In the summer of 2014, the City of Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department faced widespread scrutiny after shutting off water to more than 20,000 residential customers unable to pay their water bills. Abess Makki wanted to help the City counter the negative attention while providing residents with tools to better manage water usage and costs. So he founded CityInsight, LLC, a company that partners with municipal government to develop agile web mobile applications, enabling them to better communicate with their constituents and streamline their operations.
CityInsight’s first product is CityWater™, an app and website that enables Detroit residents to track water usage in real time, easily access billing information and receive mobile customer support. Abess developed his idea and honed his pitch during the DTX Launch Detroit student accelerator at TechTown. He then pitched his concept to the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department and, ultimately, secured a contract with the agency.
“Initially, CityInsight was more of a project,” Abess says. “The TechTown team took all the things I was working with and helped me make it into a business.” The app and website, which are expected to launch in August, have multiple benefits for consumers, including water budget monitoring and leak alerts. For DWSD, the technology offers data analytics and improved communication and transparency. Abess’ next step is to develop partnerships with additional municipalities in Michigan and, eventually, across the US. He continues to work closely with TechTown as a client in the Business Incubation Center.
This is not Abess’ first large-scale effort to address issues of water access. In 2011, as a Wayne State University student, he co-founded the National Student Water Association to help provide disadvantaged communities in developing countries with adequate sanitation facilities and potable water. In the spring of 2013, members of the organization’s Wayne State chapter traveled to El-Retiro, Honduras, to help build a gravity water system that pipes clean water into the village. The NSWA has grown into a coalition of students from across the country working together to solve the water crisis and has received recognition from the White House.
Abess says it’s important for entrepreneurs to take risks and to learn from their challenges: “The most surprising aspect of entrepreneurship is that you have to get out of your comfort zone on a daily basis. In order to grow your business you have to get out there and speak with new people and pitch your idea. Every day there is a new problem or issue you have to overcome and conquer.”