Organising a Hackathon!
Ah, the long awaited summer break. Days filled with laziness, a family trip to the hills, school projects, occasional boredom, and binge-watching netflix shows. Well, this was how I usually spent my summer vacations, often also working on things that I enjoy doing. Learning how to code, designing websites and apps, and occassionally interning with IrisVR and InnerChef were some of the experiences that kept me busy the past two summers. Little did I know what a casual family get-together with two of my cousins would bring this summer.
Kartik and Saumya are both college students, and were visiting home in Gurgaon for their summer break with not much to do either. When my dad suggested the three of us work on a cutting-edge project together, my mind instantly gravitated towards a hackathon, having organised one for ShriTeq (my school's annual tech symposium) before. I have always been fascinated by entrepreneurship, the concept of absolutely anyone having the ability to form teams and innovate to solve relevant problems. The three of us, with our diverse skill sets, decided to give it a shot.
I had been working as an "Entrepreneur in Residence" (EiR) with a tech startup accelerator called GSF for 8 months, creating and managing their new website and backend. The idea of hackathon, that we decided to call 'HackGSF' gradually began to materialise into something that was real, tangible, and actually happening. Kartik would drive 2 hours from his place to my house for brainstorming sessions and Saumya had basically moved in. Our work began with us putting our heads together to identify 'Frontier Technologies' as the theme of the hackathon and writing a mission statement to spell out our goals. We felt that this theme would go with the contemporary times when so much research and implementation is happening in this area. Furthermore, it would distinguish our hackathon from all others in India.
"As newer technologies disrupt, displace and reshape economies, 'the next big thing' emerging as the hotbed of innovation are the frontier technologies. Today we associate frontier technologies with Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cloud Computing, and an intersection of the above.
At HackGSF, our goal is to encourage developers to build products that employ one or more of these frontier technologies. A crucial aspect of working with these technologies is the availability of large amounts of data. To this cause, we will provide the developers with key resources such as data and frameworks to successfully implement frontier technologies into their projects."
To successfully implement Artificial Intelligence, developers require very large data sets to train their models to learn from them. It's the reason why Google is leading the AI surge today. There is no other company in the world that logs such vast amounts of user data, as a result, Google is able to train their search engine and voice assistant to understand language, context, objects in images, and much more. As we began to research more about Frontier Technologies, we found that availability of data sets of such orders of magnitude is almost non-existent for individual developers. The three of us recognised this as the main barrier for developers to innovate using AI techniques. The second barrier we identified is the lack of good mentors to guide these budding entrepreneurs and developers. To quote Anandamoy Roychowdhary from Sequoia Capital - "Indian startup founders have to spend 100 hours thinking deeply about their startup before spending 1000 hours building it"
After flagging these problems, we realised that we would have to provide our developers with data as well as proper mentorship through workshops at our hackathon. However, obtaining and providing the same was a mammoth task. Several other logistics related questions came to our minds before we could proceed any further. "Where would the hackathon take place? Who would sponsor the event? How would we reach out to India's smartest developers? How many of them would we be able to host? What about the judges? Who would provide tech support? How would we provide good WiFi to so many people?"
"Do it in Bangalore." My dad's voice and footsteps came thundering in from the corridor. The idea was so profound, all of us were sitting in Gurgaon never having travelled down South before in our lives. But then it hit us: Bangalore is the start-up hub of India, home to the smartest tech minds and innovators. It made perfect sense. We started our plan of action by creating dozens of company-personalised sponsorship decks, drafting the best proposals we could to send them to companies in possession of large data sets, co-working spaces, tech giants, AI specialists, and many more.