If you’re not concerned about the state of America’s physical infrastructure, just spend a minute talking to Washington D.C. area commuters about their Metro mass transit line; Flint, Michigan residents about drinking water; or Los Angelenos about the largest-ever methane leak that took place in their own back yard (and lasted for more than three months).
The critical nature of repairing, rebuilding, or building dams, bridges, tunnels, parks, highway interchanges, and the like is one reason Mike Rydin, founder and CEO of software company HCSS, wanted to find a way to showcase construction jobs, the people doing the work, and perhaps draw new people into the field.
Toward that end, Rydin launched I Build America, and the Impact Awards to publicize and reward innovative construction projects. Contractors and construction companies were invited to nominate big projects which are then voted on by the public. Construction firms used software from Sugarland, Texas-based HCSS to manage their projects.
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Submissions include the Wanapum Dam in Beverly, Washington; the massive 28-acre Houweling’s Tomato Greenhouse in Mona, Utah; and the U.S. 17-92 flyover of State Road 436, designed to alleviate a notorious traffic bottleneck near Orlando. (So far it’s the top vote getter.)
Eighty-seven projects were submitted so far, with more than 125,000 votes logged to date. The eight projects with the most votes will enter the final phase of the contest, along with another eight to be selected by committee on May 2. Winners picked by a panel of judges will get bragging rights and share in $150,000 worth of prizes.
The idea for all this started last year when HCSS launched The Most Interesting Project Bracket Challenge, a promotional campaign designed for its own customers. “We wanted a way for them to show what makes their work interesting and how our software helps them,” Dan Briscoe, vice president of marketing for HCSS told Fortune.
HCSS had already been using software from Boston-based SnapApp to create online surveys, questionnaires, and features to engage customers. But SnapApp’s ability to create interactive brackets sparked the idea for that Most Interesting bracket challenge. Afterall, everyone from Star Wars fans to general-interest pop culture mavens loves a March Madness style bracket.
There was some trepidation when the company launched the Most Interesting project at its user group meeting last year. Would enough of the company’s 4,500 business customers respond?
“We were hoping for 16 entries so we wouldn’t be embarrassed,” said Briscoe. “But we ended up needing two full brackets to handle 121 submissions.”
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There were more surprises in store. HCSS was stunned that the challenge drew more than 300,000 voters. Some construction companies took the challenge very seriously—promoting their entries on local TV stations, for example.
There was then concern about possible voter fraud, and HCSS monitored the voting in real time and, in fact, found evidence of at least one issue: An “unnamed company illegally outsourced voting to Romania so we had to shut that down,” Briscoe said.
The company’s stated aim of raising the profile of interesting projects (and the companies behind them) was met, but the bracket challenge also showed it is possible to do well by doing good: HCSS saw a whopping 633% increase in social media traffic coming to its web site which it attributes directly to the contest.