Startup Institute Boston's First IdeaHack

At the summer 2013 session of Startup Institute Boston, we spent the first three days of the 8-week program getting to know our new classmates, and by Thursday morning it seemed to me like we were finally getting familiar with each other. Introducing yourself to sixty new classmates and instructors can seem overwhelming, but Thursday morning marked the first time we met track-specific instructors and started discussing what we would be covering in our tracks. We knew that later in the afternoon we would be starting a 24-hour project, but details were scarce. As we broke for lunch that morning, I felt like I was familiar with most of my classmates and that we had started to settle into a routine. In few hours, the SIB staff would prove me to be very wrong on both assumptions.

Details regarding just about anything at SIB had been difficult to confirm for the first few days. On Thursday morning, all we knew was that at 3:30 that afternoon, we would be briefed on the details of the 24-hour enigma. We knew that the Ideahack was coming because it had been on the calendar all week. We had also been told that it would be our first introduction to our Partner Project groups, which would give us a little more insight to what we would be doing for the rest of the program as well as who we would be working with.

Our class had completed a few different icebreaker exercises over the first few days. We had all been given plenty of chances to talk about ourselves and one of the highlights of the first day had been the marshmallow tower project, where we had been separated into small groups and built towers of spaghetti and tape that would support marshmallows. The icebreaking games had started a few conversations amongst classmates, but before Thursday afternoon, we hadn’t yet tackled any project together that kindergartners hadn’t tried first.

At 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, our presentation on communicating with consulting clients wrapped up and we were finally introduced to both the Ideahack topic and our teams for next eight weeks. The Ideahack was to focus on a program that The Possible Project was starting called Makerspace, which would give Cambridge high school students a chance to build skills by starting their own businesses and producing their own products to sell. At the end of that introduction, the countdown started and we had 24 hours to deliver and present an idea that would both benefit a wonderful organization and give us the opportunity to win a fabulous prize.

Two hours later, we were off and running with only slightly more information on the Makerspace. Since we didn’t know much about the project, my team took the time to get to know each other a little better in an effort to see how we could use our skills to excel in the Ideahack. We started our work by walking to the building The Possible Project would be using for their makerspace. We felt the walk would help us ease into the project, and we were all happy with an approach that we felt would help us avoid an early crash. This approach seemed popular with a few other groups as well. Some stayed in the office to get to know each other while others ventured out to nearby restaurants to grab a bite and meet their new teammates.

By the time that our team got back to the office, it seemed like a few groups had switched from the getting to know each other to burying themselves in work. The teams had spread across our floor in clusters pouring over notes, computers, and whiteboards and occupied any nook or cranny that could possibly be considered private. One group sequestered themselves into a tiny room they built from portable whiteboards—it seemed like they were moving from new acquaintances to intimate conspirators quickly.

At 7:00, the SIB staff changed the game by introducing what some would deem their “sixth teammate” into the Ideahack equation: they tapped the keg of Sam Summer that had been provided for inspiration. The mood on our floor started to shift away from the feverish productivity that had taken hold as groups came back from dinner. People began meandering around the office engaging in inter-group “fact-finding” or “benchmarking”. We had found new common ground to discuss; over the last few hours we had started to find our footing after being thrown into the unknown of the 24-hour Ideahack. Work was still getting done, but the mood on the office had tilted decidedly towards social by 9:00. We dispersed by 10:00. Some groups found places to work together outside the SIB office while others split to work separately from home.

People began trickling back into the SIB space at 7:00 on Friday morning, and it was clear that the previous night had taken a toll on many groups. Most people kept working long after the building closed and not many people got more than five hours of sleep. The lack of sleep and impending presentations caused the tension to rise dramatically compared to the night before, and teams had to manage the stresses of the time crunch, lack of sleep, and learning to work with new, stressed-out teammates. There was a little time to swap horror stories from the previous night, but nearly everyone was in full grind-mode from the time they entered the office until the afternoon.

We had to turn in our projects at 2:30 and by 2:00 most teams had wrapped up their work. Presentations didn’t start until 3:30, so we had some free time to rehearse and try to unwind after the previous crush of work. We were no longer new classmates but grizzled SIB veterans who had survived the first ever SIB Ideahack and successfully delivered work that we hoped The Possible Project would find valuable. Also, we were tired and wanted to get our presentations out of the way.

Even after a 24-hour grind, the presentations were still engaging; it was clear that as a class, we could be proud of what we were able to produce in just one day. It was also evident that we could look forward to creating great things together. I never questioned this—from day one, people had been sharing their experiences, their success, and their goals. By the end of Friday, we weren’t just talking about doing great things, we had proved that we could work together and deliver.

- Andrew Wise, Sales and Business Development Student at Startup Institute

Photos: Nikhil Hathiramani, Sales and Business Development Student at Startup Institute