24 Hours to Hack for a Cause

Today is a big day. We're wrapping up the first week of our fall 2015 cohort. Our new students in New York, Chicago, and Boston have spent the past four days getting oriented, ice-breaking, skill-building, meeting startup founders and leadership, resumé-refining, career path-defining, networking with alumni, and diving head-first into the startup ecosystem. Week One is intense. It is exhausting. And it is only a small foreshadowing of what's to come over the remainder of the next two months.

In the meantime, today is a big day. Each cohort, Week One culminates with our signature Idea Hack, a 24-hour brain-bending hackathon meant to solve real problems for a real company. With little time and much less sleep, cross-functional teams go head-to-head to develop the best, and most readily actionable solutions. Yesterday, the businesses posed their challenges, and our students divided into teams to get hacking. This afternoon, students will pitch their solutions to a panel of judges.

We've had a particularly interesting line-up of companies and causes for this Idea Hack. The companies we're hacking for include:

Startup Institute hackathon company: SpareNYC

SpareNYC is empowering New Yorkers to end hunger in their city by simply rounding restaurant bills up to the nearest dollar.[bctt tweet="Your spare change can feed #hungry New Yorkers with @SPARENYC #endhunger"]

solstice initiative

Boston-based Solstice Initiative will lessen your ecological footprint and your electricity bill with solar power to share.[bctt tweet="Community shared #solar is changing the game. Love the work @solarforgood is doing."]

Startup Institute hackathon company: the explorer program Chicago

The Explorer Program provides Chicago public high school students from under-resourced backgrounds the opportunity to explore, be inspired, and transform their lives through art. [bctt tweet="Arts + music are particularly imp. for economically disadvantaged youth - @ExplorerProgram"]

This past summer's Idea Hack in Chicago featured YMCA of the USA. The YMCA of the USA is the national office of the YMCA in the states. The Y is a federated organization, so they're not an HQ, but rather a resource office that supports and ideally inspires local Y's to do quality work. The students were challenged to consider ways that the Y could discover successfully launched, innovative programs within the YMCA network, as well as the people who developed them.

To give you a sense for what Startup Institute students will be doing today, we asked Senior Director of Strategic Innovation Maura Shea and Senior Director of Knowledge Management Lisa Tallman to share their experiences with the hackathon.

What were your expectations going into the Idea Hack?

We expected to hear some interesting ideas, but the teams went above and beyond with cool ideas, providing innovative campaign strategies, connections to company founders, ideas of how to adapt existing platform solutions to include additional functionality that would achieve our goals.

What was most exciting was to see how fired-up the students were around the challenge and how responsive they were to the opportunity. Most surprising was how far they got in such a short time. The thoughtful insights they developed and then applied to their solutions with only a project brief and a one hour Q&A were terrific, and all at the end of their very first week!

How did you choose a winning team? 

We selected the team that presented the most robust idea with the clearest understanding and analysis of the challenge. They really listened to the briefing document and reached out to local Y staff for further understanding of the challenge and the context. They did a great job.

Did the IdeaHack provide any important takeaways for the YMCA?

Suggesting existing tech tools was really helpful! The biggest value-add was the reinforcement that it takes a well-thought out approach—from the tools used, to a marketing campaign, to the development of engagement tactics based on organizational cultural.

What stood out to you the most?

Having worked on lengthier projects with other academic institutes, the results of the 24-hour IdeaHack were even better.

Anything last thoughts?

This was a great opportunity to collaborate. Thank you!


We're looking forward to seeing the results of these cohort's hack! Stay tuned and we'll let you know how it goes.

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