and handful of other team members — developed, built and launched MoversAtlas, a map-based website with information vital to residents of Florida both new and old.
Using the MoveMap system on the website, users can plug in their current or prospective address and see its proximity to schools, parks, hotels, shopping centers and places of worship, just to name a few.
The map, which covers the entirety of the Sunshine State, also populates geographic information regarding environmental hazards such as sinkholes, toxic waste sites and dumps as well safety information about police and fire stations and hospitals.
Though only a website, the project is handled by several different people, from geographic information systems analysts to developers to marketing professionals. Two founders of the project, Chris Gilhooley and Travis Brooks, go way back — a decade and a half to be exact.
The pair initially met 15 years ago in middle school, but became partners on the project after Gilhooley, along with another founder, were disappointed in the developers they had been considering bringing onto the project. Brooks, a developer and programmer in his own right, expressed ardent interest in the project in 2013 and has been an integral team member since.
But the story of MoversAtlas starts years before that, in 2010 while Gilhooley pursed a master’s degree in urban planning from Florida State University. Its current form and iteration, however, was envisioned in 2013 and launched just a year ago, and not without some challenges and hiccups.
Many of those challenges centered on the team’s inexperience with a project like this — it’s the first time many have embarked on such a venture — as well as the part-time nature for most if not all partners. As Brooks said, “we have to eat first.”
“We had no idea how difficult it would be when we started,” Gilhooley said with a laugh. “Everything’s easy on paper. The overall challenge was just staying on task enough to get it done and coordinating everyone and the different moving parts.”
But save for actually setting aside time to work on the project, the biggest challenge was, and still is, populating the map with all the data, a majority of which is done by Brooks.
The process to plot all the data on the map took about six months, Gilhooley said, the first step of which dealt with taking all the data they received from government agencies and putting it in a usable, understandable form that consumers could easily utilize.
To plot an entire state’s worth of data, the team started small and then worked its way up to larger geographical segments, not without some trial and error.
“We first tried to see if we could plot data for Seminole and Orange County and we started there and tried to figure out how to do that effectively and not make everything crash,” Brooks said. “Then you step up to larger areas to see if you’re system can handle the volume of data.”
If plotting the locations of hundreds upon hundreds of schools, malls and churches in the state of Florida wasn’t hard enough, Brooks said plotting the heat map information, which centers on flood zones, household income, property ownership rate and appraised property value, was the biggest and most time consuming challenge.
Where it stands right now, the team makes no money off this project and receives about a thousand hits on the website a month. Right now, however, Brooks is working on the application programming interface for the site, which would allow other parties to plug in the map on their site and utilize their technology, which would in turn bring in revenue for the team.
But despite all the challenges, time-consuming steps and trial and error, Brooks said that the tangibility of the project is reward enough.
“A lot of times, in programming, depending on what you’re working on, you can be working on some tiny aspect of a program that no one’s ever going to see,” Brooks said. “It’s really nice to start with nothing and construct an actual product that people can interact with.”