HackUMass encourages collaboration between mentors, top-tier companies and students, and provides all the hardware/software tools needed to put ideas in motion and create a completed product.
Founder: Andrew Sousa
This article is part of our Entrepreneur Events Spotlight featuring entrepreneurial events from around the world. We hope these interviews will inspire and motivate you as you undertake your own entrepreneurial journey.
In four sentences or less, tell us about your event and its objectives.
Our hackathon brings together students from many different backgrounds to create and innovate while also promoting a culture of project-based learning. HackUMass V is happening this Fall November 3rd-5th at UMass Amherst and will be one of the biggest student-run hackathons in New England. There will be over 800 students from across the country participating in our 5th annual competition for 37 consecutive hours.
The heart of HackUMass is to come together to solve problems, create new things and build relationships with other hackers. This type of event encourages collaboration between mentors, top-tier companies and students, and provides all the hardware/software tools needed to allow our hackers to put their ideas in motion and to have a completed product by the end of the event. -Jesica
Why is your event unique? Please describe the benefits.
HackUMass has four main benefits that set us apart from other hackathons:
HackUMass takes place at the Integrative Learning Center, one of the newest state-of-the-art buildings on campus. With 173,000 sq ft. of space, our location provides accommodations for up to 2,000 hackers. This includes rooms for tech talks, workshops, yoga, sleeping, ping pong tournaments, and much more! Not only do we have the space, we have the technology. HackUMass provides all of our hackers with a fully stocked hardware inventory, courtesy of M5 engineering lab and other donors. With Arduinos, Oculus Rifts, quadcopters, robotics kits, and much more, we are able to provide the latest technology necessary to bring any idea to life. You bring the idea, we’ll take care of the rest.
To make this all possible, HackUMass is partnered with the engineering/computer science departments, as well as the Isenberg school of management. Our blend of entrepreneurs, engineers, and software developers is one that is dear and unique to HackUMass. Finally, we are proud to host the #1 ranked campus dining service in the nation. UMass Dining is free to all of our participants, and we accommodate all dietary restrictions so our hackers can be comfortable and choose from a variety of healthy options. -Jesica
What difficulties did you face in the early stages of event development? What resources did you find useful? Have your struggles changed as the event evolves?
One of the biggest struggles for planning any college hackathon stems from inexperience. Many of our organizers have never planned an event before, much less an 800+ person event, so organizing is definitely a learning curve. Reaching out to companies and to other students to get involved can be an intimidating task and requires a good sense of communication. Leadership can also be daunting. Our organizing teams are mostly made up of students from tech backgrounds. So finding the right people for the job takes careful consideration and good intuition.
HackUMass is entirely student-run; therefore, having advisors with experience in event planning and technology is very useful. Also organizations such as MLH are a tremendous help by partnering with hackathons across the country and working directly with organizers to help make their event possible. Building a hackathon is also all about networking; it takes cooperation, teamwork and motivation to put an event of this size together. Sometimes it can get exhausting going through e-mail after e-mail, but in the end it is motivating to know that you are making an impact and inspiring hundreds of students to make something that could one day change the world.
It is always exciting to see others get excited about HackUMass. As it gets closer to the event, the adrenaline starts kicking in. Never in 37 hours can you experience more emotions–excitement, frustration, the feeling of success–it’s a rollercoaster. Then in the end when everyone is about to collapse from exhaustion there is a part of you that is really proud of the successful event you gave so much time and effort to, and you’re relieved that it is finally over. And then it starts all over again. -Nigel
What do you find most appealing about working with people who are interested in your event?
It is truly fascinating to see how passionate and brilliant our participants are. It is inspiring to see that this new generation of professionals is so driven and innovative. I truly believe every single person that comes to this event leaves with so much new information and great experiences. Sponsors become excited and get inspired by seeing the future of the industry and how great this new generations of hackers is. First time participants, who come in nervous and not knowing what to expect, leave excited with more confident skills, a completed project, and maybe even a few prizes! As an organizer it is really appealing to see this transformation happen. -Jesica
Tell us about your success stories:
Which are the most interesting event winners? In your opinion, have they been successful?
Last year we had a lot of awesome and interesting projects.
One of last year’s winners “Watchdog” used a Microsoft HoloLens and facial recognition to aid law enforcement officers in detecting criminals on the streets and locating missing children.
“DoppelGanger” was based on the idea that you have seven look-alikes somewhere out there in the world so the team built a facial recognition system to find all your look-alikes.
Probably the most successful past project has been a photo-sharing app called Spotlight which turned into a startup. We provide not only the tools to bring the idea to life, but also the business expertise needed to take a project beyond the hackathon. -Nigel
How has your event benefitted the attendees?
I believe our attendees always find our event to be an inspiring place which not only promotes creativity and innovation, but also gives them the actual tools turn those creative ideas into a reality. We serve our participants as a community maker space, giving them the amazing opportunity to work with hackers and professionals from all over the country. They can even connect with technical mentors from sponsors such as Google, Microsoft, and Amazon. Nowhere else will you see professionals and students collaborating on this level. -Jesica
What are the three most important factors people interested in attending your event should consider?
It is important for our potential participants to know that there is something for everyone at HackUMass, regardless of skills level, major, or programming experience. A lot of people think that you must know a lot about programming in order to participate, but that is not the case here. We have participants from various majors such as business, biology and engineering.
Another aspect that we want our participants to know is that they do not have to go through the creation process on their own. At HackUMass we partner with graduate students, faculty and sponsors to help mentor and guide our participants through the creation process-from first steps to beyond the hackathon. -Jesica
If someone is interested in your event, what should they do?
They should head to hackumass.com for more information about our event. Registration opens on July 20th. Once registration opens, they can create an account on hackumass.com and send in their application for review by our organizing team. If they have any questions they can contact us via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach us on our social media: @hackumass on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. -Jesica
Do you have any advice for creating an event?
My best advice is, especially for first-timers, learn from your mistakes, or better yet, observe the mistakes of others and don’t repeat them. There is always something to improve on in how you lead or organize an event.
- Excellent communication is absolutely fundamental.
- Have a positive attitude, but be realistic.
- Don’t feel like you need to re-invent the wheel, take cues from other successful hackathons. At the same time, keep it unique.
- Creating an event doesn’t happen overnight, realize that.
There’s a lot of work that goes into it, and it is very, very time consuming. However, it is also one of the most rewarding things you can do.
- Just because someone can confidently pitch an idea to you doesn’t mean it is a good idea or it will work, be careful to consider every new idea.
- Learning how to balance your own workload and learning how to spread out the workload to your team is important.
- Learn when to say no if you can’t handle something.
- Don’t just take on everything yourself, you also have a team there to help you.
- Get stuff done.
Learn time management early and save yourself the stress and anxiety. As much as I’d like to say organizing an event is stress-free, there is going to be a point in time where you will be under pressure so learn how to manage your stress well. If you are managing a team, make sure tasks are done on time and be confident in your decisions. Realize that this is a volunteer position so people will come and go. Be flexible and work with what you’ve got. At this rate, I could write a book on how to run a hackathon! But largely you will learn all of this on your own and that’s part of the experience. -Nigel
Are you familiar with other events you believe should be spotlighted? If so, we would like to hear from you. Tell us about them, sharing your comments below!