Fueled by creativity and caffeine, over 120 Carnegie Mellon University students converged last weekend for CMU's first 'TartanHacks.'
The 24-hour hackathon was organized by student group ScottyLabs, in conjunction with Women@SCS, Project Olympus and the School of Computer Science.
"We specifically wanted to get first-timers involved," said ScottyLabs director and co-founder, Amy Quispe, of TartanHacks' unique focus. "A lot of really talented people weren't participating in hackathons."
Most hackathons — collaborative hacking sessions aimed at building innovative applications — have only 5 to 10 percent female participation and are intimidating for novices. ScottyLabs set up well-attended app-building crash courses, API tech talks and a team-building mixer in the days prior to the event.
"After our courses, people felt they had the necessary skills to create web and mobile applications," said Quispe (CS'13). "We ended up having about a third women and over half freshmen. Participants came from all six undergraduate colleges."
Sponsors lent their support through both funding and professional expertise, sending engineers to help with their API, or source code, use. They included such high profile companies as Twitter, Microsoft, ideeli, Yahoo!, Venmo, Facebook and Google.
Judges included venture capitalist Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures and co-founder of College Prowler and Branding Brand, Chris Mason. Winning prizes included cash, trips, computers and more. Teams were recognized for "Best User Experience" and "Most Innovative" and in honor of the late Randy Pausch, a First Penguin Award was given to the most daring team.
A highlight of the weekend was a closing talk given by Carnegie Mellon's Luis von Ahn, computer science associate professor and founder of reCaptcha. He shared his own entrepreneurial experiences and encouraged the students to look toward commercializing their own creations, perhaps like those just produced.
Von Ahn's entrepreneurial success represents the impetus behind Carnegie Mellon's Greenlighting Startups, a consortium of incubators designed to accelerate the university's impressive record of turning campus innovations into sustainable new businesses.
As an event organizer and key member of CMU's Greenlighting Startups initiative, Project Olympus works to help and inspire students like those at TartanHacks in transforming their own great ideas into viable business opportunities.
ScottyLabs itself began as a project to make API's for CMU public databases and was co-founded by Quispe and Vinay Vemuri (CS'13). Vemuri suggested the TartanHacks concept for CMU.
Given its first successful run, hopes are high it's here to stay.