U-M student groups to host nation’s largest hackathon in Detroit


In an effort to cast the bankrupt city in a new light for the nation’s future tech talent, U-M students are hosting what they anticipate will be a record-setting collegiate hackathon in Detroit this weekend.

More than 1,200 students from 70 universities and high schools across the nation are expected to attend the race to make the coolest new device or application in just 36 hours.

MHacks III, hosted by student groups MPowered Entrepreneurship and Michigan Hackers, will be at The Qube in downtown Detroit. It begins at 7 p.m. Friday and ends at noon Sunday, followed by an awards ceremony.

The last MHacks, which took place at Michigan Stadium in September, set a record for the largest such event, with 1,214 students attending.

U-M computer science students William Irwin, Jesse Daugherty and Chris O’Neil work on their video application “Mash It” during the MHacks Hackathon at the Big House last September. (Photo by Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering)

The students believed that moving the event to Detroit would catapult the momentum building in the city’s technology sector, said Lucy Zhao, chief development officer at MPowered and a junior studying English and business.

 “A lot of people in Detroit and Michigan know about the startup scene in the area, but people across the country don’t,” Zhao said. “Our goal is to bring talented computer science students to Detroit and expose them to the fact that it’s becoming an entrepreneurial hub.”

Students will coalesce into teams of up to four to create — or “hack” — new technological prototypes from scratch. The only rule is they cannot begin hacking until the start of the event. They are allowed to arrive with ideas, though.

Though most of the participants will spend their time developing applications, mentors from sponsors will host tech talks and workshops. For instance, Bloomberg Inc. will host a talk on the importance of open source development and Apple Inc. will discuss its iOS mobile platform. Some of the talks are designed to help students understand what they can do with the company’s platforms.

The student-led team behind the hackathon already has done some hacking of its own. The members created an app for attendees to use during the event. The app will provide a newsfeed of updates from participants, a map of where to find mentors and sponsors and a schedule of events. Attendees can even use it to ask for more pizza and energy drinks to stay focused on their hacking.

Up to $20,000 in cash prizes will be doled out at the end of the hackathon. The first place winner will receive a $5,000 grand prize and other hackers can receive branded awards from sponsors looking for specific computer applications.

“We couldn’t have picked a better time to show off the city of Detroit with everyone in town for the (North American International) Auto Show,” Zhao said. “The city will be lit up with excitement. We can’t wait for it to be here.”


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