Teams Pitch Startups at Hackathon

More than 420 students converged at the Goizueta Business School this weekend as part of the inaugural hackATL hackathon hosted by the Emory Entrepreneurship and Venture Management Club (EEVM).

Teams of students created and pitched a startup company in 48 hours or less, according to Goizueta Business School senior Ishaan Jalan, founder and president of hackATL and EEVM.

Jalan said the inspiration for the event came from hackathons hosted by other schools such as the University of Pennsylvania and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a desire to show Emory students’ knowledge to employers.

“We want to make Emory the entrepreneurial center in the Southeast because we feel we have the best institutional structure, the best faculty and the best students to make it happen,” Jalan said. “The best way to break out of our enclosed Emory bubble we felt was to host an event.”

The weekend saw 46 teams comprised of students, community members and full-time professionals from Emory and more than 60 schools across the country.

Participants had the option of either giving brief “elevator pitches” to other attendees Friday night to create a team or pre-registering a team before the event.

Teams worked through the night Friday and Saturday to create a five-minute pitch to explain their product to a panel of judges that included several startup CEOs and venture capitalists.

On Saturday, hackATL featured several guest speakers in a workshop open to participants as well as the public. Sanjay Parekh, an Emory MBA alum and entrepreneur, held a keynote address Sunday afternoon titled “Be Intentionally Lucky.”

Jalan said the 46 teams were narrowed down to a final group of eight using five criteria: innovation, feasibility, presentation, revenue potential and design and polish.

“These criteria were all important, but we operated with more emphasis on the innovation and the revenue side of things,” Jalan said. “It’s great to have a cool app, but it’s even better to have a cool app that makes money.”

The winner of the event was team Scenter, who created a social app that leaves “scents” — short text messages tied to a location — that help people find out what is happening around them, according to College senior David Fink, who was on the team that created the winning app.

Several of the top four teams as well as the “fan favorite” included Emory students, such as the all-Emory fourth-place team Gage, comprised of B-School junior Karoline Porcello, College seniors Michael Sacks and Hyo Byun and College juniors Michael Krakower and James Ding.

“HackATL was a valuable learning experience for me and I gained so much from working with such a diverse group,” Porcello said. “The event incorporated all aspects of what I have learned during my time in the business school, and it was great to see how they all work together.”

Porcello and her team created an app called Gage, which is a “social tachometer” that offers valuable marketing data by asking targeted questions in a game format.

College sophomore Sarah Choi said that much of the success of the event could be attributed to the hackATL team as well as the sponsors that provided food and other goods for the participants.

“Our sponsors were fantastic, considering the large amount of coordination we had to do,” Choi said. “They graciously provided three days’ worth of food and helped us out with expenses.”

Jalan added that some of the technology companies that sponsored the event are using the passion they saw at the event to begin recruiting Emory students for open internships and jobs.

“Some of the companies that were here I’ve never heard of and they’re sitting on millions of dollars in capital to create big ideas,” Jalan said. “After this weekend, they feel that Emory and its students can help make those ideas a reality.”

Jalan said the turnout and flow of hackATL exceeded everyone’s expectations and he is excited to see the event grow in the future.

“I think it was fantastic and went better than anyone anticipated,” Jalan said. “Everyone from the sponsors and judges to the attendees has already made hackATL one of the best events in the country and it can only improve from here.”

—By Stephen Fowler

Photo by Liqi Shu

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