The fourth annual SPARC Hackathon: Pirates of Silicon Harbor—an app-building competition—took place August 23-24, with 45 teams—better known as crews—and 103 buccaneers (that’s pirate speak for participants). That’s a 150 percent growth since last year. Teams embraced the Pirate-themed competition, donned Captain Jack Sparrow garb and created team names like Droid Pirate Roberts and Arrrgile. This year’s Best in Show went to The Black Perl team, who developed a neighborhood tool-sharing app called t00lshed.
Iron Yard students, graduates and instructors all competed, as well as students from College of Charleston, Charleston Southern University, and Trident Technical College. SPARC’s Vice President of Marketing and one of this year’s co-organizers, Chad Norman, said SPARC is “really excited about the growth. One of the big things we like to do is try to uplift and promote Charleston’s tech community. A big part of that, we feel, is education.”
The event began at 9 a.m. Saturday morning when teams were called to the plank to choose a category. A SPARC-made app randomized the list of categories presenting each team with three choices. This ensured that teams chose from a variety of categories, without any prior knowledge of what they’d be working on. The categories were topics like sports, fire department, community service, health and medical, geo-location and food.
Once the selection process finished, the networks opened at 10 a.m. and teams began development, which proceeded for the next eleven hours. SPARC provided food and drinks for the long day of heads-down work, and full access to their office entertainment center so competitors could step away and clear their minds. At 9 p.m. the afterparty commenced, and the developers were free to go home and get some rest before demos the next day. Many of the participants brought their families back on Sunday morning for a day of food trucks, drinks, and bouncy castles.
The demos demand teams move beyond just the programming of the app itself and consider the entire entrepreneurial process, explained Bob Williams, Chief Technology Officer at SPARC. “What teams will do is look at the whole business process and think about a client expectation… How much do I need to release right now? What do I need to focus on? What code do I need to be able to get the idea across, to show direction and where this might go in the future?” The judges are looking for practicality and professionalism, and of course, humor.
SPARC’s commitment to building the community is palpable at the Hackathon. Amanda Hodges, who organized the Hackathon for its first three years, competed for the first time with a team from her new employer, Zubie.
Regarding SPARC’s enthusiasm for community involvement, Norman said, SPARC “loves making advocates out there and bringing them back to be involved in SPARC.” Sally Kingston, another former SPARC team member, and the Iron Yard’s campus director, also served as one of the event’s organizers. “We are really excited about making Charleston the best place to work in software,” Kingston said.
Among the top ten apps to come out of this year’s SPARC Hackathon were Facebook-friendly mobile game apps and an ingredient-based, meal-making app. The Disciples of Duarte took first runner up for their localized content delivery app for gyms. Team 221B-ullnuts got second runner up for their text message-based voting app. Other awards went to best iOS app—Team Jacob with emoji-based review app Wink and Android app— Toot by Team #Lasersspacecats.
The Best in Show winner was the Black Perl Team, comprised of Iron Yard students Jamie Kingston and Ryan Huber, and General Assembly alumni Mary Hipp. Their app t00lshed—the simplistic solution to borrowing tools from your neighbors— stood out thanks to its appealing and user-friendly interface. Its open source approach is designed to unite a neighborhood, drawing on the popularity community-facing apps have experienced through organizations like Code for America, which places fellows with local governments to build apps that solve municipal problems. The Black Perl Team, using their entrepreneurial instincts, built around this idea and it won them $2,500 and three tablets.
The Hackathon gives students a real-world, entrepreneurial experience in which they can apply their education, and connect with and learn from industry professionals. Events like hackathons are crucial to filling our talent pipeline when the Charleston tech sector is expected to create 8,000 jobs over the next few years.
SPARC is making an investment in the community’s growth, partnering with Blackbaud and Google to make it happen. “When I look at the all these companies coming together,” Williams notes, “trying to create something new and give back to the community and just embrace the open source metaphor, not just for software but for technology in general, it’s really exciting.”