Wow, what a weekend. My first hackathon! This whole concept was new to me when I came to Sloan – a weekend focused on pitching, working on and then presenting solutions to any challenge you can think of. There have been a couple of these hackathons already this semester, but Hacking Arts was my first – two days focused on innovating around challenges related to the arts, broadly defined.
It all kicked off with a day of panels and presentations centered around five main themes: Music, Fashion, Performing Arts, Visual Arts & Design, and TV/Film. There were panel discussions with amazing speakers from really cool companies, and mini-presentations from start-ups doing some really exciting things in the art space. It’s the first time this hackathon has run in this format, and I was amazed at how professionally and smoothly everything went, especially given that this is something my classmates have put together in their spare time (who knew that such a thing exists?).
Then came the hacking. At 6pm we took a break and then came back into the main room, where the rows of chairs had been replaced by white flip boards, each with a general theme for us to brainstorm around. Any idea was fair game, no matter how crazy. I’m interested in social impact work, so I got swept up in brainstorming ideas for Little Sun, a company making portable solar-powered lamps.
After the brainstorming, we pitched. I had planned on watching for a bit and then going home to work on a problem set, but somehow I found myself up on stage giving a 30-second pitch for a new distribution model for Little Sun (inspired by the “Girl Scout cookie model”), and then up again a few minutes later with a second Little Sun idea. There were 60 pitches in total, with everything from a new way to practice public speaking, to an idea on making it possible to “literally swim through data”. Afterwards those of us who pitched stood around the stage, and anyone and everyone in the room – which included people from all parts of MIT and beyond – approached their favourite ideas to form teams and push the idea forward.
A few of us had pitched ideas related to how Little Sun was reaching its customers, so we formed a team together, recruited a few more people from the audience, and then we got to work. The seven of us (me, a 2nd year Sloanie, four very cool MIT freshmen and an MIT staff member) brainstormed, discussed and designed well into the night, and then started again early the next morning. By early afternoon on Day 2, we were confident in the concept, and needed to turn it into a prototype to show the world. Our idea involved a website, and we had an amazingly talented team member who mocked up the landing page in an actual browser while the rest of us put together sketches of other sections first on paper and then in Powerpoint and InDesign.
And then finally, presentations. We had a strictly timed 3 minutes to share our idea, and then a minute of Q&A from the panel of judges. The presentation was over in a flash, and for the next 45 minutes I listened in awe to all of the amazing ideas that the other groups had come up with. There were 5 prizes up for grabs (as a hackathon newbie, I hadn’t even realized it was a competition), and we were competing against some very cool ideas.
I had to leave just before the awards ceremony – thinking that we had no chance of winning against so many amazing teams – so I was surprised and thrilled when my team sent out the great news on our WhatsApp group. The hackathon was just the one weekend, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to do more with the idea – and for me, I’m sure this will have been the first of many hackathons to come.