On April 11-12, 300 students on 44 teams competed for prizes in HackUMass at the campus’s state-of-the-art Integrative Learning Center. Hosted by the Isenberg-based Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship and the UMass Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the 36-hour hackathon challenged student teams to generate and demonstrate competitive software and hardware innovations. The event attracted students from several dozen universities, colleges, and high schools, including UMass, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston University, and Brown University.
At a culminating ceremony, three “champions” emerged from a field of eight finalist teams. The winners were RoboCop, which created a silent app to alert police through an automated phone call; PowerGlove 2.0, which developed capabilities to chart the flexibility of hand and finger movements for arthritics; and Surround, which fashioned a music app to collect music playing in one’s vicinity.
UMass students planned and coordinated the entire event. With hundreds of participants from academe and industry, including representatives from 70 companies and students from across the region (sixty colleges had registered for the event), HackUMass excelled as the largest gathering of its kind in the Pioneer Valley. Besides hosting the event, the Berthiaume Center was one of seven event partners. The gathering attracted 33 corporate sponsors, including its principal sponsor, IBM.
The Games Begin Many contestants brought nascent ideas for their projects to HackUMass; all were challenged to build them at the event from scratch. (Software projects outnumbered hardware projects by three to one.) Following an opening ceremony on Saturday morning, students participated in an “idea jam” guided by Berthiaume Center Associate Director Birton Cowden.
With their teams finalized and equipped with sleeping bags and complimentary food and beverages, the students worked around the clock on their projects from 11 a.m. on Saturday until 1 p.m. the next day. For advice and additional resources, many of the teams turned to designated mentors representing the event’s 33 corporate sponsors—mostly technology firms. At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the teams presented project demos followed by a dinner and awards ceremony.
“HackUMass was a fantastic opportunity for students to hone their problem-solving and teamwork skills and to learn from one another and from industry mentors,” notes Berthiaume Center Managing Director William Wooldridge. The Berthiaume Center hopes to impart a broader message: “Don’t consider your projects as ends unto themselves. They can be the entrepreneurial fuel that jumpstarts a process of sustained new venture development. In that, the Berthiaume Center aims to be a resource for the entire campus.”
About the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship The year-old Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship promotes entrepreneurship and innovation across the UMass Amherst campus, western Massachusetts and the Commonwealth. Headquartered at the Isenberg School, the center is the hub of a campus-wide network of scholars, innovators and entrepreneurs. Established with a $10-million gift from alumnus Douglas Berthiaume and his wife Diana Berthiaume, the center catalyzes entrepreneurship and transforms ideas into business innovation through targeted investment in research, education, and entrepreneurial practice.