Last year may have been the year of the historically black hack-a-thon. Several of the nations’ most prominent black colleges welcomed students of varying majors and interests to a whirlwind experience of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and networking.
Almost makes you wish there was an app for that, but that’s HBCU Hack-a-thons are all about; taking individuals with little-to-no tech or coding experience and pairing their creativity with tech savvy developers and marketers to make a new generation of black entrepreneurs in emerging tech markets.
Morehouse, Spelman, Clark Atlanta, Howard and Morgan State participated in the 2013 HBCU Hack-a-thon experience. Students compete for prizes, exposure, and for some, their first visions of owning their own company in a field in which they never imagined working.
“It sparks students from across all kinds of disciplines to come together to develop an idea that can be brought to the marketplace,” says Omar Muhammad, Director of the Entrepreneurial Development and Assistance Center of the Earl G. Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University. “They get hands on experience with working groups, and understanding what it means to start a business. The individuals who come in as entrepreneurs really help the students to learn how to move their businesses forward.”
Muhammad says the nature of hack-a-thons inspires collaboration, and melds ideas from different backgrounds, industries and social constructs to bring out the essence of innovation. The movement was started by the Black Founders, a group of working black tech professionals who wanted to spur more African-American ownership in tech industries.
One of the Founders and University of Maryland Eastern Shore alumna, Hadiyah Mujhid, told Black Enterprise Magazine in 2013 about the importance of the hack-a-thon effort on HBCU campuses.
“In San Francisco, there are hackathons almost every weekend. From many of those events, actual startup companies are born. Now students at Ivy League colleges are doing their own hackathon competitions. One of [the] focuses of Black Founders is to include the black community in tech entrepreneurship, so it seemed like a natural fit to outreach to black students, so why not start at HBCUs.”
The winning projects have run the gamut on tech utility for everyday life. At Howard, the winning team created an app to enhance GPS capabilities in finding hard-to-locate buildings in metropolitan areas. At Morgan State, Brazilian exchange students programmed an app to change Android settings without touching the handset.
According to Muhammad, the hack-a-thon also helps to spur corporate connections with the HBCU campus.
“We give African-American entrepreneurs an opportunity to come to the campus, and to broaden access to the business pipeline for students and beginning entrepreneurs.”