When some people hear the work ‘hack’ they think identity theft; compromised information, gained when someone illegally accesses their computer. But the hackathons hosted by the Peter T. Paul Entrepreneurship Center (ECenter) are all about creative problem-solving. Hence the new term: ideathon/hackathon.
This year’s competition, held virtually due to COVID-19, had teams of UNH students examining the workings of Gather, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, food bank, to see how it might operate more efficiently. The 24-hour event boasted 38 students from all majors across campus.
"An activity like this allows your creativity to flow. It’s a good experience for working with others, and in this case, it was also helping a good cause.”
“More often now around the world, the problems are not tech-based, but the term is used or used as ‘ideathon/hackathon’ to help attendees realize they don’t need tech experience to participate,” says Ian Grant, executive director of the ECenter. “Gather is a great example of groups coming together to solve problems with new thinking.”
Students worked through the evening and night on capacity, distribution and marketing —issues identified by the Gather staff as most warranting attention. The winning team included Alec Damsell ’24, College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), Ella Dandrade ’24 (CEPS), Madison McDonough ’23, College of Liberal Arts and Michelle Lee ’22 (CEPS). Their idea for a food truck touched on the three key issues. “On the Go with Gather: Food Truck Edition” took into account Gather’s limited staff, lack of kitchen and difficulty collecting excess food from local restaurants while creating the opportunity to increase capacity and distribution.
"It was a collaborative effort. We all did some brainstorming and research on our own, reconvened, then decided that a food truck was a good idea to help Gather increase their capacity," Damsell says. "I think the benefit of this kind of competition is that it forces you to work with new people to come up with a solution to a real-world problem.”
Sophomore Jarrett Hayes, a member of one of the other student teams, says, “An activity like this allows your creativity to flow. It’s a good experience for working with others, and in this case, it was also helping a good cause.”
Megan Vetter ’23 helped research Gather’s current practices and then brainstormed with her team to find ways the food bank’s methods could be improved. She then helped put together the PowerPoint presentation to convey their ideas to Gather representatives and the competition judges.
Prizes for the ideathon/hackathon — a grand prize of $1,500, two “Best in Category” prizes of $500 each, and five runner-up prizes —were provided by the RiverStone Group.