Where can you find a solar panel-cleaning drone and an app that helps you stay in fashion on a budget? Maybe you’re interested in a website designed to improve your relationships or a centralized database of chemical compounds? If this amalgamation of ideas makes sense to you, HackOut 2015, a hackathon that took place in Austin was the place to be over the weekend.
Sponsored in part by WP Engine, HackOut split participants into teams and challenged them to transform their ideas into viable products and businesses overnight. Teams had 24 hours to complete their projects, after which they presented the results to a panel of judges. The winning team walked away with $2,500 cold hard cash (initially delivered in the form of an over-sized cardboard check, naturally), free cloud computing service from Rackspace, and a chance to present their product directly to investors in New York City.
HackOut encourages entrepreneurial development in the LGBT community—a mission handed down from the organization that presents HackOut, an LGBT entrepreneur advocacy organization called StartOut.
WP Engine was proudly represented by one of our openly-gay product managers, Taylor McCaslin, who volunteered as a mentor during the hackathon. He provided guidance and advice for teams leveraging WordPress and other web technologies to bring their projects to life. “I love working at a company where I can come to work as my authentic self everyday, and have opportunities to give back to the LGBTQ community that I’m proudly a member of. This event gives all the participants a chance to openly be themselves, and see that the tech community accepts and embraces their uniqueness. They get to geek out in the process of learning new technologies and put their new knowledge to use. We’re helping build the foundation for future LGBTQ entrepreneurs”, Taylor said, when asked about the importance of an LGBTQ hackathon.
When Austin-based computational physicist and data science entrepreneur Steve Kramer found out about StartOut more than two years ago, he said the organization really resonated with him. So much, in fact, that he organized HackOut in Austin last year and helped with this year’s event.
“There’s this economic reality of if you can create viable businesses on your own, you have that economic wealth,” Kramer said, adding that a win at HackOut strengthens the LGBT entrepreneur community at large.
Joshua Sellers moved to Austin last August with plans to join a startup committee. Less than a year later, he took the organizational reigns of HackOut 2015 and spent the weekend assisting teams and making sure the trains ran on time.
“We’re trying to do something that is quite novel. And that is to bring this experience of a hackathon, which is becoming a commonplace experience, to a new community, which is the LGBT entrepreneurship community,” Sellers said. “A lot of people just aren’t aware that these opportunities exist yet.”
The idea seems to be spreading. Participants came primarily from Texas, but there were a few from other states and countries. Unifying them all was the looming deadline to complete their projects and the sweet, sweet loot up for grabs.
Team “Follow the Music” spent the weekend working on a navigation app that changes the direction music from your car stereo or smartphone is coming from to point you toward your destination.
“We’re going to be using 3D audio engines at some point so that we can accurately locate sounds in 3D space,” said team member Richard Knight, “but right now we’re just using left and right channels to audibly notify you where your destination is.”
Team “Dress Out” ended the weekend with a prototype fashion app that allows you to tag and link to what you’re wearing so that followers can purchase the same threads.
“We come from this idea that as regular people, we don’t know much about style or fashion but we want to look nice too,” said team member James Lin. “Every time we look at a website for fashion or style, we always see articles talking about celebrities or super models, but there’s not much for regular people.”
After 24 hours of sweat-soaked entrepreneurial exertion and two hours of presentations and grilling from the judges’ panel, only one team hacked their way to a win: team “Dateline.” The brainchild of University of Texas undergrads Emily Brandon and Nova Courtois, Dateline is a kind of online diary that allows users to track their dating history and self-reflect so that they might become better partners in future relationships.
At the announcement of their win, the rousing applause of their peers left team Dateline’s two-member team flabbergasted.
“Honestly, I feel so light headed I can’t really function right now in the best way possible,” Brandon said. “The fact that we’re getting validation from others means more than we could’ve hoped for.”