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GlobalHack, a quarterly hackathon competition created in late 2013 by Gabe Lozano, Drew Winshop, and Travis Sheridan to help companies turn ideas for solving real-world problems into actual real-world solutions, reconvenes this weekend for its fifth event.
This year, the event is taking on civic issues as its focus: specifically, teams will work around the clock during the three-day event to solve the issue of transparency in the St. Louis County criminal justice system. Partnering with the Civic Tech for Social Impact Collaborative – which includes St. Louis County, Rise Community Development and OpenDataSTL – GlobalHack strives to create technology solutions that will allow people to navigate the criminal justice system and resolve their issues in a simplified and timely manner.
Matt Menietti, executive director for GlobalHack, believes that technology has the ability to make a difference in people’s lives and hopes that the solutions developed at this quarter’s hackathon can have an impact even beyond St. Louis.
Tell us about the GlobalHack model.
It’s a 3-day software competition that brings together software developers, graphic designers and other innovative individuals to solve complex software and technology challenges. People show up on Friday night, either with a pre-formed team, or they meet other people and form a team at the event. We present them with a challenge, and they have until Sunday evening to come up with a solution. The winners are presented with $60,000 total in cash prizes by a panel of judges at the end.
Do participants need to have a certain level of expertise?
Last time there was an 11-year-old on the winning team. His dad entered the competition and brought him along. That’s a great thing about this competition. It allows early developers to team up with more experienced people and learn from them.
We encourage software development at any age. It’s actually a goal of ours to put together more youth and high school teams and organizations who would then go out and compete with others in the community.
How has GlobalHack grown since its inception in 2013?
Our last event was close to 220 attendees, which was double the event before. It’s grown to the point where I’m now a full-time employee devoted to outreach. In terms of a startup, we’re able to formalize procedures. Through surveys we’re learning how to improve our events by identifying why people come back to GlobalHack. We’re becoming more attuned to what people enjoy about the experience and how to better incorporate those aspects. Moving forward, we will be doing more of that – figuring out how we make this setting a learning environment, a place where people feel comfortable to work on projects and grow.
We’re also working on creating relationships with the computer and technology departments and teams at area universities and those beyond St. Louis. We really want to be attuned to the attendees and the relationships that we can build there.
As a former CORO Fellow and an AmeriCorps alum, what kind of importance does a civic-focused hackathon hold for you?
For me, that intersection between technology and making a difference in the world is exciting. There’s been an explosion of technology in our world, and it all happens very quickly. Just look at the way we watch television and listen to music – how quickly that has changed. I want to look at how we can apply that same technology to making a difference and creating positive change in the world. I’d like to make things more transparent and efficient in a way that allows people to create their own path.
I really believe that technology has a way of making a difference in people’s lives. It’s a responsibility that GlobalHack took on. How can we improve government, make it more accountable, more transparent?
Also, a lot of my connections with organizations in the non-profit sector have been beneficial. It seems like a new direction for GlobalHack to leverage those relationships in a way that come together, particularly in this event coming up. It’s learning about and understanding the problems, what’s broken, what we can improve on, then connecting it to the technology world and leveraging both networks.
What’s the specific problem you’re tackling this weekend?
We want to help citizens navigate the often very difficult system of the St. Louis Municipal Courts. We’re working with some great civic partners like St. Louis County, Rise Community Development and OpenDataSTL – people who are interested in making previously closed and isolated data open so that we can create technology that will make it easier for people to understand and use.
What do you do with the technology after the competition?
Projects that are developed will be available online for civic organizations to take the prototypes out into the community and test them, coming up with ways to improve interactions between citizens and government. It’s putting the results to use and developing them and applying them to real-life situations, where they will have actual impact in St. Louis and beyond. St. Louis can be a trail blazer, and people can then implement solutions in communities around the country. What if we could amplify the impact beyond just our city?
Do you see GlobalHack helping develop local talent or connect them to employers?
Absolutely. As we develop more relationships with sponsors, I definitely see that growing. The single most important thing is to develop relationships with talent in a way that’s genuine, helping connect them to companies at the event and beyond. We want to solve a product problem and a talent problem, too.
GlobalHack is making it more beneficial to sponsors to get involved. We’re trying to be a better community partner, looking for ways we can connect talent and sponsors to resources with organizations like LaunchCode, which was founded by one of our board members, Jim McKelvey, and just helping hackers learn new skills. If we can play a role in that, that’s great.
What kind of success stories have come out of Global Hack in the past few years?
TopOpps was our first hackathon. Jim Eberlin, a good friend of GlobalHack’s, had already formed the company, which developed a sales forecast and analytics tool. They were looking for software but also talent. A lot of their success is based on their ability to iterate leadership and talent on a team. We played a small part in getting them launched in a matter of days with the hackathon. A head hunter searching for talent would’ve taken significantly more time and investment.
At GlobalHack 3, Emerson, a local manufacturing and technology company, was looking for a way to improve a thermostat they were developing. The hackers were challenged to innovate and be creative with the improvements, which resulted in an app that can tailor thermostat settings. They were also able to hire a handful of developers from the event. Companies don’t normally have the time and resources to devote to this. And as a bonus, the talent can put their experiences with GlobalHack on their resumes.
Follow Matt Menietti: @MattMenietti
This quarter’s hackathon will take place on Fri., Sept. 11 – Sun., Sept. 13 at the @4240 building in the Cortex Innovation District. Doors open at 6:30 Friday evening. For more info, visit globalhack.org.