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Organizing a Hackathon @ UC Berkeley: The project and its origins…. (Part 1 of 3)

For those who are not familiar with the term, hackathon is the term used in the hacker community to refer to a meeting of programmers whose aim is the collaborative software development, although it may also have, in some case, a hardware component. These events can last for two to three days. The goal is twofold: first to make contributions to a, very often open source, project and second, to learn without haste, but with the aim of developing solutions that might lead to new startups. That is why in many hackathons there is also a component of mentoring and search for business angels.

The term integrates the concepts of marathon and hacker, alluding to a collective experience that pursues the common goal of developing applications in a collaborative short period of time.

Many hackatons have educational and stimulating purposes, as well as social to improve the quality of life, but we also propose the goal of creating usable software that might become a product marketable by a new startup.

Hackathons, from an organizational point of view, have a horizontal and intensive dynamic where participants complement individual experiences and skills in order to develop concrete solutions. They promote collaborative work among peers oriented towards problem solving, putting the focus on the work process as a form of collaborative learning and promoting the intrinsic motivation of participants.

Some months ago when I went to San Francisco for some meetings, I met Juan Francisco, a friend of mine from Granada, who was in charge of the Telecenters organization in Andalucía , a very successful experience in the region that started with the aim to increase IT literacy in small villages and that , with the time, got involved in social entrepreneurship.

The initiative funded by the Regional Government of Andalucía, with the contribution of EU funds, was, thanks to his energy and efforts, one of the most successful around the world in this area. He is internationally known it the circles.

In that meeting, Juan Francisco told me about the possibilities of a new generation of standalone SmartWatches (no need to have a Smartphone for them to receive messages, call or go to the Internet) that would make a breakthrough in the future, particularly when connected to “wearables”… we are already in the Internet of Things (IOT)here…

In order to promote these technologies he told me he would like to organize a series Hackathons to facilitate the development of applications for that kind of devices and he would like to have my help to organize one at UC Berkeley, since the university has a good reputation in computer science, at the same time as the other hackathons that he was organizing in Spain and possibly in South America.

You know me, I am a long life learner, this was anew experience… and I like challenges; I had never involved in the organization of a Hackathon and I decided to give it a try in my “free time”….  whatever it means  😉

Now, how to go about it?…

I knew there was a big Hakathon at UC Berkley at the beginning of the winter semester, it took place at so called Greek Theatre and it gathered more than 2000 hackers.

It was a general purpose one and any kind of IT related projects (hardware, software, web, mobile, etc) were accepted.

I contacted Costas Spanos, the Director of CITRIS, the Institute I am working with, for guidance and to get contact points for the activity and I also asked him if CITRIS would be interested in sponsoring our hackathon.

He replied immediately and put me in contact with Alic Chen , the head of “The Foundry @ CITRIS” so that he would look at my proposal and report to him with a Business Case.

The Foundry @ CITRIS was created in 2013 to help entrepreneurs build companies that make a significant impact on the world. A new economy is developing at the intersection of hardware, software and services. The Foundry provides access to design, manufacturing & business development tools, along with a community of entrepreneurs and experts to transform entrepreneurial teams into founders.

Since it was created, The Foundry has helped to create 14 companies, helped to raise more than 7 M$ in venture capital for them and it estimated that has contributed with more than 18 M$ to the Californian economy…… not too bad. Furthermore, The Foundry helped to organize the big hackathon I mentioned above.

I had a meeting with Alic and he immediately bought the idea and from there we started working.

The Foundry would sponsor the event and would contribute making available the infrastructure (space, tables, chairs, electricity, etc), will act as a consultant to help with the details of the organization (including budget estimation) and will liaise with the Administration to ensure, Security and cleaning of the premises after the event. Those weekend services are compulsory and are invoiced by the administration to the organizers.

The next step was to see how to reach the” hacker” population, particularly Berkeley students but no only to advertise the event and get as many registrations as possible.

But this was not enough, we needed more logistics support….

A few weeks before I had participated in a dinner organized by one of the Visiting Scholars from the University of Valencia who was here to collect information about Spanish startups in the valley and to see how the startup environment developed at UC berkeley.

There, I met a south Korean undergrad student whose “nick name” was Luke (his real name is Kun-hyoung Kim… he thought that his real first name would be too complicated to pronounce or remember here and therefore he decided to sign as Luke Kim…. very practical guy … and very interesting one…)

He is one of the most significant members of CETSA (Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology Student Association) which is linked to the UC Berkeley’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (CET) equips engineers and scientists with the skills to innovate, lead and productize technology in the global economy.

I met Luke again in one of the UC Berkeley conferences and explained to him my idea.

We agreed to speak about it in detail around a cup of coffee the next day and after my explanations he bought the idea and agreed to create a group of volunteers to help with the organization and to advertise the event on their page in Facebook and send the invitation to participate to their mailing lists.

Next step was to agree with the two sponsoring companies, InWatch USA and Global In Devices in Spain, on the precise objectives for the hackathon, including the prizes for the winners and to get a clear commitment for the payment of all the expenses.

Based on the estimations provided by Alic , I prepared a budget proposal to get the agreement of the sponsoring companies and after some discussion I got it.

Juan Francisco also decided to involve Miguel Raimilla, the Head of, the worldwide organization coordinating the Telecenter movement since he has a very good network of contacts and has experience in this kind of events. Miguel on board… I knew him and he is a nice guy..

We were nearly ready to go but…………we were already close to the end of the winter semester and after the winter exams everybody would disappear until mid-January……

Taking into account that the prize for the winners would be to go to a Final Hackathon at the Mobile World Cogress in Barcelona (March 2nd to 5th, 2015) it meant that the last possible week end to organize the UC Berkeley hackathon was the weekend of February 20th, at the same time as the other three hackathons taking place in Spain.

It also meant that we would had only four working weeks to deliver……. a lot of discipline and control of the activities would be required…. real project management skills needed…. 😉

Stay tuned for part two, soon



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