12/10/12 | Uncategorized

Hackathons, Climate Change And Women – Hacking For Cleantech

The intention of creating a hackathon that combines climate change and mobile apps technology is to infuse a cause into the rebelliousness of the DC crowd around an issue that is gaining more financial traction: sustainability and climate change.

By Stephanie Sheridan (Founder, IPAI L3C)

Hackathons attract teams of ambitious developers, designers and biz dev-ers to compete in building a mobile app or solving a technical challenge within a specified time period (usually teams have between 8 and 72 hours). The term hackathon is used to loosely define an event that presents participants with a challenge and they must solve this challenge under a number of constraints.

The term app-a-thon has also come into use and seems apt (no pun intended) to describe these marathons of coding. Although myself a statistical coder (and by that I mean one with a masters training from a pristine policy school; I am by no means the best coder in any room), I have found myself absolutely captivated by the advent of hackathons.

Surely they existed before coming onto my #dctech radar, but within the last month I participated in two. These events are an entrepreneurs haven: explore an idea for up to 72 hours, with no prior work on the specific concept, present and then have the freedom to walk away.

My own particular motivation to participate and experience hackathons is two-fold. Partly motivated by a decision to co-sponsor a cleantech hackathon and partly to be in an environment where I had no option but to geek out and work on a project that integrated a number of different concepts that I am currently working with. Needless to say, I did not win with my app at Angel Hack in DC and did not even have enough time to present during MoDev East. I did, however, walk away with a smile, and some closer working friendships.

Hackathons are intense. They are male-dominated environments where too much insecurity in your own capabilities most surely means death. I have found the two that I participated in to be very supportive environments, both encouraging creativity and an attitude that eschews the need for perfection. This is great for me as an entrepreneur, where I am working every day to establish credibility for innovative ideas that bring together trends from one, two and sometimes three different industries. Hackathons let it all hang out. At 5pm, midnight, 2am, 7am, noon, and during final presentations, code cannot lie.

Hopefully after reading this, more women may be interested in learning about and participating in hackathons. There is no dearth of interested women in tech. There are over 3,000 members in DC Web Women, for example.

The ideal situation for me and part of the reason I am working on the cleantech hackathon is to put front and center the capabilities of hackers to work on green apps and to encourage more participation by women.

So, why cleantech? Cleantech provides an opportunity for Facebook-minded coders to develop solutions to very pressing energy and environmental challenges that are grounded in growing markets and have the potential for significant financial returns.

The purpose of IPAI’s sponsored cleantech hackathon is to combine forces of the vibrant, although still fledgling and sometimes causeless, entrepreneurial crowds within the DC community to unite around the opportunities presented by climate change technologies and cleantech. The intention of creating a hackathon that combines climate change and mobile apps technology is to infuse a cause into the rebelliousness of the DC crowd around an issue that is gaining more financial traction: sustainability and climate change.

The #dctech scene includes organizations such as: White House Innovation Fellows, Foster.ly, #dctech meet up, MoDev, Angelhack, DC WebWomen, Rails Girls DC and my own weekly tech group, DC NightOwls. Participation is contingent upon the interest in seeing the green apps market continue to grow.

As the DC tech scene combines forces with the climate change community, green apps may become more popular thanks to events such as hackathons. My advice to readers who are also invested in a renewable economy, though, is to participate in your first couple of hacks without being too picky. They are a lot of fun, you will learn something new, and get a lot of help along the way.

Women 2.0 members: What hackathons have you considered participating in? Let us know in the comments!

About the guest blogger: Stephanie Sheridan is the Founder of a IPAI L3C, a small equity fund of majority women-owned companies reinforced by consulting services to fit your company’s needs. She supports early stage companies that address climate change and sustainability. She is a member and volunteer of Yoga District, a participant and event organizer in the #DCtech community and an early-stage participant in the Dupont Circle Business Incubator. Follow her on Twitter at @S_Sheridan.

Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland

Anne-Gail Moreland, an intern with Women 2.0, was on the StartupBus. She studies neuroscience at Mount Holyoke College, where she is trying to merge a passion for tech and the brain into a new wave of cognition-based technology

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