Instead of cracking codes and shutting down networks, UC Berkeley students participating in a hackathon hosted by Bloomberg this week put their computer programming skills to use improving their humanitarian business ventures.
The hackathon was a part of Bloomberg’s Next Big Things Summit, an annual event that showcases investors and entrepreneurs discussing trends in technological innovation. Around 11 UC Berkeley students and alumni made up three teams that worked nonstop from 3 a.m. on Monday until 3 p.m. on Tuesday in the executive board room at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay during the 36-hour hackfest. The three teams — Flowbit, Free Ventures and M3D — were all previously selected top-three Big Ideas at Berkeley finalists, a prestigious annual innovation contest for UC Berkeley undergraduate and graduate students.
“We were looking for a group of young engineers and coders with computer science backgrounds who could demonstrate to us the ability to problem-solve on a quick timeline,” said Bloomberg West anchor Jon Erlichman, who helped organize the event. “When we reached out to UC Berkeley and learned more about the Big Ideas program, it was the perfect fit.”
One of the business ventures participating in the hackfest, Flowbit, is looking to provide remote monitoring sensors in wells and water kiosks in developing countries to analyze flow rates and water quality levels. This way, Flowbit founders said that individuals in developing countries will be able to tell which wells are safe to draw from. “(During the hackfest), we decided to build a feature for people who use our product to collect a lot of data for water systems,” said Nick Lee, founder and CEO of Flowbit. Lee and his team built a map application to plot water systems so that users can see benefactors who have donated to a fund and how many gallons of water the well has.
Lee originally formed Flowbit out of a class taught by UC Berkeley lecturer Ken Singer on entrepreneurship. After hearing from a friend about the insufficient amount of drinkable water in India, he thought of a device that monitored the amount and quality of water available in developing countries, and after pitching the idea to his classmates, the formation of Flowbit soon followed.
Another participating team, Free Ventures, co-founded by UC Berkeley seniors Sam Kirschner and Jeremy Fiance, aims to provide a network of mentors and support to students who wish to develop their ideas to minimize the risk involved with entrepreneurship.
The third UC Berkeley-affiliated team, M3D, founded by recent graduate George Ramonov and senior Sabrina Atienza, is building a search engine for hospitals to extract data about patients. The team used its time at the hackfest to complete an unfinished prototype of its search engine.
Participants in the hackfest said their experiences were successful, as all three teams were able to achieve their objectives on time.
“So often today, where technology goes is dependent in part on how it’s being adopted by younger people,” Erlichman said. “We wanted to have smart young innovators to showcase their abilities — as well as what is possible.”
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