Photo Credit: Pixabay


San José, Calif. –  Mayor Sam Liccardo announced on Wednesday September 13th that Christopher Farmer and Candace Marbury of GRAD are the winners of the “Unleash Your Geek” contest – a competition launched last year that challenged Bay Area students, innovators, and organizations develop a device that could make removing graffiti on highways quicker and cheaper than the current $60,000/clean-up cost. The winning team modified a drone to create a device that sprays paint to clean graffiti from hard-to-reach places such as highway overpasses.

“This contest proves that we have the most innovative community on the planet,” said San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. “Chris and Candace rose to the top from a field of 140 submissions because their idea was focused, clearly addressed the problem, proved that their technology works, and built a vision for an industry-deployable product.”

Chris and Candace are downtown San Jose residents who have an interest in design and innovation. Chris Farmer has a degree in Business Management and over 6 years of professional experience in global sourcing.  Candace Marbury has a degree in Mechanical Engineering and over 9 years of professional experience in hardware design.  Together, they combined their talents into design and consultancy ventures over the past 3 years. Because of his experience through the Unleash Your Geek competition, Chris has taken it a step further and become an FAA certified UAV pilot. 

Mayor Liccardo launched the “Unleash Your Geek” initiative in May 2016 on the belief that by harnessing the intellectual power of the community, City Hall could create innovative ways to deliver better service to its residents.

“With the Unleash Your Geek competition, the City of San Jose has found a way to create private businesses,” said Chris Farmer, co-founder of GRAD, the winning team, “As entrepreneurs, half the battle is finding someone who will use your idea. The City of San Jose has stepped up and said we will be the testing ground if you can bring the right idea.  This has empowered us to launch our own company, innovate a stagnant industry, and improve the community we live in.”

While the team’s first prototype has successfully demonstrated proof-of-concept, the team is already iterating on a second version that will allow paint to be sprayed with greater force and accuracy.

The Unleash Your Geek Challenge is a shining example of how technology and the spirit of Silicon Valley can be leveraged to build a tool that creates real public benefit,” said Bijan Sartipi, Caltrans District Director.  “This new tool could potentially increase the safety of motorists and Caltrans workers by decreasing the presence of Caltrans workers in traffic to remove graffiti on the state highway system.  We look forward to working with the winner to help build on their technology to work towards a model that could potentially be deployed across the state.”  

The Mayor’s Unleash Your Geek initiative was done in partnership with CalTrans, Microsoft, Prospect Silicon Valley, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“Unleash Your Geek is part of an incredible wave of civic innovation in San José, and it’s especially exciting to see residents of Silicon Valley using their tech skills to help the community reach its full potential. Microsoft proudly joins this cross-sector group of collaborators — including Mayor Liccardo’s office, Prospect Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and individual innovators — in celebrating San José and Unleash Your Geek,” said Jessica Weare, philanthropy and civic engagement manager, Microsoft.

“The ‘Unleash Your Geek’ project demonstrates the best of Silicon Valley – it harnesses our creative spirit to solve our region’s challenging problems. I hope the City of San Jose’s program will become a model for other cities and partnerships. It is an honor to partner with the city in this program.” – Gina Dalma, vice president of government relations, Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

“Their innovation is an impressive accomplishment and represents a great success for the first Unleash Your Geek contest. We are proud to support this kind of smart city innovation,” said Ruth Cox, CEO of Prospect SV.