Washington– Students had a unique opportunity to gain the technical, business and entrepreneurial skills needed to be competitive in tech at a recent hackathon hosted by Howard University’s School of Business in March. Founded in 2015, Bison Hacks, formerly known as #HUHacks has continued to serve as a 24-hour event that provides students with the opportunity to code and collaborate to build an app from business ideas. The mission of the annual hackathon aims “to create an environment where students can share their ideas and bring them to reality with other students who are just as passionate.”
Dr. Allison Bryant, chair of information science, stated the main goal of Bison Hacks is to “demystify” tech and to get participants to consider the entrepreneurial side of technology.
“People are not as intimidated by technology as they were. It’s sort of moving over from being a consumer to a producer of technology. We want people to see it’s not that hard of a process especially when you work with a team,” said Bryant.
Fifty participants formed into 12 teams and tackled this year’s theme of social impact by building a solution that catered to the social good of the DMV community. Tracks included education, health, food, and wellness, restorative justice, environmental sustainability and financial inclusion and literacy.
Teams were provided access to both business and technical mentors to assist with the cultivation of their ideas and apps.
2014 Howard University alum, Ricardo Benlizar has participated in Bison Hacks since its first year and served as a technical mentor at this year’s event.
“To have this event hosted by an HBCU says a lot to me and the fact that a lot of people have a misconception of what a hackathon is – having these are really important to spread the awareness that you don’t have to be technically savvy, it’s about building a partnership and team environment, ” said Benlizar
Participants included students from Hampton University and the University of Maryland and this marked the first year the event was opened up to other universities and colleges. Prior to the event, a series of workshops were held to prepare students with skills in business pitching, front-end development, back-end development and user experience.
“We wanted students to have practice and not come in cold. We choose topics that we felt would strengthen student’s abilities to come in and get started quickly,” said Benlizar
A panel of four judges selected four teams for up to $7,500 in prizes.
The winning team POPOut won the first place prize of $7,500 and utilized social mapping technology to organize events that bring foot traffic to underserved communities.
POPOut rooted their success in brainstorming and having a collective understanding of what each team member had a passion for.
“We addressed a problem and an issue, found out things we were passionate about and we used technology to solve that issue and that’s how we won. That was the formula,” said information systems major and graphic design minor, Elizabeth Sanders from Hampton University.
Other placing teams included ShareEat winning the innovation prize, Credit Google ranking third and Where it Matters! ranking in second place. Students not only walked away with prizes but experiences and learned lessons.
Zakiyah Walker, freshman information systems major of Credit Google team said, “I really learned to persevere and never give up.”