An ‘App’titude for Creativity

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Brian Vallelunga, Jashan Dhillom and Ronnie Wilcox may not have slept much last weekend, but they earned $4,000 and first place in UC Santa Cruz’s first ever hackathon.

Around 100 individuals congregated at the Oakes Learning Center last weekend to conceive and execute an idea for a technical application in a 32-hour race. The contenders, who were primarily students, including those as young as high school students, focused on creating an app worthy of the grand prize.

“It would be crazy if you did this event by yourself,” said fourth-year undergraduate and UCSC’s Center for Entrepreneurship event coordinator Mark Adams. “There is the design portion, there’s the presentation and the coding — all of which are under a time constraint. People can choose to sleep, but my personal opinion is the people who don’t sleep are going to win. This is the time to put hours in.”

The hackathon began at 10 a.m. on April 5 and ended on April 6 at 3:30 p.m., when the coding “froze” and teams needed to present their respective app in front of one of five judges. They were judged equally on technical merit, novelty and relevance to Santa Cruz.

Teams at the hackathon ranged from one to four people and some groups were already formed before the event began, while others pitched their idea to possibly find a new team. Adams said the beginning of the event was chaotic as the teams and ideas were formed.

Of the approximately 25 teams competing, only six finalists were chosen. The award pool was $10,000, with the first prize set at $4,000. After the six finalists were selected, a banquet dinner was held at the University Center to present the winners on Sunday evening.

The six finalists created apps that were very different from one another, including one which involved inputting information to discern whether or not you’re getting a fair deal on rent in Santa Cruz.

Bubblecoup, the app that won first place, was constructed by three UCSC undergraduates — first-year computer science major Brian Vallelunga, third-year computer science major Jashan Dhillom and first-year psychology major Ronnie Wilcox. The team already has a start-up company called Laborate, which encourages student collaboration and is designed exclusively for students. The team joked that if they didn’t win, they would hire the individuals who did.

“We wanted to do the hackathon for fun, to find people who have similar skills and possibly find new developers for Laborate,” Vallelunga said. “The best way to find new developers is to compete with them.”

The creators of Bubblecoup and other winners were awarded the opportunity to present their app to potential investors at Santa Cruz New Tech MeetUp, a meeting of local high-tech professionals.

“Bubblecoup is going to change how the local business makes money through marketing. We are here to stay,” Vallelunga said following the completion of the event Sunday evening. “[The hackathon] was exhilarating and tiring but truly a humbling experience.”

Brent Haddad, director of UCSC’s Center for Entrepreneurship and technology management professor in the Baskin School of Engineering, said he worked with event coordinator Mark Adams to create the hackathon to demonstrate UCSC students’ talent. The hackathon also allowed room for collaboration between students and community members who are experts in technology.

At the hackathon banquet, UCSC faculty and Santa Cruz community members, including Santa Cruz mayor Lynn Robinson, mingled with finalists and discussed ways to keep the local tech industry thriving.

Peggy Dolgenos, co-CEO of Cruzio Internet and one of the sponsors for the event, said she was excited for the hackathon and supports ideas that encourage technological creativity.

“If you’re in the tech industry, it changes constantly,” Dolgenos said. “The big tech boom in Silicon Valley and San Francisco is coming to Santa Cruz. We have so many tech workers driving over the hill, and we’re hoping to keep them home in Santa Cruz.”