I just got done with reviewing a number of applications to the SBA Apps for Entrepreneurial contests. Lots of cool applications and the results will be forthcoming in a few weeks.
It's my first time judging so I thought I'd give some feedback from the perspective of a judge for those applying to other apps contest.
So here we go:
1) Read the instructions - Sounds simple but so many fail this step. Specifically what data does the contest want you to use? Which agency is hosting the competition - they are more likely to want something focused on their brand/data than on another agency-focused app that barely uses their data
2) Good design matters - In apps contests, I think most of applications are created quickly by developers without much thought on UX/UI. Good design matters so make sure you get someone to quickly help you out in your design. On first impressions, little things matter - what font you use, is the logo respectable, etc.
3) Narrow the scope - It's hard to solve a huge problem in a short-term apps contest. The best apps have a very narrow focus that can be accomplished in a short period of time. I'd rather see a well-executed narrow scope app that can say "we hope to move it forward and expand scope over time" than a "okay" broad scope app
4) Be creative - With most data sets, there is an obvious idea that most people will have. If its transit data, everyone will want to put the transit data in an easy to use mobile form. There will be lots of applications that are basically the same. Spend some time thinking creatively - what is a more unique way of using the data? What existing data (consumer or government) can you combine with that data to provide interesting solutions?
5) Just do it - Too often, I've heard people say they don't want to apply for apps contests because they don't have a good enough idea or they don't have enough skills. The truth in the matter is that in most apps contest, you have a shot. A good apps contest gets between 20 to 50 applications and often gives 3-10 awards. Those odds are pretty good especially if you count out those folks that don't read the instructions, have too broad of scope, have the same idea and aren't creative, and lack good design.
So give it a run. If you have a weekend, get together with a friend and put something together.