Cal Hacks: In the Land of a Thousand Coders

Cal Hacks hackathonStudent Post – December 1, 2014 –  I was part of Draper University's Fall 2014 Class, and altogether, we were 33 students from around the world who came to learn about untried entrepreneurial principles from the reigning Riskmaster himself: Tim Draper. Sometimes called a vigilante of conformism, Tim opened the doors to a unique Silicon Valley institution in 2013 called Draper University in an effort to continue his life’s new mission: education. The schedule was packed with a leading line up of world class speakers, and two weeks into the program, my fellow students and I entered our first real task of breaking out of the "classroom mode" by participating in one of the country’s leading hackathons: Cal Hacks.

Cal Hacks Hackathon

Two weeks into Draper University's "new kid on the block" entrepreneurship program, I boarded a bus with my fellow classmates who were just as excited and confused as me. We were on our way to Cal Hacks where college hackers from all over the US came to compete in an event that consumer the massive corridors of UC Berkeley stadium. Every corner of the stadium was occupied, with hackers lining up on staircases, behind kitchens, and in tiny alleyways. This was the big leagues and hackers had come to take no prisoners.

Internal Draper University teams were formed even before we entered the premises. All the students brought sleeping bags, food containers, lamps, etc. We were here for two days straight, which meant no sleep and being armed with all the supplies that would sustain us. Granted, food was catered by the sponsors during the event, but we needed to boost our energy levels for the frenzy that would follow.

Iterate and Reiterate

The first night saw a series of temporary hacking space movements, idea pivots, and team changes. Teams that had banded together were enduring the rigorous process of high-pressure, entrepreneurial collaboration. If ideas didn’t line up or the team dynamic wasn’t right, hackers would move onto the next team until they found their niche.

Although our team stuck it out and was fortunate enough to recruit a new Detroit-based team member who we met at the event, we were no strangers to the process of pivots and space changes. Our team went through a series of idea iterations, starting from medical concierge services, all the way to the idea that we eventually designed: a same day delivery service via Uber drivers. Our team actively broke up the tasks based on our strengths and skill sets, indulging in active market research, business model validation, and Android development.

We took few breaks, but during the breaks we did take, we ventured to the sponsor booths to talk to the companies who had generously sponsored the event and provided their APIs for development. From Andressen Horowitz to Facebook, each booth had two to three employees present to provide us with insight into their company, the power of their API, and of course, access to their freebies.

The Real Victory

CalHacksAfter 48 hours of rigorous, non-stop hacking, our team made it to the final 10 teams competing for the grand prize. Judges for the pitch competition included venture capitalists from Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, etc. Each pitch was given a total time of 2 minutes with 1 minute for Q&A afterward. Each of the finalists brought a unique hack, from drones to wearable gaming devices.

In the end, we didn’t win the grand prize, but we did win Best Mobile Hack of the competition. For me, the real victory was in all the teams from Draper University coming together and supporting each other, in spite of the competition. The victor can only enjoy the spoils of winning if she or he had a formidable army of Spartans. And on the day of judgement, I had 33.

~ Guest post by Nimay Parekh who is from New York and was part of DU’s Fall 2014 Class.