GW Students Host First Mini-Hackathon

A collaboration tool for students was created during the event, organized by GW seniors Dylan Fox and Nick Hunter.

GW students Zachary Herman, Dylan Fox and Nick Hunter helped organize GW’s first mini-hackathon last weekend.
December 05, 2012

In only eight hours on Saturday, a real-time student collaboration tool was created by aspiring George Washington University entrepreneurs, thanks to a mini-hackathon co-sponsored by two startups.

A team of six George Washington University students and alumni won first place for Course Talk, a tool that enables conversation between students in class. The team received $600 in cash from the Office of Entrepreneurship and startups Crowdvance and Crunchbutton. A hackathon is an event where programmers and software developers collaborate intensively on new software projects.

“The dedicated students who spent their Saturday participating in the hackathon now have a huge leg up if they decide to enter the $60K GW Business Plan Competition in January, since they have already worked together as a team, built a really cool product and received valuable feedback from the judges,” said Jim Chung, director of GW’s Office of Entrepreneurship. “These types of entrepreneurship events are great learning opportunities for the participants, and as we do with any and all GW student entrepreneurs who ask for it, I’m looking forward to helping them turn their efforts into a successful venture.”

George Washington seniors Dylan Fox and Nick Hunter hosted the mini-hackathon a few blocks from GW at 2101 L St., NW, asking the participants—Elliot Liskin, Yu Song, Xi Yang, Sara Chenari, Peter Cook and Todor Iliev— to create web applications related to student organizations or university life.

“For the very first hackathon here on campus, we’re extremely happy with how the event went,” said Mr. Fox, who founded the online fundraising platform Crowdvance. “Several individuals from different backgrounds came up with a completely new idea and concept and then actually turned that concept into a reality with nothing more than time, computers and some innovation.”

The judges include Randy Graves, D.Sc. ’78, director of the George Washington University Entrepreneurs Round Table Mentors program; Adam Riggs, former president of Shutterstock; and DJ Saul, chief marketing officer at iStrategyLabs. Mr. Fox said the judges viewed demos from all the participants and provided feedback to the Course Talk team on how to refine and expand their platforms.

“Saturday’s mini-hackathon was a remarkable exercise because of the creativity, innovation and multidisciplinary team work successfully extracted from a diverse group of students in a short, intensely focused event,” said Dr. Graves.

The George Washington mini-hackathon was the first event of its kind for graduate student Sara Chenari, who said she enjoyed working with team members from a variety of different backgrounds and nationalities.

“Having worked as a computer scientist for seven years, I’ve been in brainstorm phases of different projects,” she said. “The team members were distinctly awesome in this phase. Their creativity is admirable.”

Ms. Chenari said she especially appreciated the feedback she received from the judges.

“At first I was a little worried about the presentation, but after a couple of minutes I relaxed when I saw how the judges became interested in Course Talk and started to give us effective recommendations to improve it,” she said. “They encouraged us to move forward with commercialization.”

The mini-hackathon was designed to help individuals take immediate action on developing their business ideas without having to face rounds of competition, said Mr. Fox.

“We were hoping that when we throw individuals in a room—all with different technical and design backgrounds—and allow people to spend the day building cool, useful web applications, a lot will be learned and gained from the experience,” he said. “The hackathon embodies a fun, nothing-to-lose feel, whereas with other competitions people may get discouraged if they don’t make it past a certain round and never end up actually building their product.”

“The judges were extremely impressed with the skill and talent level of the participating students and were equally impressed with the platform that the team developed throughout the day,” he added. “The students also had a great time and enjoyed working with each other.”

Mr. Fox won third place—and $4,000—in the 2012 GW Business Plan Competition for Crowdvance, which rewards donors with exclusive deals on leading brands in exchange for donating to local, community-driven causes and organizations.

His business has evolved since the competition, including a name change to Crowdvance. Student organizations from more than 40 universities around the country are currently using his fundraising platform, and Crowdvance’s brand partnerships with companies like Shoebuy and AllPosters offer exclusive discounts and deals to its donors.

“We’re really happy with the growth our platform has seen since we launched in the beginning of September,” he said. “We’ve got a great team of people working on Crowdvance who are all committed to our goals and our vision for our platform.”

As a full-time employee at the startup Crunchbutton—an online food-ordering service— Mr. Hunter is tasked with getting the business running at George Washington and eventually expanding to other campuses in the District. The startup wanted to help sponsor the mini-hackathon, he said, to encourage more of an “entrepreneurial culture” at the university.

“Hackathons are really good venues for smart, innovative students to get together, share ideas and create something awesome,” he said. “But most importantly, this type of event is a huge resource for students interested in a career in startups since it provides a way to network with like-minded students and professionals.”