This weekend, 54 hackers will consume 7.5 pounds of coffee in a 24-hour marathon of computer programming.
It’s not a study group for CPSC 437. Instead, the event, HackHaven, will bring together techies from across New Haven for the town’s first-ever “hack-a-thon.” Divided into teams of five members, participants will compete to design the best app for “smart watches” — a gadget just released in February. (For n00b5, not all hackers fit the Julian Assange model — for those in the know, “hacking” often just means “programming.”)
As participants code and design well into the night, a sponsor for the event said its goal is to increase the sense of community among hackers and create interest among student entrepreneurs in remaining in New Haven postgraduation.
“Our goal is to get Yalies there to see there’s an ecosystem here [in New Haven],” said Rob Bettigole ’76 SOM ’83, a managing partner at Elm Street Ventures, the private venture capital firm co-sponsoring the event. “They don’t have to move to the West Coast, New York or Boston [to pursue programming].”
The genesis for the event began back in February, when Mike Brown ’97, a senior manager in corporate development at Facebook, was in town to deliver a talk on entrepreneurship. Over a meal at Clark’s, Bettigole spoke with Brown and Kam Lasater — whose firm, Higher One, is also sponsoring this weekend’s event — about the need to bring together computer coders in the New Haven community. Lasater suggested they hold a hack-a-thon based on a similar event held regularly at Facebook, Bettigole added.
“There have been a lot of really great student-generated ideas for Web and mobile businesses, but many people seem to struggle finding … people that can code for them,” Bettigole said.
As a spokesman for tech-minded entrepreneurs in the Elm City, Bettigole certainly has experience: He pursued engineering as an undergraduate and later earned a business degree. Now, he maintains a part-time residence in the city and works at Elm Street Ventures, seeking to invest in local start-up companies. Since his time as an undergraduate, Bettigole said he has watched the city grow into a small hub for technological innovation — even outside of research in Yale’s labs.
Preliminary support for the event shows New Haven’s growing support for technological innovation and entrepreneurship, Bettigole said. Registered participants range from undergraduates to hackers in their 50s — one who is even bringing his children, he said.
Even outside the Yale and tech communities, HackHaven is gaining attention. City Hall spokesman Adam Joseph said Mayor John DeStefano Jr. may drop by the event. Joseph added that DeStefano “is very interested in their work.”
Yalies interviewed who plan to attend said HackHaven represents a step forward for Elis interested in entrepreneurship.
Keila Fong ’13, who has helped publicize the event, said it will provide a hands-on experience unlike other on-campus computer science gatherings.
“I know a lot of students don’t necessarily think of New Haven as a place where these kinds of resources exist,” Fong said. “I think it’s great that they’re trying to get a kind of community.”
The event is open to the Yale community, Bettigole said. But for those who cannot travel to The Bourse on 839 Chapel — where the event will be held — he added that the organizers are planning for a presence on Twitter: #HackHvn.