Software developer shares Bloomberg’s vision for digital NYC

By Cristina DC Pastor

Want to know how many people visit the Rockefeller Center every year or every hour? Maybe you’re curious about New York’s youngest, wealthiest mayors. And just who are the Canarsies?

NYCFacets, an application that will put New York City at your fingertips, is nearing completion and scheduled to launch in October. It was created by software developer and Paranaque native Joel Natividad, 44, and his business partner Sami Baig. The app won grand prize at the recent New York City’s Big Apps 3.0 contest for the functionality of “using city data to make New York better.”

The way Joel explained it to The FilAm, NYCFacets is “data-driven web like Wikipedia, but instead of several (newspaper) articles coming up when you do a search, you get data.” NYCFacets is the initial product of, the startup that Joel and Sami founded, and one of about 10 companies that are part of Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s “incubator program” likened by The New York Times to Silicon Valley.

The incubator program is for aspiring entrepreneurs, said Joel. “The idea many startups don’t make it is because they don’t have the experience, the right connections, the funding, and what this incubator does is they incubate you for two years, give you support, access to employers and investors and make sure you have a good start.”

Joel’s start had been better than most. He came to the U.S. at age 21 with a degree in computer science from La Salle. He was reluctant to emigrate, he said, telling his mother he didn’t want to be a “second-class citizen” in America.

After three months, he found work at a management systems company that developed and maintained software for all kinds of laboratories. That company would soon file for bankruptcy, and Joel found himself working for the hedge fund that took over its operations. Joel stayed there for about 20 years.

When he joined the New York City’s Big Apps contest in 2010, his company was not very supportive, so he left and founded With an office on Varick Street, Ontodia now has three fulltime people, including Joel and Sami as officers. Ontodia shares a vision with Bloomberg to develop New York into a Digital City.

Joel referred to his concept as “semantic web.” When you search, say, “cheap Vegas hotel” the search brings up multiple choices. With semantic web’s precision and specificity, the search will limit the choices to the right hotel such that “instead of searching,” he said, “you will be knowing.”

Joel finds Bloomberg an inspiring technology leader. He is the “original data geek,” he said, crediting Bloomberg’s company for organizing all data about finance until it became the financial information behemoth it is today. “What Bloomberg did for finance, we want to do for open data, a concept for all government movements that want to modernize government,” he said.

Part of Joel’s fascination with the city and its mayor stems from how he grew up. He is a child of civil servants. His parents were long-time employees of Manila’s City Hall and supported themselves through college. His father served from the time of Mayor Antonio Villegas in the 1960s to Mayor Lito Atienza in the 1990s, retiring as the city personnel officer. His mother worked for many years in the business permits bureau.

One of his “frustrations” is not seeing as many Filipinos in the area of tech startups.
“I see in the startup field not as many Filipinos as I would like to see,” said Joel, father of 4-year-old Olivia. His wife Maya is a registered nurse at the Hackensack University Medical Center. “But I see a lot of South Asians.”

Here’s a fun fact about Joel: He’s not on Facebook.

Joel with wife Maya and their daughter Olivia

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: