SF State club launches largest collegiate hackathon in city

colorful illustration of a laptop and other items on a desk

 More than 350 students from California, the U.S. and Canada will participate in the 24-hour hacking event on Saturday, March 18. 

Student group INCUBED is hosting its first-ever hackathon, SF Hacks, and it’s drawing hundreds of students

Matt Greenleaf, a San Francisco State third-year student majoring in business and computer science, saw something missing from campus ­­­— a hackathon that students could attend during the school year. So he approached the problem like any young entrepreneur with a DIY mindset would and launched SF Hacks, an upcoming event that’s expected to be the largest collegiate hackathon in San Francisco.

Greenleaf is president of the student club INCUBED and he, along with club vice president and computer science major Lan Paje, organized the event. More than 350 students from all over California, the U.S. and Canada have signed up to participate in the 24-hour campus event on Saturday, March 18.

“The purpose of INCUBED is to bring tech to the school and also entrepreneurship because we’re in the capital for the intersection of both,” Greenleaf said. “We want to make sure students have the resources to empower themselves, not just to start their own companies but to have new skills that they wouldn’t have from a traditional opportunity.”

This isn’t the only major “hacking” event on campus. In June, SF State participates in the Day of Civic Hacking, a national event, which is less focused on entrepreneurship and more on using open-source technology to solve a community-wide problem. Faculty, staff and students unite to improve their communities through technology. Since the event occurs after the spring semester many students aren’t able to participate.

SF Hacks is one of two events INCUBED plans to host annually to foster student innovation and entrepreneurship through technology. During the fall semester the club organized its first-ever TEDx event. This semester, they’re hosting SF Hacks. 

The hackathon is composed of three main parts. During the first portion, students connect with potential teammates interested in developing an idea, be it a website, app, hardware or tool. Once a team is assembled they’ll create a prototype. At the end of the event, teammates present their designs to the judges, and the event will conclude with awards and a closing ceremony. SF Hacks has drawn a few big-name sponsors including Yahoo!, VMware and GitHub, and judges include a producer at TechCrunch, the CEO of Haroun Education Ventures and a hacker at Yahoo!.

Over the summer, the club wants to create an incubator composed of the three winning teams from the hackathon, where students will take the prototypes they developed and turn them into a business. Club leaders are trying to secure funding for the winning projects.

SF State Marketing Professor and INCUBED faculty advisor Minu Kumar shared one example of one team project. Students in his class have an idea to create an Uber-like app to address the parking crunch around campus. Their idea is to get people living around 19th and Holloway avenues to rent out their driveways so students can park there.

Hackathons are great ways for students with different skill sets to collaborate and solve problems, Kumar added. And members of INCUBED say they are committed to inclusivity and diversity. Paul Klein, a senior majoring in computer science and a member of INCUBED, said the group wants to attract students who don’t have backgrounds in computer science because great ideas are found in all corners of campus.

“We have been partnering with the College of Ethnic Studies because there are a lot of student activists in that school and with them come ideas about how to improve communities,” he said. “Oftentimes engineers and computer science students are doers, but they need students with vision to drive the projects.”

Club leaders say they hope the event provides not just a melting pot of ideasbut also attracts an array of academic disciplines and students from other colleges. Fifty percent of participants are from SF State and the rest are from colleges across the U.S. and as far away as the University of Calgary. In addition to working with the Association of Computing and Machinery, the College of Science and Engineering, INCUBED has partnered with the Society of Women Engineers to attract non-male applicants and to ensure that participants are a true representation of the campus community.

“Our school is really well known for social justice, civic engagement and diversity,” Greenleaf said. “A lot of big movements have come out of people melding their ideas with technology, so people from Ethnic Studies, or whatever college, can take their ideas and pair them with someone who is tech-oriented, and that’s a really great way to solve problems in society.”

Click here for more information on SF Hacks.