By Brandon Fuhr
Senior Staff Writer
With a seemingly endless supply of Monster energy drinks on hand, a pack of ambitious entrepreneurs put their heads together to develop unique products and services at the second annual hackATL competition hosted by the Emory Entrepreneurship & Venture Management Club (EEVM).
At the event, held in the Goizueta Business School this weekend, hackathon competitors had 48 hours to build a business in the hopes of winning a $6,000 grand prize. HackATL is the largest business-focused hackathon in the southeast, and more than 400 students and professionals attended the event.
There were a wide variety of prizes offered for different types of projects, including technical and nontechnical ones. The first place team, Impulse, pitched an idea for an app that would display special retail deals of overstocked or promoted items from partner stores in a 30-second display, and won $6,000 and $60,000 in credit for Microsoft Azure, a cloud based server. The second place teams, U4GotUrBaby in non-tech and Digital Sixth in tech each won $3,000. The third place teams, SafeLink for non-tech and Pulse for tech each received $1,500.
According to Aarya Budhiraja, executive director of EEVM, there are many hackathons around the country, but hackATL is different in that people from many different backgrounds come together. Participants have three consecutive days to build a business product or service. On the final day, participants present their projects to judges in hopes of winning a prize.
“What you get is a chance to work with so many different people to come up with unique ideas that appeal to the broader audience,” Budhiraja said.
According to Budhiraja, people perceive hackATL as only a competition, but the event also offers speakers and workshops.
“We want to educate people about our entire offering,” Budhiraja said.
According to Budhiraja, what is really unique about hackATL is that it is a business hackathon, whereas most hackathons are usually focused on the technical coding aspect.
“We have people from all aspects coming in: we have business people, we have liberal arts people, we have designers and we have coders,” Budhiraja said. “We want to bring brilliant minds from different areas and get teams to form.”
The three-day event began on Friday with a keynote speech by Sanjay Parekh, founder of Startup Riot and founder and former CEO of Digital Envoy. The key message of Parekh’s speech was to “dream big”.
“We have lots of people that dream small, but we need people to dream big dreams.” Parekh said. “We don’t need them to just dream big dreams, but we need them to change a world.”
Parekh, who founded Digital Envoy in 1999, innovated geotargeting, a way to know where users are geographically based off their IP address. Users of this technology can access weather and addresses without having to input their location on the Internet.
Atlanta-based entrepreneurs Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, co-founders of Yik Yak, were judges at the event. After the winners were announced, attendees of the event could meet the co-founders and get advice.
“Start small and start simple,” Droll said. “Try to find a simple idea to work on, and try to get it going at your campus first.”
EEVM Treasurer Abhishek Patel acknowledges that there were a lot more people and coders at hackATL this year. About 420 students attended last year’s event, according to a Nov. 26, 2013 Wheel article.
“This year was a step up; we got more people this year and the quality of each person was a little bit higher because everyone seemed a little more motivated,” Patel said. “People were more excited because we had a lot of events planned and the quality of it was a lot better.”
Patel said his favorite ideas included an app similar to Tinder that can be used for shopping and an application that is able to locate a person’s location based off the signals his or her cellphone gives off.
According to Patel, hackATL is the main event of the year for EE&VM, but the organization also runs smaller events throughout the year.
Patel acknowledged that the event went very smoothly, but there were some technical mishaps.
“There were a couple issues here and there, but you always have to anticipate that,” Patel said. “There were some connection issues towards the end, but we were able to fix that within 20 minutes.”
The event closed with a speech delivered by Kat Cole, president and CEO of Cinnabon. Cole talked about her journey starting at Hooters restaurant and ultimately becoming the CEO of a multi-million dollar company. Toward the end of her speech, she left the audience with some advice.
“You have to focus on the things that are small enough to change, but big enough to matter,” Cole said.
– By Brandon Fuhr, Senior Staff Writer