757 Collab hosts successful Build Weekend with over 100 participants
757 Collab is celebrating the success of its inaugural Build Weekend, Hampton Roads’ first ever ‘Hackathon’, supported by 757 Startup Studios and Assembly. The program intended to help entrepreneurs build networks, careers and ideas by connecting them with other creatives and the help of local tech experts. The event was sponsored by TechArk and Norfolk Innovation Corridor and was a volunteer-led initiative with Jake Spracher, former Apple engineer and startup CTO, as the driving force.
Kierra Underwood, head of innovative partnerships for 757 Collab and Marckel ‘Kelo’ Bonds of the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art hosted a ‘build up’ mixer on Wednesday, featuring panelists on emerging tech, workshops, networking, live music and more. This event was open to the public as a way to create buzz around the unique entrepreneurial space in the 757, as well as provide a chance for event participants to socialize ideas, form teams and build community.
Build Weekend kicked off with a series of workshops on Friday afternoon led by industry professionals and covering topics like pitching, ideation, UX/UI 101 and building without code. These workshops helped participants begin to visualize how to execute on their ideas and served as an excellent resource for tools that limit barriers to entry.
Each mentor for the weekend volunteered their time, knowledge and expertise to help the participants grow their ideas and skill sets. From full-stack developers to UX/UI designers, they brought a true array of insights to share.
“These mentors were great,” Tony Harold, a professional app developer and Build Weekend participant said. “They were giving us resources to help us build these things fast.”
Over 100 participants grouped themselves into 17 teams at the onset of the weekend. Some came in as strangers and left as friends, some were eager students and some were retirees, but all had the same goal: conceptualize and build an idea from scratch in 18 hours. They were allowed 1 outside lifeline, but otherwise they had to rely on each other and the help of their mentors. On Sunday at noon, the build clock stopped and 12 teams presented their progress to a team of 5 judges.
The judges panel was comprised of highly skilled investors in the start-up and tech space – Andria McClellan, Norfolk City Council member and 757 Angels Investor; Carl Hewitt, successful executor of 4 start-up businesses; Ned Lilly, successfully-exited entrepreneur; Andrew Nguyen, startup advisor and mentor at Techstars; and Guillermo Fisher, founder of 757ColorCoded. The group split up and spent one hour hearing a brief pitch from each team before narrowing it down to 5 teams to present to the entire room.
Stephen Guglielmo and Clayton Donahue won the grand prize of $1,000 for their concept called Brownie, inspired by goblins or fairies that help with household tasks in Scottish folklore. The grand prize money was graciously donated by Reelist, a former tenant of 757 Startup Studios, and WigWag.
Donahue and Guglielmo went to the same boarding school in Connecticut 5 years apart but did not know each other coming into Build Weekend. When Guglielmo received an online inquiry from Donahue regarding internships, Guglielmo responded by inviting Donahue, a sophomore at Rochester Institute of Technology, to participate in Build Weekend with him. The two formed a connection and came up with a concept to automate video gaming stats using AI.
According to Guglielmo, there already seems to be interest in their app among the gaming community, and the next steps for Brownie are to consider monetization strategies. When the pair asked other gamers to share screenshots of their stats over the weekend to help develop Brownie, Guglielmo said they began receiving messages saying, “If you get this to work, we’ll pay you for it.”
2nd place was awarded to Jett, a concept seeking to add to the AI experience of blog-writing. What distinguishes this build from what’s already on the market, according to the team, is the ability to up-vote and down-vote on the language model’s blog ideas, and as it learns your style preferences, it creates ‘personas’ which are completely proprietary to you.
A previous tenant of 757 Startup Studios, Angel Adell, won 3rd place for her build of a virtual styling assistant for traveling businesswomen. She spent time learning code and other development skills in Texas and has a tech support community there, but she found it extremely helpful to tap into that same community in Hampton Roads during Build Weekend, her first hackathon.
“I made such insightful connections,” Adell said. “Building this community is the best thing because now I know somebody who knows Python that I can bounce ideas off of, I know someone who knows something else and I can also add to the community as well.”
Harold spent Build Weekend working on an app concept called Hotmingo, which would use geolocation to allow users to connect with other users they’d crossed paths with in the previous 24 hours.
“The biggest takeaway is just to iterate fast and put time constraints on yourself,” Harold said, who described Hotmingo as an idea he’s had for almost 2 years.
Build Weekend gave him an opportunity to get closer to realizing it than ever before. “I had the time constraint and had a common group of people that were working on their ideas, too, so it gave me a little bit of camaraderie.”
Each placing team was awarded a free membership to 757 Makerspace, a self-described “playground for creativity and innovation” with over 65,000 ft of workshop space, studio space, tools, equipment and creative community. All participants received access to an e-learning platform with over $1 million worth of tools and resources.
The whole Build Weekend experience was free to all and sought to eliminate barriers to entry by accepting people of all backgrounds, experience levels and interests.
“A goal for the event was to create an on-ramp for builders into the 757 startup ecosystem, and we intend to do all we can to get everybody up that ramp,” Spracher said.
Build Weekend was focused on all things hyper-local. It supported the Hampton Roads community by drawing in local partners for the event, like The Crop Foundation, a local non-profit which aims to provide opportunities for young students to immerse themselves in culinary and agricultural arts. They provided delectable catering for the entire weekend, which did not go unnoticed by hardworking participants.
Apply to be a 757 Startup Studios Tenant
757 Startup Studios is a launch pad for early-stage entrepreneurs, having served more than 125 founders across more than 25 industries, created hundreds of jobs and raised over $12 million in capital. The project provides physical space for companies to build their ideas and connect with other entrepreneurs and investors while offering tailored support and mentorship from industry experts. Elevate your innovative ideas and dreams by applying to be a 757 Startup Studios tenant before April 14.