By Isabelle Park WG’15, member of the PennApps Executive Board
On September 12, over 1200 students travelled to Philadelphia to participate in PennApps, the nation’s premier college hackathon. This fall, PennApps celebrated its 10th edition. Some of the highlights for the hackers included integration with the Architechs, Penn’s hardware hacking club, and a new health hacking track in collaboration with Penn Medicine.
This edition was the most selective and perhaps the smoothest run college hackathon ever. Things went well without major hiccups, a result of 5 months of planning by our executive team.
We were particularly proud to be able to cater to a wide variety of interests. PennApps hosted beginner programming workshops, invaluable talks including one by the Quixey’s (the title sponsor) CEO, and soldering labs for hardware hackers.
On the day of the event, students from all over world arrived on PennApps-coordinated buses or by flight. Students came holding sleeping bags and computer monitors under each arm.
Any student hacker will tell you that hackathons are all about the experience. We had massage stations set up all day on Saturday and Sunday, popsicle deliveries from the Lil Pop Shop, and catered hot meals. Hackers were able to enjoy side events of Quizzo, Ping Pong, and Smash Tournaments when not working on their projects.
Professor Karl Ulrich recently wrote about how many companies are now ditching the traditional career fair booth for university hackathons. As a testament, we had a record-breaking number of sponsors (both tech and non-tech) that spent the weekend alongside hackers, pallets of energy drinks, and free giveaways. PennApps has attracted world-class tech companies and VCs such as Apple, Uber, Andresseen Horowitz, and Venrock that came in search of the best new ideas and undergraduate talent. Participants showed their ability to think of and implement ideas, key skills when starting a business. Firefly and PageVamp, two notable Philadelphia based startups, were conceived at PennApps.
On Sunday, teams demo’d their hacks in the Palestra, science-fair style format. Judges went around placing their votes on the top 10 hacks. This led to the final presentation, where teams got a chance to present on stage their hacks in Irvine Auditorium.
First place went to Fuji, winning $5000, Thalmic Myos, Oculus DK2s, Leap Motions, Android Wear, Raspberry Pi B’s, SmartThings Kits, a visit to Rocket Fuel HQ, visit to MongoDB HQ, and a demo a Venrock’s HQ. Second place went to Magic Board, winning $2000, Oculus Rift DK2s, Android Wears, and Raspberry Pis. Third place went to Quitli, winning $1000, Android Wears, and Raspberry Pi B’s. The Best Healthcare Hack went to Watch My Step, which uses the Pebble smartwatch to send emergency texts when your elderly relatives fall. The best hardware hack was awarded to Spence, an app that tracks and inventories your kitchen. Check out all the hacks here.
Watch the livestream from the Closing Ceremony and judge for yourself! We’ve been working hard to up the quality of the hackathon experience for both hackers and sponsors. If you’re interested in attending, our next PennApps is happening in January. Follow us at @PennApps to know when applications open!