Looking at all these startups and budding apps, I can’t help but wonder how long it took for them to be transcribed from an idea to an actual tangible program designed for the greater good. Weeks? Months? Years? Imagine the surprise I felt when I found out about an event where coders are given only 24 hours to conceptualise an innovative project and present it to a panel of potential investors.
What is this unique event, you may ask? It’s called a hackathon and I was given the opportunity to witness my very first one last weekend here in Kuala Lumpur.
Hacking Done Right
So before anyone presses that panic button at the word ‘hackathon’, slam on those brakes and take a calm breath. A hackathon is by no means a gathering for people to parade around in Guy Fawkes masks nor is it a competition to find the next Lizard Squad.
A hackathon (also known as a codefest) is a social coding event where computer programmers, software and hardware developers and other interested parties come together to collaborate on building a new software project surrounding a particular theme.
Local hackathon organizer, AngelHack, returned for its 4th run in Kuala Lumpur and made a tremendous achievement by being one of the largest AngelHack legs in the 9th AngelHack Global Series (2016) with an impressive number of 90 teams comprising 370 participants.
AngelHack ambassador, Heislyc Loh, mentioned how it was always nice to see new faces among the familiar ones and how the tagline ‘Anyone Can Code’ for this year was very fitting with the overall atmosphere of this hackathon as he believes there should be no discrimination in terms of age, race or gender.
“Being in a hackathon doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a coder. Every team needs a variety of people that specialise in different aspects in order to create something amazing. We’re happy to see the diversity in our participants this year in spirit of our tagline and hope everyone has a great learning experience,” shared Heislyc.
The Long Haul Ahead
When I stepped into the concourse area of Berjaya Times Square, the official venue for AngelHack 2016, instead of the seasonal décor that you would normally be greeted with, I was met with a rather intriguing sight. Smack dab in the middle were rows of tables filled with laptops and hardware materials with brilliant minds hunched over, each one donning a similar expression of concentration and fatigue.
After being confined in a tight space for nearly 10 hours, the struggle to press on became evident and they were only halfway through. Some were completely ‘in-the-zone’ and remained oblivious to anything but the project they were staking their sleep time for whilst some faced a losing battle against the drowsiness that beckoned their eyes to succumb to the late hour. With the mall closing off to the public, the only energy remaining was whatever that was left within them.
According to Heislyc, 60% of the participants are newcomers so they may not all be used to strenuous conditions such as staying awake for a whole day; but it was inspiring to see that no matter young or old, boys or girls, entrepreneurs or students, they all were striving hard for the same goal and would not settle for mediocrity.
Pitching It Perfectly
A sea of red greeted me as participants, who are now clad in the official shirts given by AngelHack, were bustling about making final preparations for the nerve-wrecking pitching session they had ahead.
For the preliminary round, all 90 teams were rotated around 4 tables of judges where they were given a mere two minutes to pitch their idea to the panel and sell it well. Since it is such a short duration, the overall environment felt very fast-paced and intense, which added to the excitement on watching each team try to be rapid but precise with their projects.
Despite them having less than five minutes to present their hard work, I must say I was left amazed seeing the amount of effort the teams placed into their projects. To be handed a full day to create something from scratch and have enough spirit to put on a wide smile and enthusiastically present what they put their heart and soul into is truly inspirational.
The Golden Ticket To Silicon Valley
Although there was a slight delay with the schedule, the participants all held on despite the lack of sleep and depleting energy after a long weekend to witness the twelve finalists chosen to head on to the main stage and pitch in front of a larger audience.
And these finalists definitely did not disappoint. Each team brought something different to the stage and made an excellent effort in showcasing their project. Some of the startups included were X-Mart, a property management app with AI assistance; BillWise, where they provide a service to have all your bills on one platform for easy payments; and FindMate, a Tinder-esque social platform geared for those looking for potential roommates to share rent with.
In the end, the Grand Prize winner was rewarded with an exclusive invite to participate a 3-month mentorship program HACKcelerator, and to be shortlisted to attend Global Demo Day in Silicon Valley, a chance to present their project to a group of investors. The winner was Kraud, a team comprised of students from Asia Pacific University with their unique concept of combining a platform similar to Groupon and event planning. The app focuses on making planning an outing, whether it be big or small, convenient as all discussions and suggestions can be done on one platform.
“This event was a memorable experience for our team as it allowed us to work closely and bring together an idea to an actual prototype for us to pitch to the public. Most importantly, we were able to meet a lot of like-minded people and mentors who gave us a lot of valuable advice. We are really grateful for all the efforts put in by the organisers,” said the team to Vulcan Post.
But the remaining participants did not walk away empty handed. Some of the sponsors had their own category where they personally chose the startups that impressed them so even though some were not listed as a finalist, they still walked away with something special which could potentially grow their project further.
The main partners include Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) (Data Ecosystem Partner); TIME dotCOM (Connectivity Partner), MOL (ePayment Partner); Printcious (Customised Gift Printing Partner); iProperty (Data Sponsor); and other supporting partners such as Exabytes, EasyParcel, EasyStore, EasyStudio, Cisco, Horizon Technology Solutions and Happy Water.
The organisers behind AngelHack wanted to highlight to everyone that winning is not everything and by the end of the program, they hoped the participants would go home with a handful of experience they wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere. If that wasn’t enough, Printcious generously handed out personalized mugs to all participants, mentors, judges and crew members as a souvenir for them to remember the intense but fun times with AngelHack.
I’d like to say a massive congratulations to all the winners from AngelHack 2016, may the rewards you reaped from this event bring you and your projects further ahead. As for the other participants, I’d like to encourage them not to throw in the towel just yet and continue to pursue their visions as the future is limitless with possibilities. Thank you to AngelHack for inviting me to such an eye-opening event. I hope to see more local talent arising from this, perhaps even someone reading this now. Remember, anyone can code. Even you.