Data Mining Start-Up Enigma to Expand Commercial Business

Data Mining Start-Up Enigma to Expand Commercial Business

The deaths of five people, including three children, in a raging fire that engulfed a home in New Orleans last November was “a terrible tragedy,” the city’s first deputy mayor, Andy Kopplin, said.

It was also preventable, he said. The house in the city’s Broadmoor neighborhood, like nearly all the homes with fire-related deaths in the city in recent years, had no smoke alarm.

Officials in New Orleans were well aware of the risks posed in homes without smoke detectors, and had a program to give them free to anyone who asked. But that clearly was not working. So after the Broadmoor fire, city officials decided to try to a new approach — targeted outreach to install smoke detectors in the homes most at risk.

To help pick the homes for the installation, they turned to a New York start-up,, a specialist in the field of open data, which involves collecting, curating and mining public government information for insights.

A small team from Enigma worked with New Orleans analysts, poring over city demographic, building and fire reports going back years. In March, the city announced a data-guided, door-to-door smoke alarm initiative, focused on higher-risk homes. Factors associated with higher risk included poverty, the age of the house and the presence of young children or very old residents.

The New Orleans job was a pro bono project for Enigma, but one that demonstrated the sorts of insights that can be pulled out of open data. The young company and a handful of others like it are betting the same will increasingly prove to be true in the corporate world.

Open data, as a philosophy and a practice, has been animated by a sense of civic activism — that transparency will yield social benefits. The Obama administration endorsed the concept in 2009 when it introduced, a website providing access to federal government data sets. Many state and city governments took similar steps, as did governments around the world.

This new breed of open data companies represents the next step, pushing the applications into the commercial mainstream. Already, Enigma is working on projects with a handful of large corporations for analyzing business risks and fine-tuning supply chains — business that Enigma says generates millions of dollars in revenue.
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