Students seek solutions at inaugural Golden Hack: Impact Weekend

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During a 36-hour span that started on a mid-October Friday afternoon, 40 UNC Charlotte students huddled as teams to create 14 innovative solutions to vexing problems. By the end of the inaugural Golden Hack: Impact Weekend, the teams were ready to pitch to a panel of university and community judges and compete for money prizes.

Lahari Prathapagiri, who is pursuing a master’s degree in information technology and whose team explored the issue of safe ride-sharing solutions for students, said, “We stretched our limits and achieved more than we initially believed was possible.”

Many of the undergraduate and graduate studies students said they had never experienced the type of entrepreneurial and multidisciplinary approach to issues that the hackathon fostered.

“This was an opportunity for students to expand their skill set while challenging themselves in their areas of interest and also networking with campus faculty and industry leaders,” said Laura Smailes, assistant director for the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), which hosted the hackathon at the PORTAL building from Oct. 20 to Oct. 22, 2023.

“We wanted to get students thinking about their impact on UNC Charlotte’s campus, the Charlotte community and beyond,” Smailes said. “We were fortunate to have amazing community leaders and UNC Charlotte faculty volunteer over the weekend and spend time with the students.” 

Students from four colleges and the School of Data Science at Charlotte brainstormed and learned from entrepreneurs, Charlotte faculty and staff, and each other. Charlotte’s Division of Research, Belk College of Business and SIA Partners were sponsors.

The event began with a panel of five founders of entrepreneurial companies who covered related topics in their industries, ranging from personalized learning to AI focused platforms. The panel featured:

Student teams were paired with panelists, other community leaders and Charlotte faculty who served as mentors to discuss their ideas and guide them as the teams developed strategies for the weekend. Workshops covered topics including team formation, human-centered design, pitching an idea and working with STEM kits. Teams were encouraged to think about solutions that addressed their problem and that would catch people’s attention. 

“The workshops gave us the opportunity to engage with mentors, allowing us to expand our thinking and acquire new knowledge,” said Sanjay Chowdappa, a graduate student in the College of Computing and Informatics. “The brainstorming sessions proved to be a critical phase, offering our team a wealth of innovative ideas and valuable lessons.”

Students took advantage of an open space of thought, allowing them to move freely through stages of their project and the learning experiences provided. They gained experience in creative thinking, problem-solving, networking, resilience and teamwork, earning each participant an Entrepreneurial Thinking Microcredential

Mentors steered clear of coming up with ideas themselves, instead nudging the teams with pointed questions and giving them tools. “It was important for us to allow students to think organically about the problems they wanted to solve and who they wanted to solve the problem for without the fear of getting the solution perfect and without the fear of failure,” said Carrie Bovill, an entrepreneurial program specialist with the center.

Students embraced the challenge. “My experience with Golden Hack was very transformative,” said Owen Mitchell, a student in the Belk College of Businss. “It gave me a good understanding of what it takes to build something from scratch and turn it into a pitchable product. I feel more inspired to pursue my entrepreneurial goal.”

The judges reviewed 14 team submissions over three tracks: Big Green Sky: Conceptual; Prototype: Non-Functional; and Prototype: Functional. 

The students’ solutions impressed the judges, Collins said. “All of the judges were excited to see the students architect innovative solutions to the world’s problems from an idea on Friday all the way to prototypes on Sunday,” he said. “As judges we had tough decisions picking the winners and we walked away impressed with the innovative approaches.” Judges in addition to Collins were:

  • Chad Stachowicz, Founder and CEO, Cloverhound
  • Aru Anavekar, Founder and CEO, Botsplash
  • Joshua McCray, Cyber Security Architect, Honeywell
  • Miguel Avila, President and CE), Daily View Pools
  • Charles J. Lorde, Chair, IEEE North Carolina Council
  • Mohamed Shehab, Faculty, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Meg Harkins, Faculty, William States Lee College of Engineering
  • Terrence Fagan, Faculty, William States Lee College of Engineering

Five awards totaling $7,000 were awarded to the top projects. All projects can be found at Golden Hack: Impact Weekend’s Devpost site

Big Green Sky: Conceptual

Award: $2,500 (Tie)

Team Name: NoteIT

  • Owen Mitchell – sophomore, Belk College of Business
  • RJ Wright – freshman, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Eli Elk – junior, College of Computing and Informatics

NoteIT uses optical character recognition and AI-powered natural language processing to read text from a variety of input types and refactor class notes into more effective study tools/note formats, depending on user requests.

Team Name: KaiZen

  • Will Papathanassiou – senior, Belk College of Business and College of Humanities & Earth and Social Sciences
  • Ketan Kumar Behera – sophomore, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Jainesh Lad – junior, College of Computing and Informatics

KaiZen focuses on integrating software and processes, starting with events, on university campuses to result in better outcomes for students and lower costs for universities.

Prototype: Non-Functional

Award: $2,000

Team Name: Wanderer

  • Tristan Hall – senior, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Sai Aung Kyaw Maw, junior, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Isaac Mylabathula, sophomore, College of Computing and Informatics

Wanderer will address the problem of those traveling to new places, and unable to do research due to time constraints, or language/cultural barriers by promoting foot-traffic within the area’s downtown, where historical landmarks are located,  and directing that traffic to local businesses to drive up the economic activity.

Prototype: Functional

Award: $2,000

Team Name: DreamCycle

  • Will Read – senior, School of Data Science
  • Jane Ng – junior, William States Lee College of Engineering
  • Silvia Diaz – sophomore, William States Lee College of Engineering
  • Stephanie Alvarez – junior, William States Lee College of Engineering

In order to address wishcycling, Team DreamCycle proposes a recycling device that instructs users in the correct method of recycling products using incentives and feedback.

Other Recognition

Award: $500

Team Name: S.T.A.R.

  • Nitin Chandrasekhar – freshman, William States Lee College of Engineering
  • Jeffery Wang – freshman, College of Computing and Informatics
  • Devin Coburn – freshman, William States Lee College of Engineering

The S.T.A.R. (Solar Technology for Albedo Radiation) is a low-cost, highly scalable, alternative albedometer that uses custom algorithms to measure, analyze and map albedo.